Background to the Stonehenge Solstice Celebrations…

8 01 2011

Aricle with thanks to Jim Rayner (Re: The forthcoming book ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to Stonehenge’)

Crowds of people gathering to celebrate the modern day summer solstice at Stonehenge has developed from a grass-roots level and this is something we are not used to in our fast-paced consumer driven society. The notion of people gathering together under their own terms is in some ways a lost art in Britain outside the confines of major sporting occasions, concerts, weekend shopping trips and nights out on the town. Major royal and civic events could also be added to this list. The festival scene however, has given more alternative gathering a real boost. The nature of celebration is to have a joyous time and it is interesting to note that the United Kingdom has amongst the least number of public holidays in Europe. We work increasingly long hours and stresses of modern living can take a toll on the body, as well as the mind. There is certainly a market for a successful summer solstice celebration at Stonehenge for people intending to free their spirits in a communal gathering at an age-old and identifiable site.

So, who actually attends the modern celebrations?

The answer is many different groups of people – Druids, pagans, wiccans, witches, tourists, locals, revellers, hippies, night-clubbers, bikers, students, curious on-lookers, spiritualists, historians, political activists, anarchists, eccentrics, environmentalists, travellers and astronomers. Some adherents to eastern religions such as Hare Krishna devotees and some practitioners of Buddhist meditation may also attend, as well as many people from abroad.

The fact is, that this is now an occasion open to anyone who wants to come; gone are the days of exclusion.

The first sizeable groups to visit the stones in modern times, other than passing travellers and nearby townsfolk were 19th century day trippers; often using the railway to Salisbury as a connecting point. At the turn of the 20th century ownership was transferred from private hands to the nation. Modern day Druids started to hold ceremonies with groups of onlookers. This soon developed into a larger gathering or open fair by the 1920’s, with music and crowds ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. Later by the 1960’s the site became a focus for counter-culture and a large annual ‘free festival’ started to emerge from 1974 onwards. Several leading figures including Phil Russell, alias ‘Wally Hope’ dedicated the stones as a people’s temple open to all and the developing free festival became the embodiment of these ideals.

In 1985 the growing festival and its associated peace convoy of travellers was brutally ambushed by the police in the infamous ‘Battle of the Beanfield’. In this year the festival was smashed before it even began. An antagonistic exclusion zone was then set up around the stones for what eventually amounted to the next fourteen years. People however, still yearned to gather at this special place and after several years of negotiation, arrangements were finally granted for a few hours of access at midsummer 2000.

The issue of the festival is still a contentious issue. There are those who argue for the right to gather at the stones for a few days and party. The National Trust, who are the major landowners around the site, the police, local residents and English Heritage all continue to express the concern that the original free festival was unsustainable. It had grown out of all proportion to the site and threatened the surrounding landscape.  They believe the same would happen again if another free festival emerged and that the best way forward is through the structure of Managed Open Access (MOA).

However, there continues to be an open debate about what the nature of the occasion is all about.

In my mind some people still attend the summer solstice celebrations hoping to find a ‘rock’ festival with bands, DJ’s, dance tents and headline acts taking centre stage. When, in fact today they actually get a ‘rock’ festival with ‘rocks’ of the stone variety. This can result in a number of people wandering around not being exactly sure what to do with themselves in the absence of ‘amplified’ music. It is possible that a supporting festival could be provided at an alternative location to cater for those with music on their minds. This happened in part with the 2006 Somerset based ‘Sunrise Festival’ and subsequently attendance at the celebrations was lower than usual. Andy Worthington notes this distinction as follows;

‘Even during the festival years, the number of people actually visiting the stones on the solstice was rarely more than a few thousand, a situation that concerned Bev Richardson, who noted that, as the festival grew, the spiritual significance of the temple dwindled, so that two thirds of those attending the festival in 1977 visited the stones at the solstice, but only a thousand out of 40,000 did so in 1984’. (1)

Crowd numbers are another major factor concerning the modern celebrations. This happened in 2003 when the MOA fell on a weekend for the first time and 30,000 people turned up. The management of such large numbers is a real concern for English Heritage. It is possible that attendance might increase again, but since the high point of 2003 numbers have generally levelled out at about 21,000. This proves that the appeal of the gathering does indeed have its limitations, especially when other factors such as the weather, a midweek solstice and even *England international football matches are taken into consideration.

Entering the solstice space of MOA the central horseshoe of the main circle is filled to capacity with revellers cheering to an undulating beat of drums. The majority of the crowd, however, sit and stand outside waiting for the sun to arrive under the ambient glow of mobile flood light units. A simple sheet of rules known as the ‘Terms and Conditions of Entry’ is provided to all attendees. Apart from the time of sunrise and the preceding sunset, there is a distinct lack of information about the main torch-lit parade and Druid ceremony. Yet, even with this lack of knowledge about things to do, the celebrations are a major draw. The lack of any structure is there to allow the occasion to develop from the ground up rather than be imposed from the top down. Revelry and drunkenness is a common feature of the solstice and many do go there to get high. However, if the event is to move forward the provision of more information with the emphasis on the positive would be a good idea. For most, having a drink at the solstice is no more than a social lubricant, but unfortunately for a small minority the drunkenness can take on a slightly anti-social element with sometimes misplaced exuberance around others, especially those with young children. 

Whilst drunkenness will always be a feature of the summer solstice celebrations, the anti-social aspect to the revelry can often be quite shocking for those expecting a more sedate occasion and whilst Stonehenge can enthral an audience, it can also greatly disappoint. The lack of respect for the site created by the debris of the all-night party scene has led some people to ask themselves the question – would they really want to go again?

The very nature of Stonehenge is that it is all things to all people and thankfully, there are many who do treat the site with respect, and take a positive view of the place. A small band of volunteer ‘Peace Stewards’ help with general advice and aim to defuse tensions with the unruly few.

Personally, I am attracted to the solstice because it represents a free-space where ideas can germinate. It is a place where a connection can be made with a primeval urge to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors and mark out a sustainable path for the future. Without the vision of the original festival organisers and the campaign for access after the Beanfield none of this would have happened. This included those who kept turning up at the stones attempting to celebrate the solstice during the years of exclusion.

Many archaeologists and historians also agree that psychedelics were used at ancient solstice celebrations through the use of naturally available fungi, plant extracts and dried herbs. This would have been a way of communing with nature and contacting the spirit world in shamanic type rituals. In the book ‘Hengeworld’ Mike Pitts notes that;

‘It’s not a joke: some of them it seems really were stoned.’

‘An early idea in recent discussions of altered states by archaeologists concerned Beaker pots. You will remember that these pots were once equated with invading peoples, but that this interpretation gave way to less sweeping links with peculiar social sects or fashions, or perhaps beer drinking cults. ….Maybe there was a cult, involving not beer but plant hallucinogens.’ (2)

Perhaps the emphasis on excessive hedonism is a continuing part of an ancient tradition and a ritual for some in its own right? The recent discovery and excavation of the temple’s original associated village at the nearby Durrington Walls confirmed that the place also had associations of being where people ‘went to party’ (3) in the distant past, albeit with reference to the winter solstice, rather than the summer one. In reality drunkenness at the stones today only mirrors issues of ‘binge-drinking’ in wider British society. What you see at the summer solstice celebrations is no different to what goes on during most weekends in any major UK town or city centre.

Public safety however, is paramount in the minds of the authorities and memories of the football disasters of the 1980’s combined with the current climate for ‘compensation culture’ has lead to a cautious approach. Local authorities and governmental agencies tend to like events which they conceive and manage themselves, rather than ones which grow out of the public imagination, which they then have to manage afterwards. The current MOA arrangement at Stonehenge is just this type of situation and is a good example of one big compromise between a whole-range of interested parties.

Anyone who has followed the story of solstice access over the last few years will have no doubt realised that excluding people just does not work. Stonehenge is a temple open to everyone. Everyone, really meaning everyone and the saying, ‘bring what you expect to find’ could not be truer.

*The Football World Cup and European Championships finals are often held in June and key matches can coincide with the celebrations. This is of course dependant on England qualifying!

(1) WORTHINGTON, Andy. 2004 ‘Stonehenge Celebration and Subversion’ Alternative Albion, page 240
(2) PITTS, Mike 2000 ‘Hengeworld’ Century Press, page 232
(3) PARKER PEARSON, Mike. 2007 online at; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6311939.stm
http://www.stonehengecelebrations.co.uk/
http://www.stonehengetours.com/html/summer-solstice-tour.htm
http://www.efestivals.co.uk/festivals/stonehenge/

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle website

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Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2010

23 12 2010

Snow and ice failed to stop people visiting Stonehenge to watch the

Stonehenge Solstice

Stonehenge Solstice

sunrise on the winter solstice, 22nd December 2010

Almost 2,000 people gathered at the stones which were surrounded by a thick blanket of snow.

As well as the traditional druid and pagan ceremonies, a spontaneous snowball fight erupted as people enjoyed the cold weather.  A good time was had by all.

I will be uploading photos and videos later today – can you see yourself? 

Many thanks for all the helpful tweets over the solstice – http://twitter.com/ST0NEHENGE

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-12061134
http://www.stonehengetours.com (sponsor)
http://www.HisTOURies.co.uk (sponsor)





Stonehenge Winter Solstice Panoramic pictures

21 12 2010

Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2010 Panoramic

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Panoramic

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Panoramic (Copyright)

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Panoramic

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Panoramic

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Panoramic (Copyright)

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More Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2010 images – click here
Merlin @ Stonehenge





Stonehenge Winter Solstice 21stDecember 2010

21 12 2010

I went to Stonehenge this morning hoping to witness the Lunar eclipse between 7.30am and 8am.  Sadly there was freezing fog and a snowy sky?  It was a pleasant surprise to find that English Heritage decided to grant access into Stonehenge today as well as tomorrow (22nd)  There were a few hundred ‘happy’ people, a pagan wedding and a small Druid ceremony.  It was extremely cold but well worth it. 
I have uploaded these photos for your perusal – hot off the press!  They anticipate 2-3000 people for tomorrows Solstice celebrations – See you there!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Happy Solstice
Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website





Winter Solstice Celebrations at Stonehenge

20 12 2010

THE winter solstice will be celebrated at Stonehenge on Wednesday. Sunrise is at 8.09am on December 22 and visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely.

Entrance is free and will be available from roughly 7.30am until 9am, when the site will close to visitors before re-opening as per usual at 9.30am.

This photo was emailed to me yesterday ?

Peter Carson from English Heritage said: “We are delighted to offer people a warm welcome to Stonehenge this Winter Solstice. Over the years, the event has grown from a handful of people to a celebration enjoyed by a couple of thousand of people. We work very closely with the Druid and Pagan community to ensure that the event is a success.”

A date for the diary, that is if you are prepared to face the winter snow, but perhaps in the circumstances it would be wiser to stay at home and celebrate the Winter Solstice safely there!

THE winter solstice will be celebrated at Stonehenge on Wednesday.

Sunrise is at 8.09am on December 22 and visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely.

Entrance is free and will be available from roughly 7.30am until 9am, when the site will close to visitors before re-opening as per usual at 9.30am…….

There is no public transport to Stonehenge at that time of the morning and parking is limited – you have been warned!  Avebury Stone Circle could be a safer alternative ?

Happy Solstice!
Merlin @ Stonehenge
I will upload images to this blog on the 22nd





Yule – Winter Solstice

9 12 2010
21st/22nd December
Yule or the Midwinter Solstice is the time of year when we experience our shortest day and longest night – the sun is at its lowest point in the sky at noon. Yule meaning ‘wheel’ is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.

Stonehenge Winter Solstice celebrations

Stonehenge Winter Solstice celebrations

In Wiltshire the winter solstice is still celebrated by the lighting up of the white horse at Alton Barnes. Tea lights in jars are placed on the chalk, so that the horse glows with candlelight.

Wassailing
New Year’s Eve was the traditional time that this ceremony took place, and was originally held around the oldest tree in the apple orchard. The first cider crop was poured on the roots of the apple tree to thank the tree spirits for the crop of apples, and to ensure a good harvest next year.

Drumming and bamging sticks would beat away any bad spirits, and the wassail cup would be passed around. Toast dipped in cider would then be hung on the oldest tree, as an offering to the tree dryads.
‘Wassail’ was Saxon for ‘good health’.

In the eleventh-century, the Danish rule over England brought the Scandinavian term for Christmas – Yule. Christmastide was the time to bring out the wassail bowl or cup. The leader of the celebrations would call ‘Wassail’, which was Old English for ‘your health’, and the answer was ‘Drinkhail’, at which the bowl was passed round so everyone took took a drink and handed it on with a kiss

Symbolism of Yule:

Rebirth of the Sun, The longest night of the year, The Winter Solstice, Introspect, Planning for the Future.

Symbols of Yule:
Yule log, or small Yule log with 3 candles, evergreen boughs or wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, gold pillar candles, baskets of clove studded fruit, a simmering pot of wassail, poinsettias, christmas cactus.

Herbs of Yule:
Bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense holly, laurel, mistletoe, oak, pine, sage, yellow cedar.

Foods of Yule:
Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb’s wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).

Incense of Yule:
Pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon.

Colors of Yule:
Red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow, orange.

Stones of Yule:
Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds.

Activities of Yule:
Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, honoring Kriss Kringle the Germanic Pagan God of Yule

Spellworkings of Yule:
Peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.

Deities of Yule:
Goddesses-Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana, The Great Mother. Gods-Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The Green Man, The Divine Child, Mabon.

Symbolism of Yule:

Rebirth of the Sun, The longest night of the year, The Winter Solstice, Introspect, Planning for the Future.

Symbols of Yule:
Yule log, or small Yule log with 3 candles, evergreen boughs or wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, gold pillar candles, baskets of clove studded fruit, a simmering pot of wassail, poinsettias, christmas cactus.

Herbs of Yule:
Bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense holly, laurel, mistletoe, oak, pine, sage, yellow cedar.

Foods of Yule:
Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb’s wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).

Incense of Yule:
Pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon.

Colors of Yule:
Red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow, orange.

Stones of Yule:
Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds.

Activities of Yule:
Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, honoring Kriss Kringle the Germanic Pagan God of Yule

Spellworkings of Yule:
Peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.

Deities of Yule:
Goddesses-Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana, The Great Mother. Gods-Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The Green Man, The Divine Child, Mabon.

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website

Our ancestors celebrated the rebirth of the Sun god at Yule, and the expulsion of the evil winter spirits. The winter solstice was considered a mysterious and powerful time, for it is at this point the sun begins to make the return journey across our skies. After the longest night of the year the sun is seen as growing stronger and the return of the warmer season is welcomed – the concept of rebirth became strongly associated with the Winter Solstice.

Three days after Yule many people exchange gifts and celebrate Christmas – the birth of Jesus, as our ancestors celebrated the return of light and the sun growing in strength. The well-known figure of Father Christmas may have derived from the Pagan god, Herne the Hunter.
Yule was celebrated with bonfires to stimulate the ascent of the sun, and lamps illuminated houses decorated with evergreens to simulate summer.

It is a time to look on the past year’s achievements. The days will now grow longer up to the mid summer solstice.

Yule Traditions

The Yule Log – during medieval times, the decorated log was ceremoniously carried into the home on Christmas Eve, and placed in the fireplace. Traditionally the Yule log was lit with the saved stump of last year’s log, and then it was burnt over the twelve days of the winter celebration, and its ashes and stump were kept until the following year to sprinkle on the new log, so that the fortune would be passed on from year to year.
In France and Germany ashes from the Yule log were mixed with the cattle feed to ensure their health and in other regions the ash was sprinkled around fruit trees to increase their yield of fruit.

Yule wreaths
were traditionally made of evergreens and holly and ivy. Holly represents the female and ivy the male and the wreath’s circle symbolizes the wheel of the year. Both holly and ivy were used as protection in the home against bad spirits making a Yuletide wreath
solstice wreath making





Full Moon this Winter Solstice 2010

7 12 2010

The exact time for the Winter Solstice is December 21st, 11.39pm (UK time). The sunset on the 21st is at 3.53pm and the sunrise on the 22nd of December at 8.04am. Exceptionally, we can also expect a full moon on December 21st

Since 1793, when The Old Farmer’s Almanac began tracking heavenly events and seasonal changes, the Moon has been full on the first day of winter just nine times. The next occurrence will be in this coming Winter Solstice

 

Full moon at Stonehenge this Winter Solstice

Full moon at Stonehenge this Winter Solstice

 

The rarity of a solstitial full Moon—the average interval is about 19 years—reinforces the Moon’s role as a beacon playing on human history. Although our research could not find a correlation between these lunar events and significant historical happenings on similar dates in the past*, the combination of astronomical forces certainly affect the tides.

As astronomer Bob Berman explains, during this time of proxigean tides [unusually high tides due to the Moon’s phase and proximity to Earth], coastal flooding could occur if there is one more little extra effect, such as a storm at sea, on-shore winds, or low barometric pressure.

If the solstice night is calm and cloudless, with the full Moon beaming down on a blanket of snow, it will be irresistibly attractive, and electrical illumination—even your car’s headlights—may seem superfluous.

Full moon - Winter Solstice

Full moon - Winter Solstice

2010
Spring equinox – Mar 20 at 5.35pm
Summer solstice – Jun 21
at 11.30am
Autumn equinox – Sep 23
at 3.10am
Winter solstice – Dec 21

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website








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