The stones are great
And magic power they have
Men that are sick
Fare to that stone
And they wash that stone
And with that water bathe away their sickness
–Layamon’s poem, ‘Brut’, written around AD1215
Stonehenge is probably the most publicized, recognizable and enigmatic stone circle in Britain. The site has fascinated people for centuries, and there are many theories and beliefs as to what purpose it was put to by ancient man. Stonehenge has suffered vandalism over the years from trophy hunters its many visitors over the past few centuries. The structure is now surrounded by a protective fence, which although not aesthetically pleasing is helping to preserve the monument from erosion and further disrespect from visitors.
Archaeologists have agreed that Stonehenge was constructed in four distinct phases: The first phase began around 3200BC, and consisted of large henge earthwork enclosing a wooden building, reported to be a charnel house by Aubrey Burl. An outlying single stone, the ‘heel stone‘, was also set in place in this phase of building. Around 2400BC 56 pits known as the Aubrey holes (after John Aubrey), were dug around the inside perimeter of the ditch. Their purpose is unclear but excavations of human bones and stone mace heads suggest ritual offerings.
During the second phase of development, around 2200BC, blue dolerite stones with their origin in the Prescilly mountains in Wales were erected in two concentric circles at the site. An earthen avenue was also added during this period. It is not clear whether the Welsh stones were transported from Wales or if they were already in the local area due to the historical movements of glaciers.
The third phase of construction began around 2000BC. After the blue stones were removed, large sarcen blocks were erected in the pattern still visible today. The sarcen stones vary in weight from twenty to fifty tons, and were quarried and transported from the Marlborough downs some eighteen miles away. Speculation still occurs as to how these were supposedly transported to the area for construction. They were smoothed and finished to precision (unlike most stone cirlces in the region) with stone hand tools, and locked together with mortis and tennon joints. The upper hanging stones in the trilithons are a ball and joint architecture. The balls are more visible on the taller stones, in the places where the lintels have fallen over the centuries.
The fourth phase of construction began around 1600BC, when the blue stones were returned and once again erected from an unknown storage place to the center of the great horseshoe shape at Stonehenge.
Stones in each of the four directions were carved with axe heads and depictions of other weapons, and the stone known as the ‘altar stone‘ was also placed in the center of the circle at Stonehenge. It is believed that the altar stone may have once stood upright.
The stones have inspired many legends, speculation and folklore over the centuries. Much of the folklore seems to try and explain the origin of the circle structure as the creation of giants, gods or wizards. It was probably easier to accept this than to believe that a past culture could have better technology than the present one.
During the Middle Ages, Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose colorful writing have had great influence on British mythology, wrote that the stones were originally transported from Africa to Ireland by a race of giant humans. Myths of the region state that the stones were then brought across the sea by the magic of Merlin during the beginning of the Dark Ages on the request of Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was king of the Britons at the time. The stones were reportedly erected as a monument to the treachery of Hengist, a Saxon leader who killed Prince Vortigern.
The ‘heel stone‘ (the solitary stone at Stonehenge) is said to have been thrown by the Devil at a monk who was spying on him between the stones. The stone allegedly pinned the unlucky clergyman to the ground by his heel.
Other folklore purports that the stones are uncountable- legend has it that a baker tried to count them by placing a loaf of bread on each stone. He supposedly came up with a number but then made the mistake of going through the whole process again, and could never get the numbers to tally the same with each try
Stonehenge has stimulated a great deal of debate and discussion over the years from experts and laymen alike. The first suggestion that the stones may have been aligned to key dates was by William Stukeley, who noted that the axis of the earthen avenue aligns to where the sun rises on the longest day of the year.
In the 1960s an astrophysicist named Gerald Hawkins studied the Stonehenge alignments by computer, and concluded that the Trilithons framed key dates in the megalithic calendar. Although the alignments are not perfect in accuracy, they are accurate enough to have been used by megalithic man for ceremonial, ritual and astronomical purposes. The cycle of the moon is over a 18.61 year cycle, and the observation of the sky must have been over a prolonged period of time to incorporate the correct alignments of moon and sun.
Ownership of Stonehenge
The last man to own Stonehenge was named Cecil Chubb – he bought the stone circle site in 1915 for £6,600. Three years later he made a gift of the stone circle to the nation of Britain, with the proviso that admission to locals should be free. This continues to be honored today and includes the residents of all the parishes of the former Amesbury Rural District. Close visitor contact with the stones has been prohibited since 1978, except for the annual Open Access for the summer and winter solstices and pre-arranged out-of-hours private visits – where you can step inside the fenced path encircling the stones for a price.
Some over the years have claimed that Stonehenge was built for elite gatherings, as experts believe that most sound would have remained inside the circle. Perhaps the priests of the region controlled a larger crowd by climbing up onto the great trilithonwhere they could be seen and heard by all? We can only guess at all the motives behind the creation of Stonehenge’s colossal magnificence. It remains an amazing and beautiful focal point in a sacred landscape of burial mounds and barrows – a ritual space and monument – a celebration of man’s abilities on earth.No conclusive answers have to date solved the paradox of this evocative megalithic art; and it continues to fascinate generations, remaining one of the world’s most important Neolithic megalithic stone sites. These immense stone portals are a door to our past and perhaps serve as a metaphysical portal as well. The henge will remain a palpable yet mystical connection to our present and may hold hints at our future. For many, the reason behind this awe-inspiring creation, although perplexing, does not matter – it belongs to all seekers, a ‘people’s temple‘ – a place of sanctity, and remains the world’s best-loved stone circle.
Loads of Light to you all!
Tracy Latz, M.D. & Marion Ross, Ph.D. (The Shift Doctors)
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