Although still hours from rising, the Sun radiated emissaries of purple light, heralding the coming of the day. But this was to be no ordinary day and each hue of regal purple shone brightly to proclaim the coming of a new solstice, the Summer Solstice.
In contrast to the glorious aerial canopy above us, my wife, Carolyn, and I were exhausted and bone-chilled as we huddled together on a park bench seeking warmth from each other.
It was a few minutes past 4 a.m. on June 22, 2009. We were at Stonehenge to witness the summer solstice and we were the guests of the Ancient Druids of England!
We had left Bedfordshire (where my wife was born and her parents still live) and travelled by train to Salisbury. It was the afternoon on the 21st when we arrived and checked into our hotel. We decided to do some sightseeing and visited historic Salisbury Cathedral where we saw the Magna Carta. We had supper at a wonderful Italian restaurant before grabbing the bus to Amesbury. We had read that the night before 40,000 partiers celebrated the beginning of summer and now we as witnesses to the traditional Druid ceremonies would be allowed to touch the stones, and I would be permitted to photograph the proceedings.
Carolyn had heard that Stonehenge was only a couple miles from the village of Amesbury and she cajoled me to walk to the park. As we were departing the bus we asked the driver how far it was to Stonehenge. His reply was:
"Hmmm, its quite a walk you know."
We should have seen this as a warning. He also added that Stonehenge was more than a couple of miles and that we would be walking alongside a busy highway. Not deterred we set off on the final leg of our Stonehenge adventure.
We took the bus to and from Salisbury only. Walked from Amesbury to Stonehenge, past the lee way up over the hill, across the highway, up the road to the entrance then into the park.
We had walked four or five blocks when the road joined a roundabout and we chose the left path because road signs stated Stonehenge was two miles ahead. We proceeded along the verge of the road and immediately found ourselves on a "dual carriageway, which is a two lane highway each way. Cars and trucks alike zoomed by us at an alarming speed. The road was a long path, uneven or hidden completely, and littered with cans and bottles, unceremoniously dumped by the revellers of the night before.
It was twenty past nine when we stepped off the bus. We were to meet, our Druid contact at 10 p.m. in the Stonehenge parking lot with official registration beginning at 10:30. We believed we had lots of time.
The climb continued onward and upward; the temperature dropping as we walked. The sun had set only about 10 pm and there was no moon or any stars.
The traffic droned on dangerously close to us. We spotted a sign that stated that parking was only one-half mile away and believing that this was Stonehenge, picked up our pace, which in turn picked up our spirits. Deep down I celebrated. The walk, despite my bravado was proving to be extremely difficult and I wished that I had insisted that we take a taxi to the rendezvous. We trudged on and came upon a quarter mile marker and I said to Carolyn that I had forgotten how far a quarter mile was. Fifteen minutes later we arrived, that is to say, that we came upon a parking lay-by on the side of the road for motorists to pull over. In North America we call this simply a "rest stop."
I was stunned and uttered a few well-chosen words. Carolyn reminded me that we could now see the top of the hill and if we travelled on just that far, maybe we would see Stonehenge. Some twenty minutes later we were at the summit and still could not see our destination. The good news was that it was all downhill from here!
Eventually, we did find Stonehenge and although it was across the highway, managed to cross in relative safety and arrived at the parking lot gates where a security guard wished to see our special passes to enter Stonehenge and join in the proceedings.
We managed with just enough documentation to convince him to allow us to enter the facilities. We then joined the gathering in the parking lot. It was well past 10:30 when we completed the registration process and explained how we got there, that we were from Canada and that my editor and friend, Robert Morningstar, had arranged our introductions to attend this event.
We were provided a schedule of times and events and made aware of a walk planned for midnight that would lead us to a mound situated in a field and it was here where we would meditate for an hour before returning to the parking lot.
The meditation practice included relaxation, clearing the mind, imagining a third eye in the center of your forehead and imagining this third eye as the end of a Shepherd's crook travelling through your neck and down your spine.
"You are to hold this image in your mind and see it as a long neon tube and feel the energy emitted from this tube. You are now to hold hands with those on either side of you and feel the energy pass from you to the group and hold in your mind this image of a radiating circle."
Kindling The Sacred Fire
This exercise prepares the Druid and the observer to enter the stones and partake of the Summer Solstice.
According to the Druid "Companion" booklet, "The relationship of your body to your brain to the Sun is the same as the relationship between the Earth, Moon and Sun, The body, subconscious and consciousness. These are all triads or trinities. The Druid meditation exercises are also based on the Triad. In short these ceremonies just represent 1 2 3 and completion which enables us to go forth (fourth). All events follow the same pattern. The circle of light is the journey and represents the path through the Stars? the spine illuminated represents the adult Human, a shining Sun.
Upon returning to the parking lot a little after two a.m., we were informed that as observers, we would not be participating in any ceremonies until the second procession of Druids to the monoliths, which was scheduled for 4:30 am. At this point, Druids and observers returned to their cars, caravans and campers to get some sleep and equally important: get warm!
Carolyn and I looked at each other and realized how hopelessly unprepared we were for this odyssey. We had no sleeping bag, or sweaters or blankets. We had only non-insulated rain jackets. We did have a few food stuffs, a flask of fine Canadian rye whisky and the attitude that we would survive and experience one of mankind's true celebrations of life. It would truly be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
We had noticed a few park benches when we entered the grounds and noting no other options decided to spend our time there.
While sitting on the bench, I noticed several incidents that caused security people to challenge and in at least one incident escort stranger(s) off the property. After a few of these incidents, the most senior guard approached our bench and asked if we were supposed to be there? After telling our tale to our "Jason," the head of security, he serendipitously asked Carolyn to produce a copy of the official Druid schedule. As she searched her backpack I noticed that nimble fingers of an experienced security expert manoeuvre his spotlight of the tiny flashlight (torch) as it darted from object to object as he mentally made a list of its contents.
He was appreciative and had one of his guards get us two coffees. Fair trade!
We savoured the coffee, swallowing each tiny sip at a point just before vaporization, not drinking as much as absorbing the liquid into our skin, quenching our thirst and warming us, all at the same time.
Even now, although quite dark, the dawn was approaching and we saw the first single file precession of Druids pass us by and there way to the stones. They were adorned with hooded cloaks and appeared as eerie spectres merging into the morning fog?
It was now a little after 4 a.m.
The procession returned and formed again in the parking lot. More Druids and guests adorned with a white silk sash, stood in line forming an enormous chain that seemed to coil its way up to the upper lot, down the sloped walkway, around and through the turnstiles, then disappearing into a tunnel in the earth before emerging minutes later into the coolness of the night air and magically sensing the location of the stones, unseen in the darkness, but beckoning us none the less.
Suddenly, there were the stones. Their dramatic presence almost took your breath away. And there looming above us, stood silent sentinels protecting this mystical place; so massive in appearance that at first glance one might believe that the heavens above were held aloft by this stone ring alone.
A Gathering with Light
Walking even closer, the mist clearing, the outlines of the stones began to appear starting at the tops and finishing just above the ground, the foundations of the stones still hidden by the morning fog. Then the colour of the stones, the Sarsens, became clear in the centre of the formation and spread horizontally exposing Stonehenge in its full glory.
The sarsen stones, weighing between 6 and 60 tons each, were dragged about 20 miles from near Avebury. Sarsens are the fractured remnants of ancient sandstone beds, which date from 26 million years ago.
We marched on past the stones. The Druids split into two groups, each forming a line from the "Heele Stone" to the entrance to Stonehenge. A group of Druids performed a ceremony at the "Heele Stone." The four elements: air, earth, fire and water were all recognized and blessed in turn. These ceremonies within ceremonies honoured the earth and welcomed the sun and a new beginning.
Druids Follow The Avenue to the Heele Stone
The sun was rising, daybreak was upon us, but the night mists still hide the sun. At this point it was approximately 5 a.m. I was photographing the stones and waiting for the sun to rise above the heel stone in the centre trilithon. The morning before the sky was overcast and no sun could visibly be seen rising above the "Heele Stone" (also called the "Father Stone."
The summer solstice begins when the sun rises on the day of June 20 or 21st, and shines directly on the Heel Stone. The name of the stone may be derived from the Greek word for the sun -'Helios'.
It seemed as if time had slown down: the Druids and observers were positioned within the stones and the head Druid finished his prayer early and we, as one, waited in silent anticipation for the second that the new sun would rise over the "Heele Stone."
This stone sits along a wide laneway, known as "The Avenue" that extends from the northeast corner of the main structure. The rising sun travels up the length of the rock, which creates a shadow extending deep into the heart of five pairs of Sarsen stone trilithons; two pillar stones with one laid across the top, in the shape of a horseshoe opening up towards the rising sun.
The Dawn at Summer Solstice is a sacred moment for the Druid Order. As we waited the landscape lit up like a fire. The darkness was shed like an old coat and the morning fog burned away. Just as the Sun cleared the horizon, it appeared to hover momentarily on the tip of the Heel Stone. Then, suddenly, amazingly, the sun, this intense orb of energy rose above the fog, over the heel stone and lent its brilliance, its fire to the stone circle and its witnesses.
The stones were pockmarked with irregularities, smoothed now by time. At first glance, I believed moss was growing on the stones, but closer inspection of the green colouring indicated that it was imbedded in the stone. The heat of the sun, the colour red, flooded the circle and seemed to transfer its energy to the stones and us.
The sun continued to rise; Druids and guests alike took photos of this amazing spectacle. I scrambled here and there trying to get the best photographs from the best angles. I placed my hand on a stone and it blazed red but did not burn. I touched more stones. We all touched the stones and I am certain that this touching, this oneness with the stones meant something different to each of us and yet we shared a unique experience?that none of us will soon forget.
A Herald Proclaims:
"There is The Dawn"
Robert Morningstar, my friend and the associate editor of UFO Digest, who has been at Stonehenge with the Ancient Druid Order many times, sent me an email regarding our shared Stonehenge experiences:
"I know that it is a pilgrimage in the truest sense of the word. It is an ordeal and trial by cold and fire, between the bone-chilling cold darkness before dawn and the boiling sun at noon. I've taken many a snooze in the parking lot too. As I told you that you would, you experienced Stonehenge as the ancients did. There were no accommodations then either..."
The Ancient Druids in Procession Depart Stonehenge?
It is no wonder to me now that Man, for many millennia, has been fascinated by this spectacle, the renewal of nature, this rebirth of life amidst the stones of "The Ring," an ancient and revered site, simply called "Stonehenge."
Solstice Sun Rises Between Trilathons
The publisher and the editor of UFO Digest thank the leaders and the members of the Ancient Druid Order for the privilege of attending the Ancient Druid Solstice Ceremonies as one of them.