Shrouded in myth and legend, the iconic Table Mountain chain is scattered with sacred sites. The ancients used them as a giant cosmic clock to track the changing seasons.
Words and Pictures: Marion Whitehead
In the still, predawn light, the outline of the Hottentots Holland Mountains is faintly visible on the far horizon. False Bay stretches below us, an inky black mass, the wrinkle of waves visible only as they gently roll towards Muizenberg promenade’s orange lights. Hiking by torchlight is not something you’d want to do very often, but today is special: it’s the winter solstice and we’re heading for our very own Stonehenge experience on the slopes of Table Mountain National Park.
A mystical stone dolmen, very much like those erected by the ancient Druids at Britain’s Stonehenge, juts out of a crag on the corner of the mountain above Muizenberg. Our guide, Dean Liprini of Sunpath Tours, says it’s been aligned to frame the sunrise on this particular day of the year, the time when the sun reaches its most northerly arc before heading back south again.
We’re here to witness the moment the rays of the rising sun shine through the triangle formed by the massive rocks – a celestial reaffirmation of the marriage between Father Sun and Mother Earth.
When we reach the spot correctly aligned to witness this, Dean pushes some reeds aside to show us a curious rock. Its outline is similar to a human head, with a jutting nose and jaw a bit like Liewe Heksie. The rear of the skull is hollowed out in a small pool, brimming with water collected during the last week’s rain.
“When the sun shines through the dolmen, it will bathe the water in light and reflect off it if you stand over there,” indicates Dean before offering up a song and a prayer that encompass local and American-Indian traditions. “Who built it?” I voice the obvious question as we stand staring at the dolmen arch, waiting for the sun to lift through a cup-shaped notch in the distant Hottentots Holland Mountains. The challenging site high on the mountain would stump any modern, technologically enabled construction team, even using a helicopter. Dean shrugs. “The ancients? No one really knows.” His mentor, elder sangoma Credo Mutwa, believes it was people he refers to simply as ‘The Shining Ones’.
Dean’s been researching the sacred sites of Table Mountain and others on a diamond grid of light following the pathways of the sun along the 34° south latitude all the way to Port Elizabeth for most of his life. As a boy on a school outing to Elephant’s Eye Cave above Tokai, he first noticed an alignment from inside the cave. Years later, he studied archaeoastronomy and began a quest to seek out more sacred sites and their stone guardians. The more he looked, the more he saw, led by his strong intuition and mathematical calculations.
There are three main gateways of the sun on the Table Mountain chain: the one at Constantia Nek captures equinox alignments, while those at Kloof Nek above Cape Town’s city bowl, and at Sun Valley near Fish Hoek, operate during the winter and summer solstices.
Each of the more than 100 sites has its own marker stones, some smooth and round, others looking like craggy human profiles in the rocks – they are aligned to capture the first and last rays of the sun through the point where the eye is located.
Dean’s own craggy profile looks very similar to the faces of the guardians in the rocks. His years of research, mapping sacred sites and energy centres included an eight-year odyssey exploring the 34° south latitude all the way to Port Elizabeth on his 80cc motorbike, equipped with not much more than a tent and a couple of cooking pots. When Dean returned to Cape Town, he wrote a book, Pathways of the Sun. It caused controversy among more conservative academics, and a lot of excitement overseas. Dean says the layout of the sacred shrines he explored bears a striking resemblance to other ancient pyramidal-shaped shrines around the world, such as in Peru, Mexico and Egypt.
“Geometrical marker stones and human rock profiles are carefully positioned on each pivotal corner and contour level, acting as guardians and sacred monuments placed to interact with and honour the heavenly movements of the sun, moon and stars, and signify the spiritual steps of ascension.”
How they moved the massive three-ton rocks to build the dolmen on the mountain at Muizenberg Corner is a mystery. “Officially, the jury is still out,” says Dean. But he adds that, in private moments of meditation on the mountain, he’s had visions or intuitions of groups of people harnessing their own electromagnetic fields and moving heavy boulders with the power of sound.
“Like when Joshua and his men blew their trumpets in the Bible and the walls of Jericho fell down?” asks someone. “Yes, sort of like that,” says Dean, with a smile.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for arrives. The sky glows orange and the sea shimmers in a sheen of silver as the golden orb rises into the heavens – and sends a bright ray through the triangular hole in the dolmen, striking the little pool of water at our feet, just as Dean said it would.
Could this all be an amazing coincidence or the stuff of esoteric fantasy? If this was the only site like this on the mountain, maybe. But it’s one of a network of many, the placement of rocks so finely calibrated that they take into account the tilting or precession of the Earth calculated by astronomers to take place over 41 000 years.
I’ve visited a number of these sites with Dean over the years. One on the western side of Lion’s Head, itself a huge sundial, is a boulder shaped like a giant’s head, carefully balanced on two rocks, facing south and with a carved eye hole through the rock, acting like a Stone Age telescope.
Dean is working with SANParks to get Table Mountain’s sacred sites recognised and protected as they could become as big a tourism drawcard as Britain’s Stonehenge, the pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu in Peru.
“Instead of creating monuments in the forms left by the ancient Egyptians, and the Mayan and Inca civilisations, it could be that the early people in Southern Africa applied their understanding of sacred geometry in the landscape around them,” says Dean. “The shelters, shrines, rock profiles and marker stones across the country have been carefully chosen or positioned. All are aligned to interact with each other, and together they create a unique geometric grid of light, shadows and reflections across the land.”
Dean believes that the Khoikhoi or San people were the last to interact with these sites in a consciously spiritual way. “The sites may well have been constructed much earlier, but how and by whom we may never know,” says Dean, adding that Credo Mutwa believes it was here that people first gained spiritual awareness. “There is a great spirit at work, something magical and mysterious awakening in the mountains at the southern tip of Africa,” says Dean. “A reawakening of the spirit of the ancestors, of their wisdom and respect for all of nature and life.”
More Sacred Sites
- The Tripod, Kalk Bay, is carefully positioned to capture the first rays of the rising winter solstice sun. The womb-shaped water bowl hewn from the rock below it is a potent fertility symbol.
- Pyramid All-seeing Eye, Glencairn, embodies a fiery, male energy and looks curiously like the symbol depicted on US dollar bills.
- Ascension Cave, Sun Valley, is aligned with the summer solstice sun and associated with rebirth and fertility.
- The Grail Stone, on Constantiaberg overlooking Hout Bay, is a triangular rock with a hole in it that captures the setting sun at the summer solstice. The hole is just wide enough to accommodate the movement of the Earth, termed precession, that takes place over 41 000 years.
- Nefertiti on the saddle of Devil’s Peak records the longest and shortest days of the year.
- Logie’s Rocks, Llandudno, has a strong female energy, with the largest boulder looking like a giant breast.
- Lion’s Head resembles the Great Sphinx of Egypt and guards the Kloof Nek gateway of the sun, with Signal Hill as the rump of the lion.