It was quite strange, really. After a brief, initial wander around the inner stones of Stonehenge, marvelling at the scale and workmanship, almost all of the little party of out-of-hours visitors congregated by the storyteller to listen to and question his words. To be fair, he was an interesting and knowledgeable guide, but knowledge you can find anywhere and anytime… experience, presence, feeling the spirit and atmosphere of a place? That can only be a gift of the moment and once past, such moments may never come again.
That was certainly the way I was feeling, as I walked between the stones, greeting old friends I had not seen this closely in over forty years. You cannot touch the stones these days…but then, you do not need to. The magic of the place wraps itself around you like a warm blanket.
Stonehenge is a place where legend and mystery meet and meld. It was raised by the giants who once inhabited these blessed isles… or by the Devil, stealing the stones from an old woman… or by Merlin, asked to build a monument by Uther Pendragon for his fallen men, using stones carried by magic, by water and by music all the way from Ireland… Although, of course, the usual Arthurian myths go back only a thousand years to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Nowhere near far enough for this ancient circle, although Monmouth’s stories may have reached back into a more ancient past for their source and inspiration. Oddly enough, though, the old stories do tie in with the idea of music or vibration as part of the stone circle’s properties and with the idea that the stones were carried here by sea.
The first phase of Stonehenge was completed around five thousand years ago. Whatever the original purpose of the monument had been, by four hundred years later, it had become a burial ground. Not only were the original, ritualistic interments still present, but many other cremations and some unburned bones had been randomly buried in the Aubrey Holes and ditch. Some kind of wooden post structure had been erected too, and I have to wonder if it is not from this point in time that the site, its solar alignments clearly marked and probably celebrated still, gained a reputation for healing.
If the purpose of the original builders had fallen into desuetude, leaving behind only the rumour and echo of power, might it not be that people brought their sick here in hopes of a cure? Even today, the bluestones of Preseli are credited with healing properties, while those that were carried across the country to build Stonehenge must have been seen as utterly magical.
For myself, it was magical too, with so many memories flooding back of time spent within the stones as a child held at the centre of a family, and later as a young woman, always aware that the stones were more than they appeared on the surface. But it was already the end of a long day. I had driven for much of it and the long drive ahead would make us late getting home. I was bone-weary and, looking at the photographs that were taken, was gaunt, grey and haggard. If anyone was in need of a little help that day, it was me.
To heal is not necessarily to cure. The two may, or may not, go hand in hand and may, in fact, have little to do with bodily ills. There was certainly healing to be had walking between the stones that day… a softening of hard edged tension, a gathering of resources and whatever it was that would tip me over the edge to a place where seeking help became a life-saving necessity rather than a dithering choice. We had barely begun to explore the wonders of the construction, but for a while, it was simply enough to just be there.