Stonehenge as Hospital

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I own a book called Love Is in the Earth. It's an encyclopedia of various gems and stones, both precious and semi-precious, but it won't tell you how to judge their monetary or aesthetic value, how to cut or set them. Instead, it explains the mystical healing properties of the stones listed in it.

Now, that sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo to plenty of people, but I was profoundly and profusely ill at more than one point in my life, and collecting pretty stones and hoping their vibrations would do me some good seemed as sensible as visiting a man in a white coat, who would bombard parts of my body with invisible "rays" (as in X-) or "waves" (as in sonar) as some sort of diagnostic procedure, and then tell me stuff I already knew, such as "You're ill," before adding, "but I don't know how you got that way and I don't know how to make you better, so go home and hope it clears up and if anything changes, come back."

Understand: I still visited the guy in the white coat, but I figured I should cover all my bases. So I also bought pretty stones. I would hang them in front of my window, or put them under my pillow, or tote them in my pocket, though I was also fond of carrying them about my person in the form of earrings, pendants, rings and bracelets. People have asked me, when I've mentioned buying the stones, "Didn't that get kind of expensive?" I suppose it has, if you count the really fancy stones in really fancy settings that I wear as jewelry.... But the cost of all the loose stones I've ever bought in my entire life hasn't come close costing what I paid for prescription drugs during a single year of grad school. (This was back before we managed to get a grad student union at the University of Iowa.) Not only were the stones cheaper; they were also more psychologically empowering, and still look pretty in the container where I keep them.

Now, this idea that stones have mystical healing powers is not new; instead, it's extremely old. In fact, the giant dolerite and rhyolite stones used in the construction of Stonehenge were believed to have healing properties. Understand: these were special stones weighing several tons, dragged all the way from Wales, while other parts of Stonehenge were locally quarried sandstone. Why go to the trouble of getting great big stones from someplace so far away when there are nice big chunks of rocks to be had nearby, unless it's because there's something special about the foreign stones?

Which is why someone has argued that Stonehenge was a hospital--that, and the fact that surrounding Stonehenge are burial mounds, containing a remarkably high percentage of bodies with strange deformities. Yes, the stones of the site were aligned to astrologically significant points, but that was not the whole point. It wasn't an observatory. The point of matching things up with pivotal days of the calendar was that such matchings would augment the inherent healing power in the stones. The people who hung out at Stonehenge were either sick people hoping to be cured, or shamans hoping to cure them, not religious pilgrims or esoteric priests presiding over arcane rituals.

I admit this argument, advanced by Professors Geoff Wainwright and Timothy Darvill and summarized by Steven Jenkins in a commentary for the Guardian UK, makes sense to me. And had I been some prehistoric chronically ill person, I probably would have attempted a pilgrimage to Stonehenge the hospital. For that matter, I'd probably make a pilgrimage there if it were still a hospital. Or maybe I wouldn't--I believe that Sedona, Arizona, is an intensely powerful place, but it's so overrun with rich people that I prefer to stay away, and find my healing in the desert's solitary places.

3 Comments

Hey, who knows, right? Everything interesting was once mysterious and/or ridiculous. When my aunt (a physician) had cancer she and her husband tried every form of healing they heard of, whether it was considered "real" medicine or not.

That's a fascinating article! There really is "something" to Stonehenge, more than its being a collection of astronomically-correct rocks. The best part is that nobody really knows what that something is.

Many years ago I read somewhere that the Spanish believed that turqoise was a healing stone, I think for stomach ailments. Therefore, a belt buckle with turquoise could be useful for more than holding up one's pants.

This is a very interesting story! I wish that Jenkins had been a bit less snarky about what healing and health care would have been for people in that age. Yes, there certainly would be quacks waving miraculous relics over diseased bodies for the money or authority they could get by doing so. But a great deal of "folk" knowledge about medicine was gained with the same familiar tools of the scientific method: trials, experiments, observations, explanation from induction and deduction. Aspirin is a good example: people used to drink an infusion from willow bark to cure aches and pains; later chemists figured out how to crytalize salicylic acid from extracts from the bark. And much of that hard-won folk knowledge was lost, in this part of the world, during the witch hunts.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 5, 2006 9:16 AM.

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