Charmed Circle: Stonehenge, Contemporary Paganism, and Alternative Archaeology

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Abstract

The impressive stone circle Stonehenge is understood by academic archaeologists to be a site of ritual significance to the prehistoric inhabitants of Wiltshire. It is constructed on cosmological principles based on a solar alignment, reflecting “a distinctive idea of time, which revolved around the cyclical movements of sun, moon, and stars across the heavens, as indicators of the passing seasons” (Fagan 1998:160). This article sketches mainstream archaeological interpretations of Stonehenge, then contrasts them with the popular narrative of its Druidic origin and purpose, which emerged in the seventeenth century. Modern Druids have negotiated the right to perform rituals at Stonehenge with English Heritage, the custodial body with responsibility for the monument, and Druidry has been recognised as a religion in the United Kingdom in 2010 (Beckford 2010). Modern Druidry, an “invented tradition,” conflicts with academic archaeology in its claims regarding Stonehenge (Chippindale 1986:38–58). Postmodern archaeological theories, which privilege “popular folk archaeology” (Holtorf 2005b:11), are more open to vernacular interpretations of artifacts and sites. These perspectives are broadly compatible with the deregulated religio-spiritual marketplace of the twenty-first century, which is characterized by a plethora of new religions and a pluralistic model of religious truth.1

Numen

International Review for the History of Religions

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