Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Oppress Stonehenge's Neo-Pagan Hippies: Guardian

I was in such a good mood with the Guardian, as well. Comment is Free linked to this morning's post about the Pan in my kitchen. I was almost prepared to forgive them for Polly Toynbee.

But then I read a blog article that darkened my mood. "Save Stonehenge from Midsummer Madness", declares someone called Jonathan Jones.

Let's consider his argument -

"why is this daft festival even allowed?" he asks. Answer - because this is a free country and people, on the whole, are allowed to do what they like as long as they don't bother anyone else. And because English Heritage, quite rightly, allows it. If you don't like it, vote for the "Keep hippies out of Stonehenge" party at the next election. There isn't one - because there are no votes in it.

"In the 1980s hippies fought the police for their right to revel. So that is why it is permitted: because otherwise there would be public violence on Salisbury Plain," Mr Jones tells us. Well, if the reason for objecting to something is that people fought for their rights, then women wouldn't have the vote and the Poll Tax would still be with us. The actions of the authorities, particularly at the Battle of the Beanfield, strike me as intolerant and autocratic - picking a fight for no obvious reason. But perhaps the Guardian prefers the strong smack of authoritarianism from people in uniform?

And then to the crux of Mr Jones's argument - which has some force, in one way. He argues that (a) Stonehenge is aligned on the Midwinter, not Midsummer, Solstice and (b) The Druids never built Stonehenge.

In other words, people shouldn't be allowed to celebrate at Stonehenge because their history is bad.

To which I would respond - "So what?" I don't care if their history is bad, and the people at Stonehenge don't all claim to be Druids. They have come there in response to a sense of awe and wonder at things that they know are beyond them. The mere fact they're six months late (or early) and misinformed about Druids is neither here nor there.

Frankly if we were going to ban people from Stonehenge on the grounds that their history was bad, I'd start with certain (but not all - I wouldn't like to go in for blanket condemnations) American tourists. Apart from the one who, according to legend, thought it was due to some kind of eruption - I followed a group of them around last year and they reckoned Stonehenge must be "several hundred years old". Surely people so ignorant should be kept away from the stones, for fear they might accidentally walk straight into one and hurt themselves.

Mr Jones concludes with the following diatribe:

"The ancient stones should not be reduced to a stage for feeble pseudo-religious, pseudo-communal fantasies. There is something abusive and ugly about this annual festival of historical amnesia, a contemptuous lack of interest in the real people of past and their sublime creations."

Which, I think, can be summarised as "these people are not like us." On they other hand, they have "pseudo" community. And they have far more interest in the real people of the past than Mr Jones allows - because he produces no evidence, he is free from those most awkward of objects, facts. I know they have, because I've discussed what some of them actually do think about the "real people" of the past with them, and they're not ignorant of archaeology or history, They just like their history a little idealised of a Summer Solstice - a bit like most people's attitude to Christmas.

Mr Jones's argument, as best as I can tell, is that Stonehenge should be closed to neo-pagans because they lower the tone. To which I can only say - let us consider the people who, over the last 2 centuries, have really damaged the place.

In fourth place, I would put English Heritage themselves. They have built a crappy teahouse, ugly car park and nasty toilets just across the road.

In third place, I would put the old GPO, who nearly destroyed the Heel Stone with an automated trench-digging machine in 1979.

In second place, I would put the Army. They drove a mere 5 yards from the stones before the First World War, and trashed parts of the cursus. According to rumour, they wanted the whole thing flattened to make access to Lark Hill easier.

But the prize-winners for people who have wrecked most of Stonehenge are scientists. It was a group of archaeologists who, after the First World War, destroyed half the archaeology of the place and gained practically no knowledge. Not hippies, not pagans. Scientists. Who just kept digging, even when they knew there was nothing to find. Oh yes, I know that modern scientists disown their fore-runners - tell us that they aren't like they were then. These days they're more educated, more liberal - more understanding. But let nobody tell you that scientists aren't the biggest vandals that Stonehenge has ever known.

If you want to protect Stonehenge, I say - ban scientists not pagans.

And Heaven defend us if we ever allow Jonathan Jones to decide what religious practices he thinks should be allowed.

My history in this rant is mostly sourced from Christopher Chippindale's excellent, entertaining and learned Stonehenge Complete. I personally prefer the 2nd edition, which is less rushed in its later sections. However the 3rd is more up to date, obviously.


  1. Happy Summer Solstice Eileen! 80)

  2. Not sure about some of the arguments, however:

    Tanks were not invented until the first world war, therefore the accusation about the army in 1905 is dubious at best.

    And Mr Jones' argument on the druids not building stonehenge, there they should not use it fails on so many levels. Is he saying that as the Church of England did not build their Churches (Rome had something to do with it) that they should not be allowed to use them?

    I actually think that Stonehenge would make quite a suitable place for Christian Worship, it only needs a leaky roof, lots of draughts, no heating in the winter and space for an Organ and a few stones as pews and bingo! It would even be suitable for dual use by the druids, wikka people, and even Guardian readers, as there wouldn't be a need for lots of rearranging between services.

  3. Are you sure Mr Jones doesn't actually write for the Daily Mail?

  4. I say ban the alien-lizard cabal that funded the stupid scientists in the first place! Everyone knows they were just trying to neutralise the psychic healing power of the invisible moon crystals hidden under the stones..(may peace be upon them)

    Now the science bit..

    Interesting subject, what is the evidence that the stones were a religious monument?

  5. Well said, Archdruid Eileen.

    I must say the article does sound more like the rants you'd get in the Daily Mail rather than the Grauniad - but then on the other hand, the Grauniad has never really "got" Paganism.

  6. Yewtree and CB - yes, the Daily Mail seems a more reasonable (and I use the word advisedly) place of employment.

    UKViewer - apologies. I conflated a few army-related incidents and ended in gibberish. Corrected above, though I don't think I mentioned 1905 (and you can't prove that wrong as I deleted aforementioned gibberish) However:

    Royal Artillery built on the Northern skyline from Stonehenge in 1906. Planes were in place very early at Larkhill - 1910. When the War broke out, construction for the Larkhill camp spilled down the hill and smashed the cursus. The Devizes-Amesbury (N-S) road at the time went through the circle, and during (not before) WW1 they did indeed drive tanks through there. The Army did more damage than an entire Greenwich Village full of hippies.

    Steve - an entire blog post will be required in response!However. Modern archaeologists are quite responsible types, when not running away with Woodhenge, and have done very very limited work at Stonehenge - often for rescue purposes. The "Hawley" excavation after WW1was a national disgrace, and wrecked everything sub-soil in half the circle.

  7. Arch Druid,

    Thank you for re-aligning my military education. I spent a considerable part of my adult life on Salisbury plain, training to fight off imaginery enemies from behind the invisible 'Iron Curtain'. In all that we did there, the whole emphasis was on conservation.

    The first world war was unique is scale and scope, the army needed to expand to millions and needed space to accomodate and train those troops. I also understand that despite being in 'modern times' they did not really appreciate the significance of Stonehenge as an ancient religious sight of any significance. My supposition, based on my own knowledge of 'Tommy Atkins' is that they would have thought of them as a big pile of stones, which would make a good defensive site and excellent firing points for their weapons.

    I have many happy memories of Salisbury Plain, many involving long walks across it, carying heavy loads in either brilliant sunshine or the most appalling rain and wind. We were encouraged in these endevours by the knowledge that it was 'character building', 'good for the soul' and was excellent fitness training. I must admit that while doing it, I might have actually blasphemed the plain and everything to do with it.

    There is of course, another 'henge'close to Salisbury, which is in a lesser state of repair then Stonehenge, were the Army to blame for that as well?

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