Friday, 20 June 2008

Sojourn to Stonehenge: summer solstice 2008

The summer solstice at Stonehenge is a spiritual experience for some, a fantastic festival for others and undoubtedly one of the most significant celebrations in the UK each year. MSN UK News brings you a preview of the event that brings people together and provides a touchstone, or a circle of them, for spiritual connection.

Four times a year, the ropes are down and men can stand next to monoliths. English Heritage, the historical society that oversees Stonehenge, will open the stones to the public Saturday for the summer solstice.

"[It’s people] getting together as sort of a democracy of celebration to welcome the summer sunrise," Ronald Hutton, a professor of History at Brixton University and a specialist in modern Paganism said.

For Maurice Bower, a co-founder of the Wight Druids, a group of a few dozen individuals living on England’s Isle of Wight, the solstice, the longest day of the year, is a time of reverence and celebration.

"It's the high point of the year; it's when the day is at its longest, light at its strongest. It’s a seasonal turning point; sometimes I call it the hinge of the year," Bower said.

Druids are one of the most prominent spiritual groups that travel to Stonehenge for the summer solstice.

"I regard it as a temple and I have no doubt it was such in the past," Bower said. "We have no doubt that Druids did not build Stonehenge; it still has significance to us as a temple, a monumental temple, and one of the great ones of the world."

Mysterious heritage

Stonehenge was built in three stages by three cultures, Windmill, First Wessex and the Beakers. The bigger mystery is what Stonehenge was used for and why it’s there. Scholars and spiritualists alike can offer clues to its amazing longevity.

"Nobody really knows why it was built. It’s a kind of world imagination park in which people can project their own spiritual needs. It’s simply because it’s so mysterious, that people have a chance to find things there for themselves," Hutton said.

The traditional respect toward nature and ancestry are what most draw the Druids to Stonehenge.

"It's clearly an ancestral monument, and as we follow a religion, or a spiritual path, that claims ancient linage, ancient roots, we don't pretend to practice that now, but to us it's important to respect the monuments that our ancestors have left to us," Bower said.

Thousands of people are expected at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice. Over 20,000 people visited for the event last year.

By Kelsey Proud and Maneeza Iqbal, Reporters, MSN UK News

20 June 2008