I am a stone thief. At times, when I find myself beneath a distant sky, I look down upon the ground and a stone calls to me. Not a large stone, but one that is distinct. One that is a part of its surrounding geology. A totem to remember my travels.
It’s a small act of desecration. The stone had its own journey. It may have traveled by glacier, by drifting sands, or by babbling stream. It may have known its home for millennia, but I plucked it from the earth in an effort to capture some of its magic. Stealing a bit of sacred ground to call my own.
In my mind I justify these small acts by my own emotions. I feel a connection to a place, and so I keep a part of it to remind me. In my memory the spirit of the stone’s home is magnified. But that is simply a small lie. I desecrate a small patch of land to sanctify my soul. I am a thief of stones.
I’m not alone in this. Humans are often stone thieves. We carve stones from sacred hills, drag their carcasses hundreds of miles, and stand them in a circle. Stones most beautiful, stolen to build cathedrals, temples and pyramids. When we bury our dead, we often place a stone upon their head and declare “now, this place is holy.” Sacred space. Hallowed ground. In many cultures war ends at the cathedral door and evil spirits cannot join the circle. We gather our stones in piles to connect Heaven and Earth, past and present. We are the soft clay that draws magic from the hard stone. It is deeply human to be a stone thief.
It is the permanence of stones that draws us. Our lives are fleeting, but stones count their days in centuries. They call us to connect with time itself, with immortality. But we need only to look at a fallen church to know that stones are not timeless. Without a human connection, earth reclaims them. The wind and rain wears them down to dust, to clay. All stones return to the earth just as all humans. Only the scale of time differs.
We would do well to remember that. Spaces are sacred not because of the stones we gather, but because of those who gather them. Sacred space is forged by spirit, not earth. Cathedrals and standing stones are sacred not because we have captured their magic, but because they capture ours. Wherever they are, they are filled with the numinous character of the space around them. The stones are sacred because they are surrounded by sacred space. They are the marker of the holy, not its cause.
Perhaps we should change our rituals of mourning. Instead of stealing stones to mark a grave, we should gather stones that have been touched by those we love. In their passing we can give these stones to others. In meeting new friends we could give them a stone. This was touched by my anam cara. She was fierce. He held deep stories. They were a warrior. May this stone grant you some of their sacred power. May you magnify their gift, so that in time your spirit will spread to others.
Stones are markers of the sacred, but they need not stand. Some should travel, driven by the ebb and flow of humanity. Marking not a space, but a moment in time. A brief span of hours given to each of us.
We will always be thieves of stones. It is at the very heart of who we are. Ancient clay willed by our mothers to walk upon the Earth, look upon the sky, and perhaps reclaim sacred ground.