Stonehenge Astronomy VII: From the Outside In


So far I’ve ten­ded to con­cen­trate on the view from inside the circle look­ing out. Yet the evid­ence from the Sun and Stars would sug­gest that it was also a place where people looked from the out­side in. For this entry I’d like to think about things from this other point of view.

There are a few people who have argued that Stonehenge is a fer­til­ity sym­bol. The Guardian described it as the ori­ginal sex machine. The story is about Anthony Perks, a gyn­ae­co­lo­gist who thinks that Stonehenge rep­res­ents the female gen­it­als because the rock look a bit like what he sees on a reg­u­lar basis. A couple of replies spring to mind. Jacquetta Hawkes’s fam­ous “Every gen­er­a­tion gets the Stonehenge it deserves — and desires,” is one. “I pity his poor wife,” is another.

Stonehenge, The Heel Stone
Was the Heel Stone a male organ or is this just a phallusy?

More inter­est­ing is a pro­posal by Terence Meaden. He also sees the stone circle as sym­bol­ic­ally female. He also has the Heel Stone as male. He argues that on the day of the sol­stice the shadow from the Heel Stone pen­et­rates the stone circle caus­ing fer­til­ity and so on. I like this idea a lot. It makes Stonehenge a rather act­ive monu­ment rather than a col­lec­tion of rocks. It also tal­lies with what is known of some other monu­ments. At Newgrange a shaft of light pen­et­rates the heart of the tomb around mid­winter sun­rise. But is it likely? Probably not.

My objec­tion would be that there was very likely two Heel Stones in the past. It would make the two stones a portal to pass through to enter the site. Aubrey Burl has a bet­ter objec­tion. He points out that the arguing that the Heel Stone was a ‘quoit’ that cast a shadow doesn’t work because of the pres­ence of the Slaughter Stone. This is a stone between the Heel Stone and the circle. Burl says the shadow from the Heel Stone would have been blocked by the Slaughter Stone which in char­ac­ter­istic lan­guage he refers to as ‘quoitus inter­rup­tus’.

Nevertheless I think Meaden’s idea of look­ing at the circle from the out­side in is one of his bet­ter the­or­ies. There’s noth­ing for social cohe­sion like a good pro­ces­sion and you need some­where to pro­cess to. The view for most ancient people would be from the out­side in, because the centre could only ever hold a rel­at­ively small num­ber of people. Stonehenge becomes a much more power­ful sym­bol if it has an astro­nom­ical effect that every­one can see rather than a select few. With the stones of the Channel 5 model being made of Polystyrene we can move them around and ask ques­tions like “Would the effect be dif­fer­ent if the Slaughter Stone was toppled in Antiquity?”