The Legend of Stonehenge
©1997 by Greg Tczap. May not be reproduced, in part or in full, without prior, written consent from said party.
Stonehenge has fascinated thousands of people throughout the ages, even today people are still wondering about the origins of the mysterious Stonehenge. Today's scientists and historians are still unable to come to a solid theory of when, why, by whom, and how the intriguing rock structure was built. Throughout history as we know it, there have been a countless number of propositions pertaining to these commonly unanswered questions. One interesting but debatable point is that throughout history, idea's about the origin of Stonehenge have followed the fashions of the age. In medieval times it found a place in patriotic schemes of early British history. The 17th century age of learning marks the first attempts to analyze it. In the 18th century its history was submerged under religious dogma. (SC 1983, 6) Today it seems that it is undergoing a more scientific analysis using radiocarbon dating and other techniques. Many of today's scientists and historians reject many of the earlier stories about Stonehenge. Whatever the origin and reason, Stonehenge is one of the most fascinating structures ever built, and it's legacy will continue to live on even ages after we are gone.
Many people have some vague knowledge of Stonehenge, enough at least to know it exists. But there are many things that make Stonehenge a very special structure. The name 'Stonehenge is believed to be of Saxon origin, although the building is much older. It comes from the roots 'stone and 'henge' or 'hang', meaning 'the place of hanging stones'. (SC 1983, 10) It is located in central southern England, in the country of Wiltshire. It resides about 30 miles north of the English channel, and about 80 miles west of London. It is located on a fairly flat stretch of land, known as Salisbury Plain. (SC 1983, 10) But what makes Stonehenge so special? For one, it is different from many other stone circles in western Britain due to the fact that many of the stones are trimmed into rectilinear forms. (SC 1983, 11) Another thing that makes it so remarkable is the sheer size of the stones that it is composed of. Some of its stones are among the largest ancient structures still standing in the British Isles. To really understand what Stonehenge looks like, in it's entire enormity, we must take a detailed look at it's structure. The circle of stones lying on the outer circle of Stonehenge is called 'The Outer Sarsen Circle'. It is composed of 30 square-ish upright stones made of a type of sandstone called Sarsen. It forms a 100 ft diameter. Each standing stone reaches about 13 1/2ft above the ground, and is about 7ft wide and 3 3/4ft thick. The stones sitting atop the uprights are called lintels, and are about 10 1/2ft long, 3 1/2ft wide, and 2 3/4ft thick. They are attached to the tops of the stones by a method similar to that of the mortise & tenon, a common woodworkers joint. No mortar was used whatsoever in Stonehenge. The outer Sarsen circle forms a remarkable continuous circle within about an inch of perfection. However not all of the outer circle is still standing. (SC 1983, 12>) The Outer Bluestone Circle lies right within the outer Sarsen circle and is composed of a type of igneous rock called Bluestone (due to its blue-ish coloring). It contains about 60 Bluestones which are all about 6 1/2ft high, 3-4ft wide, and 2 1/2ft thick. The circle is about 75ft in diameter. They are upright, and contain no lintels. Many are missing or fallen. (SC 1983, 13) The Inner Sarsen Trilithons are arranged in a horseshoe shape, 45 feet diameter, and are composed of 5 independent Trilithons. (Trilithon means '3 stones' in Greek) Each Trilithon contains 2 uprights, with a lintel connected in the Mortise & Tenon manner. They reach an average of about 22ft high. Only 3 are still standing, but all the pieces are there. (SC 1983, 14) The Inner Bluestone Circle is another horseshoe shape, composed of about 19 Bluestones with no lintels. It stands just within the inner Sarsen Trilithons. They range from 6-8ft in height, and only 6 are still in place. (SC 1983, 15) The Alter Stone is a big rectangular piece of gray-ish sandstone, different from all the other types of rock. It is about 16ft long, and probably stood upright but is now snapped in two. The name 'Alter Stone' refers to the theory that the Druids used the Stonehenge as a temple, and the large stone lying in the center was their alter. (SC 1983, 15) All in all, about half of the entire structure is missing, and some of the remaining half is fallen and/or broken. However there is still enough standing to be able to tell the original form. Now with the image of Stonehenge in mind, we may have a better understanding of what makes it so special, and why so many different theories were devised pertaining to it's origin.
Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorways, so that doorway appears to have been raised upon doorway; and no one can conceive how such great stones have been so raised aloft, or of why they were built there. (SC 1983, 20)
This quote, written in 1130 by a man named Henry Huntington, was one of the first things ever recorded in writing about Stonehenge. He was referring to the point that if you look from a certain angle, the two Sarsen Circles do seem to form doorways on top of each other. (More on doorways later, as associated with the Druids) The way Huntington refers to Stonehenge as 'Stanenges' is significant because it shows that a name was established for Stonehenge that early, and before the Norman scholars ever wrote of it. During the Medieval era, 1136, a man named Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book that set the stage for many of the associations we draw today between the Druids (Merlyn in particular), Stonehenge, and the Legend of King Arthur. This book on the origin of Stonehenge was entitled The History of The Kings of Britain. (SC 1983, 22>) The story begins in Britain, where the new British king Vortigern has seized the throne through treason. He sets up a peace meeting at Amesbury (Salisbury Plain) with the Saxon king Hengist because the Saxon armies are a threat to his kingdom. The Saxons pull hidden daggers at the meeting, and murder 460 British Lords. Vortiger, after being captured and released, flees to Wales where he builds a great tower on Mount Snowdon with the help of Merlyn the Druid. Then the rightful British king, Aurelius Ambrosius, comes back and burns Vortigern in his tower. There then ensues a battle between Aurelius and the Saxons. The British win, and Hengist is executed. Aurelius decides to set up a great and everlasting memorial to the Mt. Amesbury Massacre. Merlyn is called forth do devise a building, and he tells Aurelius of a great stone structure located in Ireland.
Send for the Giants Round, which is on Mount Killaraus in Ireland. In that place there is a stone construction which no man of this period could ever erect, unless he combined great skill and artistry. The stones are enormous, and there is no one alive strong enough to move them. If they are placed in position round this site, in the way they are put up over there, they will stand for ever.... (SC 1983, 22)
The structure he was referring to of course, was Stonehenge. So as the story goes, The kings brother, Uther Pendragon, took 15,000 men to Ireland to bring back the stones. They were unsuccessful however, and had to recruit Merlyn to move them. He takes down the stones himself, and sets them up at the massacre site in the exact same formation. Aurelius is supposedly buried there when he dies, as well as Uther Pendragon who succeeds him. Uther's son, the legendary King Arthur succeeds him, and is supposedly tutored in the ways of the Druids by Merlyn. That is the beginning of the Druids and Arthur's association with Stonehenge. That view/legend was prominent throughout much of the medieval era. (SC 1983, 22>) Geoffrey's idea's about Stonehenge and Arthur are said to be made up today. Everything after Vortigern was supposedly made up. However the tale still lives on, although it has acquired many variations. Some of the people who scorned Geoffrey's work included William of Newburgh, John Leland, and William Lambarde. (SC 1983, 24 + 29 + 37)
Towards the Elizabethan Age, the questions about Stonehenge seemed to shift away from Geoffrey type stories, and more towards where the actual stones came from and how they got there. There were many paintings of Stonehenge that we still know of today. (SC 1983, 36 + 38 + 41) During the Renaissance, there emerged many tales pertaining to the actual stones. Some of these tales included ideas that 'you can never count the stones twice and arrive at the same number', 'whoever counts the stones of Stonehenge will die' or 'to count the stones was to tempt the power of the devil'. There were also myths saying that the stones contained magickal powers. (SC 1983, 44) Many famous kings visited Stonehenge, among them were the Stuart Kings, including James I and Charles II. James one had his great royal architect, Inigo Jones, write a book on Stonehenge. Stonehenge Restored was the first book dedicated entirely to a single monument. (SC 1983, 47) Many theories also popped up about who built it, and of how old it was. One man's theory, Dr. Glisson, was close to what radiocarbon dating shows us today.
Dr. Stukeley first devised the theory that Stonehenge was used by the Druids as a temple. Basically, the Druids were thought to be the Priests of the ancient Britons (TDW 1993, 10) and Stonehenge was an ancient British temple. (SC 1983, 85) Thus the association was made between the two. Although there was not too much support for this idea, and many today still hold it untrue, it was generally accepted, more so today then it was back then. Stukeley published a 4 volume book containing his idea's. However at the time it was published, Christianity was on the rise and was trying to wipe out all the other religions. This did not support a very friendly environment for his works. (SC 1983, 88) Many idea's about the Druids use came up, most of them were images of the 'savage' Druids performing 'Sacrifices' to their 'Gods'. (SC 1983, 83>)
The Druids understood gateways and all that they mean. They built gateways at Stonehenge. Each stone circle has its gateway, It's entrance place between two stones. Irish folklore is full of tales of people who disappear into the land of Sidhe, the fairies, by accidentally, or deliberately, walking between one of a Trilithon which acts as a gateway into that other world. (TDW 1993, 12)
This quote supports the fact that the Druids were the architects of Stonehenge. They had a belief in these types of 'Gateways'. Henry Huntington also referred to Stonehenge as containing 'Gateways' earlier. The Druids were however, heavily associated with trees. The name 'Druid', actually means 'Men of Oak'. And the Druids held many trees to be sacred, among the most sacred tree of course, was the oak. (TDW 1993, 13) So why then, would they have a heavy association with Stonehenge? The land around Stonehenge was practically 'treeless', and the Druids always tended to meet at 'Groves', a circular clearing in the middle of trees. (TDW 1993, 14) This might support the fact that the Druids indeed did not have a heavy association with Stonehenge, and if they did, they only used it, not built it. 'Where the Druids reared their rocky circles to make permanent remembrance of sin, & the tree of Good and Evil sprang from the rock circle & snake of the Druid...' (EOS 1980, 124)
Today, views of Stonehenge are not so different. There have been many attempted breakthroughs, but none successful. Some feel that although the actual scientific view of Stonehenge is more important, so are the myths and stories that come with it, even though they may be untrue. Most people, however, do not stop to think about why Stonehenge has attracted so many people and ideas. (Today, it receives close to a million visitors per year)
The attraction of Stonehenge here is very simple: there are not yet enough facts about it to bury it in certainty, in a scientific final solution to all its questions. Its great present virtue is precisely that something so concrete, so sui generis, so individualized, should still evoke so much impressions of feeling and thought. (EOS 1980, 125) The other Stonehenge, this vast labyrinth of words, pictures, speculations, feelings, impressions, may never be quite so important as the scientists Stonehenge, but it is no less real in any deep or sane sense of human history. Almost everyone who visits the monuments feels this. Never can a building have had its actual scale and height vis-à-vis man so persistently exaggerated or its surroundings so romanticized, both before and after the Romantic Movement proper. It is not that artists, or ordinary visitors, want Stonehenge to be larger than it is. It is large than it is. (EOS 1980, 126)
I can agree with this to a very large degree, even though I have never seen the monument myself. Stonehenge has, and always will continue to intrigue people. Maybe it is not so much the truth about it, but the stories that emerge from it. For some of the myths concerning Stonehenge (Arthurian Legend, for example) are just so unforgettable that they will never die. Who knows what the purpose of Stonehenge is, but whatever the purpose, it has served itself well.
What is Stonehenge? It is the roofless past; Man's ruinous myth; his uniterred adoring Of the unknown in sunrise cold and red; His quest of stars that arch his doomed exploring.
And what is Time but shadows that were cast By these storm-sculptured stones while centuries fled? The stones remain; their stillness can outlast The skies of history hurrying overhead. (Siegfried Sassoon)
Philip Carr-Gomm, The Druid Way, Rockport MA - Element Books, Inc. © 1993 (Referred to within internal notation as TDW)
Christopher Chippindale, Stonehenge Complete, New York - Cornell University Press, © 1983 (Referred to within internal notation as SC)
John Fowles, The Enigma Of Stonehenge, New York - Philpot Museum, © 1980 (Referred to within internal notation as EOS)
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