NEW APPROACH TO STONEHENGE 1 (1992)
A few years age I was
on the Orkney Islands, where I among other things visited The Standing
stones of Stenness in fog and rain. It was impressive, and I wanted
to see them again. The last day we had a few minutes in hand on
our way to the ferry, so we had the time to pass the stones one
more time. Just as we arrived, the sun appeared, and just at that
moment, I realized what the stones had been used for: PEOPLE
HAD TRIED TO LURE THE SUN TO THE EARTH BY IMITATING IT.
Of course you cannot publicize knowledge like that without further
proof, if you want to be taken seriously. At most it can be a fundamental
hypothesis concerning the purpose of stone-circles, and this is
exactly what the concern of this paper will be, with Stonehenge
being the concrete example.
Reflections on the Method
It is not without a certain fear that I new join the huge crowd
of people who have tried to yield their contribution to a clearer
understanding of the prehistoric monument Stonehenge over the years.
The English archeologist Julian Richards states in “Stonehenge"
from 1991 that almost the only thing we can know for certain about
Stonehenge, is that we shall never be able to understand the way
of thinking of the prehistoric population, who built the monument.
(1) This statement
does not make me feel more secure, as my basis is exactly the opposite,
namely that modern, civilized, rational people have good qualifications
to understand the prehistoric way of religious thinking. This is
simply because in certain situations we use or rather abandon ourselves
to the same way of thinking, that is the way of thinking that Sigmund
Freud called the primary process, which I shall describe below.
Another basis for this article is the assumption that people at
all times have tried to affect their surroundings to improve the
conditions of survival, and that in a non technological culture
magic has played a crucial part in the attempt to control the natural
Where traditional archeology only reluctantly gives an opinion on
anything but facts quite according to the scientific tradition,
my approach is another, as I write within a humanistic tradition,
where I interpret the archeological data using a depth psychological
concept apparatus. Obviously this approach has its advantages and
disadvantages. The disadvantages or rather the limitation is the
lack of exactness. Therefore by clinging to a certain interpretation
you can easily get into a situation, where you proclaim an exactness
for which there is no support. When it comes to the description
of concrete rites, the uncertainty is of course very great.
Freud points out that a dream or a symbol can never be interpreted
thoroughly, no matter how careful an interpretation it is exposed
to. Of course the same thing is the case to the uttermost extent,
when it comes to a monument as complex as Stonehenge.
When I nevertheless throw myself out into deep water trying an analysis
and interpretation on this basis, it is because I am certain that
in spite of all reservations this method offers an opportunity to
come nearer to an understanding of prehistoric peoples' religions
and ways of living. However, it is important to emphasize that the
quality of the analysis and interpretation depends on the consistency
and the consideration to the given data, and finally in this case
that the logic of the primary process is followed.
The Primary Process
The primary process is the original way of mental functioning. The
young child functions according to the primary process, and so do
adults, when the secondary process, that is the rational way of
thinking, is suspended. For instance this happens in dreams, with
artistic expansion and with religions, artistic, and sexual experiences.
The logic of the primary process is the logic of dreams, fairytales,
and myths. It possesses great emotional intensity and is inexact,
concrete, and imagery. As an example the sword and the tree can
be imagery representations of two different attitudes to male sexuality
as respectively something threatening and something lifegiving.
In a total abandonment to the primary process no distinction exists
between fantasy and reality nor between a person and his surroundings.
Dreams for instance often seem to be reality to the dreamer, and
the dream consciousness is not necessarily connected to the same
person the whole dream through.
Finally there is the important fact that a feeling is not tightly
connected to a certain conception. Displacement and condensation
of feelings can take place, provided that there is a similarity
between the conceptions in question. Displacement of an amount of
mental energy - intensity - from one conception to another that
is similar can among other things be seen in sexual symbols.
Similarity in shape and the fact that something can be surrounded
by the object concerned is the reason why open containers, vases,
jars, ovens, rooms all can be female sexual symbols. By condensation
the intensity of more than one conception is gathered in one place
so that a symbol becomes ambiguous. A tree can be a male symbol
because of the shape, and female because of its ability to bear
fruit. And it can also have other meanings and have more than one
meaning at the same time, so it is a part of the primary process
logic that it is in-exact. On the other hand the symbol is emotionally
powerful because of its ambiguity and inexactness. A lover would
more likely be successful if he promised the bride of his choice
the moon and marvels and wonders rather than a pair of new shoes.
And once more it must be emphasized that it is not only possible
that all things can symbolize and represent another if they have
something in common. In a total abandonment to the primary process
the point is that the symbol is the symbolized, just as it is in
the case of the Holy Communion, where the priest says of the bread
and the wine that these are the body and blood of Christ.
Finally it should be noted that the rules of primary process logic
are independent of culture, whereas the concrete symbols are dependent
The knowledge of Freud's theories of the secondary process is widespread
and used. It can thus be mentioned that all sixth formers in Denmark
are taught these theories in religion.
Stonehenge was built in three main stages over a period of 2000
years. The first stage, Stonehenge I, was built in approximately
It consisted of a circular 1-8m high bank with a l-2m deep ditch
on its outside edge. The inner circle has a diameter of 91m. The
entrance was orientated to the north east, a little north of the
midsummer sunrise axis, marked with two stones and a line of four
wooden posts (fig. 1 (3)).
Outside the circle is placed a huge sarsen stone, the Heel stone.
According to R.J.C. Atkinson this might have replaced another earlier
The Heel stone is situated north of the midsummer sunrise alignment,
too. In 1979 a hollow, which had contained a stone, was found
east of the Heel stone.
Inside the bank, following the circle, are 56 pits, the Aubrey holes.
They are about 1m wide and deep and were refilled with chalk right
after they had been dug out. They seem never to have held stones
or posts. At an excavation in 1920, cremated human bones, stone
balls, and pins of bone were found.
Aubrey Burl writes in "The Stonehenge People" that Stonehenge
I was built by the descendants of the local neolithic population.
He is of the opinion that the first Stonehenge was a monument dedicated
to a death and rebirth cult, in which the moon played a crucial
Accordingly the dominant astronomic lines of Stonehenge I were oriented
to important moon positions. (6)
In "The Stone Circles of the British Isles" Aubrey Burl
refers to M. Gimbutas, who claims that the moon was regarded as
a female deity at the period of transition from a hunting culture
to a farming culture.
This was because the moon is ambiguous just as the female nature
embodying light as well as darkness, growth as well as decay. The
moon goddess was a deity of life, death and fertility. She was self-sufficient
and a creative and subversive principle in herself. She did not
seem to be in need of anything outside herself to grow or to swell
like the pregnant womb, so she seemed to be self-fertilizing.
different from the later earth goddess, whose importance grew currently
with the elaboration of farming, which made a more stationary way
of living possible. This earth goddess was also a goddess of life,
death and fertility, but unlike the moon goddess she needed something
outside herself - the sun - to be fertilized. (8)
Aubrey Burl points out that the function of the Heel stone at this
time is to be a marker. The hole beside the Heel stone does not
indicate that there has been another stone, but that the Heel Stone
has been removed to find the exact point on the horizon, where the
northern moon rises. He is convinced that the Heel Stone as an astronomical
marker is the very first part of Stonehenge.
Yet he states that there is more to the stone than just being an
"The stone marks the sun and the moon, it proclaimed that the
land around it was inhabited and possessed, it stood sharply on
the skyline as a signpost to the henge, and it embodied the ancestral
The moon was also connected with death. In "The Stonehenge
People" Aubrey Burl writes that these people feared the dead
and often dismembered the bodies to render them harmless. There
are many examples that limbs, especially arms, have been removed
from the rest of the body. Another way to protect oneself from the
dead's power was to wait until the body had become a skeleton before
the burial teak place. Aubrey Burl thinks that this was the purpose
of the mortuary house of Stonehenge I. The dead have been kept in
the house before they were placed in one of the surrounding barrows
That the mortuary houses were often burnt down could, still according
to Aubrey Burl, be understood as a further safety precaution.
During the period when Stonehenge I was built, society became still
more organized and the concept of the dead changed with it. Later
in the period, the dead were buried at once after they had died,
and they were no longer regarded as dangerous. With the higher degree
of organization the stock became of still greater importance and-created
basis for an ancestoral cult. The mortuary house was no longer needed,
and it was probably replaced by an arrangement of wooden posts in
the middle of the enclosure. The purpose of this was, according
to Aubrey Burl, presumably to keep in contact with the past by letting
the posts represent the former building.
R.J.C. Atkinson is also of the opinion that Stonehenge I was probably
a sacred place dedicated to same death or ancestoral cult. He writes
about the Aubrey Holes that their main purpose may have been ritual
rather than sepulchral, as the cremated remains are very sporadic.
He thinks that the Aubrey Holes might have been symbolic doors to
the netherworld, and that the holes could represent an attempt to
keep in contact with the dead ancestors. (11)
Gerald Hawkins, who is one of the main representatives of astroarcheology,
writes in “Stonehenge Decoded” that a priesthood could
have used the Aubrey Holes as a kind of Neolithic computer to predict
eclipses of the moon. This would have rendered them an immense power.
An American, Alexander Weaver Ebin, has called Stonehenge "the
first accurate sexmachine" because of the 56 Aubrey Holes,
which he thinks represent a double menstruation cycle, one for each
R.J.C. Atkinson states that the purpose of the ditch and the bank
was not only to exclude the profane world outside the henge but
also to enclose the sacred place. (13)
Aubrey Burl adds that the items found in the circular earthwork
have contributed to increasing the protective effect. The items
concerned are chalk balls, which he suggests could represent testicles,
antlers representing rebirth, the skeleton of a woman, a possible
personification of the female goddess, who was worshipped at the
A matter, which I think is of great importance, and which I also
think has been underestimated, is the fact that Stonehenge I was
built on chalk ground, This means that the circle has stood white
and distinct in the landscape. Whiteness symbolizes, among other
things, innocence and purity, and thus a white circle is likely
to have had an immense protective power against the profane evil
and darkness outside the circle. Another thing is that whiteness
is also often connected with the whiteness of the moon. Furthermore
the circle reproduces the shape of the full moon, that is the moon
when it is most powerful. Applying the primary process on this matter,
results in the following: by creating a white circular earthwork
one creates a similarity with the moon in shape and colour, which
provides a possibility of symbolization. Furthermore in a total
abandonment to the primary process the symbol becomes the symbolized.
As the moon is regarded as a deity this means that the white circular
enclosure becomes divine, and so a worthy and powerful setting for
any rites. I am convinced that one of the reasons why Salisbury
Plain has a status as sacred landscape is because of its chalk ground.
Stonehenge II was built about 2100 BC with Stonehenge I as the basis.
The entrance of the monument was changed, so that it was new oriented
to north east. The 5l0m long Avenue with parallel ditches and banks
was built straight out from the entrance also following the north
east line of the midsummer sunrise. The two stones that marked the
entrance of Stonehenge I, were now placed on this new main axis
on the Avenue just outside the enclosure.
A ditch was built around the Heel Stone.
In the middle of the enclosure, two bluestone circles, concentric
with the earthwork and the Aubrey Holes, were commenced but never
finished. The stones were placed like spokes in a wheel, and an
entrance to the circles was marked by two stones placed inside the
stone circle parallel with the mentioned main axis. Just opposite
this entrance was a huge stone hole, which - according to Atkinson
- was probably meant for the Altar Stone, the largest of the bluestones.
The four Station stones were arranged in the corners of a rectangle,
whose short sides followed the main axis to north east, while its
long sides were orientated to the point on the horizon, where the
moon sets at its most northerly position and rises at its most southerly
Stonehenge II was built by the Beakers, who in all probability had
immigrated from the continent. They are named after an important
feature of their culture, namely an elegantly accomplished clay
vessel, the beaker.
The bluestones of Stonehenge II are in fact different kinds of stones,
which all derive from the Precelly mountain in Wales 335 km from
Salisbury Plain. There are differing opinions regarding the way
they have arrived from Wales. Julian Richards cites Dr William Thorpes
for the theory that the stones were transported the long way with
the glaciers. (16)
Aubrey Burl is of the same opinion, as he claims that so skilful
masons as the Beakers would have chosen stones of a better quality
and left out the ones of the poor quality. Moreover they would probably
have dressed the stones before the long transport, which seems not
to have been the case, as chips of bluestones have been found all
over the area. (17)
On the other band it is remarkable that there occurrance of bluestone
nearer than Precelly, so Atkinson as well as Julian Richards maintain
that the stones – perhaps used earlier in another context
- have been transported by human beings and not by the ice. (18)
If the latter theory is correct, it has required an immense effort
by the population of that time. On one hand this would reflect the
existence of a society with a high degree of organization, and on
the other hand it reflects that exactly these stones were important.
Already in 1956 Atkinson writes that Precelly could very well have
been a holy mountain because of its height and its situation by
the sea. He writes that it must have been an aweinspiring sight
especially from the sea, its top reaching right into the sky. (19)
Besides you find holy monuments here as well, which also signifies
the importance of the place. (20)
Moreover same of the Beakers' axes are made of
the same sort of stone from Precelly. R.J.C.Atkinson points out
that axes were not only weapons but also signs of prestige carrying
magical power, a power that could be transmitted to the stone they
were made of. This would render the stones an even greater holiness.
All this is quite according to the primary process logic. If you
accept the hypothesis that Precelly is a holy mountain, the case
is the following: By using a part of something holy - the holy mountain
- in the building of Stonehenge II, you add holiness to the monument
as a whole, as the symbol is the symbolized, as far as there is
an abandonment to a religious or primary process function.
Exactly the same kind of logic lies behind R.J.C.Atkinson's explanation
concerning the axes yealding sanctity to the stones of Precelly,
and thus from that point of view very plausible, only I would rather
turn this hypothesis upside-down, regarding it as more likely that
the mountain was the original sanctum. Another thing is that the
stones in themselves can be regarded as holy. Within the Jungian
tradition, which has developed Freud's theories on the primary process,
they describe stones as a symbol of the Self - the divine - among
other things because of they are imperishable. (22)
Besides the high organization of society and the holiness of the
bluestones as explanations of the great effort of carrying the bluestones
the 335km from Precelly to Salisbury Plain, I am convinced that
the latter place in itself is of the uttermost importance in this
respect, to. As I have already mentioned, I am of the opinion that
one important reason why this place originally gained its importance
and reputation as a sacred landscape was because of its chalk underground.
And once the importance and reputation were obtained, it would be
sensible to choose the same place for later monuments, and would
contribute to make the immense undertaking seem worth while.
It has been pointed out that the building of Stonehenge II could
mark a change in religion from a death cult to a cult where the
sun played an important part. R.J.C. Atkinson writes that earlier
the attention was directed to the earth but now the Beakers turned
their attention to the sky. The uniformity in the orientation of
the Beaker henges must be based on astronomic observations. Furthermore
he discusses the presence of a fertility cult because of the shapes
of the undressed bluestones. They are found in two different shapes,
tall pillars, interpreted as male, and smaller broad stones, interpreted
as female. (23)
The mentioned change of axis, also marked with extra stones in the
inner circle, and the finding of contemporary circular gold discs
with central crosses, interpreted as sun-symbols, make it likely
that the sun is the heavenly body to which the attention was directed.
Another thing which I think also suggests the importance of the
sun is the way, the stones are placed in the incomplete circles,
namely like spokes in a wheel, or to express it in a maybe more
appropriate way, like the rays of the sun. With a reference to Gimbutas,
I think it is a plausible assumption that from Stonehenge I to Stonehenge
II and III there has been a change in religion from a death and
later ancestoral cult connected to a moon-goddess to a sun and fertility
cult connected to an earthgoddess. This follows the sociological
evolution from a hunting society to a farming society, whose survival
was dependent on the growing of crops, or in other words the fertilization
of the earth. However, at this time the old religion had probably
still not been quite abandoned, paying attention to the lunar orientation
of the station Stones. But there can hardly be any doubt that in
Stonehenge II the sun was the heavenly body to which the most intensive
attention was attached.
Applying the primary process logic on the architecture of Stonehenge
II causes similar considerations as in the case concerning Stonehenge
I, only now it is the sun that is imitated. The stones were arranged
in a double circle, a form similar to the sun and furthermore they
are arranged like rays going out from the centre. As mentioned above
stones are often regarded as holy because of their changelessness.
So my interpretation is as follows: Like tribes in Africa imitated
the rain to make it come to the earth, the Beakers imitated the
sun, not only to create a divine space, but also to make the sun
fertilize the earth. It is well known that if people cannot control
their surroundings by means of technology or the like, magic is
an obvious possibility, so much more as the feeling of powerlessness
can be overcome by using magic.
The building of Stonehenge III took place over three periods. It
was started in about 2000 BC, where the great sarsen stone circle,
consisting of 30 uprights with curved lintels above, and the horseshoe
were erected, still following the north east axis of Stonehenge
II (fig. 2 (25)).
The horseshoe consists of five trilithons, arranged so that the
greatest trilithon was at the bottom of the horseshoe.
Trilithon is a Greek word for two uprights with a lintel above.
The monument shows a lot of architectural refinements, such as the
curving of the lintels, so that they create a perfect circle, and
the upward tapering of the upright sarsens, as well as the downward
tapering of the trilithon lintels, a practice also used in the building
of temples in ancient Greece. The space between the centre of each
upright is exactly the same except for the space creating the entrance.
All this places Stonehenge III far above other similar contemporary
The large sarsen stones are smoothly dressed on the inside except
for the great trilithon at the bottom of the horseshoe, which was
dressed on both sides.
The lintels are fixed upon the uprights by means of a tenon and
mortise technique, and in the circle the lintels are jointed to
each other with tongues and groves.
At the entrance to the earthwork large undressed sarsens were placed
one of which, the Slaughter Stone, is still there, now lying on
Later an elliptical setting of 22 dressed bluestones was placed
inside the sarsen horseshoe, and at least two of these must have
been trilithons, as parts of these can be seen in the present bluestone
horseshoe. Inside the ellipse were holes for stones seemingly indicating
the midsummer sunrise. Outside the sarsen circle were also dug 59
holes, the Y- and Z-holes, in two concentric circles. There are
no signs to indicate that these holes have ever contained stones,
except for small bits of bluestone at the bottom of the holes, which
were never filled up. R.J.C. Atkinson writes that in all probability
these holes were meant for the remaining 60 bluestones but that
this enterprise was never finished. This hypothesis has not been
questioned, and R.J.C. Atkinson goes to suggest that the bluestone
fragments could be understood as propitiatory token offerings to
protect against the evil that could be the consequence "from
depriving the gaping holes of their rightful and expected contents”.
The final setting of Stonehenge III teak place about 1550 BC, and
was actually a resetting, namely of the bluestones into a circle
inside the sarsen circle, and a horseshoe of tall bluestone pillars
inside the sarsen horseshoe, and finally the Altar Stone, the largest
of all the bluestones, was placed on the main axis between the centre
and-the bottom of the horseshoe. The bluestone circle consisted
of tall pillars as well as smaller and broader stones, one of each
kind frames the entrance to the circle.
On the inner side of trilithon two are carvings of axe heads and
a dagger and on trilithon four of a rectangular figure which according
to R.J.C. Atkinson could symbolize a female deity. (27)
Axe head carvings are also found on the outer side of the sarsen
circle. Furthermore an axe was found in the hole of the now fallen
At the time when the building of Stonehenge III started, the Beaker
culture had declined and had been replaced by another even more
organized and hierarchical culture. The finding of various spectacular
gold items in the Bush Barrow, a contemporary barrow a mile south
of Stonehenge, witnesses clearly that this is the burial place of
a mighty ruler.
Stonehenge is conspicuous, great and impressing and of course there
has been a vast number of interpretations. In the middle of the
sixties Gerald Hawkins brought forward his suggestion that Stonehenge
had functioned as an observatory making it possible for the astronomer
priesthood to make a sort of calendar or to divide the year into
parts so the times for sowing and harvest and moreover religious
festivals could be fixed. And to repeat what has already been mentioned
under Stonehenge I and the Aubrey Holes, he is of the opinion that
these had served as a kind of neolithic computer making it possible
to predict eclipses. His theories have been much discussed and especially
the thought of the neolithic computer has been rejected. But that
astronomy has been an important knowledge both because of the heavenly
bodies' divine character and because a sort of calendar would be
necessary in a farming society, is generally accepted.
It is my opinion that also Stonehenge III provides a similarity
with the sun as was the case with Stonehenge II. Also here there
would be created a divine space by the means of magic as explained
above. However, a lot of changes in the architecture have taken
place with the building of Stonehenge III, among other things the
addition of the double horseshoe placed with the opening to north
east and the midsummer sunrise. Aubrey Burl discusses L.E. Stover's
and B. Kraig's suggestion that the horseshoe should be connected
with a bull-cult. At the same time he rejects this hypothesis because
of the fact that the shape of the horseshoe does not resemble the
horns of the bull as they curve outwards at the ends. Nor does he
consider the resemblance between the horseshoe and the crescent
of the moon as sufficiently close to be convinced of a symbolic
representation of the moon. (28)
He points out that the horseshoe is more like a lobster-claw, a
sort of trap, able to catch the sun. (29)
The horseshoes are fairly common settings, and he mentions
that most of them are open towards important celestial positions.
He understands Stonehenge III as a developed funeral forecourt with
the architectural origin in the forecourts of the passage graves
and he concludes:
“Stonehenge, with its carvings and its north-east orientation,
with its highest sarsens at the south-west, can be included amongst
this group of U-shaped settings, open to the sun, associated with
an axe-cult, acting like a doorway to the Other-World. This
would explain the twelfth and last question about the monument.
The five trilithons rose in height towards the south-west because
this was the direction of the midwinter sunset and the dark, cold
end of the year.”
And he continues:
"It may be supposed, then, that Stonehenge was erected after
enormous labour to commemorate annually at midwinter the death of
same great divinity. Equally, the sarsens may have been put up to
be the everlasting house of such a deity whose role it was to safeguard
the dead." (30)
The deity mentioned in the quotation must be the mother-goddess,
whom Aubrey Burl believes is represented by the Altar Stone, first
because similar sculptures of the goddess are found in Brittany,
but also because an axe, the mother-goddess' attribute, has been
found in the pit where the Altar Stone was formerly placed. Also
he refers to the carvings of the axe heads, the dagger and the rectangular
"figurine". In agreement with R.C.J. Atkinson he interprets
the latter as a representation of the mother-goddess. (31)
This mother-goddess is as far as I can see identical with
the earth-goddess mentioned above. She has been given two attributions.
She is the giver of life as everything grows from her, and the taker
of life as well, as she takes back everything, she has given life
Aubrey Burl points out that there is an intimate connection between
the axe, the stone, the moon and death. (33)
Later when he mentions the two bluestones at the
entrance, the male, tall pillar to the right and the female, broad
one to the left, he says that sexual symbolism is quite plausable
considering that Stonehenge was "deeply concerned with death
and fertility". (34)
However, I think that Aubrey Burl's conclusion,
which is quoted above, does not attach enough importance to the
sun and the fertility aspects. Contemporary carvings in Scandinavia
and Italy show that there exists a close connection between a sun-
axe- and fertility cult, at least in the countries mentioned. (fig.
3 & 4 (35 & 36))
Both Aubrey Burl and R.J.C. Atkinson discuss the possibility of
understanding the sarsen circle as an everlasting version or representation
of a former wooden building partly because of the mortise and technique
which was used in carpentry. In this way you could keep in contact
with the past and use this as a sort of legitimation of a new order.
(37 & 38)
As for the new order it is my point of view that in an agricultural
society you will attach much more attention to the sun as a fertilizing
principle, which has already been mentioned. Benjamin C. Ray has
maintained that the still greater centralization of the power created
basis for a prestige project, but also that Stonehenge III is the
result of such an immense performance that it must have had the
greatest collective importance, a suggestion with which I can only
agree. He is of the opinion that Stonehenge has been the ritual
home of same ancestoral-, rebirth- and fertility cult. He is convinced
that it has not just been a fertility cult, because this would be
more likely to be related to the equinoxes and not - as indicated
by the main axis of Stonehenge - at the midsummer solstice. He writes
that the ancestoral cult, which is rendered probable by the great
amount of surrounding barrows, should legitimate the power of the
leader. The main contents of the rites should then be the rebirth
and following renewal and strengthening of the leader on behalf
of the whole society, and as such an act of social solidarity. (39)
It is of course as mentioned in the beginning of this article very
difficult to say anything specific about the concrete rites, but
the principle meaning sounds very plausible to me, and the fertility
and rebirth aspect plays a prominent part in the following interpretation.
In the whole structure of Stonehenge III there is an immanent presence
of the two counterparts male and female. The two different kinds
of bluestones have already been mentioned as well as the interpretation
of the rectangular carving as female or more specifically the mother-
or earth-goddess, and the carvings of axe heads as her attributes.
The axe and also the dagger have a clearly male character, and following
the primary process logic these weapons could be phallic representations
because of the common ability to penetrate. There is also an intellectual
level in this, as the ability to “cut through" has traditionally
been regarded as a male quality. That the axe is the goddess' attribute
can thus be explained with the fact that it represents her contrast,
so once more we have the male/female composition. The sun, too,
is able to create light and clarity, which could be at least one
of the reasons why it is often understood as male.
The very first English historian, who mentions Stonehenge, is Henry
of Huntingdon. In 1130 he writes:
"Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected
after the manner of doorways, so that doorway appears to have been
raised upon doorway." (40)
Also the doorway can according to primary process be interpreted
as a female sex symbol with the entrance as the common aspect.
As to the shape of the horseshoe setting of Stonehenge III I think
it would be most obvious to interpret it as female, too. Freud writes
that the horseshoe is a very common female sexual symbol, once more
according to the primary process, as there is a resemblance between
the shape of the female sexual organ and the horseshoe. (41)
The horseshoe also represents the contour of a
jar, another very common female sexual symbol. Another support for
this interpretation is the fact that all the bluestones in the inner
horseshoe are tall pillars, so if we stick to the interpretation
of these as phallic, this provides again a male/female composition.
So if the interpretation of the horseshoe as female is correct and
if the sun is accepted as the male counterpart, the conclusion is
as follows: every year at midsummer when the sun is most powerful
it will rise and shed its light and fertilizing power into the horseshoe.
In other words, a sort of cosmic coitus between the sun and the
earth will take place every year and secure the survival of a society
which was all dependent on the harvest.
The rising in height of the trilithons has been referred to as a
support of the theory that the south west orientation and the midwinter
played the most important role in the rites of an ancestoral cult.
But it could also mean - calling the ambiguity of the primary process
to mind - that the horseshoe then would be more able to receive
the sun. This would prevent the sun from slipping away and its fertilizing
power would be kept inside the setting, as it would be stopped at
the bottom of the horseshoe, where the Altar Stone is placed, too.
This would be quite in keeping with Aubrey Burl's interpretation
of it as a representation of the goddess.
When it comes to the concrete rites, it is most plausible that the
sun has been represented by the mighty ruler just as it was the
case with among others the Inca ruler and later the Japanese emperor.
Just like the sun gave its fertilizing power to the earth, something
similar could have been the case for the mighty leader. By passing
the female doorways to the sanctum during a midsummer festival he
could appear to his subjects as a fertilizing power just like the
sun. Of course this is only a guess, but it would be a social event
that would secure not only the crops but also the ruler's status.
During the building of Stonehenge there has obviously been a change
both sociologically and in religion. From about 2800 BC to 1500
BC society changed into a still higher organized and hierarchical
From a depth psychological point of view it seems most likely that
this change was followed by a change in religion, as Gimbutas among
others has suggested, from a death- ancestoral- and moon cult, with
the self-reliant moon-goddess as the prominent deity to a sun- and
fertility cult, where the earth-goddess and the sun were the deities
In the case of Stonehenge the understanding of the place as a sanctuary
devoted to a moon-, death- and ancestoral cult is uncontradicted.
My interpretation of the white eircle as a representation of the
full moon can only support this view. The depth psychological concept
of the primary process is the basis of my assertion that the resemblance
between the full moon and the circle provided the population of
that time with the possibility of creating a sacred space where
rites could take place.
The building of Stonehenge II marked the beginning of a new era
where the fertility aspect was the dominant one and where the sun
and the earth goddess were the dominant deities, a development that
was carried on in Stonehenge III. Another thing is that it is evident
that the old order has not been abandoned, in the cycle of the year
rebirth and fertility are closely connected, and it is quite possible
that the midwinter sunset has been celebrated as the counterpart
of the midsummer sunrise. And of course the contact to the past
is an important legitimation for what is going on in the present.
The change of main-axis to an orientation to north east, and the
midsummer sunrise and the architecture in itself show, according
to a depth psychological interpretation that the purpose of Stonehenge
in its present form was to create a divine space like it was the
case with Stonehenge I and II. But probably the main purpose was
to secure the survival of society by making the sun fertilize the
earth using magic creating a resemblance as explained above, and
that this was made possible by the architecture as shown above.
The most important yearly event has thus been the midsummer sunrise
where the sun on the top of its powers fertilized the earth in a
cosmic coitus. An event which also secured the leader his power
as he has most probably been the representative of the sun.
Berit Johnsen, Holmsø, November 1992
(1) Julian Richards "Stonehenge", London
1991, p. 48
(2) The theory of the primary process is described
for the first time in Sigmund Freud "Traumdeutung", 1900
(3) R.J.C.Atkinson "The prehistoric Temples
of Stonehenge and Avebury” (1980) 1991, p. l
(4) Note 2, p. 4
(5) Aubrey Burl “tThe Stonehenge People”
1987 p. 170
(6) Note 4 p. 140
(7) Aubrey Burl “The Stone Circles of the
British Isles", (1976) 1989, p. 310
(8) Note 5, p. 311
(9) Note 4, p. 79
(10) Note 4, p. 63
(11) R.J.C. Atkinson "Stonehenge" (1956)
1979, p. 171
(12) Christopher Chippendale “Stonehenge
Complete” (1983) 1989 p. 242
(13) Note lo, p. 170
(14) Note 4, p. 73
(15) Note 2, p. 8
(16) Note l, p. 55
(17) Note 4, p. 135
(18) R.J.C. Atkinson “Stonehenge and Neighbouring
Monuments" (1987) 1990, p. 15
(19) Note lo, p. 175-176
(20) Aubrey Burl “Prehistoric Astronomi
and Ritual” 1983, p. 3637
(21) Note lo, p. 176
(22) C.G. Jung “Man and His Symbols"
(1964) 1978, p. 221
(23) Note lo, p. 173-175
(24) Note 10, p. 174
(25) Note 1, p. 127
(26) Note 10, p. 84
(27) Note 2, p. 18
(28) Note 4, p. 211
(29) Note 4, p. 212
(30) Note 4, p. 213-214
(31) Note 4, p. 207
(32) Tom Chetwynd: "A Dictionary of Sacred
Myth" 1986, p. 133
(33) Note 4, p. 192
(34) Note 4, p. 202
(35) Gyldendals og Politikens "Danmarkshistorie"
red. Olaf Olsen, vol. 1, Jørgen Jensen "I begyndelsen",
(36) Knud A. Larsen "Solvogn og solkult"
, p. 53 i Kuml, Århus 1955
(37) Note 10, p. 178
(38) Note 4, s. 136
(39) Benjamin C. Ray: "Stonehenge: A New
Theory" in "History of Religions", February 1987,
vol. 26, no 3, p. 274-276
(40) Sigmund Freud:"Vorlesungen zur Einführungin
die Psychoanalyse" 1917, the Danish Edition, 1982, p. 135
(41) Note 11, p. 20