ANOTHER VIEW; The true spirit of the stones

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The Independent Online
With English Heritage doing all it can to turn Stonehenge into a third-rate theme park with a visitors' centre, cafe and all the other franchises and marketing practices that this entails, perhaps it is time to return to the true spirit of the place.

Scholars will argue over who built it and when, whether it was the proto- Druids or members of a very different faith, but one thing remains certain - it was people of great faith who erected the mighty stones. The logistics of such an operation, transporting the stones over such great distances through the many domains of different tribal chieftains and peoples, would have needed enormous diplomatic skills and co-operation. The fact that it is still a place of reverence to certain beliefs shows an unequalled continuity of faith in what was once and still could be the Isle of the Mighty.

Stonehenge was never a centre of commerce but of spirituality. The need for a visitors' centre has been brought about in recent times by the way English Heritage has marketed it so aggressively both at home and abroad. Many people will remember when Stonehenge meant little more than a few ancient stones standing in the middle of Salisbury plain. It should have been left like that.

In recent times it has changed from a place of spirit to a place of confrontation over freedom of access for religious observances at the solstices and equinoxes.

While so much has been said about returning Stonehenge to its natural environment, I see nothing natural about franchising out catering to multinational hamburger companies or tunnelling under the stones. Nor is it natural to surround it with fences and security. A far more natural environment would be to return it to the people, which works so well at nearby Avebury.

Stonehenge is still regarded by people of many different faiths as a place of worship and of spirit. You cannot, nor should you wish to, put a price on spirituality. Stonehenge was designed as a meeting place for like-minded people at the four calendar events, a great seasonal clock and a place to celebrate the changes in the year.

We should not look to Stonehenge and think we can make it more attractive so that we can make more money out of it, but we should think how it could enrich our lives spiritually.

Once we have done this we will see what is best for the stones, and be able to continue in the spirit of those who first conceived of and erected them.

As someone who cares about spirituality, I am obviously disheartened at any proposals that put profit above sacred and religious observances.

The writer is the Honoured Pendragon of the Glastonbury Order of Druids and the Official Swordbearer of the Secular Order of Druids.