Storied stones of Pranu Muttedu
SARDINIA -The road to the menhir sanctuary leads me across the sunbaked interior of the city, where emaciated cows huddle in a dry streambed under a rusted bridge. Somehow, I miss the turn-off and end up in a village where a hand-lettered sign over the main street advertises a Mutton Festival supposedly in progress. But there’s no evidence of festivities here: the yellow houses are all tightly shuttered against the scorching sun.
I stop at the only café to ask directions and have a cold drink, but the fridge is broken. As I sip a lukewarm soda, the men idling here with yesterday’s football scores gape at me in astonishment. When I ask the way to the menhirs, the bartender is frankly amazed that I have come so far in the heat just to see a bunch of stones.
Back on the road, I watch the rocky slopes morph into gentler hills. The sanctuary lies just up ahead, surrounded by old olive trees. I pull into an empty parking lot, and spot an alignment of menhirs fifty yards away. The only visitor today, I trespass into sacred territory, engulfed by an ocean of droning cicadas.
Fifteen aligned menhirs thrust up like sentinels above parched weeds. The artist who first chipped and shaped them gave each one a distinct character– they display an array of body types: tall and craggy; sleek and plump; squat and chunky. I exchange a silent greeting with each member of this welcome committee. It occurs to me they may represent the letters of an arcane alphabet: perhaps they are spelling out a warning or a prayer.
Some anthropologists believe that menhirs are giant phallic symbols intended to fertilise the earth and ensure the fecundity. Others claim they are soldiers guarding burial grounds, acupuncture needles altering subterranean energies, or stories illustrated in solid pictograms. Yet no one really knows what they signify.
Wandering deeper, I come across three thick-based menhirs under a canopy of ilex trees. From their compact, broad-hipped shape, I recognize these as ancient matriarchs, standing aloof from the ritual alignment. I am drawn to these matrons who carry in their granite bodies the memories of volcanic births and ceaseless erosion, rivers of lava and blood, generations of sunsets and starlit nights.
In other eras women came here to dream of their future mates, seek wisdom, healing, perhaps even revenge. I am not sure why I am here today or what I was hoping to find, yet I sense this living stone has a message for me.
I place my hand on the smallest menhir and for a moment feel her force flowing into me from across the eons. Like an invisible sap, this force connects me to the earth below, and to the distant hands that fashioned this figure, endowed her with personality, and set her in place to transmit a concept across time. It’s hard to translate what I feel but it’s like a pure heartbeat pulsing through stone.
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