On a recent trip to Ireland I had the chance to experience the magic of Knowth and Newgrange, two ancient, prehistoric monuments that pre-date the pyramids by about one thousand years. These are very peaceful, low-key sites...other than at the solstices and equinoxes, that is. But what no one warns you about ahead of time (until right now, that is) is the predominance of plot-bunnies. They've pretty much taken over.
Unlike most historical monuments I've been to, where guides expound on everything from why they were built to how and by whom, the tour guides at these sites are refreshingly candid about the relative lack of hard facts. Very little is known about the people who erected these mounds. They left no records, no written language--unless you count the huge amount of megalithic art with which the stones are covered. Is it a form of writing? No one knows. Maybe it's art. Maybe it's math. Maybe it's a map or a series of heraldic devices. Personally, I was intrigued by the similarities I noticed between the carvings here and the designs found on Anasazi pottery from the American Southwest. No one knows what the original purpose might have been, although it's pretty clear it had someone to do with the solstices and equinoxes.
Of course, when you're talking about any historical event or structure or ritual or belief, it's probably true more often than not that we really don't know--can never know--the truth about what went on. Certainly not the whole truth. We're always extrapolating to a certain extent, whether we admit it or not. This tends not to sit well with most of us. We put such faith in Science that it often seems inconceivable that we should not definitively know the truth about what went on anywhere at any time. In fact, our minds seem to abhor such mysterious vacuums and we rush to fill them up with theories, no matter how tenuous. That's why I found it so refreshing (not to mention empowering) that, at both sites, our guide really drove home the point that no one can prove or disprove anyone's ideas on what it all means. Everyone was encouraged to think for themselves, to draw their own conclusions, to use their imagination.
As a writer, I really didn't need to be told that twice! In fact, a good part of the reason I was there was to soak up the vaguely mystic atmosphere and see if I couldn't get some more ideas for a paranormal fantasy series I'm working on that's set in historical Ireland. But it struck me that this is something we already do all the time--well, all-the-time when it comes to writing fiction, anyway. We observe reality, deconstruct it, infuse it with imagination and then reconstruct it into a very loose reinterpretation of the original facts.
By the way, this post was supposed to be accompanied by pictures. Unfortunately, jet lag (and/or lack of sleep) is currently interfering with my ability to figure out how to download said pictures from my husband's phone. Or maybe it's a problem with the phone itself. I'm not sure exactly which it is.