Last Wednesday was a funky day! I went into the stones of Stonhenge, along with 26 others, for a healing ritual and a chance to meditate within the stone circle and today is the summer solstice. It should not surprise you to know these events have prompted some thoughts.
I thought, and not for the first time, that Stonhenge is a funny place, not funny haha, more funny peculiar. It is the icon of British mysticism, an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. It is part of a huge and complex ancient landscape that speaks of the solstice, death and political power, yet it may also have links to the celebration of life and we know it extended a welcome to communities from all over these islands and far beyond.
We will never truly know what it was for and maybe that is just as it should be, but like so many of the ancient places modern pagans are drawn to it has a palpable energy, something indefatigable, mystical and enduring. It can be a place of healing, celebration and connection, but the general atmosphere around Stonehenge has always been fraught with some kind of political antagonism too.
Since it has been wrapped in the firm, some might even say suffocating, embrace of English Heritage, there have been tighter and tighter controls on access to the inner sanctum of the stones, in truth I am mostly in favour of that as it protects the monument and it most certainly does need protecting. But I wonder if this battle between those who wish to worship and the ones in control of the monument has a longer history than any of us might know.
EH have an agenda with Stonehenge, they need it as their main cash cow, and they will do what ever they need to to milk it for all it is worth. In my view they have a simple minded view of the stones and they are sticking to it, like lichens to the stones, it is without exception for any group who wish to worship, a hardcore financial investment to replace funding from the government, as far as I understand it. So they have increased their level of access and control to something that goes a little beyond the necessary in my opinion. There is a two week window which stradles the solstices, within which groups can worship within the stones by appointment without charge, outside of those two weeks you have to pay. But here is the thing that bothers me, when small groups are let in the stones to either worship or even just be curious, we are told firmly not even touch the stones, you can’t even take water into the space let alone anything else! Yet when the big solstice open things happen it is impossible to keep revelers off of the monument and under any kind of control, should they be so inclined to be disrespectful.
Having said that there is a hardline, I do also need to point out that the security chap who watched over our group was really lovely, as were many there on the day. He also did not like the problem of the big solstice celebrations and I believe he tries to take annual leave at those times. It was obvious that he cared a great deal for the place and told me some funny stories about the antics of people trying to break into the circle in the dead of the night.
We had a lovely time in the stones, the ritual was a gentle Earth healing, after that we had time to soak up the energies. Whilst most of us took our time walking around, viewing the landscape from inside the circle to see how it all came together, we took photos and meditated, and all around us the stones hummed to the sound of a vibe drum as Janet worked healing sound magic on those who wanted it. It was blissful, spiritual and energising.
But at the back of my mind I could not shake the feeling that politics around the control of the stones and their environs has always been a part of what the stones are about. As I wandered and looked at the barrows that surround the circle, full of the rich and famous of their time, I wondered if the place had ever been anything other than a political football, kicked between various groups over the millenia and all vying for control over those silent sentinels. Today there is an ongoing dispute between pagan hardliners, who think that the stones should not be used for monetary purposes, no pay to pray, and EH. Their vehicles are now arrayed like modern barrows about the landscape.
Should we be able to worship in the stones without paying? I am not going to enter the fray on that issue, I feel it is too complex. I know how I feel, but that does not take in the reality of modern life. I am sure there must be an equitable solution, but I am not sure picketing groups who have paid to go into the stones is the way foward. There has been a pay to pray in place for many years and I can’t see how that kind of protest wins over the hearts and minds of people. Like I say it is a complex issue with a sliding scale of opinions, as with everything.
This solstice energy is screaming at me about the political situation across the world at the moment. I am agitated and like many truly worried for our world right now. I feel that we should all have evolved beyond petty posturing amongst ourselves by now, no matter what the subject is being fought over. There is a worrying rise in fearful and aggressive behaviour and the proffering of scapegoats to shoulder the blame and as history has shown, that kind of thing will always lead to terrible consequences, if it is not dealt with quick smart. How short are our memories if we can give into the same dreadful manipulations so quickly?
Can we not band together to silence the fear tactics and all those empty vessels making so much noise, whose sole purpose is to scare the natives into restlessness. In the past hundred years of western history we have had two world wars based around the kind of scaremongering and manipulations of the power hungry, who pick a scapegoat and tear them to pieces in the eye of the public. The results of the last dive into that terrible energy had a devastating effect on human psychology and tore the world apart, yet here we are again, falling for the same hateful tripe but with different players. When will we ever learn to recognise this vile vitriol for what it is and get rid of these monsters in our midst? When will we wake up and see that just because something is different it does not have to be dangerous to our own way of living?
If the stones of Stonehenge could speak what would they say to us about our collective behaviours this solstice? Five thousand years have seen the stones organised and reorganised to accomodate new philosophies, maybe even completely new ideologies. It has seen the rise and fall of so many empires and the bonfires of so many vanities, I wonder if we have changed at all in all those years, surely we must have grown in some vital ways? If not did the stones give up the ghost on us, decide to withdraw the major part of their energy and fall into ruin, because they knew we were beyond any help they could give us? Who knows, not I that’s for sure.
My final thoughts are these, I value the stones for their historical gravitas, their enigmatic presence and ultimately for the great mystery they represent in this day and age. They are still a powerful marker for how Britain and mainland Europe’s pagans have come together across our history. We know from the archaeology that they have been host to cultures from far and wide across time, right into the modern era. Today they continue to be a focus for how modern pagans wish to engage with a seemingly unenchanted and soulless world. Stonehenge has always been part of a broader European history, there are bones found within its environs that state that as a fact, we are and always have been open to immigration (not always from invasion) and new ideas.
So I urge each one of us at this time of global turmoil to take the time out this solstice and go to the stones. Travel there through your mind’s eye, if you are not able to be there in person, and stand very still at the centre of the circle, feel their presence all around you and ask for guidance. Ask how we can change the fearful, how we can make them more open and accepting of the differences between creeds, religions and loves. Maybe if we all truly listen to what these immence, grey and ancient stones have to say we will be gifted a glimpse into their deeper mysteries.
May your solstice experience be wonderful and enlightening, may the gods bless the eye of the world with love and beauty.