The first Summer Solstice (June 21 st ) of this millennium is over, and once again, the stark forbidding boulders of Stonehenge , are forgotten till the next year. The Druids and the New Age travellers disperse after a night-long frenzy of dancing among the megaliths, of chanting and communicating with higher planes of reality; a feast aptly called Free Festival!
People flock here in thousands, to await a glorious sunrise, an unparalleled golden dawn (weather permitting), ushered in by pipes and drums!
In 1984, when the New Age travelers proposed a naked rally at the venue, which led to violence and vandalism, the Wiltshire police clamped a four-mile exclusion order, around the monument. The restriction was relaxed this year, allowing almost 14,000 people to witness the spectacle.
The construction was at one time, attributed to the ancient Druids, a cultic pagan religious order, which used it to map the course of the sun and moon. Though this Druidic origin of Stonehenge has captured the imagination of generations, the Druids flourished a thousand years later, and were therefore, too late for any role in Stonehenge . The myth however is kept alive by people who claim to be descendants of that order. Every Midsummer’s Day, they come in their white cassocks and cowls, lending a mystical aura to a weird pagan ceremony. Not to be left out, the New Age travellers who swear by the interpretation of the Aztec calendar, congregate at such “sacred sites” around the world, link minds and invoke magical forces, to help shape a new world order.
Standing proudly on the vast Salisbury planes of England , Stonehenge is one of four superhenges, a quartet of pagan temples peculiar to the British Isles . Neolithic men probably chose this sight, because many roads converged here
Stonehenge was an observatory of the two largest objects in the sky, the Sun and the Moon. The observations here involved no complicated technology. But it called for prolonged periods of study spanning many years, and recording of the rising and setting of the sun and moon on the horizon. According to Professor Alexander Thom, it was an astronomical temple which was more ceremonial than accurate, in its astronomical predictions. The first reference to this monument was made by a Silician historian in 44 B.C. He called it the Temple of Apollo , but made no mention of its astronomical significance.
Somewhere along the way, Astronomy got mixed up with elements of religion, and belief in the influence of celestial bodies over earth and human beings. This belief projected Man as the miniature representative of the Universe. Therefore events on earth could be reasonably predicted, by observing events in the sky. Astrology became mixed up with Astronomy. This hotch -potch of fact and myth is what has been handed down to posterity.
Some believed that partial destruction of Stonehenge was the work of a Roman General in A.D. 43, who wanted to raze it to the ground. The practice of human sacrifice by the Druids was abhorrent to the Romans. Others believed that the Danes who followed the Romans were responsible for the damage. But after Stonehenge passed into public ownership in 1918, haphazard digging by archaeologists, destroyed important features of the monument, and had to be stopped.
It was only in the late forties, that excavations were resumed by Professor Richard Atkinson, and he was able to put together the original plan of the temple, which was built in stages, over a period of 1700 years.
In 3500 B.C, there was only a circular ditch 91 meters wide, with banks or henges that sloped inwards. It was punctuated by 56 “Aubrey” holes filled with chalk, rubble and human bones, and might have represented the Zodiac belt. (Frederick Hoyle)
In 2500 B.C, wooden structures were constructed in the centre of the henge, which became a ceremonial burial ground for chieftains and queens. Neolithic Man believed that the spirit lingered in the body until the flesh fell off from the bones. This took two years of exposure to the sun. The bones were then put into “barrows” or graves, along with their weapons and ornaments.
In 2000 B.C, the important features of the stone temple took shape in the centre of the henge. There was an outer Saracen circle of 30 vertical stones, each weighing 25 tonnes. The stones were hauled up from the Marlborough Downs 30 kms away. They represented the days of the month, and were surmounted by lintel stones, fitted into each other, by tongue and groove joints, to form a complete circle. An ingenious feat sans nails, rivets or cement!
Inside this circle was a semicircle of 5 vertical stones representing the five planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. The tallest was 24 feet, and called the Altar stone. The others were only 20 feet high. And scattered between these large chalk boulders, were smaller blue stones that had religious significance and healing value. They were used to study the phases of the moon. The temple was at its best in 1500 B.C.
One can only wonder how those simple farmers with stone axes and wooden ploughs, could create from soft chalky boulders, a temple of such awesome splendour.
There is a lesser- known Woodhenge, a few kilometers from here, where wooden stumps were used to mark the graves. They were arranged in concentric circles, and the height of the stumps indicated the importance of the dead man. Today, those wooden stumps have been replaced by stones, but the circular arrangement is preserved. Excavations threw up skeletons of children and adults, mace heads, ceremonial axes, and precious stones that were buried with the dead.
The Aylesbury Henge is another important structure on the Salisbury plains, and was associated with fertility, life and death.
The World Heritage, the English Heritage and the government hope to restore Stonehenge to its lost glory, some day. The surrounding area is to be converted into a pre-historic Millennial park. But it looks as if the wait will be long.
It is a day trip by road, from London and back, through rolling meadows , and beautiful countryside. At the site, an audio recording can be hired, which gives a detailed description of the stones and their tryst with the sun, moon and stars.
Sunday Herald- July 15th, 2001