The mythological stone sculptures of Wiltshire County, England attract thousands to watch the sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21st. Whatever reason brought you here, the collective spiritual moment of watching that sunrise, with or without the sun, is nothing short of magical.
Like the pyramids of Egypt, the Incan temples of Peru (where the winter solstice celebration of Inti Raymi is simultaneously occurring), and the Moai of Rapa Nui, the great Stonehenge is one of mankind’s ancient architectural mysteries. But what is all the fuss about some cleverly stacked stones in the English countryside? It’s the sheer size of these massive monoliths that boggles the mind, in light of the ancients’ lack of modern day machinery. Where did these 25-ton stones come from? The closest feasible quarry is no less than 25 miles away. The stones have been estimated to have been raised around 2600 BC but the site itself well predates even that. Everyone seems to have a theory about it. For sheer entertainment purposes, just ask around. You’ll be sure to hear some wildly conflicting stories. Some revellers might tell you it’s an ancient burial grounds, others imagine it’s an astrological observatory – an oversized sun dial of sorts, while some wide-eyed believers are convinced it’s proof of an alien visitation or other supernatural phenomenon. The Neolithic culture that produced them had no written history, so it remains a mystery.
Though Stonehenge has been a gathering site for thousands of years, it’s only in recent years that anyone has congregated in any numbers for the worship of the solstice. The Stonehenge Summer Free Festival that was held between 1972 and 1984 was a “New Age” festival of alternative culture until police cracked down on the event. Today it’s a more unofficial gathering of the tribes. In 1999, the Guardians of Stonehenge conceded, allowing worshipers of all sorts to gather on the most auspicious days of the year. The gathering is free and permitted, but be warned – the police presence is still there. There are drug “amnesty bins”, so if you have drugs and would like to dispose of them you can, before the ever-present drug dogs with their trained sniffers find you. Regardless of your intent, this gathering is less about party and it’s more of a bonding spiritual experience. Neopagans and dashingly-dressed druids conduct ancient rites in spontaneous circles. Drummers fill the air with tribal beats. It’s one of the few times of the year that visitors are actually allowed to touch the stones and many feel a spiritual connection and grounding force with the mere physical contact with these religious rocks.
Rain or Shine
There is an unfortunate reality of summer in the English countryside. Of all places to worship the sun, the sunny deity is in surprisingly short supply. Perhaps the Druids had it wrong and should have worshipped the rain god, with hopes that the sun god would spite them. The last few years, it has rained on the sun’s parade, but despite it, the soggy celebration hasn’t seemed to dampen anyone’s spirits. That being said, come dressed for the cold and the rain – check the forecast. Hopefully you will see the sun – but it’s a celebration of light and darkness, and the sun is still there, even if obscured by clouds, drizzle or downpours.
There is another notable gathering nearby at the the stone circles at Avebury some 22 miles away. Avebury is not as famous as Stonehenge, but contains several stone circles and prehistoric earthworks that are some of the largest in Europe. There aren’t as many restrictions as Stonehenge and it’s a bit livelier with fire spinning, but not quite as spiritual as it’s more well-known sibling.
It’s an emotional gathering for many of the 20,000 spiritual pilgrims. Come sunrise, rain or shine, many are moved to tears. The energy is positive and you will leave changed. The change you feel is not something you can define, much like the stones themselves – but you will be happy you came and it’s an experience you will carry with you your whole life.