NEW APPROACH TO STONEHENGE 2 (1993)
Few monuments have been exposed to more interpretations than Stonehenge.
This article is an attempt to achieve further insight concerning
the symbolic significance and the use of the monument by using the
depth psychological concept of the primary process as the basis
of the interpretation. (1)
As a support of the depth psychological analysis,
I shall draw parallels to other societies, especially the contemporary
Scandinavian ones, whose rock carvings may contribute to a better
understanding of prehistoric religious ways, not only in Scandinavia
but also in Great Britain.
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 played a crucial part in the attempt to control the natural
Where traditional archeology only reluctantly gives an opinion on
anything but hard facts quite according to scientific tradition,
my approach is another: I write within a humanistic tradition, where
the archeological data are interpreted using a depth psychological
concept apparatus. Obviously this approach has its advantages and
disadvantages. The disadvantages or rather the limitations are the
lack of exactness. The danger is therefore that, by clinging to
a certain interpretation, one can easily get into a situation where
an exactness is proclaimed for which there is no support. When it
comes to the description of concrete rites, uncertainty is of course
Neither a dream nor a symbol can ever be interpreted thoroughly,
no matter how careful an analysis it is exposed to. Of course the
same applies to the utmost extent when it comes to a monument as
complex as Stonehenge.
When I nevertheless make the 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 people`s religions and ways of living. However, it
is important to emphasize that the quality of the analysis and interpretation
depends on the inner consistency and the consideration given to
the data, and finally that the logic of the primary process is followed.
The Primary Process
The primary process is the original mode 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 religious, artistic, and sexual
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 either something threatening or something life-giving.
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, but
dream-consciousness is not necessarily connected to the same person
throughout the whole dream.
Finally there is the important fact that a feeling is not tightly
connected to a certain concept. Displacement and condensation of
feelings can take place, provided that there is a similarity between
the concepts in question. Displacement of an amount of mental energy
- intensity - from one concept 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 etc
can be female sexual symbols. By condensation the intensity of more
than one concept is gathered in one place so that a symbol becomes
ambiguous. A tree can be a male symbol because of the shape, and
a female symbol 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 logic of the primary process that it
is inexact. 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, rather than a pair of new shoes.
Once more it must be emphasized that it is only possible that one
thing 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
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 1-2m deep ditch
on its outside edge. The outer circle has a diameter of 9lm. 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 (Atkinson, (1980) 1991, 1).
Outside the circle is a huge sarsen stone, the Heelstone. According
to R.J.C.Atkinson this might have replaced another earlier stone
(Atkinson, (1980) 1991, 4). The Heelstone is also situated north
of the midsummer sunrise alignment. In l979 a hollow, which had
contained a stone, was found east of the Heelstone.
Inside the bank, following the circle, are 56 pits, the Aubrey holes.
They are about lm wide and deep and were refilled with chalk right
after they had been dug out. They seem never to have held stones
or posts. During an excavation in l920, 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
part (Burl, 1987, 170). Accordingly the dominant astronomic lines
of Stonehenge I were oriented to important moon positions (Burl,
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 because the moon is just as ambiguous 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 (Burl,
1989, 310). Quite 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 (Burl, 1989, 311).
Aubrey Burl points out that the function of the Heelstone at this
time was as a marker. The hole beside the Heelstone does not indicate
that there was another stone, but that the Heelstone was removed
to find the exact point on the horizon where the northern moon rises.
He is convinced that the Heelstone 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 ghosts." (Burl, 1987,
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, were 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 burial
took place. Aubrey Burl thinks that this was the purpose of a mortuary
house, which he presumes was probably placed inside the banks of
Stonehenge I. The dead were kept in the house before being placed
in one of the surrounding barrows (Burl, 1987, 63). That the mortuary
houses were often burnt down could, according to Aubrey Burl, still
be understood as a further safety precaution.
During the period when Stonehenge I was built, society became more
organized and the concept of the dead changed with it. Later in
the period, the dead were buried immediately after death, and they
were then no longer regarded as dangerous. With the higher degree
of organization, the stock became of still greater importance and
created a 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. According to Aubrey
Burl, the purpose of this was 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 some death or ancestoral cult. About
the Aubrey Holes, Atkinson writes that their main purpose may have
been ritual rather than sepulchal, 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 (Atkinson,(1956)
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 sex machine" because of the 56 Aubrey Holes,
which he thinks represent double menstruation cycle, one for each
ovary (Chippendale,(1983) 1989, 242).
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 (Atkinson,(1956) 1979, 170). Aubrey
Burl adds that the items found in the circular earthwork contributed
to increasing the protective effect. The items concerned are chalk
balls, which he suggests could represent testicles and, antlers
representing rebirth. (Burl, 1987, 73).
A matter, which I think is of great importance and has been under
estimated is the fact that Stonehenge I was built on chalk ground.
This means that the circle 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 to 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 symbolism.
Furthermore by 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 the status of a sacred landscape
is because of its chalk ground.
Stonehenge II was built about 2loo BC with Stonehenge I as the basis.
The entrance of the monument was changed so that it was now oriented
to the northeast. The 5l0m long Avenue with parallel ditches and
banks was built straight out from the entrance also following the
northeast line of the midsummer sunset. 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. Moreover a ditch was built
around the Heel Stone.
In the middle of the enclosure, two bluestone circles, concentric
with the earth work 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
(Atkinson, (1980) 1991, 8).
The four Station Stones were arranged in the corners of a rectangle,
whose short sides followed the main axis to the northeast, 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
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 as to how they arrived
from Wales. Julian Richards cites Dr William Thorpes for the theory
that the stones were transported the long way with the glaciers
(Richards, 1991, 55).
Aubrey Burl is of the same opinion, as he claims that such 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 (Burl, 1987, 135).
On the other hand it is remarkable that there is no natural occurrance
of bluestone nearer than Precelly, so Atkinson as well as Julian
Richards maintain that the stones - perhaps used earlier in another
context - were transported by human beings and not by the ice (Atkinson,
(1987) 1990, 15).
If the latter theory is correct, it 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 l956 Atkinson wrote that Precelly could very well have
been a holy mountain because of its height and its situation by
the sea. He wrote that it must have been an awe inspiring sight
especially from the sea, its top reaching right into the sky (Atkinson,
(1956) 1979, 175-176). Beside it holy monuments can be found as
well, which also signifies the importance of the place (Burl, 1983,
36-37). Moreover some of the Beakers` axes were made of the same
sort of stone from Precelly. R.J.C.Atkinson pointed 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 (Atkinson,
(1956) 1979, 176).
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 giving sanctity to the stones of Precelly, and
thus from this 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 developed Freud`s theories on the primary process,
the stone is described as a symbol of the Self - the divine - among
other things because of their imperishableness (Jung, (1964) 1978,
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 also of the utmost importance in this
respect. 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 worthwhile.
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
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 (Atkinson, (1956) 1979, 173-175).
The before 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. (Atkinson, (1956) 1979, 174).
Another thing which I think also suggests the importance of the
sun is the way the stones are placed in incomplete circles, namely
like spokes in a wheel or, to express it in a perhaps more appropriate
way, like the rays of the sun. With reference to Gimbutas, I think
it is plausible that from Stonehenge I to Stonehenge II and III,
there was 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 earth goddess. 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: As 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 2ooo BC, where the great sarsen stone circle,
consisting of 3o uprights with curved lintels above, and the horseshoe
were erected, still following the north east axis of Stonehenge
II (Richards, 1991, 127). The horseshoe consists of five trilithons,
arranged so that the greatest trilithon was at the bottom of the
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 but 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 earth work 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 59 holes were also
dug, 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 6o 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" (Atkinson, (1956) 1979,
The final setting of Stonehenge III took place about l55o BC, and
was actually a resetting of the bluestones into a circle inside
the sarsen circle, and a horseshoe of tall bluestone pillars inside
the sarsen horseshoe. 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 (Atkinson (1980)
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
When the building of Stonehenge III was 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, gives clear witness that this is the burial place of
a mighty ruler.
Stonehenge is conspicuous, great and impressive and of course there
have 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 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 was important, 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 Stonehenge III also provides a similarity
with the sun as was the case with Stonehenge II. Also here a divine
space would be created by 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 the northeast and the midsummer
sunrise. Aubrey Burl discusses L.E. Stover`s and B. Kraig`s suggestion
that the horseshoe could 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 these
curve outwards at the ends. Nor does he consider the resemblance
between the horseshoe and the cresent of the moon as sufficiently
close to be convinced of a symbolic representation of the moon (Burl,
1987, 211). He points out that the horseshoe is more like a lobster
claw, a sort of trap, able to catch the sun (Burl, 1987, 212). 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
And he continues:
"It may be supposed, then, that Stonehenge was erected after
enormous labour to commemorate annually at midwinter the death of
some 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." (Burl, 1987, 213-214).
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. He also
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 (Burl, 1987,
207). 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
to (Chetwynd, 1986, 133).
Aubrey Burl points out that there is an intimate connection between
the axe, the sun, the moon and death. (Burl, 1987, 192). 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 plausible considering that Stonehenge
was "deeply concerned with death and fertility" (Burl,
1987, 202). However, I think that Aubrey Burl´s conclusion,
which is quoted above, does not attach enough importance to the
sun and the fertility aspects.
Mircia Eliade writes about megalitic buildings in general that they
are connected with a death and ancestoral cult. The aim of the rituals
was to keep in contact with the deads. The stones themselves are
understood as dwellings for dead spirits, a sort of new immortal
body (Eliade, (1976) 1983, 110). He only writes about Stonehenge
that it is possibly a solar temple, but that the more definite use
of the monument is still uncertain (Eliade, (1976) 1983, 114).
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 a technique
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 (Atkinson,
(1956) 1979, 178) & (Burl, 1987, 136).
As for the new order it is my point of view that, in an agricultural
society, much more attention will be given to the sun as a fertilizing
principle, as already mentioned. Benjamin C. Ray maintains that
the still greater centralization of the power created a basis for
a prestige project, and also that Stonehenge III is the result of
such an immense performance that it must have had the greatest collective
importance. He is of the opinion that Stonehenge was the ritual
home of some ancestoral, rebirth and fertility cult. He is convinced
that it was not just 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 - to 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 would 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 (Ray,
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 also plays a prominent part in my interpretation.
The rock carvings
On the basis of a comparison between the Scandinavian rock-carvings
and the British "Galicien" ones as found in Argyll, Scotland,
Eoin MacWhite shows the mutual influence between the two early Bronze-age
cultures. P. V. Glob discusses this theory and ends up agreeing
with MacWhite`s conclusion (Glob, 1969, 133). This cultural interconnectedness
seems obvious knowing that these prehistoric peoples had common
origin and that trade took place between the countries in the Bronze
Among Scandinavian rock-carvings two of the most common signs are
the cup-mark and the cross-in-circle marks. Traditionally the latter
have been interpreted as sun-symbol and the cup-mark more generally
as a fertility symbol (Glob, 1969, 56 & 169).
The existence of a sun and fertility cult in Scandinavia is equally
agreed on by Danish scholars (Brøndsted, 1939, 148) (Larsen,
1955, 53). This cult is not only made probable by the rock-carvings,
but also by the important finding af the solar chariot from Trundholm
(Glob, 1969, 165) & (Larsen, 1955, 53) & (Jensen, 1979,
Already in 1882 J. J. A. Worsaae connects the cup-marks with the
Indian Yoni/Lingam-symbol from the Shiva fertility cult (Glob, 1969,
305-306). The likeness is most obvious in the cases where the cup-marks
are surrounded by circles which open into channels as it is the
case e.g. in Argyll. Another matter which makes interpretation seem
plausible is the fact that the cup marks are similar to the marks
left in the wood after having made a fire with a fire-stick. The
act of making fire, where the stick is turned around in the wood
is known in the Shiva fertility cult as a representation of the
sexual act. Moreover it is likely and in accordance with the primary
process that the fire represents the sun. The cup-mark would then
be the lasting evidence of this holy wedding between the sun and
the earth. Thus they would ensure the fertilizing power of the sun
by sympathetic magic.
A rock-carving from Slänge, Bohuslen in Sweden, depicts the
same situation, showing the phallic man`s torso as a cross-in-circle
mark, the above-mentioned sum-symbol (Glob, 1970, 142). The couple
as well as other male figures with cross-in-wheel torsos wear what
has been interpreted as ritual bird masks (Broby-Johansen, 1967,
67). The bird masks would if not enable the wearers to fly like
birds then at any rate mark that they are close to the divine sun
and thus be a concrete sign of the persons´ holiness. In Bohuslen
there are several examples of men holding enormous axes, all scenes
which clearly show the close connection between a sun, axe, and
fertility cult in Scandinavia.
P. V. Glob mentions that on stones which have remained unmoved since
the carving of the cup-marks, these are always placed on the side
of the stones facing the sun (Glob, 1942, 68). The conclusion must
be that the conception of a holy wedding between the sun and the
earth has been a part of the fertility and sun cult in early Bronze
However, the cup-mark is ambiguous and can represent both the female
and male gender as pointed out by P. V. Glob (Glob, 1969, 306).
At one and the same time it has the shape of the male sun and the
shape of the female sex, a matter which would make it so much more
effectual as a fertility symbol. A similar ambiguity is an important
aspect of the symbolism of Stonehenge.
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 to mention Stonehenge was Henry
of Huntingdon. In ll3o he wrote:
"Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected
after the manner of doorways, so that doorway appears to have been
raised upon doorway." (Chipendale, (1983) 1989, 20).
According to the primary process, the doorway can also 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 wrote
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 womb and the horseshoe. (Freud, (1917) 1982,
135). 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 again provides a male/female composition.
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 or holy wedding 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
sun, as the male principle, impregnates Mother Earth´s womb.
A situation quite similar to the one depicted on the rock-carving
from Slänge, Sweden.
The rising in height of the trilithons has been referred to as support
of the theory that the southwest 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 also placed.
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 was represented by the mighty ruler just as was the case with,
for instance the Inca ruler and later the Japanese emperor. Just
as 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, or maybe
he has actually performed the holy wedding, he representing the
sun and the woman the earth. Of course this is only speculation,
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 was obviously a change both
sociologically and in religion. From about 2800 BC to 1500 BC society
changed into a still higher organized and hierarchical agricultural
From a depth psychological point of view, it seems most likely that
this change was followed by a change in religion as, for example,
Gimbutas 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 I the understanding of the place as a
sanctuary devoted to a moon, death and ancestoral cult is uncontradicted.
My interpretation of the white circle 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. It is also evident that the old
order was not abandoned, in the cycle of the year rebirth and fertility
are closely connected, and it is quite possible that the midwinter
sunset was celebrated as the counterpart of the midsummer sunrise.
Of course the contact with the past is also important to legitimate
what is going on in the present.
According to a depth psychological interpretation, the change of
the main axis to a northeast orientation and the midsummer sunrise
and the architecture in itself show that the purpose of Stonehenge
in its present form was to create a divine space as 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 peak of its powers fertilized the earth in a cosmic coitus,
or in other words impregnated Mother Earth´s womb; An event
which also secured the leader his power as he was most probably
the representative of the sun.
Berit Johnsen, Holmsø,
(1) The theory of the primary process is described
for the first time in Sigmund Freud "Träumdeutung",
Atkinson, R. J. C., (1956) 1979: Stonehenge
-, (1987) 1990: Stonehenge and Neighbouring Monuments
-, (1980) 1991: The Prehistoric Temples of Stonehenge and Avebury
Broby-Johansen, R., 1967: Oldnordiske stenbilleder, Copenhagen
Brøndsted, Johannes, l939: Danmarks oldtid II, Bronzealderen,
Bure, Kristian red.,1960: Bronzealderen, Copenhagen
Burl, Aubrey, 1983: Prehistoric Astronomy and Ritual
-, (1976) 1989: The Stone Circles of the British Isles
-, 1987: The Stonehenge People
Chetwynd, Tom, 1986: A Dictionary of Sacred Myth
Chippendale, Christopher, (1983) 1989: Stonehenge Complete
Eliade, Mircia, (1976) 1983: De religiøse ideers historie,
bd. 1, Copenhagen
Freud, Sigmund, (1900) 1982: Drømmetydning
-, (1918) 1982: Forelæsninger til indføring i psykoanalysen
Glob, P. V., l942: Danske oldtidsminder, Copenhagen
-, 1969: Helleristninger i Danmark, Odense
-, 1970: Højfolket, Copenhagen
Hawkins, Gerald S. & White, John B., 1966: Stonehenge Decoded
Jensen, Jørgen, 1988: I begyndelsen, Olaf Olsen red.: Danmarkshistorie,
-, 1979: Bronzealderen, 2, Copenhagen
Jung, C. G., (1964) 1978: Man and His Symbols
Kjærum, Poul & Olsen, Rikke A. red., 1990: Oldtidens ansigt
Larsen, Knud A., 1955: Solvogn og solkult. Kuml, Århus
Longworth, I. H., 1985: Prehistoric Britain, London
Newall, R. S., (1953) 1981: Stonehenge
Ray, Benjamin C, Feb. 1987: Stonehenge: A New Theory,
History of Religions, Vol. 26, No 3Richards, Julian, 1991: Stonehenge,