Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

Image by John Harper/Photodisc/Getty Images

Stonehenge is known as a place of magic and mystery, and for centuries, people have been drawn to it. Even today, Stonehenge is the destination of choice for many Pagans during Sabbat celebrations. Certainly, it is one of the best known and most recognizable stone circles in the world. Constructed in stages thousands of years ago, this site has drawn people in with its magic for ages. Located in Wiltshire, UK, Stonehenge is currently owned and managed by English Heritage.

Early History

According to English Heritage, early construction on Stonehenge began around five thousand years ago. A large earthworks was built, consisting of a bank, a ditch, and a circle of pits known as Aubrey holes. These pits were most likely dug as part of a religious ceremony. Cremated remains have been found within them, but experts think that use as graves was a secondary purpose. After a few centuries, the site fell into disuse, and was abandoned for a thousand years.

Around 3500 years ago, the second stage of Stonehenge's construction began. Over eighty bluestones from southwest Wales were transported to the site - some weighing as much as four tons - and erected to form a double circle. Around 2000 b.c.e., the Sarsen stones arrived at Stonehenge. These giant monoliths, weighing up to fifty tons apiece, were placed to form the outer ring, with a continuous run of lintels (horizontally placed stones) along the top.

Finally, about 1500 b.c.e., the stones were rearranged for form the horseshoe and circle shape we see today.

Astronomical Alignment

In the nineteenth century, Sir Norman Lockyer figured out that Stonehenge is positioned in a way as to make it an astronomically-aligned site. However, when he published his book in 1906, it was full of errors, so naturally, the scientific community was a bit skeptical.

Later, however, researchers figured out that Lockyer had been on the right track -- in 1963, American astronomer Gerald Hawkins used a computer to calculate that "alignments between Stonehenge and 12 major solar and lunar events was extremely unlikely to have been a coincidence."

Professor Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe, of Sweet Briar College, writes, "Stonehenge was more than a temple, it was an astronomical calculator. It was argued that the summer solstice alignment cannot be accidental. The sun rises in different directions in different geographical latitudes. For the alignment to be correct, it must have been calculated precisely for Stonehenge's latitude of 51° 11'. The alignment, therefore, must have been fundamental to the design and placement of Stonehenge."

Today, Stonehenge is still a place of celebration and worship, particularly at the time of the solstices and equinox Sabbats. Stonehenge is back in the news fairly regularly, as new discoveries are made and English Heritage struggles for funding.