The terrain rolls gently among the apples, its sheath of long green grass still wet with the morning’s dew. You can feel it as you walk, the ebb and flow of gravity tugging at you as you alternately climb and descend, the gravel road slipping beneath your feet as it winds its way beneath the twisted gray trees. To your right, crowding you as if seeking to peer over your shoulder, the high ridge of the Schwäbische Alb looms heavily over the alluvial valley. You can feel it, its breath a mist that caresses your cheek with a cold hand. You can feel it, but you cannot see it. Indeed, you cannot see anything at all. It’s 5 a.m. on the Autumn Equinox, and you have neglected to bring along a flashlight. Not that you need one.
The landscape here is simple and familiar. A hundred meters along the path from the narrow asphalt farm road patrolled by the Forstmeister in his green-on-white Bronco lies the Viereckschanze in Belsen, Germany, a 2200-year-old Celtic relic that defies explanation. You need only stay on this path to reach it. When you do, you’ll know it. You’ll be able to feel it.
The farm valley spreads out below you in silent invisibility, snug in a blanket of darkness that has tucked in the parent city of Mössingen, an expanse of twinkling lights to the north, for the night. But even now, more than an hour before dawn, you can sense the tiny community beginning to awaken. Here and there, a light burns. Somewhere, a door slams. Even though it’s a Sunday, you soon hear the rhythmic pounding of metal upon metal, as some farmer opens his shop to make a repair that cannot wait until the regular workweek—or, apparently, even until daylight. In the city, his neighbors would not have hesitated to call the Polizei at such a disturbance; but out here, life is different. More intimate, more forgiving. The ritual clanging is a lonely, empty bell in the hollow night. On the manmade hill on the north side of the relic, an ancient 10th-Century stone chapel—originally a Catholic structure built atop a Pagan site, and now Protestant—overlooks the shallow valley. On the western wall of this structure, surrounding the massive oaken doors, are carved images of Ba’al and other Pagan symbols. These are largely lost among the modern visitors to the church, who don’t seem to notice them.
You come upon the Viereckschanze, an earthen enclosure roughly 100 meters on a side, surrounded by a trench. The path you’ve followed runs through a cut in the westward wall, which you can sense rising up on either side as you pass through it. You pause here, and step up onto the wall itself. Following its uneven contours, you walk northward along it until you come to the first corner. You recognize this by the way it sweeps up and around in a great arc, twice the height of the wall, like a racetrack corner. Here you settle yourself under a lone apple tree, to wait for the dawn. You imagine that some ancient tribe of Celts had kept this same vigil for hundreds of years, back in the fog of forgotten ages before the Romans and the Christians forced them onto a new path. They would gather together in the Pagan twilight, crowding each other in the tight confines of the Viereckschanze, to witness the rising of the sun and to experience the bond of Oneness that will accompany it. The high priest, standing in their midst, would raise his hands to the east and call for the sun to reappear, as a sign that the harvest would be full and the land prepared for its winter fallow. You can sense the excitement, the anticipation, the electricity in the air. And sensing this, you begin to feel it yourself.
The horizon is suddenly broken by a thread of deep blue, as awesome as silent thunder. Above it, the sky is turning orange and yellow and red. Dawn is on the verge. Without thinking about what you’re doing, you stand, in a show of reverence for what once was acknowledged as a powerful deity. You watch as the sky turns paler and bluer, as daylight begins to dance in the fields. Your excitement grows. You can feel the energy pouring across the Earth, drenching everything in its path and renewing the coming day. You lift your face to the warmth, and your arms rise with it. You are lost in the power of the ascending orb. And then it appears. In a blast of light, a rainbow halo forms above the peak of the Farrenberg, as the sun bursts forth from the ridge of the Schwäbische Alb, directly on line to the eastern corner of the Viereckschanze.
And you marvel at the skills and knowledge of those ancient people, to get it so right.