The Sunday News
Cultural Heritage with Pathisa Nyathi
For me what is becoming pretty clear about the purpose, role and function of Stonehenge is several aspects all of which were related and served the interests of a community. There are researchers who have seen different aspects and even thought these were mutually exclusive. Without doubt, Stonehenge monitored movements of celestial bodies, with the sun being the number one consideration.
The moon had its movements tracked too and probably other celestial bodies. The two cosmic bodies and their relative positions to the earth in general and Stonehenge in particular were important at they produced varying potencies, power and energies with implications for spirituality.
In this regard alignment was important and Stonehenge was not unique as several other stone circles in Ireland and Scotland equally achieved the same ends. The mathematical calculations and permutations served as some kind of calendar which predicted, with a fair amount of precision, the alignments going into the future.
It is this prediction of alignments that helped the ancients to forecast phenomena such as solar and lunar eclipses that to them had spiritual and functional implications. The course of history has been observed to have been altered by occurrences such as solar eclipses in particular. Such occurrences with far reaching implications on history had to be predicted.
However, it has to be acknowledged that the mathematical calculation were intellectually challenging. Yes the calculations were intellectually vexatious and mind boggling. At the end of the day the mathematics and geometry must be translated into a layman’s language, one that the spiritual men/priests would put into practice, especially in terms of the timing of the holding of rituals and ceremonies. The aim was to take advantage of predicted alignments for maximum potency, energy and power.
It was not mathematics for its own sake but mathematics as a tool for something more important and fundamental, one that lay behind the construction and use of Stonehenge.
As a matter of fact even the pyramids in Egypt were built to monitor cosmic movements. Calculations have indicated that the three pyramids in Egypt (Giza) were aligned to the constellation of Orion. This alignment must have depended on meanings and significance attached to each constellation or individual cosmic bodies. It must never be assumed the calculations were simplistic because we underestimate the intellectual capacities of the ancients.
Some incredulous individuals have even posited that there were aliens with oversized heads who were behind these calculations and constructions. What we lack is an appreciation that those people were making use of lunar knowledge as opposed to us who rely almost exclusively on solar knowledge.
What we have rendered above may seem the sole and only reason for constructing Stonehenge. It just can’t be. This consideration worked in conjunction with other aspects that complemented each other to produce a fuller picture that the specialists in the community made use of. It was not knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Ancients, we must appreciate, were not driven by intrinsic considerations. They were more into functionality and purpose for their good though tapping into spiritual power and potency.
To track movements and alignments of cosmic bodies is the same as identifying the times when potency, energy and power are at their maximum. Spirituality cannot be divorced from the celestial bodies and their movements and therefore alignments or relative positions with regard to specific locations on earth. In other words, the megalithic monitors or calendars were not built just anywhere to the caprice and whims of builders. The locations were worked out and related to the hubs of energy where they were to be sited.
Otherwise cosmic alignments and siting would have contradicted and cancelled out their potencies and energies.
What was important therefore, was to link cosmic alignments with terrestrial alignments or energy hubs in terms of ley lines and their energies. There had to be some complementarities rather than contradictions.
What has been elucidated so far would not adequately bring on board spirituality which is at the centre of the rituals which seek communication between the living and the spiritual bodies residing on a different plane of life. This brings into picture another alignment-namely the link between the recently dead and the long dead with the living.
That communication is critical and provides the basis for the holding of rituals which release the energy, power and potency which is a facilitator of intended outcomes with the communities as beneficiaries.
That critical link is provided by what remains of the ancestors of the living members of the community. Here we are referring to bones, be they cremated bones or bones interred through inhumation. That is the very critical link and is to be found in virtually all stone circles and pyramids and indeed other ancient structures of a spiritual character.
What lends spirituality is the presence of these linking features-the bones. Researchers have found out that the pyramids which housed the bodies of Pharaohs, had their chambers aligned to some cosmic body or bodies so that the royal body received the necessary cosmic energy and spiritual life and power from the aligned body.
This was very important and will be detectable within the structure of Stonehenge in relation to the summer equinox and the Heel Stone, Slaughter Stone and Altar Stone. All these were aligned in such a way that they were in receipt of the solar energy at its maximum, the day with the longest exposure to solar energy. That happens to be the summer solstice which the Heel Stone monitored and was in alignment with on the morning of the day of summer solstice.
Alignment of movements of cosmic bodies alone does not seem to produce the required spirituality, in the absence of bones. This is not unique to Stonehenge. What this means is that stone circles and burials worked hand in glove.
Religion was expressed through that alliance and complementarity. My ongoing analysis and interpretation of Stonehenge reveals that we ought to have commenced with the simpler structures so as to pin down and identify the critical elements resident in a simple stone structure, or even earlier than the adoption of stones. The stones were a replacement of wood, grass and clay which are ephemeral. The development of stone pyramids points in that direction-the use of clay, grass and wood prior to the adoption of stones in line with changing ideologies. That idea has been dealt with in earlier articles.
Stonehenge is as a result of changing ideologies which were then expressed and represented on the changing architecture and relatedness among the various cultural features comprising the cultural landscape, the geological landscape and the cosmic landscape. The symbolic portrayal of the tombs is easy to identify in the outer sarsen stone circle. The tombs have been linked in a circle through the horizontal stones/lintels. Rulers appropriated ideas and assigned them to themselves. Political developments are easily identifiable at Stonehenge.
Chances are strong that the political rulers tapped into spiritual power and cast themselves as being divine and thus at the centre of spirituality an all forms of power. That possibility is expressed through architecture, the language of stones through design and relatedness and just the overall use of space. That language affords us the opportunity to understand the worldview of communities, including their political ideas and power relations within diversified segments/layers of the community. This language speaks louder, more reliably, more audibly and dependably than oral language, the vocalised language.
Therefore, to view Stonehenge as an astronomical calendar, a religious site and a burial site should never be seen as mutually exclusive.
It’s just an indicator of preference on the part of the researcher, but all the three are interlinked and interrelated aspects of the same overarching purpose for the construction of Stonehenge, which I now dare say is not too difficult to interpret only if we discard our prejudices regarding knowledge and seek to get into the minds of those ancients who created, designed and constructed Stonehenge.