More than 4,000 years ago, the people of the Neolithic period
decided to build a massive monument using earth, timber
and eventually, stones, placing it high on Salisbury Plain
in Wiltshire, England -- about 137 kilometres southwest
of London. Why anyone ever decided to build Stonehenge remains
a mystery, with theories ranging from religion to astronomy.
Some of what was Stonehenge still stands today, as mysterious
and sacred as it must have been to the hundreds of people
who helped build the site.
The stones of the main monument appear to form layers of
circles and horseshoe patterns that slowly enclose the site.
First there is an outer stone circle, now mostly in ruin.
Within this are a smaller set of stones, also set in a circle.
Within the centre of the monument are trilithons -- two
pillar stones with one stone on top -- in the shape of a
horseshoe. Within this is another smaller set of stones,
also in a horseshoe.
But it is a monument made of more than just rocks. There
is the henge, or a ditch and bank, that surrounds the stone
circle. There is also a laneway that extends from the northeast
side of the monument from the open horseshoe to the River
Avon, a few kilometres away. Several stones mark this laneway,
just outside the henge of the monument.
Jutting out from the green landscape of the English countryside,
the circles of stones and outlying monuments emit a power
that must have been ingrained in the site itself. But it
is a magnetism that can't be explained by architecture alone.
Much of Stonehenge's intrigue stems from the fact that the
stones are so shrouded in mystery, a characteristic that
is magnified by its age.
Stonehenge was constructed in three phases, over a 2,000
year period between 3000 BCE and 1400 BCE. Erosion, time
and human invasion has worn it down, leaving many of the
stones in stumps similar to a set of baby teeth.
Although the site may not be as majestic as it once was,
it still conveys a sense of power that seems to enclose
people in its mystery, allowing no one to escape from the
riddle of its purpose. Today, there is enough left of Stonehenge
to speculate on its purpose, but not enough to say for sure
why or how it was constructed. Astronomers, archaeologists
and historians continue to debate theories on its construction
and purpose, but the only thing that can be said for certain
is a description of what still exists today.
On the outside of the main monument is a circle of 17 sarsen
stones, or sandstones, left from a set of about 30. These
rocks stand four metres high and weigh about 25 tonnes each.
Some of them still retain their lintels, which would have
been secured in a type of tongue-and-groove slot.
Within this is a larger sarsen stone horseshoe in the middle
of the monument. There are remnants of what would have been
five sets of two stones with a lintel on top -- called a
trilithon after the Greek word for three stones. The tallest
of these upright sarsen stones is about 7 metres tall with
lintel, acting as a reminder that the word sarsen comes
from "saracen", meaning heathenish, foreign and vaguely
Some of the most interesting theories still being generated
about Stonehenge have to do with the bluestones, the small
rocks set in a circle between the sarsen stone circle and
sarsen stone horseshoe. Originally, there may have been
as many as 60, but only a few stand today, two of which
are believed to be lintels. A bluestone horseshoe can also
be found within the large sarsen stone horseshoe, which
would have originally been made up of 19 stones. Again,
few of these are left. The stones were placed in such a
way that they increased in size towards the centre and alternated
in shape between tall, thin pillar-like stones and stones
of a tapering obelisk shape.
These bluestones, now severely weathered and covered in
lichen, may not appear blue. But if freshly broken, most
would have a slaty-blue colour. There are five colour variations
represented in the bluestones found at Stonehenge. Some
contain crystals that have given them a different shade
when broken, such as the spotted dolerite, named for its
pink crystals, which emits a pinkish hue. Within the bluestone
horseshoe is the Altar stone -- a blue-grey stone from the
shores of Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. It may have once
stood upright but now lays underneath one of the great sarsen
trilithons, and is about five metres long.
Many other stones, of more historical and astronomical importance,
also mark the site. One of the most intriguing is the "Heel
stone." It stands along a laneway, known as the Avenue,
that extends from the open horseshoe, on the northeast corner
of the monument and down toward the River Avon, two kilometres
Along the Avenue, closer to the stone circles, is the "Slaughter
Stone" that may have once been part of a pair of stones,
forming a gate to the main monument. Shaped around the stone
circles are two pillar stones, known as the "Station Stones."
Originally there would have been four, placed in the shape
of a rectangle.
A bank-and-ditch, or the henge of the monument, circles
the main monument at about 91 metres in diameter. On the
inside boundary of the henge are 56 pits, known as "Aubrey
Holes" that can barely be seen. Closer to the stone circles
are two other sets of pits, called "Z" and "Y" holes. These
were the last additions to the monument and may have been
carved out to accommodate more bluestones, but now lay empty.
All of the stones were brought far distances to Salisbury
Plain, using only muscle and primitive tools, like ropes
and wooden levers. The sarsen stones are believed to have
been brought from Marlborough Downs, 30 kilometres to the
north of Stonehenge, which is a feat incomparable by today's
standards. But even more intriguing than this is the mystery
of the bluestones. They are believed to have come from the
Preseli Mountains in southwest Wales, nearly 385 kilometres
away. How these stones, each weighing four tonnes, arrived
at Stonehenge is still debated. But regardless of how they
came to the site, it appears to have required much effort
in a time before the invention of the wheel.
Clearly, a lot of trouble was taken by the builders to put
those things up -- and some of the stones were brought from
a long way away, Which also, incidentally, signifies how
important that spot on Salisbury Plain must be if they went
to all that trouble to get those stones to that particular
It's not the stones that make it sacred. It's the spot that's
already sacred, or holy, and then the stones are built.
Druidry, an Earth-based ancestor religion, has been linked
with Stonehenge for hundreds of years.
The core of this spiritual philosophy lies in the quest
for inspiration or Awen, meaning "the flowing spirit," that
brings many to worship at stone circles like Stonehenge.
But what is the origin of the bond between druid and this
John Aubrey, a 17th century British antiquary, was the first
to suggest that the druids were the ones who built Stonehenge
-- a theory which has since been discounted. Many experts
believe druids came from a Celtic religion not present in
England until 2,000 years after Stonehenge was built, and
maybe already in ruin. But others would disagree.
It is equally possible that Celtic culture found Druidry
already existing in Britain when it arrived.
In which case, [Druidry] could well have derived from the
people who built Stonehenge and other stone monuments.
A historically provable link between druids and Stonehenge
goes back to the early part of the 1900's. It can be found
in a photograph of a large druiditic gathering held at the
stone monument where the people claimed to have rites of
worship there that may have gone back many more years.
Some of the modern-day druids make eight pilgrimages to
Stonehenge a year to celebrate the turning of the year and
the changing seasons. However, not all druids worship at
Stonehenge. Some would rather practice on a hilltop rather
than at a human constructed site.
In part, it's a way of getting back to a relationship with
the Earth that most people in industrial societies have
However, most druids have been banned from worshipping at
Stonehenge during the summer solstice, the longest day of
the year. Authorities suppressed the festival in 1978 after
people, not necessarily druids, were found camping illegally
and digging latrines in the landscape. Yet, they are allowed
to worship a few days later on midsummer's day.
There are 36 druid groups in England alone. It's practiced
by several faiths, ranging from Catholics to Jews and encompasses
a wide scope of people, from office workers to ecomagicians.
All this diversity is made possible by the fact that Druidry
is so diverse. Its possible to believe in any gods, many
gods, one god or no god and still be a druid.
Kennet Long Barrow