Each year up to 40,000 pour into Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice, banging drums, singing songs and generally having a wild time (here’s a guide on taking photographs at Stonehenge). But it’s just one of four times each year that the stone circle is open to the public, the other three being Winter Solstice and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.
While some see it as a chance to get up close and personal to one of the world’s best-known landmarks, or just to have a party, to others Stonehenge is a spiritual centre, an ethereal round table from which to honour mother nature. I’m talking, of course, about the Druids (Watch our video with the Druids).
Say what you like about the Druids – and plenty have – Stonehenge remains the focal point for their pagan worship, which they claim has continued for millennia. Yet Spring Equinox is still a scientifically important date, being the midpoint between summer and winter. “Because the Earth leans over at a funny angle,” says Stonehenge Druid Frank Somers, “at summertime we’re leaning towards the sun, in winter we’re leaning away. Halfway between the two, there’s equinox.”
But how do pagans, druids and revellers see in the date at Stonehenge? Our day begins in darkness, as we drag ourselves out of bed at 4.30am. Much yawning and head-scratching later, we’re out on Salisbury Plain with around 4,000 others. Drums are beating and chants echo across the plain as we begin a procession through the visitor car park to the stone circle.
Being Britain in March, there’s little chance of actually seeing the sun rise, and true to form it drizzles on our parade from start to finish; the only sign of sunrise being a shift from dark to light grey. But no matter: we’re here to investigate, and we do so by sending Nicole off to join in festivities, which largely consist of chants, blessings and eulogies. By 8.00am it is all over, English Heritage throwing us off the site to indulge in some much-needed hot chocolate. But why Stonehenge?
“It’s the most powerful place we could ever be in to celebrate equinox, really – it’s the epicentre of the whole system of ancient sacred monuments in Britain,” says Glastonbury Druid Rollo Maughfling. There’s no doubting Stonehenge has a special aura about it when you get inside the stone circle: Frank thinks it connects us all to our distant past. “There’s a connection between you today and standing in that place, to the ancestors who’ve done that right back through the millennia,” he says.
The Druids claim humanity has lost its way in recent times, focusing more on ourselves than the planet. And while we don’t need giant sarsen stones to tell which day it is any more, Frank feels Stonehenge still has a role to play in allowing us to understand the earthly traditions of our forebears: “Even though today we have TV sets and radios and iPods and phones, we like to keep the old traditions and wisdom going.” I’m not quite a pagan convert yet, but looking out of the office window on a smoggy Thursday morning, I can see the point.
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