Quick Notes: Stonehenge, San Francisco Peaks, and Vodun

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 22, 2011 — 19 Comments

A few quick news notes to start off your Wednesday.

Problems With Summer Solstice at Stonehenge: Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones lashes out at Pagans and other revelers who congregate each year at Stonehenge, noting the lack of (ancient) historical grounding and implying that it is only permitted now to avoid “public violence.”

“Eighteen thousand pagans, druids and – for all I know – modern Aztecsgathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice. There were some drugs arrests, but judging from reports, English Heritage seem pleased with the numbers. Er, why? And why is this daft festival even allowed? In the 1980s hippies fought the police for their right to revel. So that is why it is permitted: because otherwise there would be public violence on Salisbury Plain. But there is no historical tradition justifying the pagan takeover of Britain’s most celebrated ancient monument every midsummer. There is not even a theological justification, for no connection exists between Stonehenge and modern paganism.”

Jones bemoans Stonehenge becoming “a stage for feeble pseudo-religious, pseudo-communal fantasies,” calling the gatherings “abusive” and “ugly.” I’m not sure why Jones is so against Summer Solstice gatherings at Stonehenge, he doesn’t seem to be arguing from a stance of preservation, simply aesthetics. Anyone who actually studies religion or folk tradition will tell you that a solid grounding in current historical information isn’t required for a popular tradition to form. Allowing the Druids, Pagans, hippies, and tourists to gather in a managed fashion harms no one, and indeed creates important liminal moments of communal sentiment that helps bind a nation and its people together. Stonehenge is a symbol of Britain now, something the national tourism industry knows full well,  and it’s bizarre to discourage people from having celebrations around it.

Direct Action at the San Francisco Peaks: While this week saw a lot of attention on the issue of protecting and preserving Native sacred places in the United States, particularly the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, one event seemed to get overlooked in the coverage. Last week six activists were arrested in non-violent direct action in an attempt to halt construction of water pipeline that will be used to pump treated waste-water snow on the mountain, a move many indigenous peoples and Tribal Nations see as a blasphemy.

Kristopher Barney, Dine’ (Navajo) & one of the six who locked himself to an excavator stated, “This is a continuation of years of prayers and resistance. It is our hope that all Indigenous Peoples, and all others,  throughout the North, East, South and West come together to offer support to the San Francisco Peaks and help put a stop to Snowbowl’s plan to further destroy and desecrate such a sacred, beautiful and pristine mountain!”

“What part of sacred don’t they understand? Through our actions today, we say enough! The destruction and desecration has to end!” said Marlena Teresa Garcia, 16, a young Diné woman and one of the six who chose to lock down. “The Holy San Francisco Peaks is home, tradition, culture, and a sanctuary to me, and all this is being desecrated by the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort.  So now I, as a young Diné woman, stand by Dook’o’osliid’s side taking action to stop cultural genocide.  I encourage all indigenous youth to stand against the desecration that is happening on the Holy San Francisco Peaks and all other sacred sites”, said Garcia after being arrested and released.

There are accusations that police used excessive force in removing the protesters. You can read a press release sent out by the activists, as well as suggestions on how you can support their efforts, here. You can read all of my coverage concerning efforts to protect the San Francisco Peaks, here. Thanks to Kathryn Price NicDhàna for bringing this to my attention.

Vodun and Vaccines in Benin: CNN features an editorial from columnist Michael Gerson on efforts to get life-saving vaccines to people who need it in the developing world. In the piece Gerson promotes a new documentary collaboration between ONE and VBS called  “Voodoo and Vaccines” about how health workers reached out to Vodun and traditional healers in Benin to overcome skepticism and misinformation.

“Voodoo and Vaccines” shows how government and health officials have reached out to religious leaders, and how many traditional healers are now carrying a pro-vaccination message. They are combining a belief in traditional medicine with an acceptance of modern medicine. And this is benefiting the people of Benin.

This is not the first time activists and health workers have reached out to Vodun healers in order to reach the people of Benin, and it is encouraging to see a politically connected conservative Christian talk about the necessity of involving Vodun practitioners without descending into the smears and triumphalism that so tainted some outreach efforts in Haiti.

That’s all I have for now, perhaps more later. Have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Thank you for spelling Vodun (Benin origin) correctly! Much respect and love!

  • At one point or another we’ve all come across a habit in others that we find vaguely vulgar, even though we can’t place a finger on why we feel the way we do. Instead of shrugging it off and adopting a “live and let live” attitude, however, J. Jones has taken the path of grasping for reasons to “prove” the rightness of his viewpoint; the adolescent need to “show them all”. At the very least he should serve as a lesson to us, so that we might avoid similar behaviors ourselves.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    And the Pagans saw the complaint and said, “And…?”

    • RivaWitch

      Pagans have Stonehenge Christians have their grilled chees! Sorry, Did that sound harsh?

      • RivaWitch

        Sorry thats CHEESE

  • Anonymous

    “no connection exists between Stonehenge and modern paganism.”

    Much of what Jonathan Jones has to say sounds like it was lifted directly out of “Triumph of the Moon” and “The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles”.

    I’m just sayin’.

    • Except that Hutton would most likely defend modern usage of Stonehenge
      by modern Pagans and Druids.

      • Anonymous

        Possibly. But on what basis would he so defend it?

        But very little of Jones’ article concerns itself directly with the issue of access to Stonehenge. For the most part it just consists of repeating the standard Huttonian ridicule of the idea of the Old Religion.

        • Peg

          Jeez, Apuleius, GIVE IT A REST ALREADY. We get it. You hate Ronald Hutton. May we all MOVE ON NOW?

          • Anonymous

            Fat chance.

          • Rhondda

            I for one am glad that you continue to question Hutton.

    • Rombald

      Regardless of whether Hutton is right generally, his type of view is right with respect to Stonehenge. Not only is there no continuity between ancient and modern Druids, there was no continuity between Stonehenge-builders and ancient Druids.

      However, the tradition of Stonehenge solstice festivals is now quite old, going back to about the 1st World War. It is a legitimate part of counter culture, and is closely linked to cultural streams that either influenced or gave rise to (depending on how Huttonian you are) modern Paganism.

      • Anonymous

        Jonathan Jones isn’t putting forward a specific historical case about Druids, ancient or modern. Rather, he makes the sweeping claim (in the Huttonian style): “no connection exists between Stonehenge and modern paganism.”

        It should be emphasized that many contemporary Druids organizations make no specific claims about continuity with ancient Druidy.

        Even more to the point, Gerald Gardner explicitly announced his own agnosticism concerning any relationship between Wicca and ancient Druidry in Witchcraft Today back in 1954.

        In other words, Jones is engaging in the classic Huttonian straw-man/bait-and-switch style of argument: he attributes specific historical claims to people who make no such claim, and then he couples this with sweeping generalizations that go far beyond any such specific claims. These sweeping generalizations, moreover, are utterly baseless in terms of historical evidence (to the extent that they even amount to ideas that can be tested at all).

  • kali zoid

    Yes, how dare we Pagans of today use the ancient megalithic site, Stonehenge, for our contemporary celebrations? Obviously, there is no certain linkage between our sort of Paganism and that of the Paganism of the various Pagan builders and users of Stonehenge.

    Don’t we know our proper place, way below the salt of the olden Earth Mysteries?

    Oh, wait! Stonehenge is a World Heritage site open to and usable by visitors of all stripes and belief ways. Folks like us are actually permitted to enjoy our revels there–even when others, say the Guardian’s art critic, take umbrage.

    Maybe we even, when the sun shines right on us, we get to bask in the brightness above the salt of Earth’s Mysteries. and irk some art critics.

  • I’m all for people visiting Stonehenge regardless of religious affiliation but the litter people left behind, not to mention the crawling over the stones and near the top give this art historian major the heebie jeebies.

  • I’m all for people visiting Stonehenge regardless of religious affiliation but the litter people left behind, not to mention the crawling over the stones and near the top give this art historian major the heebie jeebies.

    • Elnigma

      It’s a shame some “pagans” (or any people) have the idea that celebrating some sacred site involves taking chunks or pieces out of it or leaving garbage strewn all over the place. That’d be doing it wrong.

    • From what I understand there tends to be organized litter clean-ups after the celebrations, both from the articles I’ve seen on the BBC’s website from past events, and current commentators.

  • Anonymous

    i’ve wanted to celebrate a Solstice at Stonehenge for most of my life – while it may be true that there’s no “direct connection” between today’s Pagans and the people who built Stonehenge [except… how many people are descended from those who built it?] it’s function, to my understanding, is to show when the solstices ARE – which makes it a wonderful place to celebrate them.

    i mean, most churches aren’t “holy” until people make them so – how is this any different? or churches that have been repurposed – how many exist in England that were once Catholic, and then became Anglican or something else?