The cosmic world here below
The site of Stonehenge is located in Salisbury Plain, south of England. Its construction does not mark the beginning of a new era, but the end of an old one. The structure of Stonehenge was finished by the end of the Neolithic era, about 4000 years ago and constitutes the culmination of a society having reached its apogee. As proof of this, archaeological excavations show that there had not been one Stonehenge, but several built up over 1500 years. It follows that the site choice was not a matter of chance and had to satisfy criteria related to the construction goal and sky observations at that time.
The name of Stonehenge comes from stone and
henge or hang, which refers to the hanging stones, i.e. the lintels topping two upright pillars.
In broad terms, the construction is composed of concentric enclosures defining three zones:
- A circular bank of 56 holes dug in its inner side; they could have contained wooden posts originally;
- A circle of 30 upright stones topped by 30 lintels made of an extremely hard sandstone (sarsen) and called sarsen circle;
- A circle of about sixty upright stones made of blue sandstone of volcanic origin and called blue stone circle.
- An arc of 5 trilithons arranged in a horseshoe shape;
- An arc of 19 upright blue stones also arranged in a horseshoe shape.
The sarsen stones are probably coming from the Marlborough Downs and the blue stones from the Preseli mountains (Wales), two regions respectively and approximately situated 30 km north and 250 km northwest from Stonehenge. Now, the north-south and northwest-southeast directions constitute two of the four important axes of the site construction.
The use of two kinds of stones can only result from distinct meanings given to the sarsen gateway and upright blue stone.
Stonehenge was probably a structure destined to establish a link between the world here on earth and a world beyond. Its construction aimed to reproduce the cosmic world at the human level in order to ensure the harmony of the being with the Cosmos. It is strictly speaking a cosmic Temple. Indeed, a structure made of round shapes, one inside the other, is widely found as a symbolic representation of the Cosmos in various spiritual traditions.
Meaning of the three zones
As in many temples, the construction delimits three zones that can be associated just as well with the macrocosm (or cosmic world) as the microcosm (or individual world):
- The peripheral zone representing Earth (macrocosm) and the human body (microcosm);
- The intermediary zone describing the Atmosphere (macrocosm) and the psyche or the human soul (microcosm);
- The central zone symbolizing Heaven (macrocosm) and supra-human spirit (microcosm).
The access to each of these zones must have been related to the development degree achieved by the being: physical or ordinary, psychical or human and spiritual or supra-human. Besides, crossing the threshold of one of the gateways delimiting these zones must have symbolized the passage from one world to another, one being's state to another, the outside to the inside, the visible towards the invisible. Besides, the construction made the individual less and less visible from the outside while he was progressing inside the structure.
The circular form of the structure refers among others to sunrise and sunset, day and night, light and darkness, life and death cycles etc. In fact, the circumference is the image of the perfect continuous movement between opposed phases of a single cycle, which are following each other and gravitating around a motionless centre. The centre represents the Unity that spreads into opposed phases alongside the ends of a circle diameter. Conversely, the opposed phases are merging into the Unity through a return movement towards the centre. Rediscovering the original Unity, rejoining the world centre from its manifestation taking the form of apparent oppositions, has always been the goal of any spiritual tradition.
While symbolically passing a gateway consisting of two pillars linked by a lintel, the being crosses a threshold that brings together what was separated, that reestablishes the original state where things were not divided yet. Crossed in the opposite direction, i.e. while moving towards the structure outside, the gateway could also symbolically separate what was united.
From then on, attaining the intermediary zone of the structure meant achieving the fullness of the human nature. That mostly meant surpassing his own contradictions and rediscovering unity beyond oppositions: fear and aggressiveness, sadness and anger, doubts and credo etc. Opposites as doubt and credo are overcome by trust. Similarly, the resolution of the antagonisms like sadness and anger is accomplished by compassion. As for the dilemma between fear and aggressiveness, it can only be solved by love and sharing.
Reaching the central zone consisted in realizing the fullness of all being's states, not only human, but also supra-human. That meant overcoming the antagonisms such as day and night, light and obscurity etc., the apparent world duality to attain the Unity at the source of the manifestation of everything. That signified not only rejoining the centre of the human state, but also the centre of the world and becoming One with it.
As any point of the circumference is diametrically opposed to another, the circular form of the structure could let us think that all directions leading to the centre of the building are equivalent. Nevertheless, the symmetrical axis oriented northeast-southwest seems to play a privileged role in the access to the inside structure. The study of this access in relation to the being's states will guide us towards the discovery of a second access axis, which is even more important. For, the master-builders of Stonehenge made intentionally use of the outward to better mask the essential from any profaner's eyes.