Stonehenge and the Return of Grian: The Season for a Reason
Welcome back, Grian!
It’s nothing new, marking the turning of seasons by the waxing and waning appearance of the sun. Certainly the most striking is during the morning of the winter solstice, when once-lengthening nights roll over into ever-lengthening days and the promise of warmth, new crops, and renewed life. So of course ancient people celebrated the midwinter return of the sun.
And where better to experience it than through the carefully-aligned great trilithon, the largest of the standing stones of Stonehenge? It and the others were lined up thousands of years ago to pinpoint the specific morning that for eons has heralded the return of Grian – which Celtic people called the sun.
I spent the evening before and morning of the winter solsticeat Stonehenge, celebrating the rising of the new sun while enduring the prancing and skipping about of costumed gambolers, and respecting the prayerful and hopeful.
A time for reflection
I even met Arthur Pendragon, an earnest fellow who championed the right to assemble within the otherwise fenced-off standing stones during the winter and summer solstices.
Couldn’t help but notice that the officially-appointed King of Druids and I have an uncannily-maned resemblance, with long gray hair and wearing the same flat cap. And believe a lot of the same stuff about teaching others to care for the world.
Reverent, Not Religious
“My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year. ..”
(Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening)
Don’t want to get into mystical religious beliefs (some insecure people get their knickers in a twist very easily, thinking everything outside their dogma is an attack), other than to point out that Druids, who came along long after Stonehenge was built, were not “sun worshipers” in a religious sense; they were Celtic professionals that included not only religious leaders but also lore-keepers (teachers), legal authorities (judges), healers (medical professionals), and the like. However, Celtic months and the 20 letters of their alphabet were named after trees, and their celebrating holly, new solstice fires, and other practices during the winter solstice continue today (think Christmas tree, yule log, and how mistletoe and its healing properties has survived in our custom of Christmas kissing).
Though they continue to honor the ancient priests, the mostly self-appointed Druids of today have no real links to ancient practitioners; today – with the exceptions of those standout individuals and small groups who believe fervently in all things supernatural – they are mostly a reverent spiritual movement aligned with the natural world, including environmental protection.
Side note: In 325 C.E., which is when the Catholic Church was officially organized, it decreed that the resurrection of Christ was determined by the vernal equinox – which is still
celebrated today as “Easter,” named after the goddess of spring. In 350, Pope Julius I
decreed that the nativity should be celebrated on the same day as Saturnalia, Yule, and all other sun gods, namely December 25. But many churches did not want to be associated with the pagan religions – In the 1600s, Puritans had Christmas celebrations, with its pagan associations and activities, banned in Boston, and Oliver Cromwell banned it in England.
Anyway, I’m just trying to keep the main thing the main thing. And the beginning of a new solar year is a thing to be revered.
I have been to Stonehenge several times. But though I don’t buy into superstitions, I freely admit that in that unique ancient site, on that particularly moving midwinter day, I sensed a palpable feeling of profoundness.
So here it is – the rising of the new solar year at Stonehenge. As celebrated, in one form or another, worldwide.