Stone Cold Sober at Stonehenge?

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The recent proposal by English Heritage to ban alcohol at Stonehenge during the open access events has been met with indignation in some quarters. Many of those complaining describe themselves as pagans, who might make a vastly more convincing case for their purported right to get drunk at Stonehenge if only they could bothered to pore over some observations made by their opponents the archaeologists, one being that people that you might reasonably describe as being part of a beer-drinking cult were notably present at Stonehenge during the earliest sarsen phase of the monument.

Another observation was based on evidence the archaeologists had unearthed showing that Stonehenge had been in continual use, particularly at winter solstices, from prehistoric times up until the early years of the seventeenth century, so there’s a case to be made that alcoholic celebrations were an integral part of the ceremonies conducted at Stonehenge for millennia. However, if anyone wishes to pursue this line of reasoning and put it to the relevant authorities or the court of public opinion, they can look up the relevant facts and present them in an eloquent fashion for wider consideration themselves, because I have no intention of helping or supporting them.

I lived just a few miles away from Stonehenge from 1996 to 2005, so I visited the ruins about three times a week on average and my two young children virtually learned to walk there. I also took them to just about every open access event, the most notable one being the Summer Solstice, so while the childhood memories of these nocturnal visits may have faded for them, I clearly recall how enchanted my young son and daughter were by me leading them through the milling crowds and into the shadowy centre of the stones.

These should have been idyllic celebrations and for the most part they were, but they were always marred at some point by the appalling behaviour of others. I am as enthusiastic a proponent of the delights and benefits of alcohol as anyone alive, but these ideals rapidly faded whenever I encountered the snarling, incapable, vomiting, belligerent, foul-mouthed drunkards – men and women – who have made their deeply unpleasant presence known at every Summer Solstice I’ve attended.

What made all this unforgivable in my eyes was the fact that these low-lives were utterly heedless of the presence of young children when they were loudly voicing their inane, obscenity-laced views. Indeed, there was one occasion when the sight of me pushing my two toddlers in their double buggy bemused one intoxicated harridan and prompted her to swear loudly and uncontrollably in her attempts to describe how we’d somehow amused or offended her, while I very much doubt that I’m the only parent to have encountered sheer drunken nastiness such as this at the Stonehenge celebrations.

Then there’s the matter of the clean-up of the monument on the morning after, when the English Heritage employees have regularly had to deal with the results of the ruins being defaced and actively vandalized by stoned, drunken morons who have lit fires on the stones, smeared them with oil and the like. Worse still, the custodians have had to remove vomit, excrement and every conceivable variety of human effluent from within the circle, a task that no one should have to perform at Stonehenge.This is a World Heritage Site and as such it is the common property of all Mankind, to be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone without them having to worry about stepping into the verbal, spiritual and physical squalor produced by some of the specimens the open access events attract.

In 2010, I spent a sunny afternoon waiting to be allowed into Stonehenge for the Solstice celebrations and to see the Ancestor in place, as I’d played my early part in making this unprecedented event take place. I wandered around for hours, talking to the others who were patiently waiting to be allowed in to one of the most enigmatic and mesmerising locations on the planet and it was clear to me that everyone just wanted to have a good time, to relax and to be present at a place and time that somehow elevated the spirit and provided a tangible connection with something greater than ourselves.

These people all went on to enjoy their stimulant of choice at Stonehenge, whether it was the company of like-minded others, the cool night air, singing, poetry, live performance, the presence of the eldritch stones, alcohol or some other substance, all without in any way making others feel uncomfortable and all adding to the enjoyment of the collective experience. Unfortunately, there were some visitors who quite literally did not give a shit for the feelings or enjoyment of anyone else, and they conducted themselves accordingly.

So, I think it will be a great shame if alcohol is indeed to be banned at the Stonehenge open access events, because it will be demonstrably unfair on the overwhelming majority of people who venerate the place and the occasion, who have consideration for their fellow pilgrims and for the monument that has become the centre of their celebrations. It would be great if those who felt compelled to drink themselves into a vomiting, urinating, defecating, foul-mouthed, vandalising, shambling stupor in order to honour the achievements and beliefs of our ancestors could do this somewhere else – perhaps in a custom-built shrine in their own homes? – but until that happy day arrives, then it seems that this generation is saddled with a Stonehenge it doesn’t deserve.

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17 Responses to Stone Cold Sober at Stonehenge?

  1. kencollinsonuk says:

    The subtle energies can’t be appreciated or felt when you are intoxicated, those who are intoxicated ‘on whatever is their choice’ are just been delusional to think it is spiritual to be intoxicated, that is not to say that getting high is wrong, it is just not spiritual which is what most people claim they go to Stonehenge or any ancient spiritual centre for. Stay straight and sober and really enjoy the spirit of place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      I don’t think that any spiritual belief about Stonehenge is an automatic requirement if someone wishes to attend the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge and in any event, it couldn’t be proved. I think that anyone’s perfectly entitled to go along, relax and have a drink if they wish, to appreciate the event as they choose, but this doesn’t include wantonly vandalizing the stones and using them as a public lavatory.

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  2. heritageaction says:

    I love your article Dennis, not just because you lay in to the drunken minority who spoil it for others but because you say other, pro-gathering things. IMO a proper, rational discussion needs to take place and hasn’t. What’s the event for? Is it an attempted reconstruction (based on what? Evidence of alcohol could denote the ancients washed their smalls in it, not drank it!). Should anyone or no-one pay for it (it’s horrendously expensive and all other heritage funding has been squeezed), could the bellicose cul de sacky Beanfield talk be finally put to bed since most people on both sides weren’t even born at that time, let alone be victims or perpetrators) and should there be fewer people allowed inside the circle? And so on. And on.

    Would you mind if the Journal ran an article, drawing heavily on and referencing yours?

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      I am very pleased you liked the article as much as you did, so thank you for taking the time and trouble to write in and tell me so. The drunken [very, very small] minority that I encountered at Stonehenge were the dregs of society, in my opinion, so I’d have liked to have laid into them far more than I did in this article, but I think I’m made my feelings clear as far as they’re concerned.

      I would be perfectly happy and indeed honoured if the Journal ran an article such as the one you describe. You can quote me if you wish and you can also use any photos on this site, if it helps, while I solemnly undertake not to charge you some outrageous ‘fee’ for this at some future date. You mention a lot of points that I’ve not fully explored, but to have done so would have required writing a small book to do them justice, so I’ll leave it to you to air these matters as you see fit, because after all, the Journal is your site. All I ask is that you try not to quote me out of context, which I’m sure you won’t, and for you to make clear my long familiarity with the site, but otherwise, please write what you like and I look forward to seeing it šŸ™‚

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      • heritageaction says:

        Yes of course, we’ll do all that – and send you a draft for approval. Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

      • eternalidol says:

        Thank you for the offer, which I genuinely appreciate, but please go ahead and write whatever you like, because it’s your site and you don’t need my approval for anything there. Thank you again, though, and I look forward to seeing the finished article.

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  3. Frank somers says:

    I trust that in your visit of 2010 Dennis, when you were hosted by the Amesbury Stonehenge Druids (Aes Dana Grove) that you were suitably impressed with our conduct? We are anti drugs and openly sober. We love our Druid tradition and take our duty to do it justice very seriously. Your article does not illuminate that most people gathering at Stonehenge for summer solstice are not pagan at all. The vast majority of those who peddle and consume recreational drugs and who get completely drunk there have come for a free ‘party’ thrown by English Heritage, are not pagan.

    Druids have struggled to maintain any meaningful spiritual presence, outnumbered as we are, and unsupported by the authorities.

    We would love it if all of those who came, could come with peaceful hearts and open minds. The majority do. Pagans, the ones who really love Mother Nature and revere the ancestors who built Stonehenge, despair greatly at the litter and the presence of hard core drugs. It’s no longer a case of a few hippies smoking cannabis. Today, ketamine, assorted pills, ecstasy, Z’s, etc are all being used. With so many youngsters there it really is dangerous.

    It is hard to know how any such complete ban might be policed without causing still greater disharmony. The Authorities have so long turned a blind eye to this problem that now Stonehenge is a place where people expect to get away with behaviour that at any other time and place would see them arrested. Perhaps if only pagans attended there would be no such issues, but I do not suggest that access is restricted just to pagans. It does need acknowledging that it’s the disenchanted youth of nominally Normal backgrounds who seem to be coming for a free party who are doing most of the antisocial behaviours. We in the pagan community get the blame for that, most unfairly.

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    • eternalidol says:

      Yes, Frank, I was more than pleased with your conduct, because I remember very well how you introduced me and my young family to your various friends, all of whom were very pleasant and easy-going. Otherwise, you’re quite right when you say that I didn’t make clear that most of the people who attend the solstices aren’t pagan at all, so this was an oversight on my part.

      As for those attending, I don’t pretend to have the answers. I don’t think an alcohol ban will completely eradicate the vandalism and anti-social behaviour, while as I pointed out in my post, I think it’s a great shame that all those people who are perfectly capable of enjoying themselves while having a drink and choose to do so should be penalized on account of the actions of a very few.

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  4. heritageaction says:

    Frank, no doubt you are right that most attendees aren’t pagan so pagans get unjustly blamed. But it’s worse, isn’t it? Most attendees are “pagans for the day” and the authorities are too timid and the press too ill-informed not to go along with that fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      From what I can see, there is no shortage of pagan groups with an active internet presence, while there must be hordes of non-pagans who also recognise that pagans are unjustly blamed for this, so it shouldn’t be beyond their collective ability to make it abundantly clear how much they all disapprove of desecration at Stonehenge.

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  5. I am a bit puzzled by the reference to pagans: Always have been. The monument was built by a people who did not necessarily believe in pagan values of today: We do not know if there is any similarity.

    An early Roman Catholic construction would not generally be claimed to be sacred to protestants unless perhaps the protestants knew specifically what its history was and therefore why it is sacred to them. Both groups are Christians, but it is highly unlikely that special preference would be entertained for protestants claiming to have special privileges over catholic monuments, especially if they did not know what historical claim they were making to have those special privileges.

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      As far as Stonehenge is concerned, I suppose I tend to think of the ‘faith question’ as being that the people who built it were pagans in the sense they weren’t Christians, so I personally see it as a pagan monument. My thoughts aside, I’d say it was down to the modern pagan community to clearly demonstrate in the manner of their choosing that they are the true inheritors of this monument, but I’m not aware that any such study or document has been undertaken, far less completed and presented to the world.

      By pure coincidence, this matter is of intense interest to me, so it’s something I’m working on after a fashion.

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      • Aye, but Hindus are not Christians. So you could use the same argument to say that it may be a monument from the First Sangam. Given that we know that the First Sagram existed as a religion prior to Stonehenge (whereas there is no evidence that Druidism did), the Hindus could have a greater claim to it. But it’s also possible to argue that the Druids were known to exist at the time of Caesar and that he did refer to their existence, However this could be a self defeating argument given that Druidism may have been a post Stonehenge import via Celtic belief system (whatever that was and providing that the religion was imported).

        Having said all that, I think that there may be a direct claim, not associated with Caesar or any historical writing of that period (at least on the part of at one or more of the druidic groups). But I find it a bit weird that the claim is made and that nobody appears to have fully thought about what their claim is.

        Liked by 1 person

      • eternalidol says:

        I see your point, Jon, while it’s true to say that those pagan groups who have a marked interest in Stonehenge have thus far failed to make a case to persuade the powers that be that they – the pagans – are entitled to any meaningful tenure of Stonehenge. It’s all the more weird in light of the fact that Druidry is now a recognised religion and has been for a few years, but no one as far as I’m aware has applied themselves to this matter.

        Having said that, I naturally read a great deal about Jesus [in the New Testament] when I was writing my book, and I find it very difficult to recognise the principles that Jesus taught in anything around today that passes as Christianity. As just one example, he specifically said that prayer should be private, something that’s gone completely out of the window in modern times, but there are plenty of others, so there are some double standards being applied here.

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  6. Agreed with that Dennis. It’s curious because Stonehenge is headlined as a druidic monument and therefore one of the main draws for anyone thinking about druidry. But druids may not think that Stonehenge is important to them, so it may be that the Stonehenge connection is just a public perception which is kept alive by a vocal minority of druids?

    The present situation leaves them open to legal challenge which, if it were carefully worded, would have no defence and could strip them of any entitlement (together with everyone else as the ‘druidic’ connection appears to be the main historical reason that some of the public engagement commitments were brought into existence). English Heritage can impose the alcohol ban without any concern because, assuming that they have thought it through, a challenge to their authority on this point would give an excuse to start the legal process to strip religious groups of rights.

    The only conclusion I can draw from the absence of any considered defence strategy is that the monument is not important to the majority of modern day druids. Another possibility is that the movement’s leadership is somewhat lacking in direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      The whole question of pagan but mainly Druid identity in Britain is an absolute morass. On the one hand, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Roman Williams, is a member of some Druid order and I’ve seen some of his ‘Druidic’ poetry, which I thought was very good. On the other hand, I’ve seen some patently false claims by some British Druids that they became Druids by studying for 20 or 21 years, while it seems to me that anyone wishing to be a Druid has to do nothing more than announce that he or she is indeed one.

      However, the same principle must apply to Christians, while to put it into perspective, we need only glance at the news concerning the ongoing Sunni-Shia civil war. Otherwise, I don’t know how many Druids there are in Britain, how many of them are ‘genuine’ in any sense or what proportion of them have an interest in Stonehenge. Despite the fact that Druidry is now a recognised religion, there remains the lack of a compelling, written argument that British pagans and Druids have a real claim to Stonehenge, so as you say, this leaves them open to a legal challenge.

      Worse still, no one questions the existence of English Heritage, because it is a mighty institution and no one questions its reality and power, while it has a membership, employees and addresses from which it operates. Likewise, there’s less question about what constitutes an archaeologist than there is about being a Druid, so it seems inevitable to me that if English Heritage decide to enforce an alcohol ban at Stonehenge, there’s going to be next to no opposition to it, which I think is a great shame.

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      • Not sure about mighty institution Dennis. EH is now just a service provider. Perhaps when their initial term is complete, or opt out dates expire, the government will pass over running to someone else: In the scheme of things, not that long to go now (7 years). If EH does something people really do not like, then there are now easy ways to make an impact (easy by comparison to the ‘good old days’.)

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