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Circles and Stones

Stonehenge is one of the oldest and most seemingly "astrological" of all historical mystery monuments.

...skies above, shrines below

By John  Townley

I was recently back in contact with Dennis Price, a marvelous combination of archaeologist, writer, investigator, storyteller, and scientific and spiritual explorer, whose forthcoming book next month is all about where Jesus likely spent those missing 18 years before coming back to the Middle East. Where might that have been and who might have led him there? Clue: his cousin Joseph – you know, the one from Arimathea. Go find out the rest at Dennis’s site Eternal Idol along with lots more about all kinds of research and extrapolation of classical and archaeological sources that are mind-openers. The specific article that specifically set my wheels to turning was about Stonehenge and its “astrological” or in general skyward implication. Definitely worth a read, especially because he recognizes the multiplicity of sky-pointing artifacts, stone and wood circles, sky temples, stellar rock inscriptions, you name it, from earliest times and the many different (and often totally misplaced) explanations that have been and still are being given for them. What were they actually made for, as opposed to what we surmise looking back in time with too little evidence? Astrologers claim it at least in part for our own, but we aren’t the only ones who seem too sure of just what these mysterious monuments of ancient times were all about.

Price’s comment “The rituals of foundation are not necessarily the rituals of use” is at the heart of almost anything that should be said on Stonehenge and many other organized lithic (or wood, bone, etc.) remains marking a distinct period, whose historical dates vary by location around the world, when the likes of Obelix and friends were tossing menhirs about with relative abandon and everybody knew exactly what they were up to, as much as we do in downloading an .mp3 today. But, each investigation since has superimposed what we decide it must be in such modern (or our-period) anthropological terms as to often be ludicrous and irrelevant, not to mention misleading. Anyone who has read Robert Nathan’s The Weans or David Macaulay’s Motel of the Mysteries has a humorous idea of what I’m saying. Depending upon your personal or scholarly prejudice, anything you find and don’t understand has to be either something ritual, part of a temple, early science (that’s the calendrical view), or remnants of Atlantis or space aliens. What’s this? Hmm…don’t know…must have been a ritual object. Will write a paper on it -- publish or perish. Astrology only occasionally gets thrown in when somebody  (like the Mayans) uses something they’re doing to make specific predictions, which is our own modern fallacy about the definition of astrology.

In fact, I believe astrology at its core across the ages has simply been about noticing the obvious integration of rhythms and cycles, long and short, which actually physically originate with and have persisted longest between the planets, but which have filtered down in loose but endlessly reinforced synchrony to every subrhythm known on earth, from the macrocosm, through the mesocosm, to the microcosm. And, being ancestrally part of them and depending on them, human and other biological organisms have become particularly aware of how they work, though we tend to pick which set we’ll recognize or reject/forget depending upon our current state of evolution and which work for us best at the time. But inside, like knowing where magnetic north is (which a surpisingly large number of humans can do, myself included), we just know. You can see a not-quite-succinct and somewhat anecdotal exposition on that at “The Moon On Deck” which pretty much sums up my approach to a physical basis to astrology, a critical bottom line which most astrologers today have abandoned for shallower waters.

What I liked about Price’s approach to Stonehenge is that it admits to the site being simply a connection place – not necessarily to a specific god (though, as a calendar, Apollo would be the Greek label), or to space aliens, or to have power over crops – but simply to recognize an enduring relationship of what is. Is it aligned to the stars and planets? Of course, what else would it be patterned on? That’s what’s out there and forms and informs what is here. Why always, eventually, stone? Because that has the greatest temporal dimension, not just big in space, but in time. See my little piece mentioned above for more on that, especially 3D time and dimensional depth and breadth (still working on parts of that), just as David Deutch and other cosmologists are finally getting back to the single-multiverse Greek theme.

The site of Glastonbury Abbey and its nearby Tor, with a surrounding "Zodiac",  sacred to many religions for millenia.

And, when things are properly lined up so they feel right (are relatively in sync, so to speak), they actually gain inertial presence, for whatever use they get put to. Stonehenge is a natural one, so is Glastonbury. All you have to do is put a sign up promoting your current social or religious scheme (pagan, Christian, rock festival, what have you) and tap into the enduring energy. Lots has been said on that, including my own take on Paul Kammerer see the “sacred places” subsection in that article. So-called “sacred places” seem to have an underlying (or perhaps lost in prehistory) magnetism about them that can really spin you around, while others quite similar have only gathered it within historical times. Glastonbury and Stonehenge have had it for a long time, Lourdes only since the apparition that started its fame (1858), others are perhaps more intermediate on the scale like the Batu Caves in Malaysia (which I was drawn to climb up to as a 12-year-old, much to the annoyance of the surrounding adults), among the ones I've personally experienced. The longer people have been aligning themselves with it, the stronger it seems, right down to the level of the ridiculous, on a much shorter timescale, which I recall watching as it happened in the 1990s:

A few years ago a concrete traffic bollard was dumped by a truck driver in a remote part of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In 1989 it was discovered by local mystic, Baba Kali Dass who declared it to be a Shiva lingam. If he’d been Druidically inclined, he might have labeled it a menhir. By 1993, the bollard was attracting thousands of New-Age, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims, and claims of miraculous cures were circulating. A stone circle was constructed around the bollard, and in October 1993, the devotees asked for permission to build a permanent shrine. Park officials threatened to demolish the bollard, and Kali Dass's group filed a federal lawsuit, invoking the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom. I remember it from the media coverage at the time – in fact a local pop radio station interceded on behalf of the followers to help finance the affair and mediate with the city. Of course, it was stone, and once it got going, it snowballed. Eventually, a nervous parks department relandscaped it out of existence, and it never reached the level of more ancient local shrines that have had equally, but different, humble beginnings. A lovely reminiscence of its rise and fall appears on the blog The Chucklehut.

 The rising walls of the Batu Caves Hindu shrine  in Malaysia have absorbed the smoke of burnt  offerings for centuries.

Of course, most people have an innate sense of these places, even if they aren’t set up to expect it or understand it. When I first set foot in Glastonbury at age eight, I felt myself being pulled into the ground, had no idea what was going on, while watching my mom break into unexplained tears. I have since on several occasions brought unsuspecting friends there to watch them break down as they step onto the grounds. I even got taken by the lee last time I was there, thinking I had become immune, as I happened on a vacant spot in the usually crowded too-tiny car park at the Chalice Well. I was in a rush, glad to have got the rare convenience, walked through the gate, and promptly dissolved into uncontrollable sobbing, like I’d been struck from within or above. Not sorrow or joy, just overcome, more eternal amazement, I guess. Strong stuff, that…

I am rather with the opinion of Paul Kammerer (but maybe that’s just because we share a birthday) that it’s all very physical, natural law, of which we are a comfortable part if we let ourselves be. But, in the process of trying to explain something old in new terms, we completely lose touch with the broader reality, seeing only our tree and missing the forest. I think the likes of Stonehenge were, in fact, places set up to get in touch with a larger reality, to simply recognize it, tune in. Call it a temple, call it an observatory, call it a interplanetary communications station, pick your period and your own vocabulary, each of which limits it. My feeling is not as specific as having “come here from there” like a transplant, but more like having arisen here from out of there. I sympathize as much with the muppet Gonzo’s song “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday” as with Obelix (well, maybe even more with Getafix, he being an astrologer), and since cycles and rhythms are all, in temporal dynamics, music, you usually find music (or evidence of it) at all these places. Of course they were always playing tunes, as that’s part of the very structure itself, just scaled/fractalized on a different frequency but a proportionately similar template.


 The Lourdes grotto is a relative newbie (since 1858), which has been acquiring greater depth as the years pass. 

Thus one should perhaps espouse an inclusive approach to Stonehenge (and other similar sites) which admits a multi-layered purpose and history for the places, at the bottom of which is a much broader view of its constructors and users than most historians or archaeologists are willing or able to propound. Was it astrological? Absolutely, though not what we have marginalized as astrology today, only what I would hope once and future astrology might be. We would do well to expand our understanding backward to the breadth this phenomenon embraces while still keeping the rigor and incisiveness of observation and deduction we have developed since it was abandoned. It’s all of a piece, just one dynamic, self-supporting structure that we live in, within us and without us.

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