Today’s offering is a guest column from Rayna Templebee.
The oldest federal monuments in the United States are the 36 (of an original 40) small stones marking the original 100 square miles that were carved out of Maryland and Virginia to create the nation’s capital. Magickal sentinels, these stones have watched over Washington D.C. and its inhabitants for over 220 years. This year, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, a well-known local Pagan group returned to the boundary stones to continue a magickal working of deep cultural healing. I travelled to the capital to participate in their Mabon ritual at the western boundary stone, and was deeply moved by the Connect DC Pagans’ intention to heal and protect their city, and by extension, their country.
According to their Facebook page, Connect DC is a “public ritual group that seeks to heal and transform the city of Washington DC through magic, mystery and celebration.” Founded in 1999 by Katrina Messenger, Connect DC celebrates the sabbats and full moons in public spaces throughout the greater DC area and at their Pagan-owned home base, Two Rivers Sanctuary, in the Manor Park neighborhood. After a huge turnout to a Lammas ritual held on the rooftop of a local bookstore in 1998, Katrina decided there was a need for high quality Pagan rituals available to anyone in the city. She built consensus and excitement by discussing her idea with people in the community to sustain a community drawn together to do ritual in public spaces.
While relocated temporarily in Washington this spring, I was fortunate enough to find Connect DC online and attend their Beltane sabbat at Two Rivers Sanctuary. Their beautiful ritual on the front lawn, surrounded by flowering bushes, was filled with song, energy, and power. We raised energy to help fill the container of the city, as defined by the boundary stones. I learned that rituals were being held at the actual stones on the equinoxes and solstices, and I made a promise to myself to return for one of those ceremonies.
Each year, Connect DC sets a magickal intention for their public rituals. In their first year they visited each of the four cardinal boundary stones to reinvigorate the original dream of the city. As Angela Raincatcher and Vanessa Crowley, two members who plan and lead Connect DC rituals today, describe the original working in 1999, the intention was to reconstitute the original container of Washington as the crown jewel of the country. “The boundary stones are our standing stones, they are hundreds of years old, they were lain with intention by ritual people, by the Masons, with intention put in to the stones,” Vanessa explained to me at a backyard picnic following the Mabon ritual.
The intention for Washington to be the crown jewel was ruptured by slavery and the Civil War, and the diamond of the city broke – the original 40 stones literally formed a diamond. The economy of suffering and oppression that pulled the United States apart, literally cracked the diamond — Virginia took back land that had been part of the original designation of the federal capital in the 1840s. The reasons included the disenfranchisement that came with District membership and tensions related to Alexandria’s lucrative slave trade within the original boundary of the District.
“Washington, D.C. was originally supposed to be the bridge between north and south,” Vanessa says. “That was the intention set with the original boundary stones. But that intention was broken and we have been trying to repair that ever since.”
In 1790, President George Washington, a well-known Mason, appointed a surveying team of seven men to designate a 100 square mile Territory of Columbia. The axes of the square were to run north-south and east-west, with the southern corner located at the confluence of the Potomac River and Hunting Creek. The sides of the square were each 10 miles long, and the orientation resulted in a diamond shape over the center of old Washington. Today the center of the square is west of the Ellipse and north of the Mall.
Following the orders of President Washington, the survey team began at the southern point and moved clockwise to the west, north, and east. Sandstone boundary markers quarried in Virginia and weighing nearly a half-ton each were placed at each cardinal point. Inscribed on the stones were the date of their erection and, on the side that faced the city, the phrase “Jurisdiction of the United States,” while the opposite face was marked with the name of the border state (either Virginia or Maryland). The survey was completed three years later, in 1793.
Benjamin Banneker, a free African-American author, surveyor, and astronomer, was one of the most important men to assist in the designation of this diamond shaped federal district. Banneker was a skilled astronomer and published a successful series of almanacs that drew the attention of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who may have been responsible for asking Banneker to join the survey team. The first boundary stone laid was the southern stone, and Banneker fixed the point by observing the movement of certain stars at night. In 1791, the Alexandria Masonic Lodge ceremonially placed the southern stone and the Territory of Columbia was born.
The forty boundary stones were visited occasionally in the decades that followed, but in 1915 the Daughters of the American Revolution decided to take responsibility for their maintenance and protection, given that many were already missing or overgrown. The DAR built tall metal fences around each stone and members visited them to clean the area. Despite these efforts, several stones were lost due to construction or removal. Today the American Society of Civil Engineers—National Capital Section organizes restoration and clean-up projects, although this spring equinox Connect DC members found the eastern stone largely abandoned and the area covered in trash.
Each of the four corner stones has a different energy, according to Angela and other Connect DC members, and the energy parallels the histories of racial politics in that part of Washington. If a neighborhood and its population have been ignored, the boundary stone is also largely abandoned. In the affluent part of Virginia where the western stone is located and where our Mabon ritual was held, the stone is part of a small pocket park that is well maintained and looks out into the large backyards of neighboring houses.
Connect DC members told me that during the original working in 1999, Katrina Messenger found the southern stone to be the most neglected. Located in a former slave port, it had palpable energy, but the stone itself was eroding into the river and covered in trash. The ritual that Katrina led there raised the energy up and now the stone is part of a beautiful park created and maintained by the National Park Service.
On the 20th anniversary of this original working, Connect DC has returned to the boundary stones with the intention that “this work will strengthen our city and community as a vibrant container of healing, hope, and transformation through magick, mystery, celebration, and joy.” Members told me that Washington is the focus of a lot of negative energy due to politics, especially now, and that they see their return to the stones as a generational working tied to the landscape of the city they love.
The boundary stones are participants in the magick of Washington, and recharging them helps bring back the original vision of Columbia, healing what seem to be the ever increasing rifts in the nation. As an archaeologist, old stones are deeply meaningful to me, and I felt the energy of this old warrior stone through its metal cage. How many different voices has it heard? How many people have gathered near it, whether in celebration, as we did, or to seek shelter?
Americans need our precious historical monuments; we are a people with such a short history, and even shorter memories. The boundary stones of Washington, D.C. are our national standing stones, and who better than the Pagans of Connect DC to help these stones awaken back to life.
Rev. Rayna Templebee is a daughter of the Ocean Mother. A faery seer in Orion Foxwood’s House of Brigh, she has been an initiated Witch in the Georgian Tradition since 1983. Her day job as an anthropology professor/archaeologist provides lots of opportunities to get on a plane. Rayna lives in Florida and is an active member of the Everglades Moon Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess and an aboricha in a Lucumi house. She teaches regularly on ancestor reverence, eco-sexuality, bee priestesses, and talking with trees. She loves mangos and firecrackers. Visit her at www.raynatemplebee.com.