In the semi-darkness of the approaching dawn, the watchers patiently waited; the slight breeze tugging at their clothes.
The stones surrounded them; towering monoliths carefully arranged by an ancient people in the distant past. The tension was palpable; the sun would soon rise, light rushing across the land from the horizon to the stones, warming the faces of the watchers and filling their hearts with fierce joy.
Thousands had gathered to witness the spectacle; they arrived in cars, coaches, camper vans, motorcycles, all eager to be a part of something that felt deeply spiritual, all wanting to be changed somehow by the experience. Some came wearing elaborate robes, carrying ritual tools to praise the old gods and goddesses of the land; some came armed with beer cans and loud music, there were dancers and drummers, every race, every creed, men, women, and children.
The sky was becoming lighter by the second, the sun on its endless journey around our solar system, keeping its promise to arrive at the appointed time.
Silence fell, all eyes now firmly fixed on the eastern horizon.
Silence was broken by the unnatural shrill of a mobile; harsh tones breaking the spell of ancient magic.
'Oh hi Ben, yes, I'm at Stonehenge; no, the sun hasn't risen yet, but it won't be long-I'll tell you what, can you Facetime me, I can show you as it happens. What? Wireless? Oh yeah, we need wireless for Facetime...surely there must be wireless here; it's famous enough!'
The girl with the phone turned to her companion 'Kate, have they got wireless here?' 'NO!' Her companion was sharp 'Now turn that bloody thing off! Some of us are trying to tune in...'
'No need to be shirty...Hi Ben, no it seems there's no wireless, and I think people want me to end the call, so I'd better go. No, I don't understand either, it's not like this doesn't happen everyday!' Sulkily, she put the mobile back in her handbag and fumbled for a tissue. 'How much longer do we have to stand here? I'm desperate for a wee!'
Her companion sighed 'It won't be long Emma, a few minutes, I have waited to be here to see this all my life, surely you can hang on for a few minutes more without completely ruining it for me!'
Kate turned away and faced the east once more. She breathed deeply, trying to ignore the musty smell coming from the man stood just behind her; she had not anticipated the reality of being stood in a crowd of thousands for this moment, in her dreams it had always been a solitary thing, just her and the sun communing at the stones...I mean, of course she knew that loads of others came, but she didn't realise it would be so crowded, such a crush, bodies jostling each other for position, necks craning to try and be the first to see the suns rays spill across the landscape.
A few more minutes passed; Emma rustled in her handbag for some sweets, 'D'you want a mint Kate?' she asked, smiling brightly, obviously trying to make up. 'Ok, pass them over.' Kate took one of the mints and popped it in her mouth; as she did so, a shout went up from those at the front, followed by a mighty cheer 'Is the sun rising now?' Kate jumped up and down trying to see over the heads of the people in front; one of them turned to her and smiled sadly; 'No, it's clouding over up ahead, the sun won't be making an appearance after all...'
Give or take 30 years, this is more or less what happened to me... I went to Stonehenge in 1981, with a friend from work. I was young and naive, thought it would be just me (and my friend of course), and maybe a few druids on the fringes. I was absolutely convinced it would be truly magical, connect me to the ancestors (whoever they might be) to the ancient gods and goddesses of this land and of course give me magical powers just by being there. After all, who wouldn't fancy being able to shoot green fire from their fingertips at the woman who pushed in front of you at the checkout! ...Especially if they were loading pricey top of the range goodies onto the conveyor belt whilst staring snootily at your supermarket own label stuff...
Anyway, there I was standing in the crush, reasonably near the front on a cold summer morning. You were not allowed access inside the stones in those days, but the Druids were. There were certainly Druids aplenty, clad in their white robes, weaving in and out of the stones in serpentine patterns, muttering under their breath. Their was something slightly sheepish about them, as though they were trying not to be recognised individually.
This approach however was blown out of the water by a couple of tabloid photographers who asked (shouted) if they could have a 'Team Photograph'.
The Druids agreeably complied; forming into three lines right in front of where we were standing; the photographers arranged them like a football team...one row sat cross legged at the front, the row behind on one knee and the back row standing. There was a bit of good natured banter concerning their ability to replace the current England team and play for Ron Greenwood, who was the England Manager at the time. The photo's were taken and all would have continued to be well, had not someone shouted from the crowd; 'Got any virgins to spare!' The Druids went off in a distinct huff and stood before the stones, facing east.
It all went quiet, the tension mounted and then-just as the sun was about to rise-a cry went up from the back; 'Bloody hell, look at that!'
As one, we all turned round...the biggest, blackest, cloud you have ever seen was hurtling toward us at a frightening speed! In moments we were all drenched, running helter skelter for the shelter of our cars-including the druids! It seems their robes were not showerproof, the gods had spoken and declared that nobody would be seeing the sun rise that year!
We slept in a layby; I arrived back home in the early afternoon, feeling a bit flat and disappointed. I have not been to a solstice at Stonehenge since, although I expect things are a little different these days. Just as crowded of course, but with access to the stones, and of course, mobile phones.
I still feel that the Solstices are special times, but I celebrate them in my own way, with those whom I love as opposed to a horde of strangers.
One of our favourite ways to celebrate is with the 'Bun Dance of Abundance'; it's quite simple and is a great way of doing something spiritual without a loincloth in sight! All you need in the way of ritual items is a bun. Of course you can add as many other things as you like; candles, incense, long flowery paragraphs of purple prose, crystals, wine...the list is endless, but this is the (really) important thing; You Make It Up As You Go Along.
Got that? I'll say it again; You Make It Up As You Go Along.
You want to talk to your god? Go ahead. You want to take all your clothes off and hang free in the breeze? Fine. I'll stay fully clothed, thank you-inflicting my flabby bits on the universe is not my cup of tea!
We celebrate with our closest friends; it's a closed ceremony, you can't come, I'm sorry. We do our thing, say thanks for the blessings in our lives, remember those who have passed, and then we perform the central, solemn ritual, The Bun Dance of Abundance.
No, i'm joking, it's most definitely not solemn!
In fact, it's likely to have you gasping for breath due to laughing...just dance around in a circle, clutching your bun of choice, get faster and faster if you wish, but whatever you do, don't be solemn. Laugh! Positive energy attracts positive energy, and believe me, this is positive energy. It blows the dusty cobwebs out of your head, and fills you with good, clean, shining positivity.
The longer you perform the dance, the more positive energy you take in...and then you fall exhausted on the floor and eat your bun, or someone else's bun, if theirs looks better than yours. Or you can share buns! Try not to choke on the crumbs, take some water with you...
Dogs really like this too...cats are a bit stand offish, ours tend to run screaming, but dogs love it! The best place to perform the Bun Dance of Abundance is outside, mainly due to there being less you can break or trip over outside, but inside is fine-just remember the creators of the dance will accept no responsibility for anything that happens as a result of it, whether directly or indirectly. It's all down to you...
Happy Summer Solstice!
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