The summer solstice is still over a month away, and thanks to the pandemic none of us are making any plans to leave the house at any point soon. We’re looking for other ways to potentially mark the shortest night of the year and now, also thanks to the pandemic, there is an extremely awesome option. This year, we’ll be able to watch a livestream of the solstice sunrise, at Stonehenge.
Stonehenge, the most famous neolithic site in the world, is one of the most iconic yet mysterious structures of the ancient world. The stone circle was built over centuries on the Salisbury plain, and for centuries, archeologists, historians, and creatives have been fascinated by the monument. Was it a temple where ancient Britons came to worship or was it a mausoleum, as hinted by the remnants of cremated people found buried there? Was it a place of healing or a representation of the land of the dead? Or was it all of those things?
Perhaps the biggest “clue” to Stonehenge is the sun and the alignment of the stones. The monument is aligned with the sunrise the summer solstice and at sunset on the winter solstice. Again, we’re not sure exactly why, but obviously for neolithic people, knowing when the days would begin to get shorter or longer would have been extremely important, and possibly have a deep spiritual significance.
It is in part because of this that for many centuries it was assumed that Stonehenge was built and used by the Druids, the priest-shamans of the Celt who dominated Britain in the iron age, and possibly the bronze. But the Celts, and thus their spiritual leaders, as we understand them, didn’t begin to be active until 800 BCE … and evidence of the first structures at Stonehenge dates from over two millennia earlier, around 3,000. BCE.
Even though it was not a druidic temple (the Druids probably didn’t even have temples, as their sacred sites were most likely groves of trees), Stonehenge has been associated for years with pagan and neopagan religions, wherein many different traditions are built on the natural cycles of nature and the “wheel of the year” and thus Stonehenge is viewed as a sacred site.
Because of all of this, Stonehenge has become the site of annual gathering to watch the sunrise on the summer solstice. (Why not the winter solstice, to which the monument is best aligned? Well, would you rather go stand in a dark field in England in December or June?) It’s usually a gathering that sees thousands of pagans from across the world in attendance, but it has obviously had to be canceled this year due to the risk or large gatherings.
But there’s a bright side: for the first time ever, Stonehenge will livestream the sunrise on the solstice, enabling anyone to watch enjoy the sacred moment. It won’t be the same as the in-person gathering, but it will a very cool way for people all across the world to take part. The event will be broadcast on the social media channels of English Heritage, who manage Stonehenge.
For everyone’s safety and wellbeing, we’ve had to cancel this year’s summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge.
We know how special this occasion is to so many of you, and we’ll be live streaming it for free online. pic.twitter.com/zMi0NzCmbO
— English Heritage (@EnglishHeritage) May 12, 2020
Yes, there is the small matter of timezones. The sunrise at Stonehenge will occur around 6:29 a.m. on June 20, GMT. Which means it will happen at 1:30 a.m for those of you on the East coast and 10:30 a.m. for those of us on the West coast.
Will you be tuning in to Stonehenge for the solstice?
(via Matador network, image: Wikimedia Commons)
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