Rollo, the stones and a new dawn for druids

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The Independent Online
AFTER A nine-year banishment, Britain's druid representatives gathered in Stonehenge at dawn yesterday to mark the summer solstice. It quickly became a case of four gorsedds, a wedding and a funeral. Plus a pagan sect or two.

During a decade out in the cold, embittered factions have developed and some of these schisms were evident on Sunday morning. So, as light grew, the scene at Stonehenge was more about competing for attention than unity or healing.

While, for example, the Glastonbury order was happy to join hands in a circle to chant their way through the solstice ritual or gorsedd, a splinter group opted instead for the horseshoe formation, while others took up a horizontal "free-kick wall" stance and faced the rising sun.

As 5am approached, amid banging gongs and yelps of joy, the rival ceremonies drew to a climax and the worshippers watched a weak beam of morning light push its way through the clouds.

There were unexpected whoops of praise for English Heritage too, led by Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of the Glastonbury Order. He applauded their decision to allow a chosen few back into the ancient site. For a moment, at least, it seemed the violent disturbances of the mid-1980s and the contentious four-mile exclusion zone around Stonehenge were forgotten.

There was less charity, however, afforded to other druids. "I suppose you have all already heard of Rollo," complained one member of the horseshoe tendency. "He loves the sound of his own voice and never lets anyone join in."

When loud entreaties to "feel the ecstasy of life" came from the horseshoe, Rollo soon upped the dramatic ante in his circle by supervising both the marriage of his followers Mick and Jane, and the scattering of the ashes of a former druid, John Pendragon.

"Shameless opportunism, I call it," said one druid, as the happy couple leapt arm in arm over a bucket of flowers. But the morning was not all about druids. White witches and sundry other pagan sects were also represented. Among the most striking were the members of the Temple of Lillith, who are dedicated, as they put it, to the "darker side".

"Winter is really more our thing," sneered John Ruce, who wore a sharp suit and a Mohican haircut. "But we thought we would come along.""Our faith is about actualising the feminine," he explained. "We are interested in sex mainly, sado-masochistic sex."

His co-worshipper, Rhiannon Rozier, dressed in a plunging velvet tailsuit and nothing else could only agree. "It's the Madonna principle we believe in - that's the singer Madonna, I mean," she added.

Moments of compelling action were few and far between, but honourable mentions should include the woman who suddenly shrieked, "I have the chalice of Albion!" for no apparent reason and the druid who answered the cry "Let us have the courage to become ancestors ourselves!" with the observation that he had already had a vasectomy.