The Summer Henge, Twa Corbies, and a Chisel


There [is] a feeling of recognition, as of meeting an old friend, which comes to us all in the face of great artistic experiences. I had the same experience when I first heard an English folksong, when I first saw Michelangelo's Day and Night, when I suddenly came upon Stonehenge or had my first sight of New York City - the intuition that I had been there already.- Ralph Vaughan Williams, Composer

I understand that these actions are an inevitable part of human ritual behaviour, of an impulse towards the sacred, but you are not listening to the land or its custodians. I am out here doing crow work in all weathers, and you may not like the result. - Peter Grey, 'Crow Work'

I was reading Peter Grey of Scarlet Imprint’s ‘Crow Work’ blog post this morning- a beautifully written call to action, or perhaps, a call to accountability, in the ways we might interact with historical and natural sites- indeed public spheres- we interact with ritually. And past ritually, perhaps even a way of moving in the world.

I was then curious to see this invitation to attend Stonehenge's live-streamed Solstice sunrise. While the decision is born of the COVID19 call to social distancing and public health, this decision also benefits the site (in a prophylactic ‘Crow Work’) as we have already seen what large amounts of visitors to the site at a time can do, even at this very festival.

Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves - or desires.- Jacquetta Hawkes, Archaeologist

Stonehenge, like many such sites, brings up some interesting ideas about historicity and religion and adoption of sacred sites. We have little solid data to go on, our knowledge comes from either interpretations of archaeological evidence or from the ‘poetic’ – in which I might include those thoughts and musings and spiritual inspirations and even revelations inspired by the site, the physical evidence, or the lore around the Henge. Inspired 'knowledge' is wonderfully valid for belief, but not historical fact. And still, even at our call to recognize this divide, we filter the data through our own bias and the bias of the current time. 

It is the emotion that stirs a sense of ownership through mythic identification. That sense of connection can easily be combined with the western gaze’s self-imposed and self-assured ’right of way’. We can see a parallel in public spaces amongst roommates- there are often conflicting notions of ‘everybody’s space’: does a public living space mean you have a responsibility to keep it clean so other people can also negotiate their space with you, or is it a free for all (deceptive use of the word ‘free’, no?) where individual choice and need pre-emptively claim some of that space and keep it ‘occupied’ ? Macro/micro cosmically, this ownership shifts from private to public and reflects emotionally charged ideas of territory, loss, and external (and often over-)personalization.

Between modern forms of tourism made possible through facile transportation and wide advertisement, and the rekindling of romanticism around folklore and ancient traditions stirred by neo-Pagan revival, Stonehenge enjoyed a new fame in the latter half of the twentieth century, with people often claiming a sense of 'great connection to the past' or 'a kinship with the Druids of old'. It became a token to the mythopoetic truth of neopagan witchcraft, especially in Great Britain and the States. Which brings to mind historian Ronald Hutton's famous quote: "It was a great, and potentially uncomfortable, irony that modern Druids had arrived at Stonehenge just as archaeologists were evicting the ancient Druids from it." [From Universal Bond to Public Free For All (British Archaeology 83, 2005)]

Stonehenge had an aura but it was also just stone. Then in the sixties, it became a great hedonistic, hippie, druid, rock-n-roll party site. There are amazing pictures of people up on the stones going wild and that's the image I recreated for my model of the project: full access to everyone. I even invented a Stonehenge soccer team that uses spaces between the stones as goals.- Aleksandra Mir, Artist

Once we got through the publisher endorsed 80s and early 90s romanticism steeped in nostalgic fantasy–dehorning the demons, humanizing the vampires and de-satanizing the witches and all the while preserving a sense of Murray-ism, new archaeological information and an increasing call for scholarship in the greater pagan community (thank you internet!) started shifting the specifics around Stonehenge. 

We know religions often rewrite history and they have, repeatedly, throughout that same history they helped to write. These revisions favor the political state that supports the religion, until very recently. Karen Armstrong in 'Fields of Blood' discusses this conundrum that church and state have always supported each other, and the violence born of that reality must be faced. Even in America where there is 'separation' or at least a call to it, the evidences of Judeo-Christian morality as the primary paradigm through which the government operates can hardly be argued. (Curiously- the Ten Commandments are posted in many a courthouse but no Jesus-centered call to forgiveness and love) But also to understand that smaller factions of 'tribe' dictate small governments that religions support that the local politics support that support the religions that support the local politics... and ouro(la)bor(i)o(u)s(ly) so on…

I'm completely uninterested in the origins of Stonehenge. I don't care about the real story behind it or whether it should be saved or not. What I'm interested in is this: in the Victorian era, you could go there as an early cultural tourist and you were given a chisel to chip off a bit of the stones and take it with you. That's what you did in Victorian times. - Aleksandra Mir, Artist

The adoption of sites like Stonehenge into the mythic history of a religion creates an emotional truth that is hard to sever. It is hard to hear something that contrasts your emotional reality (which is itself mutable and emotions aren't facts, but they ARE descriptors). Let me be sure to say this- identifying with any site is wonderful and can be a true expression of your spiritual beliefs- I am curious, in this crow work- why does our need to connect to a site in turn destroy it so often? Why can’t we have nice things? (Maybe the problem is in the sense of ‘have’? Oh that’s a can of worms perhaps best explored another time). But still, how is a raven like a writing desk, and perhaps, how is a ritual like a chisel?

Those of us that work in nature, or more accurately, outside our own property bounds, if such exists, and leave offerings, to what exactly are we leaving offerings? Is there a way to interact with these wider spaces, perhaps recognizing the sovereignty of certain spaces, finding a way to honor the sword of need and impulse in a sheath of consideration for a greater context? I’m aware, right now, of the moralizing trap in this, a superiority of action judgement and justice warrior potential that avoids the responsibility of question and imposes answer. So I remind myself, avoid as a mandate and more, raise the question. How is my ritual like a Victorian chisel? 

Is there a way to keep in check our own spiritual entitlement? Are we even aware of it? It is a natural outgrowth of prevailing paradigms of thought. Plant a flag. Colonize the world. Manifest destiny. How can we separate the task of spiritual custodianship from the ego-identification of being the custodian? How... can I. How do I. How do I not

Mostly musings, but the timing of the Scarlets' post on 'Crow Work' at Boscawen-Un and being invited to watch the Soltice Sunrise in the same ten minutes – I thought how nice it must be also for Stonehenge to get a break. For all the stones to be able, as they no doubt did for many previous Summer Solstices, (mostly) alone, to bathe their naked bodies in the summer sun’s rays free of any interpretation we heap upon it. At least, as much of a break it can be with the camera of live feed. Stones gone wild.

I am torn between watching it (which also shows support for such a decision, ever mindful of optics as form of approval/support) or embracing some projected sympathy (or maybe an animistic understanding of its personhood) and wishing it privacy for once, letting its bones rest in peace. And also called to walk the land I’m on, to tend to the sacred wells and dolmens and ruins and rocks and monuments of my own foot-trod and make sure I look at what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and just asking why. Less judgement and more honest observation to then, possibly, make a choice.

Either way, less disruption is good once in a while. The silence allows something often lost in the joys of celebration. Shut up, Jesse, walk, and tend.


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