Close on three weeks ago now, following the appearance of a groundbreaking new theory in relation to the Acoustic Archaeology of Stonehenge, which had received some excellent and well deserved publicity on BBC tv and Radio, I published an article for ‘Distract the Media‘; in which I asserted that the earliest written reference to the origins of Stonehenge seems to point directly to some sort of musical association with this ancient prehistoric temple. Although this is not something that has been widely explored by either mainstream archaeologists or prehistorians, it is indisputable fact that the earliest account of Stonehenge that has thus far come down to us, that of the Mediaeval historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, refers to the monument as ‘The Giant’s Dance‘.
Although the story of Stonehenge’s construction, as it is recounted in Geoffrey’s semi-fabulous ‘Historia Regum Britanniae‘ wrongly accredits Merlin with being the builder of Stonehenge, it is not inconceivable that instead of being the fabricator of this ancient prehistoric structure, he was in some way responsible for reactivating it. From what we know of Merlin and the various Welsh Kings and Princes who he either served or interacted with, the most famous of whom, according to legend, was King Arthur of the Britons, he appears to represent the resurgence of indigenous paganism following the departure of the Romans from Britain: in archetypal terms at least.
From what we also know about the Fifth and Sixth Centuries in Ireland, which is where he is supposed to have gone to obtain the Stones in the first place, according to the legends recounted by Geoffrey at least, the last vestiges of native Celtic paganism appear to have survived in that country during the whole of the Roman occupation; and even after their departure. So, what we can most likely deduce from Geoffrey’s Stonehenge legend, as it is preserved in his ‘Historia’, is that whatever it was that was known about Stonehenge before the Romans came had somehow survived in Ireland. Albeit in fragmentary form.
From what is generally known about the archaeology of Stonehenge, it is safe to conclude that the temple appears to have gone through a variety of stages of development over the course of time. It is therefore also extremely likely that the rituals that were conducted on the site were being constantly evolved in a similar way. This considered, it is also by no means impossible that some sort of reconsecration of the site took place under Merlin’s supervision. Although the exact circumstances under which this may have taken place can only really be guessed at.
For those of us who had the good fortune to read ‘Merlin of the Crystal Cave‘ by Mary Stewart in childhood, or saw the award winning BBC television adaptation of the novel back in the nineteen nineties, this idea comes as little or no surprise to us. And, although the book and the television series are essentially a work of fiction, in the real world of Dark Age Britain, the Celtic Monarchy that Arthur, his forbears and his successors would ultimately represent, was essentially a revived institution amongst a newly reconstituted aristocracy whose ancestors had survived beyond the Roman Wall after the Roman Conquest.
Taking this into consideration then, it should perhaps be remembered by the various elements within the power structure who have always attempted to thwart the countercultural revival of this Celtic Paganism in our own times, that, like the real King Arthur of both history and legend, the revivalist ideals of our contemporary Loyal Arthurian Warband and its elected leader are no less relevant in the now than their Dark Age inspirational models were in the past. And, in view of this, it should also be remembered that even if they are defeated in their present legal dispute with English Heritage and others, they are likely to go down in history as the heroes of the piece and not the villains.