Jill Smith’s Zodiac Journey: Libra

Isle of Lewis

Photo: Mhairi Law

The main circle of standing stones at Callanish has a very individual layout. The circle itself is of imposing Lewisian gneiss megaliths, many resembling hooded figures standing close to one another. In the centre is a tall, thin stone, its eastern face curved towards the rising sun. It guards the remains of a small chambered cairn. To the East, South and West extend from it rows of similar stones, and to the North runs a long avenue.

Viewed from above, some say this resembles a Celtic cross, but to me it is a dancing figure, arms outstretched, its head formed by a rocky outcrop to the South of a modern wall.

Libra, traditionally the Scales, begins at the Autumn Equinox: a time of balance when day equals night and both are the same length all over the Earth.

I have always had this powerful concept at Callanish’s Equinoxes that the eastern ’arm’ of this dancing figure reaches out to catch the rising sun and then, throughout the day, throws it in a slow arc above the stones, eventually passing it to the western ‘arm’ which lowers it into the horizon at sunset.

To celebrate the Libra of my Zodiac Journey I wished to honour the Equinox dance of Callanish, choosing a day near to the time of balance, but not the day itself, as I did not wish to disturb the sunrise experience of others.

I wished to carry out the action before sunrise in the not-quite-full light of day. A magical time. The weather in the Hebrides had been wet, grey, windy and dull, and this was a day between storms, but it seemed the best hope, and the morning which unfolded after a night of moon and stars was unexpectedly clear and beautiful with few clouds and the high trails of aircraft above.

Photographer Mhairi Law and I arrived when the light was still emerging from the dark. We had such joy in there being no rain and just the gentlest breeze in the calm and stillness.

I laid out one of my dyed circular cloths – pale blue with clouds – and placed on it a few objects: the blue wooden Libra sign; two old candles, one yellow and one blue, which I have used for many years on my Equinox altars to represent sun and moon; a small print of my picture The Callanish Dance; a photo of my youngest grand-daughter, who is a Libra; a jar coloured with glass paint by my daughter Saffron when she was a teenager, and the lantern I used in my Fruitmarket spiral performance Re-emerging in February 2022. To one side I placed a basket I made many decades ago in East Anglia, which I have used in hundreds of performances over the last 40 years. I will use it in most of the actions to carry things to and from the sites. Folded inside was a beautiful scarf given to me by the poet Jane Goldman, which I will wear in at least one of the other Air signs on this journey. I weighed the cloth down with the four coloured stones I had used to mark the directions in Virgo.

I did not want to light the other candles, but to just have the one light in a blue lantern I have owned for many years, which sits on my window-sill at home and is often used in Hebridean power-cuts.

Many times I have lit candles when on my own at special sites (always leaving nothing behind), struggling against wind and rain, feeling joyous when one flickers for a moment or amazed by how, once lit, a flame may feed on the wind and stay burning until I extinguish it to leave.

On this occasion I did not want to worry about the light going out as I walked the rough ground, the liquid wax spilling, so I used a battery candle I had been given for Christmas a few years ago. It symbolised all the candles I have lit over a lifetime.

I wore my pale blue and white dyed outfit, bare feet on the wet ground. I didn’t feel cold.

I crouched with the light by the last stone of the eastern ‘arm’; held it up to where the sun would rise, walked with arms outstretched, the lantern in my right hand, along the arm and round the cairn in the centre of the circle. I stood by the edge of the tall stone facing north. I raised my arms above my head and passed the light from my right to left hand, then walked along the western ‘arm’ and stood by the last stone. I raised the light to where the sun would set, lowered it, then knelt to place it at the base of the stone.

A simple action, but I felt connected to the energy of that dancing figure, to the arc the sun makes from sunrise to sunset, and also to the knowledge that after the day of balance we are in the winter half of the year.

2 or 3 other people had arrived. They seemed happy to be around what we were doing, but I packed everything up once I was sure Mhairi had got all the images she needed, and we stayed to watch the sun appear golden in the east after its own dance with the low clouds on the horizon.

As Mhairi drove me home the early sunlight created stunning colours on the Lewis landscape. By 11am the sun had gone into cloud again. We had been truly blessed.

Storms may come, the Dark of Winter is coming, but we shall remember mornings like these.

Jill Smith, Isle of Lewis, September 2023. 

See also www.jill-smith.co.uk 

Main image: Mhairi Law



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