The Mystery of Stonehenge
Who built Britain's enigmatic prehistoric monument and why? We investigate the theories and the facts
Despite centuries of speculation and countless theories the origin and purpose of Stonehenge remains shrouded in mystery. Nor have archaeological investigations, which began in the mid 17th century and continue to this day, shed any light on an enigma as great as that of the Sphinx. There is no shortage of speculations, ranging from the plausible, through the unlikely to the fantastic. Among the latter are claims that Stonehenge was a landing site for ancient aliens. Frankly, we cannot think of a worse location for an airfield than a site covered in huge stones, but then we take both aliens and UFOs with a very large pinch of salt!
The supporters of the more plausible theories fall into two main camps: those who see it as a sacred site, and those who believe it was used as a scientific observatory. We see no logical reason why both theories should not coexist peacefully, but then there is no accounting for the acrimony and argument which is ubiquitous among scientists. Both camps base their theories on the site's celestial influence, with alignments to the sun and moon taken as evidence of rituals linked to the changing seasons and the summer and winter solstices. This is simply a continuation of Sir Norman Lockyer's hypothesis, first proposed over a century ago in his seminal work on the subject—Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered.
Again, we do not see why this hypothesis should be incompatible with a sacred and religious purpose for the site. After all, the Maya and others combined both in their pyramids in Central America. Recently a so-called 'radical' new theory has emerged—that Stonehenge served as a "prehistoric Lourdes" where people came to be healed. Why this should be considered 'radical' we have no idea, given that our Christian churches have been used and are used for just such purposes. It seems to us that all these highly qualified 'experts' have the greatest difficulty in arriving at what is now called 'joined-up thinking', but used to be called commonsense when the writer was young!
Perhaps the most bizarre modern theory is that proposed by archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson, who believes that Stonehenge began life as a Welsh burial site for the 'Stone Age' elite which for some inexplicable reason was later 'moved' to Salisbury Plain. So why bother to build complex astronomical alignments into the monument? Parker does not tell us. This reminds us of the equally silly theory that the Great Pyramid was built as a tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu or 'Cheops' as he is popularly known, despite the awkward fact that no body has ever been found in it. Let us leave the realm of fantasy, scientific or otherwise and examine the facts instead, to try to discover who built Stonehenge and why.
It is generally claimed that Stonehenge was built between 2,000 to 3,000 years B.C. It is also thought that it was built by three different ancient British 'tribes' over a period of many hundreds of years. The first of these are the so-called 'Windmill Hill people', described by the archaeologists as 'Neolithic agrarians', by which they presumably mean farmers of some sort. The second group of builders are said to be the 'Beaker people' who we are told migrated to Salisbury Plain around 2,000 B.C. The third and final builders are considered to be the 'Wessex Peoples' who arrived at the site around 1,500 B.C. Why three different groups of people of whom very little is known continued work on what is by no means the largest or most complex building ever constructed in ancient times over a period of 1,500 years is a question we leave the so-called 'experts' to answer, though personally we find it an unlikely proposition!
The truth is that no one knows who built Stonehenge. All we have are theories and speculations, some more plausible than others. Many of these theories are increasingly being challenged in the wake of recent discoveries in and around the monument. In 2016, a huge religious centre, thought to predate Stonehenge by more than 1,000 years, was unearthed nearby, which archaeologists believe is likely to transform their understanding of the early development of this sacred site. Frankly, we doubt it, for it would take a quantum leap on the part of these mostly very conservative and orthodox folks to begin to recognise the spiritual dimension of the site they think they know so well. This discovery follows on the heels of the finding of Durrington Walls, a large Neolithic settlement just 2 miles north-east of Stonehenge excavated between 2004 and 2006. It is thought to have originally contained 1,000 houses and a population of 4,000 people. We shall come back to the significance of these discoveries later on.
What we know is that Stonehenge was used by British Druids for many long centuries, though the suggestion that it was built by them is met with universal derision by most archaeologists. The main plank of their argument is that as they consider the Druids to have been Celts and radiocarbon (C14) dating techniques have shown that Stonehenge was completed over a thousand years before the Celts inhabited the region, the inconvenient Druids cannot have built it. Unfortunately, C14 dating is now seen as an increasingly unreliable tool for dating objects containing organic material, such as those found at Stonehenge. The main reason for this is that it is now known that the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere has not been steady throughout history. In fact, it has fluctuated a good deal over the centuries. This variation is caused by both natural processes and human activity. In addition, Cosmic rays and changes in Earth's climate also cause irregularities in the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere, and hence the amount absorbed by organic matter.
Another problem with dating ancient sites which is rarely mentioned, perhaps because it would upset the prevailing archaeological methodology, is that no one can say for certain whether every object excavated from a site is coeval with the monument itself. A simple illustration will suffice to show what we mean. Say you accidentally dropped your smartphone down a deep well. Centuries later, the underground movements of watercourses bring it nearer to the surface close to a medieval building. One thousand years after that, future archaeologists excavate the site and conclude that mobile telephony was invented in the mid 15th century!
Finally, there is very little historical data on the origin of the Celts, and what there is, is fragmentary and contradictory. If the Druids didn't build Stonehenge, whether they were Celts or not, then who did? Before we can answer that, we need to look more closely at the monument itself.The first thing we note is that as Sir Norman Lockyer observed the astronomical use of the Egyptian temples and British stone circles was essentially the same, though differing in structure and arrangement. Rendel Harris believed that the Solar cult was born in Egypt about 3,000 B.C., and reached its 'golden age' around 1700 B.C. Actually it began much earlier, for as we have pointed out in several other articles, Egypt was the inheritor of the arts, sciences and religious beliefs of the Atlanteans who first colonised it. Rendel Harris further posited that Egyptian traders and colonists introduced the cult into Britain, where it reached Stonehenge in 2,000 B.C. Now these dates coincide pretty closely with the arrival of the Egyptians in Britain that we discussed in a previous article, as well as the period during which it is generally agreed that Stonehenge was built. This is our first clue as to who the builders were. But there are many others as we shall see.
Is there any archaeological evidence to support these propositions? Yes, there is. Several gold lunulae (crescent-shaped neck ornaments) can be seen in the Salisbury museum in Devizes in Wiltshire which were excavated from around Stonehenge. These closely resemble ancient Egyptian pectorals (collars) of the Old and Middle Kingdoms (ca. 3,000 - 4,000 B.C.). Similar lunulae have been found as far afield as Ireland, most notably a gold lunula discovered by a farmer in Ross, Co. Westmeath, which has been dated to around 2,000 B.C. If the Egyptian colonists reached Ireland there is little reason to doubt they reached Wiltshire too.
There may be considerably more archaeological evidence for an Egyptian presence at Stonehenge, but as the very idea that the ancient Egyptians colonised the British Isles does not even enter into the thinking of most modern scholars, discoveries which might support this hypothesis have either been misinterpreted to support the prevailing consensus mentioned in our introduction, or entirely ignored. We alluded to this in our previous article on Egypt in England when we mentioned the amber jewellery and gold artefacts found at Stonehenge during the early 19th century. Jewellery from one of these finds, discovered in 1808 by William Cunnington, went on display for the first time in 2016 at the Stonehenge Visitors Centre. The items came from the burial of a woman who the press quickly dubbed 'the queen of Stonehenge' excavated at Normanton Down barrows, about half-a-mile south of the stone circle. Was this the burial of an Egyptian priestess? We would not like to say, but the workmanship of her jewellery is of a very high standard indeed and in no way inferior to similar objects found in Egyptian tombs.
Does this mean the ancient Egyptians built Stonehenge? Very probably, or at least they enlarged and occupied it. As both the Egyptians and Druids hailed originally from Atlantis and shared many of the same beliefs and customs, preeminent among them, the worship of the Sun, there is no reason to doubt that Stonehenge was built to fulfil the same purposes as the great temples of Egypt. We shall have more to say about this connection later on. In a previous article we mentioned that in her far-memory novel of a life lived in ancient Egypt—Winged Pharaoh—the author gives a detailed description of the stone circle of Avebury, in Wiltshire. The description is well worth quoting again: "Here there are many who listen, for upon Earth they have teachers who go among the people from a place called A-vey-Baru, where priests are trained in the way of Anubis. Their temple is encircled by a great ditch, and the walls are of single stones, unhewn, joined to each other with wood and clay and covered with white plaster."
Rendel Harris has shown that several sacred sites in England were founded by the Egyptian colonists who came here in search of copper and tin, as well as other valuable raw materials such as wool, timber and amber, which, as we discuss in our afterword, were highly prized by the Egyptians for its religious associations and magical virtues. Among the sites Rendel Harris identified was St Nectan's Kieve in Cornwall, near Tintagel and the North Cornish Coast. Now in Egyptian, 'nekt' meant property whilst 'An' or 'On' were both names of Osiris. That this identification is correct finds confirmation in local tradition which relates that when the good saint died, two ladies came to the glen to conduct his funeral and bury him in a sarcophagus under the stream at the foot of the waterfall which remains a tourist attraction to this day.
These 'two ladies' were of course the Egyptian Goddesses Isis and Nepthys, the sisters of Osiris who wept over the coffin of their brother. Interestingly, St Nectan's feast day is the 17th June and Osiris was killed on 17th day of Hathor (Coptic 'Athyr'), which corresponds to 26 November in our calendar. Although the months do not coincide, June was named after the Roman Goddess Juno, whose attributes are identical to the Egyptian Hathor. So in two different parts of the country we have sanctuaries devoted to two Egyptian Gods: Anubis and Osiris. As we learnt in a previous article, the Goddess Isis was also worshipped in England. So it is only natural that Ra—the Sun-God—should be worshipped too, and this is exactly what we find at Stonehenge.
Cathedral of the Sun
Stonehenge is so orientated that at the summer solstice the Sun shines directly into the Adytum or central sanctuary. But this in itself is quite insufficient to explain the grand construction of the building or its purpose. If it were simply an astronomical observatory as some claim, a very much smaller and simpler building would have done the job just as well. Diodorus Siculus, who flourished in the 1st century B.C., called Stonehenge the "Great Cathedral" and "Grand Choir" which he would hardly have said if it was a burial site for the prehistoric 'elite' as the modern authorities we alluded to earlier want us to believe! Frankly, the testimony of Diodorus, Herodotus and the 6th century Welsh Bards Taliesin and Aneurin who lived far closer to the times when Stonehenge still flourished as a solar temple and the centre of the Solar cult in Britain, are worth a phalanx of these modern scholars and archaeologists. But let that pass.
Rendel Harris was firmly convinced that Stonehenge was built by the Egyptians for the joint worship of Ra and Osiris, for the cult of the Sun and the cult of the Dead. We agree with this honest and eminent scholar, though as we said earlier, the possibility cannot be discounted that Stonehenge was the development of a still earlier solar temple. Moreover, it was surrounded by a whole city, long since destroyed by the passage of time and the depredations of man, which contained the residences of the Druids connected with the temple and schools devoted to instruction in the arts, sciences and sacred Mysteries. Was the vast 'religious centre' discovered in 2016 we referred to earlier part of this great city? Yes it was, particularly if we include Durrington Walls and the many other sites now being discovered in the area. History supports this proposition, for it is recorded that a great massacre took place near Stonehenge in the 5th century A.D., as related in the Y Gododdin of Aneurin composed in the 7th century, and by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Histories of the Kings of Britain. Like many tribes and nations before and since, the savage Saxons, led by their treacherous king, Hengist, had come to Stonehenge for a peace conference with the Britons, but their real aim was to plunder the city of the Druids of its sacred treasures, gold and jewels.
Aneurin tells us "terrible was the shout of the city," after the massacre had been enacted. There was a good deal of heavy fighting between the Britons and the Saxons during which Eidiol, a British prince, accounted for many of the enemy, but not before these Germanic savages had murdered over 300 unarmed Druid initiates and their pupils in cold blood. Their lamentations upon the dreadful deed are recorded in the Welsh Triads. Let us look at what they had to say about it, so that we may gain a further insight into how the Druids regarded the great Cathedral city of Stonehenge. Cuhelyn, a Welsh Bard writing in the middle of the sixth century laments:
"Black was the sullen wrath of the treacherous wolf, whose only love was the law of steel, and the sword his means of ruling. Eidiol, the just, distinguished for his brave sagacity, was presiding over the Circle. But the malicious Lord (Hengist), pretending friendship for the Britons, made now a false alliance and issued a proclamation, inviting equal numbers to a festive conference. The spot appointed was in the Precinct of Iôr, in the fair quadrangular area of the Great Sanctuary of the Domain.
And the illustrious Bard praised the false pretender—to indulge him whose only virtue lay in the rushing of spears against the unprotected, he, the grim warrior, supreme in wrath. So the Chief sang a song of praises to him—the traitor—but only death was the reward for the Chief of Song, he, the magnificent and utterly wise. And now rose up the havoc of sudden assault, unprovoked, and the cry of the sudden shriek of death resounded in the air, according to the deceitful purpose of the lord of mendacious attack and crimson murder."
So perished the Hierophant of the Druids, slain by the cowardly and treacherous Saxons in their blood lust and hunger for treasure! Every particular in this account is confirmed by Aneurin, from whom we also learn that the feast was celebrated and the horrible deed done, in a temporary building near Stonehenge Cathedral, and that this building stood upon the Ystre, or Cursus, into which one of the avenues leads from the great temple. Ancient historians inform us that this Cursus was half a mile north from Stonehenge, two miles long, enclosed by two ditches, which were three hundred and fifty feet apart. Here was the Precinct of Iôr, the 'fair quadrangular area of the Great Sanctuary of the Domain,' mentioned by Cuhelyn. Iôr is a name sometimes applied to the Supreme Being, but borrowed from British Mythology, where it seems to have meant The Sun—moving within his orbit, or circle. Iôr is closely allied to Horus, and like Osiris, he was often represented as the Sun itself. Here is further proof of the solar nature of Stonehenge and the worship that was celebrated there in honour of the great life-giver.
The solar temple of Stonehenge is situated in such a manner that it is fixed astronomically, as is the temple of Avebury dedicated to Anubis that we mentioned earlier, being placed exactly North-East, as practically all the ancient temples dedicated to the Sun were. The number of stones of the outer circle is exactly 60, representing the sexagenary cycle, while the number of stones forming the minor circle of the Adytum is 19, as we find it in the Metonic, or Indian cycle. The number 19 reduces to 1 + 9 which by addition equals 10—the most perfect of all numbers, which once reached cannot be passed. The Pythagoreans called it 'Deity', 'Heaven', 'Eternity' and the 'Sun'. Just outside the Adytum stand the five great trilithons, each comprising two uprights and a lintel. These give us the numbers 5, 10 and 15, which reduces to 6 numerologically. The occult significance of these numbers will not be lost on those readers who have studied our article on the science of Numbers.
Stonehenge was circular, in honour of the Sun. Secondly, the Adytum, or Holy of Holies is oval in form as you can see in the diagram shown above. This represented the Mundane Egg, and the shape of any planet, solar system, or being, if we include the Aura or magnetic field which surrounds all living things. And upon the altar stone the sacred fire blazed for ever. We referred to this spiritual 'fire' in the afterword to our occult studies course article on Magic, when we told you about the sacred rites that once took place within the stone circles of Britain. If you have not read it, this is a good time to do so, for then you will know what took place at Stonehenge too, thousands of years ago, when the Great Hierophant of the Druids in his pure-white garments called down the fire of Heaven upon earth and healed the people with its Living Light.
The temple was uncovered, because the Druids, as well as many other peoples of antiquity, considered it to be impious to confine the Presence of the Deity beneath or within an enclosed shrine. But what of the stones themselves? You probably know that there are two main types of stone employed in the construction of Stonehenge. Firstly, relatively soft limestone referred to in the local dialect as 'sarsen' stones, thought to be a corruption of 'saracen', and by implication something regarded as of non-Christian, 'pagan' origin. It is this rock which was used for the trilithons (meaning 'three' stones) which comprise the inner ring enclosing the Adytum.
The second types of stones used at Stonehenge are the so-called 'Blue Stones' brought from the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire. The majority of these stones are even harder than granite. We have emphasised the words 'soft' and 'harder', for we find the same mixture of soft and hard rock used in the construction of the Great Pyramid; limestone for the main body of the structure and granite for the walls and roof of the so-called 'King's chamber' and 'Grand gallery' that leads to it. Originally, the entire pyramid was cased in reddish granite, not limestone, though almost no trace of this remains today. In confirmation of this both the other two pyramids on the Giza plateau, that of Khafra (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerinus) still retain some of their granite casing stones. We do not know when the granite casing stones were removed from the Great Pyramid, though it is reasonable to conjecture that this coincided with the demise of the Ancient Mystery schools we discussed in our article on Initiates and Initiation. In his short story—The Bronze Mirror—J Michaud PhD mentions that these casing stones only covered the upper part of the Great Pyramid during a past life he recalled through psychometry. As we happen to know that this memory of his coincided with the middle of the 18th Dynasty, roughly 3,500 years ago, it gives us some idea of just how old this mighty House of Initiation is.
The choice of these two different stones, one soft and the other hard, both in Egypt and in Britain, was no accident or coincidence. Minerals possess many different properties, not all of which are known to material science. It is these occult characteristics—much misunderstood and often misapplied—which form the basis of the modern obsession with 'crystal' healing believed in by many New Age followers. Nonetheless, stones do possess what the ignorant would call 'magical' properties which were well known to the ancients and utilised in an intelligent manner in accordance with certain occult laws, and this is the reason we find both the Egyptians and Druids employing two dissimilar types of stone in their religious buildings. We may also say that granite has an affinity for the higher self and limestone for the lower self, for one of the purposes of the solar temples of antiquity was to emancipate the higher self through the process of initiation. A process in which some of the innate powers of the higher self were brought into conscious activity, so allowing the dormant psychic abilities full expression.
From the foregoing it will now be clear that Stonehenge served several complimentary purposes. Firstly, as a centre for the worship of the spiritual Sun and all that this encompassed. Secondly, as a teaching academy in which the carefully selected pupils of the Druids learnt the occult sciences in secret, just as their compatriots did in the temple schools of Egypt. Thirdly, as a centre of Initiation into the Mysteries. Fourthly, as a place of spiritual and physical healing, to which all were admitted on those special occasions when the High Priest and his staff celebrated the public rites. You can read an account of just such a ceremony conducted in a stone circle in Snowdonia seen clairvoyantly by the seer Geoffrey Hodson, quoted in the afterword to our study course article on Magic mentioned earlier. Fifthly, as a place from which the Druids dispensed both justice and counsel for the benefit of the rulers of the land and the peoples they governed.
We have now answered the questions posed in our introduction, namely, who built Stonehenge, when was it built and why? It was built by the Egyptians, or at least enlarged by them. It was probably built around 1,500 years B.C., though we incline to the possibility that, like the pyramids of Egypt, it may well be very much older than this. Why it was built we discussed in the previous paragraph. To say any more would be to enter into speculations and guesswork which we have never done in any of our articles and see no reason to do now, though we are sure some of our readers would like us to!
In our previous article on Egypt in England we mentioned Stonehenge and Avebury. If you combine what we discovered in that article about the many sacred sites in Britain with our discussions in this one, it is clear that this country must have been an important centre of the Mysteries in Europe thousands of years ago. Just how large and widespread the temples and schools devoted to the Mysteries were it is impossible to say, but we do not think it is any exaggeration to conclude that the Vatican City is but a small and insignificant shrine in comparison. As part of these investigations into the sacred past of the British Isles we discuss the origins, beliefs and wisdom of the Druids in a separate article, published one month after this one.
In 2019, we published the first of a new series of articles about the Atlantean fugitives and how they fared in the various places they fled to around the globe. Readers who are interested in exploring the rich legacy of Atlantis further, will be sure to enjoy this new three-part investigation. Meanwhile, we hope that this investigation has given you much food for thought and corrected not a few misconceptions about one of the most ancient and remarkable of the monuments of the British Isles.
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Article published 24 September 2017. Updated 20 January 2019.