The most famous prehistoric megalith (standing-stone monument) in Europe, located 13 kilometres (8 miles) north of Salisbury in Wiltshire, England. Excavations and radiocarbon dating have revealed that Stonehenge had an exceptionally long history of use as a ceremonial or religious centre or both.
It was constructed in three major phases over the period from around 3500 BC to 1100 BC. It originally began as a circular ditch including a bank with a ring of 56 burial pits - named 'Aubrey holes' for their 17th Century discoverer, John Aubrey (1626-97). Around 2100 BC, a double circle of bluestone menhirs (large, rough-hewn standing stones), thought to have come from the Preseli Mountains of southwestern Wales, was erected within the earlier ring. In the final stage of construction, from around 2000 BC, a circle of about 30 upright stones (made from local sand-stone called 'sarsen') were set up, their tops linked by lintel stones to form a continuous circle about 30 metres (100 feet) across.
At a later date, around 1550 BC, the bluestones were fInally rearranged in the circle and horseshoe shape whose remains survive today. Stonehenge is I unique because of its long period of use and the precision of its plan and its architectural details. The traditional thesis that Stonehenge was a Druid temple is untenable, because the Druids did not appear in Britain until a few hundred years before the Christian era.
In recent years many attempts have been made to interpret Stonehenge as a pre-historic astronomical observatory or some form of solar temple, but the site is now so ruined, and so much restored, that any attempt to ascertain its original alignments must rely principally on guesswork. All that can be said with confidence is that from around 2000 BC onwards the structure's axis of symmetry pointed roughly in the direction of the sunrise at the summer solstice.
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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