Monthly Archives: September 2013

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Located in Wiltshire, England, it consists of a ring of standing stones within a variety of earthworks.  Stonehenge is found within one of the most dense collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, which includes the nearby site of Avebury.

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Stonehenge is thought to have been constructed over several stages between 3,000 to 2,000 BCE, however the site has been found to contain much older archeological evidence.  Initial Mesolithic post holes have been found and dated to around 8,000 BCE.

The first stage of construction at Stonehenge began around 3,100 BCE, consisting of banks, ditches and a circle of pits known as the Aubrey holes.  Cremated remains were found with these pits and experts suggest they are associated with some sort of religious ceremony.  Analysis of teeth found near the nearby Durrington Walls suggests that as many as 4,000 people had gathered at the site.

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The second stage of construction at Stonehenge occurred around 3,000 BCE and consisted of earthworks and timber postholes.  Additional cremated remains have been dated to this time, suggesting that Stonehenge was one of the earliest cremation cemeteries in the British Isles.

The next stage of construction began around 2,600 BCE, marking the transition from timber to stone. It is during this time that about 80 bluestones were erected to form a double circle.  The origins of the dolerite bluestones is thought to be from southwest Wales, however a glacial origin of the stones has also been postulated.  The northeastern entrance of Stonehenge was also widened and more precisely aligned with the mid-summer sunrise and mid-winter sunset.

From about 2,600 to 2,400 BCE, several sarsen stones were erected to form an outer ring and hanging lintels.  The final configuration was completed between 2,280 to 1,600 BCE, where the stones were rearranged to form the horseshoe and circle shape seen at Stonehenge today.

Major restoration began on the site in 1901, including straightening and moving several large standing stones.  In 1928, Stonehenge was purchased and given to the National Trust in order to preserve the monument and its surrounding land.  Archaeological excavations have also occurred over time, leading to new discoveries and further reconfiguration of the site.

Since Stonehenge was constructed during a time when little written records were kept, not much is known about its original purpose and usage.  Early writers speculated that Stonehenge was built and used by the ancient Druids as part of their ritual practices, however it has since been found that the site is much older.  Many theories have been suggested, such as Stonehenge being a place of healing, ancestor worship, or funerary monument.   However the site is still associated with much myth and legend.  Neopagans flock to the site in celebration, particularly at the solstices and equinoxes.  It is a place of beauty, magic and mystery.

Wiki – Stonehenge
PaganWiccan.About.com – Stonehenge

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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Rhiannon

Rhiannon is a Welsh goddess of the earth, fertility, birds and horses.  She appears in the first and third branches of the Mabinogion, as well as the Arthurian tale of Culhwch and Olwen.  Through her marriage to Pwyll pen Annwfn she is also connected to the Otherworld.

Rhiannon is thought to be predecessor of the Brittanic goddess Rigantona (‘Great Queen’), and therefore could have a possible link to the Irish Macha and Morrígan (also ‘Great Queen’).  She is also linked to the Gaulish goddess Epona through their association with horses.

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The First Branch of the Mabinogi, Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed , tells of how the Demetian king Pwyll sees Rhiannon in a forest riding a shining white horse.  Even though she is already engaged to Gwawl ap Clud, Pwyll and Rhiannon eventually marry.  They produce a son, however the boy disappears on the night of his birth while under the watchful eye of Rhiannon’s ladies-in-waiting.  Fearful of the king’s wrath, the ladies smear dog’s blood on the sleeping Rhiannon, and claim she killed her son by eating him.  Rhiannon was found guilty, and as punishment was forced to stand outside the castle for seven years and offer strangers a ride on her back like a horse.

Meanwhile, the boy is found outside a stable by Teyrnon and his wife, who claim the boy as their own and name him Gwri Wallt Euryn (‘Gwri of the Golden Hair’).  The boy grows quickly, and soon his resemblance to Pwyll grows more obvious.  Teyrnon realizes Gwri’s true identity, and he is eventually reunited with Pwyll and Rhiannon.  Gwri  is renamed Pryderi, meaning ‘loss’.

Rhiannon later marries Manawydan fab Llyr (equivalent to the Irish Manannán), the god of the sea, after Pwyll’s death.  Their adventures, outlined in the Third Branch of the Mabinogi, Manawydan fab Llŷr, describe how a magical mist descends over the land of Dyfed, leaving it empty of animals and humans apart from Rhiannon, Manawydan, her son Pryderi and his wife Cigfa.  The group travels to England where they unsuccessfully try to make a living making saddles and shoes.  Pryderi and Rhiannon eventually get trapped in a magical fort and vanish from sight.

Manawydan and Cigfa continue to try to make a living by farming, however their crops are continuously destroyed.  Upon catching one of the mice who had devoured his grain, he finds out that the mice were attendants of the mage Llwyd ap Cil Coed who had been magically transformed.  Llwyd was friend to Gwawl, Rhiannon’s former fiancé, and they find out the trouble which had plagued the group was done out of revenge.

Rhiannon had three magical birds, the Birds of Rhiannon, whose song can wake the dead or lull the living to sleep.  One of the birds was thought to be Badb, the crow, which deepens Rhiannon’s link to the Morrígan.

Rhiannon is a symbol of strength and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Wiki – Rhiannon
Thalia Took – Rhiannon
Celtic Deities – Rhiannon
Mary Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia – Rhiannon

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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