Thursday, 19 June 2008

Multi-purpose sacrality

There has recently been a re-evaluation of what Stonehenge was for. Professors Timothy Darvill and Geoff Wainwright have said that they think it was a place of healing, because they have found a large number of skeletons with evidence of trauma.
Professor Timothy Darvill and Professor Geoff Wainwright ... are not convinced, as others have been, that Stonehenge was a holy place or a secular tool for calculating dates. Instead, they think Stonehenge was a site of healing.

"The whole purpose of Stonehenge is that it was a prehistoric Lourdes," says Wainwright. "People came here to be made well."

Other archaeologists (such as Mike Parker Pearson) still think that

"Stonehenge... was built not for the transitory living but for the ancestors whose permanence was materialised in stone."

The New York Times (in less than serious mood) agrees:

Now, me well aware of controversy surrounding new Og Memorial Complex, also known as Massive-Rocks-Arranged-in-Mysterious-Circle. Some say it eyesore. Some say it waste of massive rocks. Some like concept of mysterious circle but find execution pedestrian. On behalf of Memorial Committee for Remembering of Og, me want to take opportunity to address concerns directly, and unpack some of artistic decisions involved in approving project like Massive-Rocks-Arranged-in-Mysterious-Circle.

But seriously folks, why can't it be a place of healing, and a place of the dead, and a place of spirituality and/or worship, and a big stone calendar?

Most sacred sites are multi-functional. If you go to Epidauros in Greece, it has a big theatre for performing sacred drama; there is a healing complex, and some tombs. If you visit a cathedral, it has tombs and it's a place of worship. Lourdes is a sacred place as well as a place of healing. Monasteries were places of prayer and healing and learning.

People didn't (and to some extent, still don't) separate these functions into sacred and secular. In the past, the boundary between sacred and secular was far more blurred than it is now (if it even existed), as archaeologists have told us. And healing was often associated with sacredness, as sickness was often held to be caused by spiritual forces or entities. For example the Asklepion (temple of Aesculapius on the Greek island of Kos) had dream incubation chambers, healing areas, and a huge temple. Why wouldn't Stonehenge be similarly multi-functional? Maybe aligning the stones on the solstices was believed to help with the healing process by bringing people back into harmony with the cosmos, or something (just a thought). Maybe the blue-stones, being brought from Preseli where there are lots of "ringing rocks" (Devereux, 2001) were held to have particularly good vibes or resonance with the spirit world, which would help with the healing; and infrasound affects both brain and body (Cook et al, 2008) so it could have beneficial effects.

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