I visited Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice in June 2011.
The experience brought out many feelings and writing this was difficult. I wrote the following and then had to walk away from it for a while because I got worked up! I am an air person, I think, talk, sing, write – its an intellectual way of connecting to life and its how I mainly experience the things I see and do. Because I am built this way I tend to analyse – which helps explain the world to me, but in no way reflects how others may experience the very same thing.
Thus a wild night at Stonehenge is a challenge when feelings are involved and moral judgements try to surface. I am not a judge, but feel I have a responsibility to ‘do right’ – its my ethics and the world gives me feedback that my ethics are not bad. I came to my own beliefs about the world, then found that they matched quite well with the Pagan and Buddhist world view. As I give my opinion of ‘Stonehenge folk’ I am speaking mainly from these view points.
The Day we went to Stonehenge 20th June 2011 Summer Solstice
On the day we left, we collected our mate Hughie from Luton. Being a photographer, and all round good egg, we knew that he was going to enjoy the trip. We reached Stonehenge around 8.30pm when it was still quite light – the police looked over the car and stewards directed us into a field, causing us to park in neat rows, two cars deep with plenty of ‘roadway’ to manoeuvre when we wanted to leave. I decided to take a walk around and meet the Stonehenge posse of 2011. Straight away I discerned that this was not the gathering of hippies I was expecting. The Buddhists teach that its wrong to have expectations – but you try it – expectations are difficult to ignore.
We downed some beer – it was nice to get somewhere for the night and relax. Once suitably oiled I decided it was time to try out my new folk song on Hughie, who is a good natured guinea pig. I jumped out the car, pulled out my lyrics and sung him a song about Wassailing the Night with Mead. It was a practice run to see if the song stood up and I roared it away with no shame! This larking about brought me to the attention of a lady called Laura and her Essex family. After a chat and a Johnny Cash song sung by her son (much to Spon’s pleasure) we continued our party.
Around 1.30am we set off to walk up to Stonehenge stone circle. We were parked two fields away, so walked through the official gate (hand bag searched) where some police stood, and into the next field where we ambled along through the dark towards a gate at the end. Joyous Hari Krishna s came dancing out of the night with Hindu gods on a carriage – I recognized Jagannath – a lesser known god from East of India that I had discovered on my last trip to Orissa and beyond. This encounter made us all smile as the dancers chanted and clashed their cymbals back up the field….. The gate at the other end of the field had a large police presence. My handbag got searched again – which was irritating and there was a confused sniffer dog – probably having his nostrils bombarded and therefore being a pretty useless piece of kit. I could understand that the security was searching for bottles, but why twice? The searching business was very thorough – it was like going through an airport to another country. I felt there was an element of intimidation about the searching, so while the young man was prodding around in my bag I said to him, ‘You should get out of this business and come up and look at the stones, that’s what all this is about….’ In reply he said, ‘I was at them last year, this year I’m doing this for the money…’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘ You must be a struggling student!’ to which her replied, ‘ No, I’m not a student…’ and his voice trailed off. Laughing I said to him, ‘just struggling then?’ It was a lighter way to deal with the intrusion. I always try to see the human behind the uniform, even if the uniform cant see the human in me – but sometimes, if one shows generosity and recognition of a person, the atmosphere is healthier!
This encounter was quickly forgotten as I met up with my friends and walked into the Stonehenge site. First thing to see, lit up in the dark was a Chinese food van, with coffee vans next to it. A good place to meet if we lost each other, we noted. But as we strode past I became aware of a pull, quite a strong feeling of needing to be closer to the stones, and as they became apparent in the dark, I realized that I was not going to stop. Picking our way through the tousled crowd, some sitting, some standing in groups, I knew that we had to go into the centre of the circle. Many others must have felt the same – we were squeezing through people and upright ancient stones… we were being swept along in a tide of humanity, damp from the earlier rain, but lively and awake….we were a little stunned at the enormity of the scene – people everywhere and a most awe-inspiring backdrop to the party. These were not some fake scenes of ancient stones – these were the real thing, this was Stonehenge, close up, proud and looming majestically in the dark. Every now and then they were lit up by a camera flash or a torch light, every now and then, the murmur of the crowd got louder. And then we were there, right in the middle of the stones, surrounded by people and the atmosphere was electric. I turned to my friends and said something like – ‘ I didn’t know I was going to feel like this!’.
There were ripples of energy around us, going through us – and that was just the elation of being there, all these people were feeling it. We were closer than ever before, we could touch the stones, but we didn’t do a lot of touching, you are not supposed to, but the ‘pull’ was so strong. Just a gentle touch was all I needed, a caress to an ancient monument that had endured so long. I was awestruck to my bones, and laughing with the sheer joy of being in this crowd, this happy joyous crowd…..well actually it was a weird feeling, as the crowd was not turning out how I expected it to be. Up on the centre stones people were raving. By that I mean dancing in the rave style – grooving to what? No electric music was allowed, just drumming. So they were blatantly raving to the drumming and whooping and well, probably tripping….But this wasn’t the hippy vibe I would associate with Stonehenge – this looked like guys straight out of the nightclub, and girls from a rave….
The crowd became more and more packed in – there were some people over 35, but not as many as I imagined there would be. The energy in the inner circle WAS amazing, and I didn’t need to take anything to feel it – did I get that energy off people tripping or did it come out of the energy field created by the stones? No one will know if it was the acid or the place….did it matter? I angled my camera to get yet another picture of the Stones, and this guy in front of me exclaimed – ‘hey! I got a shot of you taking the picture – what do you think?’ George was an Ozzy visiting the country – he had been given the nod about Stonehenge at the Isle of Wight motor bike races….’Welcome to my country’ I said, and would repeat this to more people as I met the tourists who came that night. We continued to mill in the crowd, which was getting tighter as the hour was passing. ‘can you give us some space?’ a foreign accent said to me, ‘we want to make a circle to meditate’. Looking at these ‘alternative’ people I laughed, ‘what now?’ I said, ‘you’ll be lucky’, – these guys were not laughing, they seemed to be on a very serious mission, and they wanted to control a crowd – how inappropriate – and impossible…laughing I went on my way as the crush got even tighter! This sort of gathering can teach you a lot about yourself, but you have to let it unfold on you. Great revelations will come later when you are meditating….this is how you will evolve!
The chatting and laughing, whooping and dancing continued, along with the drumming which sounded quite drowned out in the background! Smiling at people was a great way to go and the buzz was fantastic. I think it opened up my senses, as usually I am feeling sleepy at 3am in the morning – not here – the more I looked the more I saw, the more I listened the more I heard….the crowd was certainly unfolding its character with different dynamics as more people came and went… Around that time I felt an overwhelming need to touch a stone – I went for the nearest one with a young girl sitting next to it…’if you feel you have to, then do it,’ she said, ‘I’ve been next to it for hours, hoping it will give me some healing..’ I looked down at her and said, ‘why not, we try everything else!’. I felt compassion for her, we all need healing sometimes, and we don’t always get it when we need it…I turned to take a picture of Spon infront of the impressive uprights, but the flash didn’t catch the stones, ‘Damn’ I said, ‘I thought Id got the stones in that picture – all I got was your face…..not that I’m dissing your face, you’ve got a nice face….’ the girl was laughing at that, and I know laughter is a great healer, I hope it helped!
We had moved a bit further round when the light started to come up, the stones were coming more into view, and so was the crowd. I noticed how young the majority were – they had made this space their own, they had claimed it and raved it and periodically they whooped their voices high to the sky where the stones bounced back the sound and they were in (on) ecstasy….. Determined people were now pushing through where space had run out, and I became squashed under a long limbed boy, who ignored the fact that I was there and was literally standing on me. I could feel his legs quivering, as the drugs were running round his body and he was having a useless conversation with his friends. Spon then lurched on me from the other side – ‘its getting too much’ he said, I had heard him say this a few minutes before, and although I had stood my ground because I wanted to be there for the sunrise, I decided it was no longer safe. We wheeled out of the inner sanctum – the youth had victoriously claimed the space and they were welcome to it. This was not so bad, the Solstice was about half an hour away and many people had gathered beside the stones facing east. Here it was busy, but not heaving! We found a space, but not for long. There were idiots behind us, with Russian sounding accents. Why hadn’t the police going through the crowd noticed them? – well maybe now the light was coming it was easier to see trouble. We moved further down the slope and found a place to sit. The light was up, but the sunrise was shrouded in cloud. The solstice came and went, but no sun showed itself. The night had been damp, but not wet, now the dew was rising. We sat together, three friends who know each other better than anyone else in the world, so it feels. All of us different, but all of us linked in a spiritual way…
I gave Spon the camera and he went off to take more pictures in the grey morning light. The crowd was still milling, although many were now leaving. The litter was disturbing. We spotted the police in the distance with a victim that seemed to have been bound hand and foot – four police were carrying him at shoulder height like coffin bearers…is this a new thing? The TV cameras came to film the crowd; later on I realized that the Druids had held their Solstice ceremony, but we couldn’t get near for the size of the crowd. Meeting up again we walked back to the stones, still unable to negotiate the crowds in the centre we walked around, as the pious do at Mecca. Many people were taking pictures of the stones, or of friends in front of stones. I had forgotten this place was so famous. We dodged the litter and amazed and stunned, we took in the size of these ancient artefacts. Drunk people stumbled, or lovers stopped and kissed, yet others looked sadly upon the scene – like the day after the party and you realize someone has trampled the garden. I don’t mind anarchy, but the litter was too much for me. I had to make myself look past it, otherwise it would have spoiled my experience. When we had taken in everything our eyes would allow and snapped hundreds of pictures, and wished umpteen people a ‘Happy Solstice’ we turned from this incredible scene and walked back down the field. The coffee wagon turned out to be the same company that had been at Strawberry Fair, remembered for their ridiculous sugar sachets (far too small, fiddly and wasteful) I call them Corporate Vegetarians!
We left pretty quick as it was pretty clear that many idiots had been on the fringes – for some people the car park was the place to party without understanding the reason for celebration. So we drove off towards Woodhenge and found a burger van on a lay by. At 9am we reached a place to camp and settled down to sleep. The fatigue of the night caught up and we slept until late afternoon, when we celebrated Spon’s birthday with a posh dinner he will never be allowed to forget! (ginger and gooseberry cheesecake!)
Later, when we had the chance to talk about Stonehenge we realized that we were all feeling puzzled at the mix of people. We didn’t expect to see the ravy, party kids, that seemed well represented amongst the ‘hippy/ alternatives’. But I remember the travellers kids were turning out like that, so my guess is that some may have parents who were alternative types – and now the kids were growing up they wanted a piece of it. The youth knew about Stonehenge, but where had they heard about it? Hugh mentioned it had been featured on Dr Who and other mainstream TV. Was that so bad?
This ancient site is not in its original positioning. Stones have fallen and been set up to some architects design, we don’t know where they originally stood or how they were arranged. But I don’t think that matters because so much energy has been imbued into them. (its the same at Nine Ladies). At Stonehenge the stones are the originals….
We talked about the vibe – it was mostly good, but there were idiots wanting to be violent and looking for an excuse for negativity and badness. They were deliberately falling on people and laughing at them… or saying stupid things. They were offensive, but needed handling with diplomacy. It was not a good idea to agree with them, but also not good to needle them…when someone said they wanted to do someone an injury, my response was that someone was already injured, (meaning the perpetrator). For all the security measures the outside system could still not identify who did not belong at Stonehenge…unless the outside system planted agent provocateurs, (and wham, your into conspiracy theories) – although judging by the high police presence its very possible that plain clothes were in there trying to stir people up – that’s part of their ‘job’ – they have to be seen to be working…..So we walked into the middle of a highly charged energy field which was reflecting euphoria at one extreme and incitement to fight at the other…with a lot of stuff going on in between…
So this was the Solstice party. To a lot of youngsters it was THE place to take a trip. It was for exhibitionists to feel absolutely free, and observers like myself are left to reflect on the people Stonehenge had attracted. Judging by the way society has become so homogeneous, it was good to see that everyone was different. Stonehenge pulled in eighteen thousand people, and everyone had a theory. But I felt uneasy. Personally I see Stonehenge as a place of worship, like a church, so where was the respect? Many think those young uns are ignorant, but the youth, in their ignorance, don’t think they are. I know this because when I was young and ignorant, I thought I was a spot on swell person. The reason I am picking on the youth is because they dropped litter. They don’t know what makes the universe or humanity, but they do know someone will come along and pick up their litter. They think the answers to the mysteries are somehow connected to Stonehenge – so they flock to this ancient place and instead of waiting for the place to reveal itself to them, they have a rave…. We were watching people go through an experience, and I cannot judge whether they were right or wrong to celebrate that energy as if they were at a nightclub. Looking back, the 70’s hippy energy was disturbing to the establishment of those times and today the establishment distrusts the rap playing chavs on sink estates BUT don’t underestimate a human being’s capacity for spirituality. The youth have the strength that young energy gives – even if they don’t know how to direct it.
Yes, they piss me off for dropping all the litter, but they made damn sure that Stonehenge belonged to the people that night. It was ours and anyone who could get through ‘airport security’ could claim a spot in that circle and feel that energy buzz whilst also keeping an eye on the shifty ones and watching out for the fragile ones. We were holding our ground – is that what Stonehenge has come to symbolize? The crowd raved and roared with pleasure at the sheer size of the crowd itself and the pride of the place, the air, the life, the strength of the youth…yes the youth definitely took over the centre, but they didn’t really threaten anyone….we know what they were on, we know the youth are fearless…
Who are we to judge? who is society to judge? When you think the stones have stood (or lay) there for thousands of years, of the changes in society they have witnessed. They were ignored for a long time and then kept sterile and empty of people – to see them populated and adored in a very 21st century way by people of so many streaks within society – well that’s the paganism revealed, it doesn’t restrict itself to class or fashion. Hoodies next to hippies, next to well dressed ladies and gents, beardy students and weather- beaten faced school of hard knocks, all exercising their right to be in the place, the place of spirit and worship as designed and designated by our ancient ancestors. We have to accept the rights of the 21st century youth to have a place to express themselves with the dancing they like and the highs they like, to have the opportunity to find themselves and seek a spiritual angle to themselves after they have rightly rejected the dogma forced upon them by our rigid, suffocating society.
I should not have been surprised that car loads of kids turned up!!!! What is their alternative – to pay loads of money to drink shit drinks and dance to shit music in a shitty nightclub, where the pavement outside is covered in people too drunk to get their shit together…. As a Pagan I feel that my beliefs are suppressed by society, just as it suppresses the freedom of expression for the youth. At Stonehenge, Pagans and the youth literally joined forces to celebrate accessibility to a heritage monument that we ALL own…Most pagans I know have worked themselves out. They understand their place in nature and society (or should I say community) – they learn what they need to be good in their life and to make life a fulfilling experience. The youth have not worked themselves out. They are seekers and they reject mainstream bullshit. They can sense the bullshit, but don’t have the answers. Those young people want and need direction. They want to see a framework about life that they can relate to. They are sick of being force- fed ideologies that they can see for themselves are not working.
But I have been very angry about the youth mentality towards Stonehenge, and I will explain why.
If I was a druid I would have been glad that my ‘holy’ or spiritual place was recognized and that celebration for an important event in my calendar was being kept and my religion had a place in modern day society. As a pagan I felt that many people drinking and raving didn’t really get what the druid religion was about…perhaps I am wrong, perhaps pagans do party and make a mess, but myself and my pagan friends don’t leave litter, however messy we get. Its a real issue to me because as a Pagan I believe the earth itself is a spiritual place and anywhere I put my feet deserves respect in a physical as well as spiritual dimension….its bad enough having to compromise my respect for the earth just in order to function in today’s world, but dropping litter is one thing I can have complete control over. This is what I have to say to the litter droppers at Stonehenge June 2011 (all the f words have been edited out) – You came to party at a Pagan site, recognized for centuries by our Pagan ancestors as a special place and you should not throw () litter…Its disrespectful to the Druids who worship there, to the Stones themselves, to our ancestors and to your()selves. Ladies and Gentlemen the MacDonald’s generation has arrived at Stonehenge and that’s fine as long as they don’t drop litter.
Have I finally found the difference between travellers and crusties? When travellers leave a place they leave no sign that they were ever there, its the code of practice if you like of a pagan theology. The earth is not yours to trash, it is home to others and an entity in itself. Crusties don’t seem get this, they have not developed a natural awareness…thus they pay a lot of money to go to a festival and chuck their shit all over the place cos ‘someone gets paid to clean up’.. Please take that element out of the equation, go to the thought process of ‘lets do without the money getting paid for shit’ side of things and a party like Stonehenge which is FREE means YOU PICK UP YOUR OWN SHIT…
Now I feel so strongly about this (and I am an open minded sort of person) that I wrote the following: ‘If I was English Heritage I wouldn’t let the () on – or I would staple a () bag to their bollocks and give them a () lecture first’…so I wouldn’t be popular, but there wouldn’t be any litter…
Now that’s off my chest I would also like to make the comment that nobody had a song to sing – just whooping and wailing – which is great – its spontaneous and primal, but shows that we are totally disconnected from what our ancestors would have sung about… the drumming is really as close as we can get… I am sad that people, young and old do not write or sing songs at social gatherings, they utterly depend on being spoon-fed whatever the media gives them. I hope this will change and one day Stonehenge party will be filled with people singing their own songs and playing their own acoustic music….These Pagan parties are a chance for you to shine in your creativity – make and wear some spectacular clothes, paint your face and sing and play your own songs…we are here to evolve and showing off your creativity will connect you to the Pagan society that built Stonehenge in the first place…
As I wind these reflections up I have to say that my lesson was to chill out….I got caught up asking where all the energy went that night…and had to laugh because intellectualizing the experience wont work. If something is powerful it is unsettling. Here I was, trying hard to understand… how comfortable was I watching all these young people clamber over ancient stones and down their beer and come up on their trip and look afraid and lost….and who really felt at home there?
Well its an easy answer – the ravers did. They raved on the stones like it was a trance party. Dancing on waves of energy from us and from the spirit of the place which found an expression through their dancing. Perhaps we were fools for not joining in more, for being cautious. But we are cautious with good cause, because when you’ve seen enough you know that there is danger in these places sometimes, and sure enough the crush was enough for me…But I had to be there and see it and feel it… and wonder at it, like the child inside of me was coming home with the warmth and love that I feel which enables me to feel warm and love to others, and I taught myself that from scratch so I am proud of that. For me that trip to Stonehenge was a personal journey to show me how to love my friends and myself… and I met others who were there to be healed, who readily told me so. I knew that I needed to connect with the ancients and meet my brethren Pagans…and the ‘youth element party thing’ was a surprise, but a lesson not to expect or assume anything – and an education about how the youth will have its day because that’s how nature works. I hope they find peace and understanding from their encounter with this stone circle on this night at this time…
Now I think about it I have seen where the ‘hippy’ bid for freedom is being expressed in 2011. If we cant give peace a chance then lets give the youth a chance. In twenty years from now these same youth will be in our sphere of life, talking about the spiritual experience they had when long ago they went to Stonehenge. The youth are the future, and they are taking Stonehenge with them. We should be glad.