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" Live out of your imagination

not your history "

Stephen R. Covey

“Go to Stonehenge Alone…”

October 14th, 2014
Stonehenge c.1885

Stonehenge c.1885

Back from a thought-provoking Tarot conference in the Netherlands, and here at OBOD HQ we have just published the latest Mt Haemus paper. Every year, for the last fifteen years, we have given an award for a work of scholarly research into Druidry or a related subject, and this year the award goes to Dr Julia Farley for her study of the way archaeologists’ relationship to Druids and Druidry has changed over the years.

Julia has produced a very engaging paper, and I can’t resist a quote from it here! (I’ve removed the refs to make it easier to read. All refs given in full in the paper).

From: The Fifteenth Mt Haemus Lecture by Dr Julia Farley:

‘This is why the history of the discipline of archaeology is important. Archaeologists are not impartial, neutral observers, but people with personalities and personal motivations, enmeshed in the particular passions and politics of their own society. This is as true for archaeologists today as it was for Daniel and Piggott, as it was for Aubrey and Stukeley before them. We cannot, in telling the story of the past, remove the perspective of the storyteller.

In the years since Piggott and Daniel were writing, archaeology has changed. The ways we seek to understand the past, and the understanding of the nature of that exercise, have shifted. In 1963, Daniel lambasted Ross Nichols’ suggestion that people should (in Daniel’s words) “set aside the findings of archaeologists and historians and… go to Stonehenge alone and commune there so that the truth would seep into their minds”. The lived experience of being in the landscape, the social and emotional response to an artefact or site, were not seen as valid sources of information about the past.

More recently, new movements in archaeology which have their roots in the post-processual school of the 1980s and 1990s might suggest that archaeologists have something to learn from modern pagan engagements with the landscape. It is impossible to re-construct a prehistoric mind-set or worldview, and the landscape we find ourselves in today is hugely different to the one experienced by our ancestors, but it is crucial for archaeology to engage in alternative perspectives. In a debate on alternative archaeologies at a 1999 conference in Southampton, Richard Bradley, Professor of Archaeology at Reading University, expressed a dissatisfaction with modern ‘consumption’ of archaeological sites, which I think goes to the heart of Ross Nichols’ message to Daniel. Bradley suggested that we need to:

“get used to monuments, spend time with them, be patient with them, before insights arise. There is an analogy between our instant consumption of monuments like Stonehenge and the deficiencies of traditional archaeology; we have no patience. We have no patience as tourists and we have no patience as academics. It’s no good having forty-five minutes access to Stonehenge whether you pay or not. What you need is the possibility for spending a long time at it, of being able to look at it in different lighting conditions, for instance. And that goes for all monuments, not just Stonehenge. The health of the discipline as a whole depends on a change in mindset and the way we expect people to experience these sites.”

The experiential approach of engaging with the landscape as a mode for studying the lived experience of people in the past was quite new to archaeologists in the 1990s, but it was not so far removed from Nichols’ own suggestion, made nearly forty years earlier, and such experience-based work had long been a cornerstone of modern Druidic practice.’

Read the full paper here

4 Responses to ““Go to Stonehenge Alone…””

  1. Fabulous post and an interesting paper. Archaeology has been under pressure to engage more experientially with its subjects of study, not least from re-enactors who, in their quest for an ‘authentic’ experience have often come up with surprising solutions to old problems.

  2. Thanks for linking us to this really interesting paper. Your post arrived just as I was scribbling exclamation marks in the margins of archaeologist Christopher Tilley’s book, ‘Interpreting Landscapes’. He emphasises physical sensory responses to ancient landscapes – which is all good in its way but doesn’t go far enough for me. How perfect to be able to read Julia Farley’s paper and breathe a sigh of relief!

  3. I went to stonehenge a couple of years ago, I so wanted to be there alone and to walk amongst them savouring their presence and aura. They felt so powerful to me. One day I will hopefully get to do this. These stones felt so special I am sure they keep there truth in there souls.

  4. Yes! That feels so true. Thank you, Philip, for posting the excerpt (now on to the full paper). As a newbie Bard, one of the realisations growing in my mind is of the need (and yearning) to engage with the land and locality, to spend time with it, to really get to know it through relationship. Fascinating to learn about what Ross Nichols said. Thanks!

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