Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival- Facts, Rituals, Celebrations
- SWATHI RAMASWAMY
- UPDATED Aug 24, 2018
- 15 Views
Stonehenge is an iconic and extremely popular monument, not only of the United Kingdom but in the entire world. It is one of the most ancient structures that the history can record that is still standing tall and welcoming tourists with more vigor every passing year. What makes the Stonehenge special is its unique alignment with the sun’s revolutionary path on the solstice and equinox days. On the day of the summer solstice on June 21, the sun can be seen rising atop a particular stone called the Heel stone, and it creates quite a spectacle across the vast empty meadows of the Stonehenge.
Stonehenge and its creation
Stonehenge is a prehistoric land structure in Wiltshire, England. Even though dated back to at least 2000 to 3000 BC by historians, it has till date not ceased to pull the crowd, especially on the solstice dates. The actual origin of these stones is still unknown to the modern world, so are their creators and their purpose. But it is a theory by many experts that it was an ancient device used as an astronomical calculator to understand the sun’s path and the season changes, and that is the alignment with the sun is still viable. The stones go around in three layers, creating a complex scattering of stones which might seem disorganized at first, but it is not.
Celtic culture, summer solstice and Stonehenge
Many people think that given the connection between pagan worshippers and the sun’s solstice, the Stonehenge used to be a sacred place for their gathering and other rituals. For many Celtic pagans, the date is of great importance as it marks the union of their god and goddess, or in other sense, marks the beginning of life. In fact, the day of their celebration is actually the Midsummer Day on June 24 which signifies the second quarter day of the British calendar. But summer solstice being on June 21, the dates kind of collide with each other. To celebrate the date, the local communities of druids, pagans, and wiccans gather around the stones and do their rituals.
Celebrations on the Summer Solstice Festival Day
The main festivities in the Stonehenge takes place on the day before the Solstice. The place gets closed to the public in the afternoon and made ready to reopen for the crowds at around 7 PM. People pour in from all parts of England, and in all sorts of attire. Other than the ritualistic groups, there are people doing a cosplay of the originals, musicians, and drummers, as well as ordinary folks with their families. The inner circle of the Stonehenge is opened for the night along with Managed Open Access by English Heritage, giving the feel of a large outdoor party. Celebrations with food and music go on all night, as the crowd settles themselves on the ground and wait out the nightfall for the sun to rise above the stones.
The alignment of the sun
The actual architecture of the place is hard to comprehend unless one has visited the place. But in short, there are a series of vertical stones making a perimeter for the inner area, and each of the standing stones is covered with horizontally lying ones on top. The inner circle has a similar structure with bigger stones. At the center of it stands the Altar stone. On the day of the Solstice, the rising sun aligns perfectly with the Altar stone, with its light passing right through the Heel Stone and the Slaughter Stone standing outside of the circle in the north-eastern side. From the crowd’s perspective, the sun can be seen shining right above the Heel Stone like a crown jewel.
The rituals and celebrations
The place becomes a fairground of sorts leading up to the sunrise on the following dawn. Groups of musicians or solo guitarists manage to get a small audience for their performance. People usually love to form their own groups, warming up talking and staying under the blankets as much as possible. A night under the sky in England can be quite chilly an experience.
As for the rituals, there are many groups of druids who perform their reverence rituals to the nature and elements of the universe. One of the popular rituals includes paying respect to the four cardinal directions – North, South, East, and West and calling upon the elements that represent each side – Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. Then they go onto pray to the Sun and Mother Nature – the ultimate powers in their belief. These rituals are followed by musical odes to their gods and goddesses and a marriage ceremony, which they call handfasting. In case a couple of the visitors likes to get married Pagan-style, they can go for it. All this is performed in the inner circle of the Stonehenge, and visitors can sit circled around them and witness the proceedings. Archdruid of Stonehenge and Britain, Rollo Maughfling draws the largest crowd.
Food, refreshments and public utilities
There are some stalls near the entrance to the ground areas that serve tea, a coffee variety of snack items to spend the night. There are security measures too, as well as portable toilets installed on the site. To maintain peace and harmony, there is light police patrolling the area. Bags are checked thoroughly before entering – no suspicious or harmful objects are allowed in. Alcohols and drugs are strictly forbidden.
Those who attend the occasion claim that it is one of the most enriching experiences of their lives. The atmosphere is electrifying throughout the night, and the soothing silence before the sunrise leading to the main moment is quite a feeling. Visitors can hire guided tours as well and get a complete explanation of the Stonehenge and its historical and spiritual past, along with its connection to the summer solstice.