Tending the Temple

Several members of Denton CUUPS have visited the stone circles of Britain over the years. I was at Stonehenge and Avebury in 2007. Back in April, five of us visited the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney. These circles are between four and five thousand years old and some may be older.

On Saturday, we got up way too early to visit a stone circle that’s less than ten years old. And we weren’t there as tourists or even as pilgrims – we were there to work.

James Stevens (1944 - 2010)
James Stevens (1944 – 2010)

James Stevens was a member of Denton CUUPS. He served in the US Navy, then came home and went to work for the Post Office. His family has owned land north of Decatur (35 miles west of Denton) for several generations. He built a campground in a wooded area and opened it to all his friends – and he had a lot of friends. On any given weekend, it could be occupied by Pagans, bikers, or black powder enthusiasts.

James loved the stone circles of Britain as much (probably more) than any of us. When he retired from the Post Office, he set out to build his own stone circle. But this was to be no Victorian folly – he wanted a sacred place to hold rituals. The result was Summerland (yes, James was Wiccan): a circle with five-foot-high trilithons at the cardinal directions, a large standing stone in the center, and smaller stones marking the boundaries of the ritual area. All the stones were local, but in fine Neolithic tradition some were brought from several miles away. Front end loaders and flat bed trucks made things much easier than moving the bluestones from Wales to Salisbury.

Summerland was barely finished when James died of cancer in June of 2010. The family held a UU memorial service for him on a Saturday, then on the following Sunday CUUPS led a Crossing the Veil ritual. I remember some of his biker friends coming up to me after the memorial service and saying “we don’t know anything about Paganism, but we want to be there for James.” And they were – they stood in the circle in 100 degree heat while we gave James the Pagan funeral he wanted.

James' funeral - afterward 6x4
James Stevens’ funeral – June 2010

In the years since, we’ve stayed in touch with the Stevens family who have generously allowed us to continue using the campground and stone circle. We don’t use the stone circle much. For one thing, it’s 35 miles away. And while the standing stone in the center is great for solitary ritual (which is what I think James had in mind when he put it there), it makes things difficult for groups of more than a handful.

But it’s still a place of power, both naturally and from the buildup of the rituals that have been done there. We use it occasionally, and when some of our members held a handfasting there a few weeks ago, it didn’t take much to realize it needed some work – and that we needed to do it.

Cleanup 06.18.16 14 600x300

I got up at 6:00 AM to meet everyone in Denton by 7:00 – we got out to the stone circle about 8:00. It was already over 80˚F – by the time we finished it was close to 90 (and the worst of the Texas heat won’t be here for about three more weeks).

There was very little trash to pick up. Summerland doesn’t get a lot of use, and most of the people who visit it are respectful. But it was overgrown with grass and weeds. Fortunately, one of our members has a commercial grade string trimmer on wheels – that made cutting back the overgrowth more manageable.

Cleanup 06.18.16 07

The Stevens family grazes cattle on the land adjacent to Summerland, and while the stone circle is fenced, visitors occasionally leave gates open or don’t latch them properly. Cows had gotten in and had left both droppings and some deep footprints. We’ve had a lot of rain in North Texas this year, but last week was dry – that made shoveling the cow droppings easy. Smoothing out the hoofprints was a little more work.

Cleanup 06.18.16 06

The trilithons and the center stone are still in good shape. They were set in concrete, a necessity in the soil of North Texas (it shifts as the ground expands and contracts in the heat). But we needed to re-set some of the smaller stones that had fallen over or gotten knocked out of place. The ground here is rather rocky to begin with – as we picked up random stones, we stacked them in small cairns around the outer circle, helping to give it more definition.

This was a day to work on the ground, not a day to do ritual. But one of our members is recovering from surgery and couldn’t do this kind of work. So she came out, burned some sage and some incense, and spent time talking to the spirits of the land – and took some of the pictures you see here.

Cleanup 06.18.16 12

Before we left we poured a libation to James and thanked him for his life, his friendship, and his legacy.

The Summerland stone circle exists because of James Stevens and his vision of a lasting Pagan community in North Texas. It is a temple, and we are honored to tend it.

Cleanup 06.18.16 11

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