The Sunday News
Pathisa Nyathi, Cultural heritage
IN the last article we attempted the identification of a single basic unit that is repeated within the gigantic circle of stone sarsens that constitute the outer and most conspicuous part of Stonehenge. That unit we identified as symbolizing a tomb, the burial site which stands as testimony to the transformation and separation of soul/spirit-in-flesh (material body) and soul/spirit as existing independently of its former material housing.
When Stonehenge is compared with the Durrington Walls the basic unit is not the same though what they express in essence is the same in so far as they share a common circular design but some difference in time scale of enduring existence. Wood is ephemeral, therefore does not represent that which Stonehenge represents-eternity.
We can’t help noticing that the centre stage is thus occupied by that which is represented by the grave. As pointed out in last week’s instalment, the researchers posit that Stonehenge is the place for the dead. I modified that a little in terms of attended importance. The site does hold graves of the dead. In that regard it is an expression and symbol of spirituality.
The site thus is a place of interaction between the dead (the biological remains in the form of the relatively more eternal bones) and the enduring spirits of the dead and the progeny of the departed ancestors. The place is thus a site of linkages, interactions and communication among related components that share a common past, identity, origin and the spiritual DNA.
In the tripartite relationship it is the living humans that make the site one of living religious significance.
Bones and spirits relate to each other as they used to prior to the transformation and separation generally referred to as death, the end of the body though not entirely as bones, due to calcification, tend to be relatively eternal. The continued relationship between the two locates the site for the living, a site where they may tap into the potency and power of the spirits.
This makes the site, a gigantic stone one, to represent an equally gigantic intangible idea-that of spirituality which the residents acknowledged and made use of for their own benefit. In my view therefore, the place is of the ancestors but for their living progeny who stand to benefit through the propitiation of the omnipotent spirits. It is all about the belief system.
The identification of centrality of spirituality translates to having other themes that work in tandem with the central idea of spirituality. The entire cultural landscape has to function in tandem with all the representative ideas adding to the central theme whose cultural practices are informed and underpinned by application of spirituality.
The repetition that we identified in the last article is important to give it yet another closer look. There is repetition within a single circle, for example that of the two upright sarsens with their single horizontal lintel. It is possible to count the number of repeated units in the circle. If our interpretation is right that the unit is a grave, that reinforces and reiterates the expressed idea, that of eternity, perpetuity and continuity.
The said continuity does not refer to the site on account of its stone architecture. Rather, eternity rests within the spirits that emanated from the death of the ancestors.
The fundamental belief is the endlessness and indestructibility of a soul and its spirit. It transforms and evolves through many stages till its final destination when it heads for a particular star.
This is a belief and no one has a right to think only their beliefs or scientific ideas are the sole and only truth or reality.
In addition to repetition within a single circle, there is also repetition of circles which are nearly concentric circles with their centre and epicenter inside the innermost circle, the one with the shortest diameter.
As we get across the various circles as we move to the centre, we should expect increasing sacredness in the case where this is a ritual site. We are approaching the Holy of Holies where propitiation of resident spirits takes place.
Where there is a ritual altar we would expect it to be located within the innermost circle among the repeated concentric circles.
In terms of access to Stonehenge, we would also expect restricted access to the innermost circle as only the sacred and divine persons enter to officiate in privacy. It is a privacy that is some kind of protection of intellectual property.
The site is one of potency and power and whoever controls the rituals has access to power. As a result, not everyone should know how the rituals are conducted. What is important here is that the ideas we are gleaning from architecture that is related to spiritual beliefs add to the identified theme of the site as a place from where energy, power and continued life are derived.
Stones, regardless of their nature, chemical composition and magnitude will count for naught on their own account for purposes of contributing towards expressions of spirituality. At the same time, in the absence of death there are no spirits to talk about, hence there is no spirituality to ever think may exist for human manipulation.
Circles mark territories within which there are different specific utilities. This ties up with who has access to which spaces as demarcated by circles or sometimes wooden palisades. This is true even at the functional level which may be devoid of any spiritual ramifications. Within a city there are differentiated utility zones where different functions are designated: residential, recreational, industrial and commercial, inter alia.
We note that circularity was not the preserve of material items such as stones and wood. Surrounding the stone circles were ditches and banks that exhibited near perfect circularity.
The question that remains unresolved and open for speculation is the use or role of these deep ditches and high banks from dug out soil material. We are thus going to throw our own guesses as our contribution to the ongoing search for interpretation of Stonehenge.