Vernal (Spring) Equinox at Stonehenge.

25 02 2017

The Spring Equinox in 2017 falls on March 20th and occurs at 10:28am GMT. The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°. Everywhere on Earth has a day and night of almost equal length and it marks the beginning of the northern spring season.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge. Copyright

There is considerable debate in the archaeoastronomy community as to whether the Equinox had any special meaning for the builders of Stonehenge. They had no accurate clocks by which they could determine when the day and night were almost exactly equal and discovering the mid-point between the Winter and Summer solstice can be done in a couple of obvious ways.

You can count the days and divide by two. Or you can mark the summer and winter sunrise positions along the horizon and divide that line into two equal parts. These two methods give different results.

For example, counting the days between Winter Solstice 2016 (December 21st) and Summer Solstice 2017 (June 21st) gives 182 days. Half of that is 91, meaning the midpoint would fall on March 22nd 2017 – two days after the actual Equinox.

north_season

The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°

 

Using the “divide the horizon” approach causes an additional problem – at the Solstices do you mark the first gleam of the Sun appearing, the point when half of it is above the horizon or when it has fully risen and the full orb is standing exactly on the horizon?

The difference in position between using “first gleam” and “full orb” is about 1.5° because the Sun rises at an angle. As a result the halfway position could be 0.75° different depending on your choice and that is one and a half times the width of the Sun’s disc, potentially putting your Equinox out by a day or so.

In any event, there is no alignment through Stonehenge for the Equinox and what’s more there isn’t even a clear sightline directly through the monument that runs true East-West towards the Equinox sunrise position, in the way that there are clear sightlines for the Solstice sunrises and sunsets.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice photo of an equinox sunrise when it’s clear, because you can.

equinox-sunrise

English Heritage Charitable Trust allows everyone in to the centre of the monument for the Spring Equinox sunrise, in the same way that they do for the Autumn Equinox and the two Solstices, through their “Managed Open Access” events. It’s one of only four occasions in the year when open access is allowed.

It’s worth checking with their customer services department (0370 333 1181) a week or so ahead because sometimes they set the actual day of the open access to be different to the day when the Equinox occurs.

Equinox open accesses attract fewer people than the Solstices – in the several hundreds rather than tens of thousands – and there are modern Druid ceremonies which are held in the circle around dawn, so if you prefer a quieter experience then attending an Equinox is a good choice.

If you do visit Stonehenge on the Equinox please respect the special terms of entry and read this blog: ‘Respecting the Stones’

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join a specialist organised small group tour.  Use a only a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions of entry.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company offering award winning discreet tours from London. Solstice Events offer small group sunrise tours using only local expert guides.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Druid Leader King Arthur Uther Pendragon, Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.

10 12 2016

King Arthur Uther Pendragon is the Chosen Chief and titular Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, a highly political modern Druid order that campaigns on a variety of issues primarily to do with Stonehenge.

8012908913_1b46a670da_z

These issues include protesting against the inclusion of human remains in English Heritage’s visitor centre exhibition, championing the right of celebrants to freely attend Solstices and Equinoxes at Stonehenge without having to “pay to pray” and calling for the return of the cremated remains that have been excavated from the Aubrey Holes and removed from the site by archaeologists.

He’s also got a long history as an eco-warrior and civil rights activist, protesting against road developments (notably the Newbury Bypass and Twyford Down) and of standing as an independent Parliamentary candidate for the Salisbury constituency.

When the media are looking for a soundbite from the rapidly growing pagan community in the UK, they invariably call Arthur and as a result the perception of many of the public is that he is the King of all the Druids. This tends to annoy some other people in the pagan and Druid community who resent the implication that Arthur speaks for all of them. Arthur, however, doesn’t claim this for himself.

What Arthur does believe is that he’s the modern reincarnation of the archetypal King Arthur of legend – returned to do battle for Truth, Honour and Justice in Britain’s hour of need.

arthur-closeupIn 1986 he changed his name from John Rothwell (ex biker and ex Army serviceman) by deed poll and he is unique in that his passport – in the name of Arthur Uther Pendragon – shows him wearing his crown.

The sword that he carries – Excalibur, naturally – is one of the originals made for the film of the same name. Its previous owner initially refused to part with it, on the basis that he’d only sell if the real King Arthur showed up to claim it. Arthur promptly presented his passport, much to the surprise of the owner!

His life story is too involved and full of startling magical coincidence to go into here but his biography “The Trials of Arthur” (C. J. Stone and A. U. Pendragon, Element Books, 2003) is worth reading if you want to better understand the man and his motivation.

After the government shut down the Stonehenge Free Festival with the infamous and appalling police violence of the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, an exclusion zone was established around Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice complete with roadblocks, razor wire, helicopters, horses and dogs. Years of conflict between the festival community and the authorities followed.

Arthur was a key figure in the campaign to re-open Stonehenge to celebrants and eventually took the government to the European Court in 1998, claiming that the exclusion zone breached his freedom of thought, conscience, religion and freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The exclusion zone was lifted in 1999 and in 2000 the first of the Summer Solstice Managed Open Access events took place, with around 5000 people attending a celebration through the night in pouring rain.

arthur-ceremony

These open accesses have continued ever since at Solstices and Equinoxes and it is doubtful that they would have ever begun if not for the campaigning of Arthur and others.

In the great British tradition of eccentrics, Arthur stands out proudly – he is the grit in the oyster, a thorn in the side of bureaucracy and passionate about the causes he champions.

You may or may not agree with him, you may like or dislike him, but you can’t deny that he gets out there and tries to change things in the face of almost overwhelming odds.

Without him the world would be a much less colourful place – as a nation, we could do with more of his kind.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Loyal Arthurian Warband website: http://www.warband.org.uk
“The Trials of Arthur” Book review
Follow King Arthur on Twitter
King Arthur live periscope broadcast at the Autumn Equinox
King Arthur and Stonehenge images on Flickr

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Winter Solstice Celebrations at Stonehenge: 21st December 2016

1 12 2016

English Heritage will once again welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Sunrise is just after 8am on Wednesday 21st December and visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely. Please read the information below before planning your visit.

frosty-sunrise-henge

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

DATE AND TIMINGS
WEDNESDAY 21st DECEMBER 2016
MONUMENT FIELD OPENS: 07.45am (approximately, depending on light levels)
MONUMENT FIELD CLOSES: 10am

Please note, access to Stonehenge for Winter Solstice is free. Parking charges apply.

GETTING HERE:

Parking for Winter Solstice is very limited and we cannot guarantee that you will be able to park near to Stonehenge. If you are planning to travel by car, wherever you park there may be a 30 minute walk to the Monument. We strongly recommend car sharing or using public transport.

Car Sharing – Request or offer a lift to Solstice at Stonehenge

Travel by busSalisbury Reds buses will be running from 06:30 from Salisbury (New Canal, Stop U and Salisbury Rail Station). Check timetable.

Blue Badge Parking – Blue badge parking is in the visitor centre car park and permits must be booked in advance. There is accessible transport to the monument field from the visitor centre beginning at approximately 6.30am. Permits available from Solstice.Stonehenge@english-heritage.org.uk

Parking and parking charges Limited parking is available in the winter solstice car parks, which will open at 5.30am on the 21st December.

As you approach Stonehenge, there will be signs to direct you to the car park – please ensure that you follow these. Please do not arrive early as there is no waiting on the roads in the area and you will be moved on.

Parking may involve a shuttle journey to the visitor centre and wherever you park there may be a 30 minute walk.

  • Cars, private hire minibuses and live-in vehicles £5
  • Motorbikes £2
  • Commercial coaches £50

The car parking charge is designed to encourage people to car share and will help the charity offset  the costs of providing additional staffing and lighting in the car parks.

Please note, car parking charges apply to all users of the Winter Solstice car parks, including Blue Badge holders, and members of English Heritage and National Trust.

Motorists have access to a park and ride shuttle from the off-site solstice car parking to the visitor centre. A shuttle will also be provided between the visitor centre and Stonehenge, however visitors are asked to note that disabled people have priority on this bus and should therefore be prepared for a 30 minute walk, in low light, from parking areas to the monument.

We cannot guarantee entry to the car parks and recommend coming by public transport as cars will be turned away when the car parks are full.

CONDITIONS OF ENTRY

Access to Stonehenge for solstice is subject to the Conditions of Entry – please read these before deciding whether to attend.

COME PREPARED

Stonehenge is in a field on Salisbury Plain and the weather in December will be cold and may be wet and windy. Even if it isn’t raining, the ground will be wet from the dew. There may also be frost.

Please be prepared for a 30 minute walk (in low light or darkness), from the bus drop off and from parking areas to the monument. You are strongly advised to wear warm and waterproof clothing and footwear and bring a torch with you.

Toilets at the Monument Field will only be available once the access period begins. There are no catering facilities in the monument field, however the café at the visitor centre is open for hot drinks and breakfast rolls from 6am.

Please note that there are no other amenities or facilities available to visitors until the Monument Field opens.

Please visit the official English Heritage website for full details.

Solstice Events are offering their usual small group Winter Solstice guided tour from London and Bath, ideal if you do not have your own transport and want to learn more about the history and  mystery of Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape. Visit their website to book.

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Stonehenge and the Druids

20 10 2016

Back in the mid 1600s one man came to the realisation that Stonehenge was far older than previously thought. Based on his studies, John Aubrey attributed the monument to the British pre-Roman priesthood called the Druids.

This began an association that has persisted for over 350 years despite all attempts by archaeologists to shake it. In the minds of most people, the Druids built Stonehenge.

The popularisation of the idea really took off in the 1700s when William Stukeley wrote a book called “Stonehenge – A Temple Restor’d to the British Druids”. So convinced was Stukeley that he styled himself as the Druid “Chyndonax” in the frontispiece of his book.

Stukeley as Chyndonax.jpg

Inspired, perhaps, by this vision of an ancient British tradition one of the first of a number of modern Druid groups was founded in 1781 by Henry Hurle. Called the “Ancient Order of Druids” (AOD), it was created as a fraternal organisation and quickly established a quasi-Masonic lodge structure that eventually spread to the USA and Australia.

What followed over the next century was the creation of a plethora of groups, orders and groves whose history is intertwined and overlapping. Making sense of this Druidic family tree is an almost impossible task but in broad outline it is as follows.

In 1792, a Welshman named Edward Williams (aka Iolo Morganwg), who claimed that the rites and customs of the ancient Druids had survived the Roman invasion, founded the Gorsedd of Welsh Bards at Primrose Hill in London. His literary works were to have a profound effect on the early neo-Druid movement and his influence persists to this day.

In 1833 the AOD split over a disagreement about lodge independence from the central Grand Lodge and a group of more than 100 lodges set up a new group called the “United Ancient Order of Druids”. Such arguments and secessions have been a hallmark of neo-Druidism ever since.

The Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids (AAOD) was founded in 1874 by Wentworth Little, a Rosicrucian and Freemason, with the intent of studying the links between freemasonry and ancient Druidic tradition.

By 1905, the AOD were holding ceremonies at Stonehenge to initiate new members into their order, up to 250 at a time. Some of the press ridiculed the use of cardboard sickles and fake beards, but many of their members were respected members of society – lawyers, doctors and clergy – who wanted to remain anonymous.

Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Edmund Antrobus (then owner of Stonehenge) were members of the AOD, although Churchill has also been associated with the AAOD.

ancient-order-of-druids-stonehenge-1905

In 1909 another new group – “The Druid Order” was founded by George MacGregor-Reid. Somewhat confusingly they were also known variously as “The Ancient Druid Order”, “The British Circle of the Universal Bond” and “An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas” (ie “The Universal Druid Brotherhood”). This group claims to have been founded in 1717 by John Toland, though this is disputed.

Ultimately this group also split – in 1964 – to form the “Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids” under its leader Ross Nichols. The group offers correspondence courses to those interested in Druidry.

Of all the Druids that celebrate Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, it’s The Druid Order that arguably has the longest tradition. They begin at midnight at the barrows southwest of Stonehenge, continue with a dawn observance and ultimately hold a noon ceremony within the monument itself.

The Druid Order at Stonehenge.jpg

More recently founded neo-Druid and pagan groups also hold ceremonies at Stonehenge at various times of the year. These include – in no particular order – the Dolmen Grove, the Dorset Grove, the Cotswold Order, the Loyal Arthurian Warband (LAW), the Stonehenge and Amesbury Druids and the Gorsedd of Cor Gawr.

the-dolmen-grove

Although the details of the ceremonies are varied, one theme is the re-enactment of a ritual battle between the Oak King and the Holly King which occurs twice a year, at Summer Solstice (when the Holly King wins) and the Winter Solstice (when the Oak King wins). Usually this is carried out using swords or wooden staves, but it has been seen done with rubber chickens and water pistols!

For the Open Access events at the Solstices and Equinoxes, at which everyone is allowed in to the centre of the monument to witness the sunrise, a pre-Dawn ceremony is usually led by some of the most recognisable of the modern Druids – notably King Arthur Uther Pendragon of the LAW and Rollo Maughling of the Glastonbury Order.

These are inclusive ceremonies that allow the general public an insight into the beliefs and traditions while serving to highlight the continuing modern use of Stonehenge as a Druidic Temple.

loyal-arthurian-warband

Here are links to some of the Druid Orders.

The Ancient Order of Druids – http://www.aod-uk.org.uk

The Druid Order – http://thedruidorder.org

Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids – http://druidry.org/

The Dolmen Grove – http://www.dolmengrove.co.uk/

The Dorset Grove – http://www.dorsetgrove.co.uk/

The Cotswold Order – http://www.twistedtree.org.uk/

The Loyal Arthurian Warband – http://www.warband.org.uk/

The Stonehenge and Amesbury Druids – http://www.stonehenge-druids.org/

The Gorsedd of Cor Gawr – http://bards.org.uk/

The Glastonbury Order of Druids – http://www.glastonburyorderofdruids.com/

Article written by guest blogger Simon Banton. Local historian and Stonehenge expert.

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King Arthur takes council to court in Stonhenge parking row

30 09 2016

Even kings have problems with councils, it seems.

King Arthur in all his glory (Picture: SWNS)

King Arthur in all his glory (Picture: SWNS)

Arthur Pendragon, the self-titled druid king of Britain and who says he’s the reincarnation of King Arthur, is suing over a parking charge at Stonehenge.

He’s also taking action against a police force and English Heritage over the £15 fee.

King Arthur believes the charge is ‘illegal’ for worshippers to the stones for the summer solstice, dubbing ‘pay to pray’.

The charge was introduced for this year’s event on June 21, which saw 12,000 people flock to Stonehenge, in Salisbury, Wiltshire, to mark the longest day of the year.

When Mr Pendragon refused to fork out – saying the £15 fee is ‘grossly unfair’ as it is three times what tourists pay on any other day of the year – he was barred from the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The 62-year-old, who rides a motorbike, decided to take action against the ‘money-grabbing’ authorities because it breaches his human rights.

Mr Pendragon – an ex-soldier and biker gang leader who was born John Timothy Rothwell to parents May and Wilfred – said he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to win.

Who is the modern-day King Arthur?

Mr Pendragon is an English eco-campaigner and Neo-Druid leader of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, who believes he is the reincarnation of King Arthur.

He rose to fame in the 90s when he won a case at the European Court of Human Rights to allow open access to Stonehenge for religious festivals.

He said: ‘If you go to Stonehenge as a tourist today you will pay £5, but if you go there on the solstice as a pilgrim they make you pay ££15.

‘As soon as they bring in a parking charge, it means it is virtually impossible to attend unless you pay. They are stopping me from praying.’

English Heritage has previously stated that it needs to charge the fee as £60,000 is spent on parking facilities during summer solstice.

He said: ‘It is all about money. Stonehenge is getting 1.3 million tourists a year – it is English Heritage’s biggest cash cow.

Read the full story on the Metro website

More relevant links:

Arthur Pendragon Facebook Page: (Arthur is a Warrior, Druid, Witch and Pagan High Priest defending environmental and libertarian causes) https://www.facebook.com/arthur.rex.984

Arthur Pendragon at Stonehenge: Live Periscope video footage from the Autumn Equinox 2016 celebrations: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1vOxwRaaZMdJB

King Arthur launches Stonehenge parking legal action | Plymouth Herald

NEWS: Senior druid launches legal challenge over £15 parking charge at for solstice: http://www.spirefm.co.uk/news/local-news/2106390/king-arthurs-stonehenge-parking-wars-to-be-shown-on-tv/

King Arthur sues council, police and English Heritage over ‘pay to pray’ scheme: 

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Hundreds of druids and pagans descend on Stonehenge to celebrate the Equinox which marks the official start of autumn

23 09 2016
  • Visitors headed to famous 5,000-year-old site in Wiltshire to see the sun rise this morning
  • Autumn equinox is one of four public annual events when people can get so close to stones
  • Hundreds of attendees sang and wore variety of extravagant outfits as onlookers watched on
  • Temperatures stayed high as Britain entered astronomical autumn after we had 23.6C yesterday

Hundreds of druids and pagans descended on Stonehenge today to celebrate the equinox as autumn began.

Visitors headed to the famous 5,000-year-old site in Wiltshire in the dark to ensure they got to see the sun rise.

And they made the most of one of only four public annual events that allows people to get so close to the stones.

Photographs showed attendees singing and wearing a variety of extravagant outfits as onlookers watched on.

Autumn Equinox Celebrations

Big event: The equinox happens twice a year around March 20 and September 22, between the summer and winter solstices

Read the full story in the Daily Mail
By MARK DUELL FOR MAILONLINE

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Stonehenge Autumn Equinox Open Access Arrangements: 22nd September 2016

4 09 2016

The 2016 Autumn Equonox is September 22nd at 14:21 GMT

English Heritage are expected to offer short period of access, from  first light or safe enough to enter the monument field (approximately 06.30am) until 08:30am.
More details as we get them.(source)

Autumn-Equinox-Mabon_Stonehenge-2014 (11)The Autumn Equinox (Mabon)
It is the time of the autumn equinox, and the harvest is winding down. The fields are nearly empty, because the crops have been plucked and stored for the coming winter. Mabon is the mid-harvest festival, and it is when we take a few moments to honor the changing seasons, and celebrate the second harvest. On or around September 21st, for many Pagan and Wiccan traditions it is a time of giving thanks for the things we have, whether it is abundant crops or other blessings. It’s a time of plenty, of gratitude, and of sharing our abundance with those less fortunate.

Mabon is a harvest festival, the second of three, that encourages pagans to “reap what they sow,” both literally and figuratively. It is the time when night and day stand equal in duration; thus is it a time to express gratitude, complete projects and honor a moment of balance.

The word ‘equinox’ itself actually mean ‘equal’ (equi) and ‘night’ (nox).

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