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The Miracle of the Solstice ~ Part 2 'The Player'

So I returned and pushed my way through the crowds and under the massive stone arch, until I found myself at the edge of the inner circle of stones.

No sooner had I managed to get back into the central arena, than an enormous roar burst from the crowd. It was wild - the whole of the central arena was now packed full and the sound of drums, flutes, and horns, together with  chanting and singing was deafening.
My first thought was to get out again, but that was impossible as everyone was now trying to reach the centre of the stone circle.

Then I realised that I had managed to time my re-entrance exactly at the moment of sunrise. It was 4.58am and it could have been the 12th chime of midnight on New Year's Eve, except for the fact that it was dawn and in the middle of summer - and except the fact that it was louder and wilder. I began to worry about falling and being trampled underfoot;  

"Watch where you're going!" Someone had cannoned into me from behind and my loud yell came as much from fear as anger. A single voice answered my outburst "Lighten up Man!

The voice was right - I was behaving like a grumpy old man. What did I really want? I thought that I had wanted to find a natural spirituality about the Solstice and Stonehenge and yet there I was in full-critical mode: "There's no supervision" "Where are the police?" "What about the damage to the stones?" Yet there was a part of me that knew deep down that my 'full-critical mode' was simply a smoke-screen for my own tendency to draw back from being too involved with other people - that and a tendency to be rather timid in team games and athletic activities.

I remembered how I learnt to swim; I was around 9 yrs old and I was standing by the side of the school swimming pool, afraid of the cold blue water and yet desperate to be able to swim. It took the school bully and a hard push between my shoulder-blades to turn my dream into a reality - I swam.

I got the message, so I literally jumped in and joined the flow. Like the Fool in the Major Arcana, I had stepped into the unknown and now the pageant of the wheel of life turned - and I was a part of it.

At the centre of the ancient stone circle, a group sat around a drum, taking it in turns to keep the heartbeat going.

 The heartbeat was echoed by other drummers around the perimiter of the site. There were flutes, tambourines and even a digeridoo...together with a rhythmic chanting that filled the whole area.

The haphard mixing of costume and styles really worked and reminded me of a production of "Robin Prince of Sherwood"  I worked on in the early 90's. Robin's Merry Men were dressed in World War One, flying helmets, rocker gear, doublets, sporrans - a flung-together mix that really worked - and it really worked that day at Stonehenge, in the drizzling rain, with the smell of cannabis and alcohol and sweaty bodies. 
I hope that Stonehenge is never taken from Salisbury Plain, to be transplanted in a different landscape,  to be parked and parched in the sterile air of a museum. 

The Priestess had an amazing presence. I wondered what she did in her 'everyday' life Who was she really?  Maybe this was who she really was.

The Summer Solstice is the joining of masculine and feminine - of the Yin and the Yang. The union of male and female was and is at the tap-root of paganism, both physically and spiritually. Midsummer is the time of the male solar hero, as indeed was King Arthur of legend. Arthur fought against the forces of evil and darkness and Camelot was his Valhalla or Heaven. But every King must have a Queen and the Reign of the Sun God occurs during the astrological period of Cancer. The sign of Cancer is ruled by the Moon and is the most feminine sign of the zodiac.

And so they are wed - the Sun God and the Moon Goddess. Midsummer or Litha is a time for both men and women to recognise the 'other' within them 

 I felt I was in the middle of the wheel of life, with scenes of humanity, from the  base  to the sacred played out in front of me. Then I realised that I was smiling broadly and something seemed to change and click into a different gear. 
I have always been shy and a little aloof, but I started to run up to people and yell "Everyone's Smiling" and the answer was always the same ~ "Yes!" ~ "Everyone is smiling!" I found myself shouting it again and again - always to the same reply.

Then I laughed...because everyone was laughing.


    "From prehistoric times, the summer solstice has been a joyous event marked by elaborate rituals, bonfires, dancing, and fervent prayer. The word "solstice" literally means "the sun is caused to stand still." On this day, which falls on the 21st of June, the daytime hours are at a maximum in the Northern hemisphere, and the noontime sun reaches it's highest point in the sky." ~ by Simi Brown

Today (and tomorrow) is the celebration of the Summer Solstice*, also known as Midsummer, or Litha. It is at this time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun (the opposite being true for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere). It is a time of fertility and celebration: bonfires, maypoles, dancing, and outdoor festivals have been traditional during this time for most of human history. ~ The Wild Hunt

After Christianity spread in Europe and other parts of the world, many pagan customs were incorporated into the Christian religion. In many parts of Scandinavia, the Midsummer celebration continued but was observed around the time of St John’s Day, on June 24, to honor St John the Baptist instead of the pagan gods.

"In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night)." ~ more from ~ Time and Date

"I will worship to my own natural creed. I will worship by my own natural instinct"

"I will never forget the miracle of the solstice"


all photography (c) Henry Metcalfe

The Stonehenge Trilogy
The Miracle of the Solstice ~ Part One "The Spectator"
The Miracle of the Solstice ~ Part Two "The Player"
The Miracle of the Solstice ~ Part Three "The Biggest Joy"
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sctshep said... 2 July 2008 at 19:47

Incredible. Just incredible. You have captured not just an event but the essence of it. Your eye and ear are finely tuned. I also love your insight into yourself and your willingness to move from grumpy to open and take in the depth of it.
I really needed to see and read this. Give me "pagan" for heart and depth and soul. Connecting to the earth and the sun and the sky takes us from the superficial to the essence. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Unknown said... 3 July 2008 at 01:48

Thank you so much Scott for your generous comments. The whole experience has made a great impression on me and in fact has started me off on a re-visiting of my childhood haunts (don't know if that word is really appropriate....maybe it is because I'm finding my young self in a week's stay in Durham. I'm performing at the Sunderland Empire (NE England) and Durham is only around 12 miles I'm staying in a University room opposite where I lived as a child and I'm spending every morning going to places I haven't been to since I was around 16 yrs old.
I'm glad the Stonehenge account helped you...I've been thinking about you most days since I read your broadcast about your ex. Life can be a fight sometimes, but the earth can give such a strength.

Thank you again


Unknown said... 3 July 2008 at 13:52

It is a fantastic post, you made me wish I had been there. I also have a thing about people invading my space, it was good that you recognised that for a short period you could live with it and absorb the moment.The photographs are superb, I love the one at the top where the stones all look like smoke is rising around them and also the one of the lady you decribe, incredible character is showing in her face. I know as I was reading this, I started to smile too, must be infectious :-D

Anonymous said... 3 July 2008 at 17:13

Oh henry, this just moved me to tears. ALL of it! Your feelings and honesty about the experience are just precious. Again, I felt connected to I knew you. I am so proud of you for having the courage to share your humanity so honestly. Surprisingly I could relate to the whole sequence of feelings you went through. And then I felt tears flood my eyes when you opened yourself up to the laughter, the smiles, the love, and the energy of the present and the past. In essence you BECAME one with all of humanity.

I cannot believe your writing. It is just astounding. It's magical, emotional and soooo poetic. I also found your photos breathless. They capture exactly what you are writing about. The faces are filled with LIFE. I was very pleased to read that you are doing another installment of this. It is stellar!!!! Hugs and love, Robin

Anonymous said... 10 July 2008 at 05:48

You are an amazing writer and storyteller. This post and the photos in it are outstanding. Although I may never visit Stonehenge, we have our own Summer Solstice celebration in my community and now when I prepare to attend next year's I will be thinking of you and this wonderful post.

Lilly said... 19 July 2008 at 10:24

OK Henry you have convinced me that I definitely need to see this. Wonderful, lyrical post. Your honesty is so refreshing too. There is something about the way both you and Robin write that take me to other places. It's MAGIC you know..

Anonymous said... 27 July 2008 at 17:47

What year did you go to the stones? Not that it matters much, I'm just wondering if we coincided with each other at all :) It's a wonderful, anarchic space at midsummer, isn't it? In the best sense of the word I mean, as in completely self governing - it may feel overwhelming but in my experience the crowd will look after itself and it's own. One year, the sunrise saw low mists on the plain and as the light strengthened the stones appeared to be floating on a lake; it was unforgettable. A beautiful and moving experience whatever the weather does, and touching for all of us in the UK who are usually prevented from getting too close. I believe they are not a "monument", it lives and breathes in the present and means something to us just as it meant something to those who built it, even if we cannot know if our interpretations coincide. By the way, have you ever been to Avebury? I really do recommend it, and West Kennet Longbarrow too.

Apologies for wittering, I haven't even told you how wonderful your account is, and how I recognise the chaotic wonder of your experience. The photos look like my memories. It brought everything back to me so vividly (haven't visited them in a couple of years now) Thank you!xxx

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