Saturday, 26 June 2010


Our relaxing into the Solstice starts on Saturday evening with a visit to Knowlton Rings to watch the sunset. Here we meet a small crowd who have settled themselves down to enjoy a weekend of gentle celebration-and Knowlton is the perfect place for gentle. This Bronze Age earthwork must have been a very important site, the Christians felt the need to build their church slap bang in the middle of it. This church, like so many erected on Pagan sites, now stands in ruins-adding more to the ambience of Knowlton than it ever could have done when it was in use for its intended purpose. It is interesting to note that this church, first built in the 12th c, collapsed in the middle of the 18th c-a time generally credited as being one of new enlightenment (interesting, that is, to Pagans, who like to think of this land's old religion sweeping the upstart Christians away!) So we sit against the wall of the church: drums are drumming, a whistle is whistling, a didgeridoo is didgeridooing, a child is playing, the sun sets and all is well with the world.

Girls and boys come out to play, it is the eve of the Summer Solstice and (for a good option on celebrating it in the traditional way) that means Stonehenge. Your newspapers and televisions will tell you that the whole thing centres around 'Druids and Hippies' but of the 20,000 that we mingled with this year there were comparatively few who would have been identifiable as either of these stereotypes-as a scan through the photographs of the Beebs report on the event will show. Instead what you will see is that the majority of folk there are 'ordinary people': ages ranging from the very young to the very old, drawn from most sections of society and from all over the world. These are the type of people who have been coming to Stonehenge at this time of year for far longer than any modern day Druid order and for over a century before the 1960s presented the world with its first 'Hippy'.
(For a more detailed-not to mention highly readable-history of the gatherings at Stonehenge since the mid-19th century, Andy Worthington's 'Stonehenge, Celebration and Subversion' is recommended.)

For ourselves, we are openly Pagan and undoubtedly freaky in our way of life-perfect fodder for both of the stereotypes-but we are at Stonehenge for the more fundamental reason. To be at this enigmatic ancient site on a rare occasion when everyone can actually get amongst the stones and to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere created by a good natured crowd. It is a combination for what the Druid would describe as 'A Raising of Energy' and the Hippy would declare as 'A Good Vibe'. Us Mudhoppers just call it 'Fun'.

Close to the stones stands 6 tonnes of 20ft high statue-an impressive work in steel created by Andy and Michelle Rawlings called 'The Ancestor'. We first see it against the darkening sky, a good setting as it towers over the crowds below. Crowds that are laying, sitting, standing or walking around-all intent on doing very little apart from being there. Within the stones itself the revelry is more intense, though no less good humoured: drums are once again dominating, punctuated by joyful whoops which start up from nowhere and spread through the crowd until they break out into wild cheering at nothing in particular. Experiencing this sound happening all around you is akin to being suddenly lifted a few feet off the ground and, as the cheering subsides, gently lowered down again. Getting into the depth of the press of bodies is a feat well rewarded, the energy everyone is giving out is infectious and addictive-and this is for us two who in usual circumstances cannot abide being in crowds. But this is Stonehenge at Summer Solstice, a time to be with folk who, despite differing appearances, are of a like mind to get amongst the stones and celebrate the day. Which brings us back to the old religion of this land: There is something drawing people, of all races and creeds, to Stonehenge. Forget the rubbish that the journalists report, forget the claims of some neo-pagans who believe that the Solstice at Stonehenge should be exclusively theirs, if you have never ventured to the site at this time of year but feel drawn, then go and feel it. It is for you.