The Sublime Silence of Stonehenge

“Pile of Stone-henge! so proud to hint yet keep Thy secrets, thou that lov’st to stand and hear

The Plain resounding to the whirlwind’s sweep,

Inmate of lonesome Nature’s endless year.”

William Wordsworth’s , “Guilt and sorrow; or incidents upon Salisbury Plain”

 

By John Constable

Never mind the busy motorway nearby, never mind the throngs of tourists, Stonehenge was a consciousness-shattering experience. The horizontal lintels placed on massive vertical posts looked like portals, which, though ruinous now, are still capable of transporting the mind beyond itself. The Romantics so rightly spoke of the “sublime terror” of the monument; while contemporary authors, such as John North, marvel at its embodiment of spiritual forces. This undeniable sense of awe and wonder is not shrunk by the awareness that we may never know why it was built, and what purpose it served. The scholarly consensus is that it was a place of burial, that the stones were aligned in astronomically significant ways, and that it always attracted great numbers of people, even from most distant places. In an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, Ed Caesar talks to archeologist Vince Gaffney, who compares the experience of Stonehenge to Jerusalem Syndrome, “the feeling of intense emotion experienced by pilgrims on their first sighting of the Holy City.” The eerie, “cathedralesque” monument has always sparked utmost awe and devotion.

The Heel Stone

It is perhaps universally known that the so-called Heel Stone aligns with the rising sun on the summer solstice as seen from the stone circle. It is perhaps less known that on the same day the sun rises along the Avenue, a pathway which in present time is cut off from the henge by a road. However, some authors, notably Paul D. Burley, have suggested that there exists a deeper correspondence between the Stonehenge Landscape and the heavens above. His findings have not been scholarly acknowledged; nevertheless, they are worth considering. He sees Stonehenge and an extensive area surrounding it as a ritual landscape, place of healing and domain of ancestors. A similar assumption has also been made by renowned professors and experts on Stonehenge, Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright. According to them, people came to Stonehenge to be cured. The so-called blue stones, which are smaller and located in the centre of the monument, were believed to have healing properties. They came from an unbelievable distance of 200 miles and were brought from a mountain in Wales. To this day, it has not been established what methods were used to transport them to the Salisbury Plain.

Hamish Fenton, Looking along the Avenue to Stonehenge, via http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=2146413920

Burley, however, goes even further and deeper in his claims about the symbolism of Stonehenge, which was built around the same time as the Egyptian pyramids. While I do not share his absolute confidence that lo and behold we have solved the ancient mystery, I found his book worthwhile. Personally, I have no doubt that Stonehenge, equally to the pyramids, holds the key to astounding secrets and truths about the dawn of our civilization. Burley puts forward an intriguing hypothesis of a translocation of the Winter Hexagon, the Milky Way and Orion onto the Stonehenge Landscape. The Winter Hexagon, an egg-shaped asterism, was, as Burley writes, perceived by ancient and indigenous cultures as the source of life – “where life began and where life returns.” Further, Burley sees the Greater Cursus (a long trench-like structure) as representing the Milky Way, or “the pathway for the spirit’s return to its home in the cosmos.” The Avenue, in turn, is supposed to be “the product of translocating the right arm of Orion onto the Stonehenge Landscape.” The arm of Orion receives the body of the dead, welcoming it to the Netherworld. I find the following passages from Burley’s book particularly significant:

The Winter Hexagon

“There is notable difference in shape between the Greater Cursus and the Avenue built centuries later. The cursus appears to be very much inorganic in form, constructed of straight lines and sharp corners, like broken ice, sherds of pottery, flakes from toolmaking, triangles formed by the astral nodes and links of constellations. It is the spirit’s gateway between Earth and sky. Conversely, the Avenue has no sharp corners. It is organic in shape, curved, flowing, getaway to the end of life made manifest.

The Greater Cursus is immense. Its size, shape and outline in white … was meant to be seen from above, the cosmos and Creator looking at earth and seeing a reflection of themselves.

The Winter Hexagon is where spirits come from, and where spirits return. Upon death the body was interred to Earth, while the spirit took to the spirit path – the Milky Way beginning at Sirius – on its return journey from Earth to the centre of the Winter Hexagon. That is where Orion as the psychopomp Sky King or Queen (perhaps both) waited to welcome the spirit in his right hand.

Sunrise occurred in the constellation Cancer during summer solstice morning in 2500 BCE. … if we could see below the horizon at sunrise on summer solstice Orion would appear with right arm raised, pointing directly toward the sun, as if bringing forth the sun into the sky… In this capacity we see why Orion … is called the ‘Bringer of Light.’”

In Greek myth, Orion assaulted Merope and was blinded in revenge by her father. He recovered his eyesight thanks to the rays of the sun god Helius after being guided in the direction of the rising sun. There he fell in love with Eos, goddess of the dawn. For Ancient Egyptians, Orion was a manifestation of Osiris, while Sirius was associated with Isis. Together they brought to life Horus, the New King. Burley sees an analogy between a Late Neolithic festival and the ancient Egyptian myth of death and rebirth. The germinating seed, the zygote, so intimately associated with Osiris and Isis in Ancient Egypt, seems to be a universal symbol, connected across times and cultures to the area of the sky known as the Orion constellation. Says Burley:

“There are cultural traditions which may explain a sacred ritual-based transfer of Orion from sky to Stonehenge. The connection may be associated with a Late Neolithic festival and ritual similar to the Iron Age Celtic Lughnasadh. In ancient Irish mythology Lugh is a hero and a High King. The bright One with the strong hand , related to Latin lux light.

…the beginning of a prototypal two week Lughnasadh celebration ca. 2500 BC coincided with the first appearance (heliacal rising) of Orion, ending with the joining of Orion with Earth at Stonehenge during mid-August. For the people of Salisbury Plain… this intercourse ensuring new life in the following year was between Lugh … and the Earth Goddess.

With appearance of the symbolic king (Lugh as Orion) the people may have begun anticipating consummation of life by the new king and Earth inside the goddess’s enclosure – the womb – the centre of Stonehenge.”

It never ceases to amaze me how consistent religious symbolism is across cultures. Can there be any other explanation than the Jungian collective unconscious churning out symbols from within individual psyches across time and space? And yet, I would like Stonehenge to be free of any reductive explanations. It may be that forcing all kinds of symbolic robes on the bare and primal Stones is an exercise in futility. What if the Stones, like constellations, precede all such attempts? They come from the times before gods were named, when sacred symbols were only emerging. They have that numinous quality so beautifully described by Rudolf Otto:

“…we are dealing with something for which there is only one appropriate expression, mysterium tremendum. . . . The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its “profane,” non-religious mood of everyday experience. . . . It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of—whom or what? In the presence of that which is a Mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.”

Via https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rudolf-Otto#ref226756

 Perhaps all we can do is bow before them in silence.

By William Blake

 Sources and links:

Paul D. Burley, Stonehenge – As above, so below: Unveiling the Spirit Path on Salisbury Plain, New Generation Publishing 2014

Ed Caesar, “What Lies Benath Stonehenge?”, via http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-lies-beneath-Stonehenge-180952437/

Jesse Harasta, History’s Greatest Mysteries: Stonehenge, Charles Rivera editors, Kindle edition

Jonathan Morris, Stonehenge: Solving the Neolithic Universe, Kindle edition

John North, Stonehenge: Neolithic Man and the Cosmos, Kindle edition

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/sep/23/archaeology.heritage

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/apr/25/stonehenge-tunnel-desecration-prehistoric-traffic-jams

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15 Responses to The Sublime Silence of Stonehenge

  1. … and following on from your last point; maybe a silent and a-defined (but definite) intercourse with a symbol is the highest participation there is

  2. Gail says:

    After years of studying, meditating and searching, I have come to the understanding that ultimately when the sacred is before you, there is ONLY mystery and can only be experienced in the deepest psyche. When scientists attempt to place meaning in the logical, linear center, it is misplaced. There is no meaning in the Sacred, it is simply a knowing and a deep sense of connection to the transcendent, immutable Divine.

  3. Boogeywookiie says:

    Last year, I read a book titled ‘The Memory Code” which proposed that Stone Henge was a space for learning and initiation – just how indigenous cultures were recorded as passing on their knowledge in North America and Australia.

    “The stone circles across Britain and northern Europe, the elaborate stone houses of New Mexico, the huge animal shapes at Nasca in Peru, and the statues of Easter Island all serve as the most effective memory system ever invented by humans. They allowed people in non-literate cultures to memorise the vast amounts of practical information they needed to survive.”

    http://www.lynnekelly.com.au/the-memory-code/

    Chapter 5 – The ever-changing memory spaces at Stonehenge

  4. wow– what an amazing read, Monika !

  5. 1weaver says:

    and i really like this, too: mysterium tremendum yes.

  6. Jeff Japp says:

    Great post, as always. Did you know there is a stone circle in the U.S.?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_Circle

    There used to be apartments built atop the circle before it was discovered, and I had a girlfriend who lived there. One evening when I was visiting with her, I had the most terrifying mystical experience of my life (sorry, but do not want to go into details). Years later, when the circle was discovered, all the new agers flocked there, but there was no way I was ever going to set foot there again. Moral of tale – be careful around places of power, because you never really know the source of the power or what happened there in antiquity.

    • I had never heard of it – so interesting. I would never associate Miami with stone circles 😉
      I am so sorry to hear about your experience. At Stonehenge, I just felt tremendously uplifted and energized.

      • Jeff Japp says:

        LOL – oh, don’t be sorry. I’m not. And going to Stonehenge is on my bucket list. While what happened to me that one time was terrifying, it has certainly not dissuaded me from continuing my spiritual quest, or prevented me from visiting mystical sites. I just do so with the knowledge that not all forces in the universe are benevolent.

        Cheers!

        Jeff

  7. anitashree says:

    I’m back! And I have indeed missed reading your fabulously well thought out articles on whatever subjects you choose to write on 🙂 And yes, the recurring theme is always this awe-inspiring thread of commonalities between different religions and ancient wisdoms. I’ve never been to Stonehenge but I would love to go one day 🙂

  8. Dewin Nefol says:

    Hey Monika,

    One of my favourite monuments in the UK, you have given it an excellent treatment, offered an interesting Jungian perspective (a nice touch) to my knowledge and presented a positive reflection of what is an eternal mystery. It made for an interesting read, thank you.

    I am delighted to know you found opportunity to visit the site and witness for yourself the phenomenal power of the place…it is majestic…even the landscape around the main site exudes a feeling of something ‘other’, something beyond the eye, always present, always there. Did you by any chance visit Avebury, Silbury Hill, or West Kennet Longbarrow? If not, please include it on your list for next time….the experience of meditating within a burial Caern is one never forgotten…nor leaving the same tomb and experiencing metaphysical rebirth as one steps into the sunlight beyond the to huge portal stones. I think with the reach of your imagination and intellect you would appreciate the splendour and resonate with such a moment…it is an experience as much about the mind as it is about intensity within heart and soul. I cherish it as a destination and adore the eternal mystery of it: her power lingers with you long after leaving. (There is a pub in Avebury built around a magic wishing well. I’ve heard the good Lady who inhabits the well is a generous soul freely given to sharing her magic and granting wishes)

    ‘Perhaps all we can do is bow before them in silence.’ Indeed 🙂

    Have you read much on Ley Lines at all, I know you are thorough with your research. You may find interest to add to what you have learnt and discovered for yourself already about Stonehenge.

    Recent Archaeological evidence found at the Henge includes skeletal remains – including small children, infants – of people who had journeyed vast distances to present themselves to the oomphalos (navel) of their culture. It is a curiosity to think that our ancestors travelled more widely and for greater distances than we do in rather sedimentary and static lives. And this without practical transportation across land. It also suggests at the importance of the site across a very large area, which given the tribal nature of early cultures might indicate it served as a common denominator uniting divergence as a whole. I’d speculate and suggest the more DNA evidence that is found/collated (together with other material) the greater the importance the site will become. It’ll sound crazy, but I believe it will play a central role in our world again in the near future but I’m not sure in what way: perhaps as the epicentre and backdrop for a global Peace initiative/festival/demonstration the size of which the world has never seen before…a sort of Woodstock for the modern age, a chance for the world to come together and truly prepare for the future of humankind 🙂

    Being a Merlin fan (wish I’d thought of ‘mysterium tremendum’ for one his speeches in my blog poem! lol), I have my own theories on the Blue Stones – from the Preseli Mountains in West Wales, UK, but would not dare suggest it was just simply magic that moved them the 200 miles…one imagines blood, sweat, tears and expletives! Of interest, I have been to Carn Menyn the site from where the Blue Stones are said to have been cut; it is as mysterious as the Henge itself if not more so as one is in the presence of the Earth Mother not the off-spring 🙂

    Thank you for adding intrigue to Sunday morning. Another post crafted with care and delivered with precision. Have a great weekend.

    Namaste 🙂

    DN

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