Stonehenge meets the winter solstice, its druids and its pagan mysteries | Culture

An image of Stonehenge.
An image of Stonehenge.ENGLISH HERITAGE (Reuters)

The winter solstice arrives, a date of deep significance in mentalities since the dawn of time. And there are few places to pass the appointment as in Stonehenge, the still enigmatic – despite all the light that archeology has thrown – and iconic prehistoric stone circle (actually several concentric circles) that stands on the Salisbury plain, in Wiltshire, England. Not as crowded (about two thousand people usually attend) as the massive summer solstice, which is favored by the dates, the weather and the desire to party, the winter at Stonehenge (from stone, stone, and hang The hang, hanging, that is, the place of the “hanging stones”) has, however, the aura of great events, despite the doubts about what was actually lived originally in the Neolithic in that sacred space.

Popularly considered a monument with an astronomical meaning, although the scope of that meaning is still the subject of much discussion, it is believed that Stonehenge – which will be the subject of a major exhibition in February at the British Museum -, built in six stages from 3,100 BC. . of C. and during a millennium and a half, until it stopped being used towards 1,500 a. of C., is oriented of significant form towards the sunrise to mark the solstices and other dates of the celestial calendar. At least that’s what makes being there on those dates especially exciting. In reality, it is not known if the astronomical purpose prevailed over others such as the space for worshiping the dead, since the place is a large cemetery, full of human remains.

This year, after the closure of the site due to the pandemic in the past, the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, can be witnessed in person again, albeit with strict anticovid security measures. The English Heritage, on which Stonehenge depends, has announced that the monument will open on the morning of December 22 for those who want to go in person to witness the sunrise there. The solstice (from the Latin solstice, “Still sun”) does not have a fixed date and many people believe that it is always the 21st, but this year, the public agency for English heritage has pointed out, “based on the announcement of the Druidic and pagan communities” it has agreed that The first sunrise after the astronomical solstice, which would take place after sunset on the 21st, will be on the 22nd.

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Kate Blackburn, Wilt County Public Health Officer, has pointed out to the Salisbury Journal who know “how special it is to experience the winter solstice for some people” and want “that everyone who attends can do it safely.” So, although the event is outdoors, “it is important to take precautions” and a negative covid test is required. Given the scarcity of parking on this date, it is recommended to go with some of the many tours organized from places like London. However, the authorities strongly suggest following the event as last year in streaming on YouTube and English Heritage social channels.

Emission Stonehenge sunrise live 2021 It will start at 7:25 GMT (8:25 in mainland Spain) and sunrise will take place at 8:09 (9:09 in Spain). In total the program (some suggestive shots of the monument with evocative music: it is not a bad idea to review in the meantime The golden branch from Frazer) will last about an hour and a half. Druids are unlikely to validate attendance for home contemplation in streaming, but of course it will be much more comfortable, especially if it rains. Typically, the sunset is also recorded and broadcast.

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A druid at Stonehenge during the summer solstice.
A druid at Stonehenge during the summer solstice. KIM LUDBROOK (EFE)

Beyond its original function millennia ago, whatever it was, the monument, of which only half remains today and which often answers questions with its stony silence, has been loaded with centuries of other connotations, to a large extent spurious. For years, modern pagan communities and Druid societies have come to the claim of the solstice and its supposed magic, spiritual charge and initiatory power, which mix with fans of the new age, Partygoers (eight bottle carts were filled in 1961) and simple onlookers. The British archaeologist Christopher Chippindale, one of the scholars who has investigated the monument more thoroughly and author of one of the reference books on it, Stonehenge, on the threshold of history (Destino, 1989), has said with a remarkable sense of humor that the picturesque parade of fans of the place on the solstice is actually the largest and most curious spectacle that these stones have seen in their very long history.

To be honest, Stonehenge has no relation to the ancient Druids, the priestly class of Celtic cultures that Julius Caesar (and later other Roman historians, Tacitus for Britannia) gave negative news about. who is popularly identified with the character Panoramix from Asterix. In fact, everything seems to indicate that the monument, much older than the Druids, was abandoned and had no role during the time of their activity (although it has been suggested that the remains of a man beheaded with a sword and excavated in the site in 1923, lost and found in a cabinet in London’s Natural History Museum in 2000, they might have something to do with it). This has not been an obstacle to an identification of one and the other, and the contemporary Druids consider that they are at home in Stonehenge.

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The association was largely responsible for the old British antiquarians and proto-archaeologists of the 18th century who, trying to scrutinize the mysteries posed by the megalithic ensemble with their few conceptual instruments of the time, made use of the Druids, favorite characters of the imaginary that they always play (and tell Uderzo and Gosciny), and they described Stonehenge as a sanctuary created by them and consecrated to their rites.

Antiquarian nonsense

At the head of these antiquaries, to whom archeology owes so much despite its nonsense, was William Stukeley (1687-1765), vicar of Stamford, who worked at Stonehenge in the summers of 1721 to 1724, seized by an “ecstasy “In which past, mist and stone merged. The curious and eccentric Stukeley, who came to lunch atop one of the lintels of the triliths and fell asleep before the spell of stone circles subjected to “the implacable jaws of time” like broken teeth, attributed Stonehenge to the ancient Britons and especially to his druids, romantic and passionate characters who captivated his overflowing imagination and whom he conceived as proto-Christians. Wrote Stonehenhe: a temple restored to the British Druids, adopted the identity of a druid under the name Chyndonax and was one of those responsible, with James Macpherson (re-enactor of the bard Ossian) and Thomas Gray (with his poem The bard, illustrated by Blake), of the Druidic revival that continues to echo today. For two centuries, the newly minted Druids have staged ceremonies at Stonehenge and in some cases have come to rule the place and even deposit the ashes of its leaders. Chippindale synthesizes that Stonehenge “has never recovered from the vision of Reverend Stukeley”, and hence much of the success of its solstices.

With their distinctive elements studied over and over again, generation after generation, the sarcen stones (the thirty posts with lintels of the outer circle), the “blue stones” (of gray sandstone), the Aubrey pits, the burial mounds, the embankment, the moat, the Altar Stone and the Stone of Slaughter (in the 18th century it was considered to be used to collect the blood of the victims who were sacrificed on it), Stonehenge continues to guard its secrets jealously. At first it was believed to have been built by the Romans, then by the Danes. The Phoenicians, the giants, the devil were also blamed.

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Until people like Stukeley or John Aubrey, or later John Smith and other Druidomaniacs, advocated the Britons and their Druids (later it was tried to associate the stones with Mycenaean Greece). One problem is that there were no trees at Stonehenge and the Druids were nobody without their sacred groves, holm oaks, and mistletoe. But the idea took hold and continues to the present day in which the neo-ruids roam the monument with their ceremonial (in which the most sinister aspects such as human sacrifices have been removed) and their supposedly Druidic clothes. Part of this sense of possession can be seen in some of the messages that English Heritage receives on its social accounts, such as one in which someone identified as “Merlin” remembers that the entity is only the guardian of an enclosure “whose property is Our heritage”. In this regard, the notice that Chippindale picks up on a sign at an entrance to Stonehenge during a solstice is very funny: “Only press passes and druids are allowed.”

The homeless past

Stonehenge, which is worth a visit whether it be on the solstice or not, is deeply ingrained in our imagination. Siegfried Sassoon dedicated some precious verses to the monument: “What is Stonehenge? It is the past without a roof (…) The stones remain, their stillness will survive / the clouds of history that fall above them ”. The most famous novel in which it appears is Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, from 1889, where the protagonist sees, precisely, sunrise there, in a beautiful passage, while waiting to be arrested for the murder of her husband (in the 1979 film version with Nastassja Kinski, Roman Polanski had to recreate the monument in Normandy being unable to enter England). Also the stone circle was the subject of a remarkable and well-documented historical novel by Bernard Cornwell, Stonehenge (Edhasa, 2000), an excellent way to get into the subject.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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