The Stonehenge Pilgrims

1 05 2020

Since our Neolithic ancestors erected Stonehenge thousands of years ago and exulted in its majesty, people have continued to gather at the hallowed stones. Centuries worth of pilgrimage and spiritual congregation have continued to endow the monument with meaning. All visitors, pilgrims and revellers connect with our ancestors and with the enigmatic and arcane origins of the stones, and ultimately give Stonehenge its primal energy and continuity that any visitor enjoys today.  In this piece, I wanted to examine the history of the pilgrimage associated with the monoliths and how the people who visit and celebrate in the presence of the stones are so important to its continued vitality.

A pilgrimage is ‘a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about the self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience.’  The aim of pilgrimage is spiritual growth, enlightenment or even epiphany (the ancient Greek term for encountering and learning from a god) – the aim is to be overawed by something greater than yourself. For over a millennium, the monoliths of Stonehenge have held enough power to be a continued inspirer of pilgrimage.

Many believe that Stonehenge had religious significance for our ancestors who built it, and many would have made the journey to the stones from far and wide, to witness the grandest monument in existence at the time. It could even be said that the stones themselves and the people who carried them made the greatest pilgrimage of all – the blue stones travelling an astonishing 160 miles from south Wales. The point being, that through its dedicated construction, Stonehenge became a spiritual hub, drawing together people and connecting them with one another. Archaeological digs have uncovered evidence of ritualistic slaughter and feasting in and around the landscape of Stonehenge, dating back to the time of construction. Research at the University of Sheffield has even suggested that the specific dates for the feasting, pinpointing Midwinter celebrations. This proves that celebration and community have always been at the heart of Stonehenge.

Today, in our heady modern lives, which are so absorbed by technology, which purports to bring us together but leaves us more isolated than ever, we are more in need of pilgrimage than ever, for renewal, vitality and peace. To this day, Stonehenge plays hosts to gatherings of thousands of pilgrims and recreates the spiritual gathering of the past; gathering to celebrate the modern-day summer and winter solstices.  For centuries the stones fell out of public ownership and the arcane rituals of the past seemed lost for good. However, the Stones were given to the nation in 1918 and the festival scene has returned to Stonehenge over the last century, giving a home to the most spiritual gatherings and modern-day pilgrims. The summer Solstice is especially popular, the nature of which is joyous and brings together people from all walks of life, including: Druids, wiccans, witches, pagans, tourists, astronomers, locals and revellers of all descriptions. In a country with comparatively few national holidays, a celebration with such deep-rooted history as well as joy, is as cleansing as it is necessary, one of the greatest modern festivals.

The true power of the modern celebrations at Stonehenge lay in their connectivity. Not only do todays pilgrims disengage from modern life and connect with their fellow man – but they connect to our ancestors, across the centuries, preserving their memory and continuing to bestow the monument we all cherish with renewed energy for generations to come.

RELEVANT LINKS:

A Pilgrim’s Guide to Stonehenge. The Winter Solstice Celebrations, Summer Solstice and Equinox Dawn Gatherings – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge may have been pilgrimage site for sick – REUTERS
The Great Stones Way. This pilgrimage links the North Wessex Downs to Salisbury Plain, across the Vale of Pewsey – connecting us with our deep, prehistoric past. – THE BRITISH PILGRIMAGE TRUST
Go on a Pilgrimage. Feed mind, body and spirit with a pilgrimage along these 10 historic trails – ENGLISH HERITAGE
Background to the Stonehenge Solstice Celebrations – THE STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Solstice and Equinox Tours. Join the megalithic experts for a magical sunrise tour at the annual access gatherings. – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
A Huge ‘Highway’ of Roads and Rivers Brought Stones and Pilgrims to Build Stonehenge – MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE

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Amesbury to Stonehenge Solstice Lantern Parade 2016

30 11 2016

The annual lantern parade is back again this year on the 20th December 2016 starting at the Amesbury History Centre 4:45pm.

As usual the route will take the procession through the beautiful grounds of the Amesbury Abbey where we will stop for mince pies and mulled wine before making our way to the ancient spring where the solstice lantern will be waiting for us and our resident druid Frank Somners will perform a service.

amesburylantern-1

Amesbury Lantern Procession along the original “Avenue”

The fading solstice light at Stonehenge is taken and put into the solstice lantern which is kept alight all night to light the darkest night and then taken back to the stones the next morning to extinguish. This is a tradition that started a few years ago and has grown in popularity year on year.

Come and join us and our ancestors in celebrating the solstice. Lanterns are available from the History Centre for £3.50 each and there will be an afternoon of lantern decorating in the centre on the 20th until 3:30pm

Visit their website for more details

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Why did the builders of Stonehenge choose Salisbury Plain?

23 10 2016

One of the most frequently asked questions about Stonehenge is “Why is it where it is?” and there are several possible explanations for this. They’re described below but it’s important to understand that combinations of these are also possible – there may not be just one single reason.

The location isn’t at all the obvious choice because it’s not at the top of the slope, which rises further towards the west. However, if you analyse the terrain you realise that it’s ideally positioned to give medium to long distance views to the northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest over a horizon that is relatively flat in profile.

In fact, the horizon is less than 1° in elevation in all directions.

Salisbury Plain

Archaeologists believe that there were only isolated stands of trees in the Salisbury Plain landscape at the time Stonehenge was built, far fewer than are evident today, so the far-reaching views that are hidden today by modern plantations wouldn’t have been obscured.

viewshed-and-horizon

In the Google Earth image the areas coloured red are directly visible from Stonehenge while the purple line shows the extent of the visible horizon (without trees in the way).

So why not build it further up the westerly slope and achieve even further-reaching views? To do so would be to lose some of the flatness of the horizon in key directions. As it is, Stonehenge appears to be in the centre of a bowl of visibility where the directions to the important astronomical events of summer and winter solstice sunrise and sunset are clear and level.

The second theory relates to the Station Stone Rectangle. Originally there were four Station Stones situated just inside the henge bank. Only two remain in place, the positions of the others (whose stoneholes have been detected) are known.

The short sides of this rectangle are parallel to the main alignment at Stonehenge – winter solstice sunset to summer solstice sunrise. In 1966, C.A. “Peter” Newham pointed out in an article in

station-stone-rectangle

Nature that the long sides of the rectangle are aligned on the extreme moonrise and moonset positions, in a cycle that takes 18.6 years to complete.

It’s a feature of the astronomical geometry that only at the latitude of Stonehenge (give or take 30 miles) that these solar and lunar alignments occur at right angles to each other. Further north or south than that limit and the Station Stone Rectangle would become a parallelogram.

The third possibility concerns the Heel Stone and the Avenue. The Heel Stone is an unshaped sarsen boulder weighing in at over 35 tons that is positioned to the northeast of Stonehenge at the top of the ceremonial approach way called the Avenue. It is traditionally associated with marking the position of sunrise on the summer solstice as seen from the centre of the circle.

During excavations by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in the mid-2000s, a series of features were discovered at the top of the Avenue which have been identified as “periglacial stripes”. These cracks and runnels in the underlying chalk where water has repeatedly frozen and thawed happen to run exactly along the main solstice alignment down the slope to the northeast beyond the Heel Stone.

periglacial

The SRP team suggest that these features would have been visible as parallel lines in the grass leading towards the Heel Stone. They go on to suggest that since the Heel Stone is unshaped, it may always have been lying in the landscape very close to where it has been set upright.

They conclude that a series of noticeable stripes in the grass leading up a slope towards a massive rock exactly in the direction of the winter solstice sunset may be the reason why this spot was regarded as a special place, worthy of memorialising.

Fourthly, there’s the theory that the combination of Bluestones from Wales with Sarsens from the more local area represents the symbolic political unification of two different groups of people at this spot on the borderland between their separate spheres of influence.

We do know that the area has been a focus of activity for more than 10,000 years going right back to the end of the last Ice Age in Britain, as shown by the recent discoveries at Blick Mead in Amesbury, and there are the massive Mesolithic post holes in the landscape only a couple of hundred metres northwest of Stonehenge.

Perhaps we’re looking at the continuation of a specialness that was handed down across the generations, with each successive group embellishing the stories and the monumentalisation a little for itself until finally we end up with a Visitor Centre that receives over a million people a year.

Ultimately though, the reasons for the choice of this location will remain one of the more puzzling Stonehenge mysteries.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Salisbury Plain links:
Salisbury Plain Safaris offers a unique look at the dramatic landscapes, rich history and picturesque villages surrounding Salisbury, Stonehenge and the surrounding villages.
Stonehenge Guided Tours offer unique guided tours of the Stonehenge landscape and Salisbury Plain
Stonehenge ATV. This is what you have been looking for – the ultimate two seater buggy Salisbury Plain experience.
Visit Wiltshire.  Looking for more information on the famous Salisbury plain?…If so, click here to get the latest information direct from the official Wiltshire tourism site!

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Neolthic Houses at Stonehenge Visitor Centre

25 03 2014

NEOLITHIC buildings are being painstakingly recreated in the new outdoor exhibition area of the Stonehenge visitor centre.

Salisbury Journal: Neolithic houses at Stonehenge

Neolithic houses at Stonehenge

When complete, the houses will showcase what life would have been like at the time that Stonehenge was built. The re-created huts are based on archaeological evidence unearthed at the nearbyDurrington Walls.

 

Volunteers are weaving hundreds of hazel rods through the main supporting stakes, thatching the roofs with hand-knotted wheat straw, and starting to cover the walls with a daub of chalk, straw and water.

Once the buildings are completed, volunteers will be on hand to talk to visitors about the project and to demonstrate the daily activities of our Neolithic ancestors.

 

 

Link source:
Salisbury Journal http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/11097745.Neolithic_houses_at_Stonehenge/

Link resource:
Follow their progress here: http://neolithichouses.wordpress.com/
English Heritage Link: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/discover/neolithic-houses

Follow the project and progress on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/NeolithicHouses
https://twitter.com/Eh_stonehenge
https://twitter.com/ST0NEHENGE

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The Stonehenge and local area news blog








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