25 June 2007

Mystical Places: Standing Stones

Standing stones are one of the great mysteries of the stone age. Wikipedia boils it down to this:

"Standing stones, orthostats, liths or more commonly, megaliths because of their large and cumbersome size, are solitary stones set vertically in the ground and come in many different varieties. Where they appear in groups together, often in a circular formation, they are sometimes called megalithic monuments. Standing stones are found throughout the world with no known or documented history."

I'm very interested in these structures because standing stones feature prominently in my book, Lords of the Were, and in subsequent stories I'm writing in that same setting. You might also notice the best known of these monuments - Stonehenge - is the current banner for this blog.

There's something mysterious and awe inspiring about these stone rings, and puzzling as well. Why are they there? What was their purpose? Are they really as magical as they seem?

In my books, stone circles are the sites of ancient rites and seats of power for those working on the side of light. You might notice the stones in the distance on my cover for Lords of the Were. The artist, Anne Caine did a wonderful job incorporating all the images I wanted on the cover of this novel. Kudos to her! In this book, the circle of stones is used as a ritual place where the werecreatures gather to celebrate the sabbat of Samhain at the beginning of the story, and later, to work powerful magic against those who would do evil.

A great deal of mysticism and myth has built up around megaliths over the centuries. In fact, many gather at Stonehenge and other sites like it on various pagan holidays to celebrate. One clarification - henges are considered to be slightly different. Again, Wikipedia gives us the definition:

"A henge is a prehistoric architectural structure and is nearly circular or oval-shaped flat area over 20 metres (65 feet) in diameter that is enclosed and delimited by a boundary earthwork that usually comprises a ditch with an external bank. The earthwork permits access to the interior by one, two, or four entrances. Internal components may include portal settings, timber circles, post rings, stone circles, four-stone settings, monoliths, standing posts, pits, coves, post alignments, stone alignments, burials, central mounds, and stakeholes (English Heritage definition).

Because of the defensive impracticalities of an enclosure with an external bank and an internal ditch (rather than vice versa), henges are considered to have served a ritual, rather than a defensive, purpose.


The word henge is a backformation from Stonehenge, the famous monument in Wiltshire. Stonehenge is not a true henge at all as its ditch runs outside its bank, although there is a small extant external bank as well. This is a modern distinction however, we do not know if ditch placement would have been a significant feature or not to the people who built the monuments."

So the "henge" formation indicates a ritual purpose to scholars who are trying to reverse engineer the function of these amazing structures in the modern world. Regardless of what they are, they seem magical to us today. The idea that Stone Age people could not only create such intricate places, but that they would last so many thousands of years is mind boggling. Yes, I believe, there simply must be some kind of magic involved. Don't you? ;-)

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