We found ourselves
in Stonehenge at summer solstice among thousands of adventurers and
seekers yearning for the sun to rise early and kiss the huge rock at
the center with its first rays. We had been in England ten days, and
I had been eyeing Stonehenge as a place where one might stretch the
bounds of a European vacation.
We had no idea how
to get out to the circle after closing time, when we left our room in
London to board a train that day. Three days earlier we had taken the
official tour, paying to walk through a gate in the chain-link fence
surrounding Stonehenge. We had held electronic voices to our ears,
while the expressway some fifty meters off sizzled and groaned,
destroying any chance at real communion with whatever spirits dwell
in ancient rocks separated from us by rope barriers even inside the
fence. Still, it had been inspiring to watch the stone circle and
nearby burial mounds growing at our approach on the open plains near
Salisbury, a beautiful medieval town with a gorgeous cathedral. Later
on the evening of that first visit, we had entered that cathedral,
arriving in time to partake of an Evensong mass sung by a teenaged
girl choir, while, exhausted from our journeying, we winked in and
out of some resplendent dreamland.
For three days
afterward I nurtured the idea of returning to Stonehenge for summer
solstice and a different sort of reaching after divinity. With no
supplies for camping and no idea how to get out to the actual rocks
after closing time, my wife and I took off anyway, feeling vulnerable
yet awed by our adventure.
passengers on the packed train to Salisbury we met a dark-eyed young
woman from South Africa. She was working her way across Europe and
was on her way to Stonehenge. And we met a freckled, auburn-haired
woman in her thirties--a paleontologist and member of a dance
troupe--also headed there. At the train station in Salisbury a blond
young Englishman with some resemblance to Brad Pitt joined us. He had
returned recently from Thailand to be with his lover, who had since
dumped him, leaving him broke and bewildered in a working class town.
We five need not
have worried how we would get out to the henge, or circle. It was
like going to Woodstock. Follow the hippies from the train station,
where taxis queued up. We climbed into a van and were soon there.
deposited us in a field where a caravan of cars rocked and rolled
past as we walked the last mile or so toward the henge in time to
syncopated rhythms of drums. We realized with a thrill the drumming
was taking place among the stones themselves as we walked past
colorful Gypsy buses, some horse-drawn, decorating a nearby field.
Cars of all descriptions were parked on the grassy plain and
stretched into the distance on one side. Volunteers in day-glo green
vests checked parcels, confiscating anything that might damage rock
or flesh. We poured our wine into an inoffensive plastic bottle and
were let through.
before us dramatic and unfettered. The fence had been removed and, as
night fell--about 11 p.m. in this northern clime--floodlights bathed
the giant gray lithes with light. Twenty-first century Druids were in
full regalia. Nicely tailored robes, and garlands or antlers
decorated their heads. Many carried staffs topped with amethyst and
other eyes of crystal in well-tooled settings--or else serpent-shaped
staffs made of thick spiraling vines that were varnished and
glistening. Others blew on wooden horns or conch shells. Hare
Krishnas were some 20 yards east of the henge, chanting, banging tiny
drums, dancing and swaying blissfully.
Then we were among
the giant rocks, touching them, leaning on them, while devotees
danced, thumped and banged huge drums and chanted. A pregnant moon
rose between two of the stones. Someone set off bottle rockets,
splashing the night with fire. Pagans and Wiccans scattered flowers
and leaves. Tourists with their children watched guardedly and
bemused. Young English boys here on a lark tossed back pints of beer,
and latter day hippies smoked roll-your-own cigarettes laced with
hashish. An other-worldly quality took hold. King Arthur in chain
mail, queens and jesters wandered the shifting grounds as did camera
crews. A golden river of headlights swelled the crowd all that short,
short night, as a procession of Druids and Pagans, complete with
torches, spiraled toward the heart of the circle to greet the sun.
the floodlights and darkness and light switched places. The now-black
faces of the stones were silhouetted in a golden glow from the east
about 4 a.m.. The drumming and dancing and chanting began in earnest
then. For nearly two hours the exhortations rose and rose yet more to
a crescendo. Later, at the very moment the sun should have kissed the
stones and then the assembled crowds, the rain came. A cold English
drizzle set in. Exhausted, we gathered our ponchos and water and
bread, then walked away from this place of ancient mysticism reborn,
searching for any way home.