Stonehenge: The Dance of the Giants

by Ross Nichols (Nuinn)
from Greater Sites of the Britannic Islands
in The Book of Druidry

Cor Gaur (great circle, Ancient Cymric).
Cathoir Ghall (choir of giants, Gaelic).
Chorea Gigantum (Latin translation).
Claudair Cyfrangon (Old Welsh Triads).
Stonehenge (debased Saxon, 'suspension of stones').

The site of Stonehenge is astronomically calculated. Only at very nearly its longitude and latitude could the angulations of the seasons have worked into the symmetrical pattern that they make. It speaks of a long knowledge gained from posts or stones that such a calendar-temple could have been designed without apparently any trial and error; for it was enlarged and developed, but did not need to be changed. Woodhenge, rather earlier, is nearby.
This holy area was and is alive with burial places, obviously for those who wished, or whose tribe wished, for them to be buried or their ashes inhumed within the holy place. Wiltshire has 2,000 round barrows, and 300 of them are near Stonehenge. These are mostly subsequent to Stonehenge's building. Of the 86 long barrows in Wiltshire, there are but two nearby. Beautifully-made flint arrowheads are plentiful in them. One long barrow is very important: it presides over the chariot-racing circus beyond Stonehenge, as the grave of Hector presided over the funerary games in the Odyssey and as the grave of Tailte, Lugh's fostermother, presides over the games at Tailtin (Teltown) in Eire.

The bell-barrows are characteristic of Wiltshire; each has a conical mound 5-15 ft high, a turfed circle and a circular ditch of 100 ft or more in diameter. The disc barrows are more common round Stonehenge than anywhere else. In all these, four out of five hold interred ashes, not the crouched burials in cists found in the barrows of previous generations. From Stonehenge itself a noble group of seven round barrows, six of them bells, can be seen under a half-mile distant, against the skyline to the north. To the south, about a mile away, is a great number on Nommanton

The archaeological history of Stonehenge, as we have seen, is of two or three cults and cultures of peoples. Its making and re-making went on for over 500 years, perhaps for 1,000. The residents of Britain, who had in say 2300 BC been here 1,000 years or so, were already agricultural. This was towards the end of the megalithic period and there began to be a little bronze used. They had evolved the long barrow cult of ancestors, had developed big stone entrances, then these round barrows, for individual or small groups, then the mystique of the great stone, sometimes alone usually in circles or dolmens. The numbers of things had come to have immense significance. Their experts worked quite complex calculations.
The only monument at all resembling Stonehenge was the great circular stone temple in Odilienburg in Alsace, which was destroyed and of which we only possess partial records. It showed some of the building skill that suggests knowledge of Mediterranean structures, having mortices and tenons like Stonehenge, and it is in the middle of a large area of La Tene culture remains. T.D. Kendrick indeed linked both monuments with classical culture, and reckoned that Stonehenge was a Druid building, a British answer to Druidry's virtual destruction in Gaul by Rome, which shows how clueless quite distinguished scholars could be over dates. Further work on the Odilienburg relics is really overdue.

Modern Druids have always known Stonehenge mainly as a sun temple Less obviously, it has been clearly linked for them with the moon, by the two horseshoe shapes at the centre: the trilithons and the bluestone horse shoe. It is the temple of Saturn by several schemes, one linking it with Avebury, and by a classical myth and Greek accounts it is the temple of Apollo as the sun-deity. Further, the way in which the central trilithon and the bluestone circle, so far as it remains, increase in height to the enormous trilith at the north-west (of which the single lith remains) show a cult of midwinter death. A former guardian of the monument pointed this out, in an out-of-print official guide. There are spring and autumn sunrise and sunset orientations also, and similarly with the moon (no needing Professor Watkins to point them out, for they have always beer known).

To a large number of people Druidry immediately connects with Stonehenge on the one hand, with the Welsh on the other. In each idea the public is both right and wrong. To link Stonehenge with Druids in origin is to wave a red rag that will draw the charge of all dogmatically-minded archaeologists (and most are very dogmatic), while to suggest to the Welsh that such things as English Druids have a right to exist is to draw an ever more formidable stream of oratorical and poetic fury. 'No one except Welshman has any right to be called a Druid,' was a recent Archdruidic pronouncement. Yet to deny that Stonehenge expresses that cult of reverence for the natural powers represented by sun and moon and commonly called Druidic is not possible; indeed if the numerological suggestions we are setting out here mean anything, they mean a link with and a reverence for several other heavenly bodies too, and all in specific detail. And if at such periods the Cymric and Gaelic peoples, or previous races, were using either Avebury or Stonehenge as centres, then Welsh, Irish or English peoples are indistinguishable at such dates, and the whole later nationalism is absurd applied to such early matters. Whatever the Welsh claim, they cannot transfer Stonehenge to Wales, although the early Welsh may very well have been in Wiltshire. This was in fact what Iolo Morganwg and David Samwell evidently knew in their day-more wisely than their successors. Stonehenge rightly remains a main symbol for Druidry; and the varied and important studies recently made of it are urgently to be acknowledged by present-day Druids and their conclusions applied. All these studies in fact work towards confirming the traditional Druid view of its enshrining Druidic learning and a true mystery teaching.

The Structure and its Interpretations

Now let us look as visitors at Stonehenge. It lies on an upland plain, not very high or strikingly situated, within a short distance of Amesbury, which we learn was originally 'the town of Ambrose', and as modern Ambrose is the old Welsh Emrys, this is Mercury, the intuitive spirit, by common interpretation.
Up from the Amesbury direction, whence we approach the monument, are supposed to have been floated the circle bluestones and perhaps also the greater sarsen stones, probably upon wide, shallow, skin-covered craft such as Brogger and Haenken have found were common about 2000 BC or earlier travelling up the western coasts of Europe. There is no need to suppose, with Welsh professors, that Welsh coracles were used, nor that the bluestones came from Wales-they could as likely have come from Ireland, and the trade route ran more naturally there.
Professor Atkins, who detailed some years ago 16 sun and moon orientations across the great stones, reckoning the heavens as at about 1500 BC (Stonehenge Defoded, Souvenir Press, 1966), remarks that only at about this longitude could these orientations have been combined into one workable system. It speaks therefore of long experiments in surveying the heavenly bodies, perhaps with wooden posts, and many postholes have in fact been found in Stonehenge, especially in the oldest parts near the Heol-stone.

Professor Atkins, an American, and Fred Hoyle, the Cambridge
physicist and mathematician, together worked upon establishing the Aubrey Holes circle as a computer for eclipses of the moon, which have a cycle of 56. Many were inclined to doubt the startling implications of Professor Atkins, with its revelation of the great calculating ability of people whom Professor Atkinson had led many to believe were of lowly intelligence; until, that is, Atkins' work was conjoined with that ofthe well-known and unimpeachable Hoyle, famous for his BBC talks and trenchant views.

Professor Thom came later, showing Stonehenge as one in a great system of orientated ovals and ovoid shapes, of which he had by then investigated a considerable number in Scotland and elsewhere. Thus a series of scientific writers have followed the careful archaeologist Professor Atkinson, whose detailed account, dates, etc. remains basic and cautious. The more precisely these stones were studied and measured, the more remarkable were the results. It was then time for wider comparative studies, and the work meanwhile done on the cubit, the megalithic yard and other measures made possible comparisons of Avebury and Glaston bury Abbey with supernal schemes such as Ezekiel's Holy Oblation and St John's New Jerusalem, and the ideas apparently expressed in the Great Pyramid. Some worthy attempts had earlier been made, but nothing like the daring comparisons and apparent identifications set up byJohn Michell whose work has caused furious thought, not always friendly but always respectful.

However wonderful the structure and the observations that once came from it, evidently much was lost or went into a world of secret instructions, which is always possible; the later Druids had a tradition of secret instruction specifically about numbers and the secrets of the universe and 'the nature of things', says Caesar. The Celtic elders seem to have been the successors to a system of ancient leaming here that had many ofthe features of that which was later known as Druidry. Leaving this for a later treatment, however, the main history of Stonehenge is one of blank ignorance and even ridicule. Someone cheerfully compared the place-presumably having in mind the five trilithons in their unfallen state-to a set of giantess' false teeth. Its reappraisal was also set about with fantasy. The peculiar antiquarianism ofthe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries led to a leamed tome-one ofthe first to draw serious attention to the monument-by the great architect Inigo Jones entitled Stonehenge Restored to the Danes. This would be in line with a child's history-book once conned by the writer in youth which spoke of it as post-Roman. The second Chosen Chief of the modem Druids, the 'ingenious' Dr. William Stukeley, thought that it was quite probably built by intelligent elephants. Wild as this seems, at any rate he was one ofthe first who realized its great age; his guess was 10,000 years old. Indeed, since Professor Atkinson appeared to have established its period as 1800-1500 BC which he later modified to 1750-1450 BC, radio-carbon dating has estimated it as anything from 600-1,000 years earlier than such figures, and this might make it nearly 5,000 years old-a good deal nearer to Stukeley than to Little Arthur's History. It could well be found to be yet older.

With all these clouds of ignorance about it, however, something remained-people seem always to have come here at the Summer Solstice and observed the dawn, with or without ritual. There is some evidence of the cult as far back as Roman times and perhaps rather later.
It is well to look at a good aerial photograph before visiting Stonehenge. This enables one to note the double mounds and the ditch that surround it and fomm in fact the first circle: the hollow in which lies the Recumbent ('Slaughter') Stone, and the little circle that surrounds the Heol-stone. A wider view shows the great avenue bearing down to the now shrunken stream of the Avon, and a scheme of burial mounds around on the hills, which is very suggestive.
It is easy on the ground hardly to notice the outer earthwork circles; archaeologists agree here that at both Avebury and at Parliament Hill the circles are cult ones, to keep something in rather than to keep enemies out, and are not offensive-defensive. We come across an alien gravel with which a troubled Office of Works has sought to deal with the footwork of thousands of visitors, and the barbed wire that keeps out intruders- possibly necessary, but of doubtful legality, considering the people's common law right of access to national shrines and places of beauty, especially so at a National Observance such as the Solstice dawn.
Stonehenge is a Saxon-based name; this race found nothing better to say about these stones than that they were hung up, a 'hanging' of stones like the 'hanging' gardens of Babylon. It is the Cor Gaur, the great cirde; the Chorea Gigantum or Choir of the Giants; the Dance of the Giants; the Temple of Apollo, it seems, to the Greeks, the Temple of Saturn by another account. The Great Ear and the Stones of Time are other titles. Around all circles hangs the suggestion of dancing or singing; these stones have or had an echoing quality-that is, if one spoke quite low into a cavity in a particular stone one could be heard right across the other side of the circle. The Ministry of Works in its wisdom has now filled in this cavity, and this particular Whispering Giant is silent.
The central altar-stone is of a different quality from any other; it is of a rare pale green Micaceous sandstone and its parallel is with the Coronation Stone, the Irish Lia Fail or Stone of Scone. It was never lying down but upstanding; an earlier generation reported the probable hole, and anyway the altar of the period was normally upright. Pictures of romantic sacrifices, always one notes of beautiful maidens by wicked Druids on a prone stone, are particularly absurd. Oil, wine or incense would have been more likely offerings.
One sees four trilithons, not five; the fifth is only represented by one magnificent lith. The Ministry could quite well erect this feature, as it did another trilithon a few years ago; but there is a dogma that appears to prevent the re-erection of a stone that fell before a certain date. It is time that dogma ceased to work. Then the fallen central stone would be released, and this 'altar' stone could then well be put up again. The public could see much more nearly what this great temple was, and how the rays work in winter as well as in summer.
Some distance away the Heol-stone bows towards the centre. Any observer without preconceptions is likely to be struck by the fish-face that is evident both sides of the untooled stone. It is the oldest and presumably the holiest stone of all; of a peculiar quality and chosen, it seems, for its shape. The usual idea is that it has fallen somewhat to this angle; but also it could very well have been set like that in order to respect the central 'altar' stone. The earth circle around makes it an obvious lingam-and-yoni emblem as in India. If light is marked as coming over or 'off' the head of this upright phallus, then light is conceived as a sexual essence fertilizing something.

On the way back we may note a great flat stone some 21-ft long at one side of a hollow, known as the Recumbent or 'Slaughter' Stone, the latter name being one of those names the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries liked to use to bolster the myth of human sacrifice. We know that in the eighteenth century this was upright, and it seems to have been one of a pair of which the other has vanished- together with something like two thirds of the total stone content of the monument.

Between earthwork circle and the great stones a series of white discs are painted on the ground. These mark the Aubrey Holes, named after the antiquarian Druidic founderJohn Aubrey. There are 56 ofthem and form a circle of themselves. The first version was that they were holes designed for stones never set up; it is now reckoned that they were certainly for moveable stones or logs used in moon calculation.
What we do not see are the covered-up excavations of the Y and Z sockets, places of the earlier settings of the bluestones, before the sarsen circle-builders took them down-to replace them later, when tooled, in their present bluestone circle and horseshoe positions. The outer ring had 60 sockets.
A huge number of finds, bronze daggers, worked flints and pottery, have come from the Stonehenge area. Amber necklaces, gold coins and square plates tell of a relatively wealthy community of traders and visitors from great distances.
One can approach Stonehenge up the old avenue, and this is perhaps the best way. It runs from the north-east for some 500 yds and divides. One way runs towards the avenue along which came the great stones, borne first by shallow boats, then slid upon chalk grooves, the other way runs north to the cursus, the barely discemible area some distance away with a rather ruined Great Barrow beside it.
If coming south-west from this direction, the arch by which we re-enter the sarsen stone circle from the north-east is, it will be noted, wider than the rest-evidently made for the honorific reception of sun-rays or of some cult priest representing them. And immediately inside the sarsen arches are a few smaller, rather more slate-coloured stones; these, normally little noticed, are regularly set and semi-tooled, and are the older blue stones. This is their re-setting by the sarsen-stone builders, who did the tooling, and though few now, their circle can be exactly estimated and numbered. There were two ofthese bluestones to every sarsen upright, that is, there were 30 sarsens, plus of course 30 lintels, and 60 bluestones, without lintels.
The whole place is encumbered with many fallen stones at awkward angles which, now that all have been duly and carefully surveyed, could mostly be put back and built up again with advantage.
It is soon realized that the trilithon stones rise to a climax in the one lith ofthe fifth trilithon to the south-west. If we did not know that the summer sunrise was at the north-east and had not been told that this was the point, we should assume that the cult was the other way on. We should quite probably be right, as may later be shown.
We might already have noted, rather further away, two small mounds
and two rather inconspicuous natural stones. Only by using compass and
calculation would one realize that these are the eastem and western stones, and the northern and southern mounds. Not that they are exactly in these places, but they are calculating stations and markers of a certain oblong, not a square, with mysterious properties.

Stonehenge Diagram 1: Circles, Vesicas and Meanings
There are three vesicas within stonehenge: the first encloses the sarsen circle, the third the circle fitting within the bluestone horseshoe. This third vesica = 61.2 ft x 35.24 ft and the diamond = 1,080 ft sq. area, the number of Hermes. The circumference of 2 large circies is that of the square of the sun. The middle circie coincides with the circle of 30 'y' holes now invisible. At Midsummer's Solstice the sun penetrates the first and third vesicas-the sacred number 666 penetrating the earth-spirit mercury's number 1,080. Added, they make the number of pertections 1,746, by gematria the Pearl of Wisdom or Grain of Mustard Seed.

The Stonehenge Time-Schemes

Stonehenge is above all a time-measurer, hence its identification Saturn. What were the measures?
Nineteen, the number of the Moon's return to the same place in the has always been a sacred number. (The sacred inner oval here has 19 bluestones.) Also considered sacred has been 56, the Aubrey Holes number, 14 x 4 the moon's cycle.
Several times, it seems, 4 is indicated as the number ofthe 'holy' lost days at the sun's apogee around the Summer Solstice, especially at the New Grange temple in Eire, where 4 suns (i.e. days) are carved at the north- eastern outer side of the barrow upon the containing stones. Now if it were a year divided by l9's, 19 squared = 361, leaving 4 'lost' days, if the moon is so taken, at midsummer.
Another, more usual, moon reckoning is 28 x 13, leaving one 'lost' (A year and a day is one of the old legal reckonings, e.g. for the hiring of labour.)
Looking at Stonehenge as it stood, there were 5 trilithons with 3 bluestones standing before each, and 4 stones spaced between the trilithons; also there is the space for 3 at the north-east towards the sun's apogee. Is this arrangement indicative of 3 or 4 midsummer days? The space is of course at the right angle for it, north-east, the same as at New Grange. If so, the year would seem to be of 5 seasons like the Egyptian. Each would be of 72.2 days, thereby leaving the 4 sacred days. Three stones before trilithon ought to mean that each of the five seasons was divided in 24.67-day months, 15 months in all.
Such numbers would be agreeable with what we know of old numerology , for 72 was sacred as 9 x 8, and 24 was sacred as 8 x 3, whilst 5 is the basic 5 seasons and the number of humanity (5 fingers and toes, 5 senses), so is 4 as foundation, and 3 as a creation number. Above all, 19 is a 'secret' high number.
The Egyptians had a year of 30 decans of 12 days each leaving 5 sacred days. Here there are two circles of 30 arches and 60 stones respectively, with 5 trilithons, or 4 day-arches and one great arch of departure. Also there are 60 Y-holes.

Stonehenge diagram 2: The Stonehenge Scheme of Sightings.
The sarsen stone horseshoes or pentagram. Through the five trilithons the above are indicated sighted upon various other stones.

The Sixteen-fold Year

Professor Thom, working on the sun's declinations and finding orien-tations to one or another heavenly body marked in many circles, and above all at Stonehenge, has concluded with considerable mathematical probability that the year was divided into 61 equal parts and has worked out how many days these months should have - 4 with 22 days. 11 with 23 and one of 24, the whole cycle starting with the vernal equinox. Each mark on the horizon served twice, for the spring and for the autumn halves of the year. The sun's appearance can be calculated in various ways, but it seems that the first appearance ofthe top edge of the sun was usual for the rising, and the last edge disappearing for the setting; but a few observations do show the calculation as being for when the orb completely left the horizon in morning or first touched it at evening. Further work, it appears, may well show the year divided into 32 divisions of 11 or 12 days each.
Summarizing, we have a possible scheme of 24.2-day months, grouped triply into 5 seasons, plus 4 sacred days over. This would be similar to the numerical scheme ofthe apparent period and chime in with Egypt to some extent. It looks like an intelligent and more accurate adaptation of the Egyptian idea-5 sacred days there, 4 or 3 here, 12-day periods there, periods of 24.067 days here. This too on further scrutiny may well tie up with Professor Thom's ideas.

The Rising of the Six-fold Sun

So far we have built up a series of concentric temples, circular and square, with numbers of profound significance. These by themselves should be convincing enough ofthe serious and detailed intention ofthe builders. But to leave it at that would be to indicate the stable without the horse. What was the action?
Here is the avenue, here the circles, with dancing and singing traditions. To the instructed eye, overhead are domes and cubes and, above all, the pyramid of the five nightly planets; the sun circle without, the sun within, the moon calculated in the heavens, the moon as the Great Mother central But the line of action is from the north-east-the ray from the fish-father the Heol, through the entrances to the sun obelisk at the centre of all. And it goes on past the obelisk into the Great Gateway.
The Heol is the oldest stone and the true father, a kind of Adam. In it ritually was hidden the sword-there is a convenient crack into which it can fit.
The upright so-called 'altar' stone was an obelisk, which, as for Ra at Heliopolis in Egypt, caught the light upon its gold-and-silver-covered height. In Ireland we know that Crom the old god was an upright stone covered with gold in the centre of a circle of 12 stones (one ofthe chronicles of St Patrick gives us this).
Here the sun comes first as a child, the Maban, the child form of An the spirit (or the later Hu), as a soft dawn light reaches the tip of the column then as he grows the light moves down, strengthens and in a few hour illumines the whole shining mass. He is Beli. As he rose in the sky the vertical ray seemed to penetrate earth. Thus the god-force comes to man in luminous stone, as in Egypt. Did he, as in Egypt, have all three name of his three stages, as did the moon inner forms?
I am Khepera (the sun-beetle) in my ascent:
I am Amun in my strength:
I am Atoum in my descending.

Shall we say:
The Maban or Mabin-Og or Hu (He)-ascending.
Beli, the sundisk or Og-the established noon.
Lugaidh, Lugh, the Mercury of Light, Life and Death-descending into shadows.

Accompanying this fivefold entry, to the sixth form came priests from the avenue, probably releasing birds as the sun came to the tip ofthe pillar. The flaming phoenix of Egypt and Persia could be a form ofthis. A great sound of harps and singing arose. A solemn dance ringed the sarsen circle.

The Sacred Death

The high priest of summer therefore comes from the north-east. Yet Stonehenge is not mainly facing this way. The triliths rise to the climax of the south-west, and this is the place of the death of midwinter.
The sinking orb of 21-2 December departed through the huge arch of the south-west, 21 ft 6 inches high, over a further stone alignment now destroyed. The final gleam shone upon the tip of the obelisk, the weak old sun shines on the stupa-like stone aloft. At last darkness seized its prey, Lugh was extinguished, the light-god was gone. There are only traces of this. It was pretty surely a time of sacrifices. It is that side of the circle which has been mainly destroyed. Again and again as in the names raying out from the Exmoor Dunkery to the north-west we can see the pattern of death repeat. Was that side linked, then, with horror? Did the sun not depart alone? Was there some great suttee?
There is not much sign of the winter rebirth at the south-east being celebrated, as it was at the Llandin, which is Parliament Hill Highgate, where it shows in a hill-line, or at Cashel Aenghus, which is New Grange, Ireland. Winter here was death, summer was power. That is, all seasons are oriented here-there are at least 16 orientations-but nothing special seems to mark the south-east; there are simply clear views to the north-east and south-east, that is all.
It was, however, made obvious here that death was the gateway to life, through the greatest of arches. We return into the mother-womb of spirit. The trilithon is the higher form of the dolmen, a great arch of rebirth renewal. I abide in that land for a while, then after six months I am reborn in strength. The great force shoots into earth; it fires the spirit and empowers it. Of course renewal could have been at the spring equinox or on May Day, that day of immense numen. But the complement of Solstice would probably be another.
There were two general spirit realms, that of the natural forms- moon, stars, seasons, animals, crops (of which sun, moon, the general heavens and the Earth itself were symbolized in the great temple's structure)-and the realm of the spirits of the ancestors, which was cultivated rather more by the earlier long-barrow people, who revered and lived with them as it were, with the great burial-earth temple open. Death and rebirth, if there was, as we have suggested, the burning of the dead more recently, means less of an attachment to them personally, more a concern for releasing their spirits. The sun cult lifts heart and mind from earth and night-moon fertility out into the sky. This was first a pastoral folk, then an agricultural one, and both watched the skies. The Mediterranean climate made the sun fairly dependable-it was a rebirth form of deity.
So there is a great death, but a great birth and power-growth. The sun-spirit mounts daily for 6 of our months-2.5 seasons ofthe 5-he declines for 2.5, and all comes again. Even as you have seen him go by that arch; so he comes again, self-begotten, upon his obelisk. As he goes and comes, so we go and come. Life is eternal.