In the early 1980s, I saw a picture of the passage mound at Kercado in Brittany, France and I recognized it, with no idea why. I had never even been in Brittany. It wasn’t only familiar, but I felt an odd sadness and an urge to go back there, and also to invite with me a man from Switzerland I hadn’t seen in a decade. Strange!
Jiri was a Czech who, ten years before, had looked me up in California at the recommendation of his German girlfriend in Basel. I had met her earlier in the Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador, and we had become friends. For Jiri and I to have met at all in this lifetime meant that three people: a Czech, a German and an American, had to each find themselves in a particular place at a particular time, and make a connection. But it had happened. From the moment Jiri and I shook hands in California, we seemed familiar to each other. It was clear why she had wanted us to meet.
He was a fun-loving, bright guy, twelve years younger than me, who enjoyed many of the things I loved: hiking in all weathers, flying kites in the hills. We would go to the beach and wander until the sun set, or sit around the fireplace with my family, toasting marshmallows and sharing stories about our lives. It had been like saying goodbye to a sibling when we had parted.
Fire was a subject that seemed to come up often with Jiri. He told me dreams about his house burning down one night staying at our house, he spent the night feeding a fire in our fireplace, using up much of the wood in our woodpile. It was a bit weird, but I paid it little mind because he was a bit of an odd duck to begin with. Part of what I liked so much about him was his unconventionality.
That spring, when the urge to travel to Brittany and to invite Jiri had become something of a compulsion, I consulted a psychic for help in clarifying this unusual situation. All I told her was that I was thinking of going to Brittany with a Czech man from Switzerland whom I had not seen in a decade.
Right away she said: "I see a fire—something awful! A burning, I think, like a witch burning. The last thing she sees is the man who betrayed her. A terrible death . . . ."
I left the psychic's office deciding to drop this rather wild idea of going to France with someone I hadn’t seen in years. But two weeks later I was still thinking about Brittany, and found his telephone number and made the call. He answered right away. Mentioning nothing about fires, I said I was thinking of going to see the megaliths in Brittany and would he like to come.
“I would love to make a trip with you in old Europa!” he exclaimed, “but anywhere except Bretagne. It scares me there. Let’s go to Scotland.”
“Bretagne,” I said softly, certain by this time that Brittany was where I had to go. “The stones at Carnac are calling me.”
“And you wish to go with me?” he asked incredulously.
“I think so.”
He was silent for several moments, then said;
“I’ll arrange it at work. I can take off a week.”
So in June, late on the day of the full moon, there we were in Brittany, shouldering our backpacks and hiking up a hill in Carnac, following a faint path in the grasses toward the site of the Kercado passage-mound I had seen in the book.
It was on private land not then officially open to the public, and the property owners, who lived in a small château on the other side of the woods, neither publicized the dolmen nor kept people out. If you could find the way on your own and respected the place, you were welcome, but the guidebooks barely mentioned that it existed and the roadways had no signs.
In the lowering light the area around the covered mound was green and tranquil, a small clearing surrounded by pines. In its midst stood the dolmen covered in gorse and grass and its menhir, a standing stone of granite, on its crown. A small dark entryway opened into the passage and chamber. Surrounding the mound was an incomplete circle of stones. Some were hidden in the trees and some exposed, one or two lying on the ground and others missing. The feeling of the place was sweet, with an undercurrent of sadness, similar to what I had sensed when I first saw the picture. I did not understand what I was feeling.
After putting down our backpacks and circling the mound in silence, we each found our way to separate stones, Jiri to one just opposite the entry, and me to the menhir on top. Without having said a word, we took our places facing one another as if we had planned it. Here is how I wrote it in my journal:
We sat facing each other for a long while, as the darkness deepened and the stars began to come out. It felt appropriate for us to be facing each other, as the stones themselves have faced each other these 5,000 years, and in the lowering light
I felt something balancing within me. It was as if my stone was feminine and his masculine, and together they, and we, created a balance. I took a deep breath, and somewhere inside sensed a voice saying, Good.
Eventually Jiri rose and came up the hill to sit beside me in the prickly gorse at the base of my stone. No words. Finally he sighed and said, “What I have always wished for is symmetry. I am partially deaf, and never feel like I am balanced.” We spoke softly in French, even though English was the language we had used with each other in California. I told him about wondering if these were meant to be balancing stones. He nodded and rose to a stand, pulling me with him.
We stood facing each other on either side of the stone. It was quite dark and the moon, full tonight, had not yet risen. Trying to read his eyes in the gloom confused me, because his face was not his face as I knew it, and his eyes didn’t have the brilliance they had in daylight. I hardly recognized him.
We stared at each other for a long time but I couldn’t find him. I was at this place with a stranger.
Now, yellow through the trees, the full moon began to appear. Slowly lighting her way through branches and sky, she seemed to be calling together a trio of women: the stone, the moon, and me. This unknown man by my side was excluded from our group.
Then I heard the word, Dance!
Something moved me away from the stone, and irresistibly I began to dance. I swung and circled and stamped, and knew the moon and stone were dancing along with me. They urged me to dance full out and hold nothing back. So I did. It was the weirdest experience I had ever had, but it felt absolutely right. Jiri leaned uncomfortably against the stone looking miserable. I had forgotten about him.
Well, too bad. He was free to dance if he wished, but if he didn’t then that was his problem. I was amazed at how vehement my feelings were and had no idea where they came from. I boiled with anger and wanted to hurt him as he had hurt me . . . where had that come from?
It didn’t matter. I flung out my arms and danced stronger, avoiding his eyes. He complained about feeling cold.
"So dance!" I taunted him derisively.
“I will!" he shouted, taking up the challenge and stamping around like an angry elephant. The moon rose higher, growing whiter and more beautiful, spreading light onto the top of the mound, which made me dance bigger, leaping and twirling. That made him furious and he pounded the ground with his feet.
"This is the way I danced when they burned you," he spat out.
What? Had I just heard what I thought I heard? I hadn’t mentioned to him what I’d learned from the psychic, had I?
Keep dancing! The words came from I don’t know where.
“No wonder they burned you if you danced like that!” Jiri was breathing hard as he kept up his stamping, and watching me closely.
Don’t stop dancing, I heard.
My head was in fragments. What the hell was going on here?
I heard myself taunt him back: "What did you do when they burned me?"
I could hardly believe I said that.
“I was excited," he told me, spitting out the words one by one. "I danced around the fire like mad!'
In my heart, I begged him not to say that, then I felt a jolt of power in my legs and took off like a whirling dervish. Whoever he was, I did not need him. The moon and the stone were my companions and I let the hurt flow off me like water.
Continuing to dance hard, I challenged him: "What would you do if they tried to burn me now?"
His reply was immediate and firm. "I would protect you," he said, but spoiled it by adding with a laugh, "but nobody would burn you now."
“But if they did?" I demanded through clenched teeth. I wanted to kick him. 'I would protect you, of course,' said this stranger, coming closer and looking, in the moonlight, more like the Jiri I knew. In the end, he danced—not so much with me as alongside me.
Hold nothing back, I heard. Speak to him of what you know. Right now, or never again in this lifetime.
So I spoke to him of the fire and what I learned from the psychic, listening with astonishment to the words coming out of my mouth. He took me seriously, though, and responded with equal intensity and honesty.
We talked to each other as if this story was all true and we were not pretending: a witch burning on this site, a love affair between an herbal healer and a local farmer, a frightened family. Neither of us believed in this kind of thing—Jiri is a scientist after all—but there we were, recalling betrayal and violence from some time long before our own era.
And when we had each said to each other all that we could say, gentled by the ease with which we managed to say the words, the moon was almost gone from the top of the sky and we stumbled down the mound, spread out our sleeping bags, and fell into a dreamless sleep until morning. In the still of the next morning, with birds out for their morning foraging, before we spoke even a greeting to one another we linked arms and very slowly danced together, barefoot on the grass alongside the dolmen.
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