Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Pagan homage at replica Stonehenge

Elise Mesnard of Portland, Oregon, marks sunrise of the summer solstice at the Stonehenge replica in Maryhill, Washington (AP)
The sun rises behind the stones at the real Stonehenge in Wiltshire

Dozens of US worshippers have celebrated the summer solstice at a replica of Stonehenge.

As their sons returned wounded, dead or not at all, from heavy fighting across the Atlantic in 1918, people in the small Columbia Gorge town of Maryhill sought to commemorate their sacrifice.

On a visit to the original Stonehenge in Wiltshire, Quaker Sam Hill heard stories of dark doings and ritual killings. What better way to mark the Great War then raging, he thought, than to construct a replica near his estate in Maryhill, on Washington state's southern rim with Oregon.

He argued that combat between nations was an irredeemable folly and the dead soldiers an offering to the "god of war", so he built a West Coast incarnation of Stonehenge in tribute.

The monument nearly lines up with sunrise on the solstice, just like Stonehenge - though stories about Bronze Age human sacrifices there were almost certainly false. The original structure was probably one of the earliest calendars.

And much like Stonehenge, the replica draws a coterie of neo-Druids, pagans and wiccans each year on the summer solstice. About 30 turned out in small groups from Oregon and southern Washington state.

Hill's testament to the First World War dead stands alone on a reedy outcropping several hundred feet above the Columbia River. Inscribed inside are the names of soldiers from Klickitat County.

Like Stonehenge, it contains an outer ring of 16ft stones, an inner grouping of 9ft stones and five pairs of arch-like stone pillars called trilithons.

Religions that treat the sun as a deity turned to the summer solstice as a holy day. Greeks celebrated their god of agriculture, Vikings planned raids and early governance around midsummer, and Plains Indians, including the Sioux, marked the occasion with a days-long ritual.

This year, Elise Mesnard, a 24-year-old artist from Portland, Oregon, said she arrived early Saturday and embraced the first rays of sunlight, which did not peek around the Columbia Gorge cliffs until about 5.30am.

"It's a beautiful, meditative area," Ms Mesnard said.

Egypt Rose of South Prairie, Washington, got started before the sun came up, lighting a candle and dropping wax figurines into a cauldron. The site is a public park, so the open-fire option she prefers was not legal.

She and seven others chanted to the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra, and circled the Stonehenge monument three times, signifying the banishment of evil and the discovery of renewal on the longest day of the year.

"Personally, I don't really call it a religion, because to me that involves other people," Ms Rose said. "It's hard to describe it that way. I guess some people would call it paganism."

Other solstice celebrations included thousands practising yoga in New York City's Times Square. At the original Stonehenge, 36,000 sun-watchers gathered on Salisbury Plain about 80 miles south west of London.

Couples kissed, dancers circled with hoops and revellers took part in a mass yoga practice as part of the free-form celebrations.

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