Solving the enigma of Stonehenge
There is something peculiar about Stonehenge. It is the most renowned prehistoric structure in all Europe. The large stones (megaliths) forming the circular central portion of the monument have been studied by historians, antiquarians and scientists for many centuries. Yet the cumulative time, effort and money put into understanding why the monument was built has produced few results.
Curiously little can be said of the original purpose of the structure. Certain pairs of stones appear to align with specific solar or lunar events on the horizon. Events such as alignment of the central axis of Stonehenge with the rising summer solstice sun are essentially unchanged since the stones were first placed in about 2480 BC.
Yet Stonehenge is not an astronomical observatory. Would you construct a building out of 80,000 pound blocks of stone with the odd chance that some of the stones might align with a specific solar event? I certainly wouldn’t. Two wood posts set into the ground will do just fine, thank you.
The enigma surrounding Stonehenge contrasts with our understanding of many other ancient and indigenous sacred structures constructed around the world. To be honest, I don’t see why people in Britain 4500 years ago wanted to be so secretive about the purpose of this magnificent piece of architecture. Numerous cultures had a tool box of technology and belief system comparable to 3 rd millennium BC Britain. However, no other prehistoric culture appears to have been bent on hiding architectural function with such simplified form.
So it is peculiar that anthropological and archaeological evidence shows virtually all cultures across time and space devoting great attention to the stars. They demonstrated this in their great monuments, except in Neolithic Britain.
Can this conclusion be correct? Did people living in late Neolithic Britain have little interest in stars? Is it possible that unlike everyone else, their cosmology and mythology were limited to addressing only solar and lunar phenomena seen on the horizon? And is this limitation reflected in the monumental architecture they left behind?
Common sense tells us this simply cannot be. Given the little evidence we have, to conclude that Stonehenge is a temple dedicated to astronomical observations only along the horizon seems like intellectual fraud. Rather, the current body of evidence is insufficient to draw such conclusion. Yet both the scientific community and population in general appear to accept that use of Stonehenge had nothing to do with the cosmic dome.
(Paul D. Burley copyright 2014; sky map Starry Night Enthusiast Ver.4.5)
In Maya and Andean cultures, among many others across the Americas, the Milky Way was known to impart both spirit and power to all life, animate and inanimate. Appearing from Earth as a bright astral ring surrounding Earth, the galaxy intersects the path of the Sun. The path is called the ecliptic. This intersection forms two cosmic or galactic crosses in the night sky. One crossing point is between Taurus and Gemini, the other between Scorpio and Sagittarius. The two locations are precisely opposite each other on the cosmic sphere surrounding Earth.
Maya and Andean astronomers observed the two crossing points over thousands of years. The locations represented centres of two cosmic trees - trees of life and death. They were pathways for the spirit of life to travel from the stars to Earth, then return to the stars upon death of the body.
The Milky Way was visualized by many ancient and indigenous cultures as the universal snake or Cosmic Monster. Like almost all living things, it expressed aspects of male and female. It was androgynous. The constellation of Orion between Gemini and Taurus was perceived in human form, holding one of the galactic crosses in the right hand. Orion represented the male as Osiris, Shiva, Mercury, Thor, Lugh, the Maize God, and many other gods. The constellation also represented female goddesses as Isis, Parvati, Inanna, Aphrodite, Athena, and many others.
These gods and goddesses represented fertility, prosperity and happiness, as well as warfare, destruction and death. Each played part in the eternal cycle of creation and destruction of all things. The Milky Way represented this cycle. The galaxy wound about Orion who was held by the arm, the Cosmic Monster and dual aspects of human beings together orbiting Earth forever.
The intersection of the ecliptic and Milky Way between Scorpio and Sagittarius is the centre of the Southern Cross. This is where spirits of the dead entered the Underworld and begin their journey up the tree along the ‘White Road’. The spirit’s objective was the womb of the world – the region of the asterism known as the Winter Hexagon – where the Northern Cross is held in the hand of Orion. Here the spirit returned to the stars with the possibility of another journey to Earth at some later time.
(Paul D. Burley copyright 2014; photo courtesy F. Ringwald, CSU, Fresno)
In ancient Europe, the universal mother holding one or more infants was represented by the constellation of Auriga. The constellation was also perceived as a shepherd holding a lamb or lambs. From here the spirit of a newly conceived life began its journey along the Milky Way, the Tree of Life, to Earth. And where did the spirit step from the Milky Way to Earth? The answer is the star Sirius, brightest star in the sky and located along the Milky Way along the alignment of Capella, brightest star in Auriga, and the centre of the Northern Cross.
You might be asking yourself what this has to do with Stonehenge. The answer is a lot.
Part 2 – Stonehenge and the celestial equator
Paul D. Burley is the author of ‘Stonehenge: As Above, So Below’, published March 2014 by New Generation Publishing, London.
Featured image: Stonehenge. Paul D. Burley copyright 2014
By Paul Burley