Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Hanging Stones

Amateur snapper captures stunning photo of Stonehenge shrouded in morning  mist - Mirror Online

The Mists of Stonehenge


Of the 10,000 stone circles of Britain, what makes Stonehenge unique?

Easily answered: the lintels.

Of all the stone circles of Britain, only Stonehenge has cap-stones.


What did the Anglo-Saxons, those inveterate incoming barbarians, make of Stonehenge? With one exception, we simply don't have the documentation to know.

We do know what they called it, though, and that name is, in itself, quite the singular (and revealing) datum.

Stonehenge: the name is transparently Anglo-Saxon. Stone + hang: the “hanging stones,” one might say.

As Rudyard Kipling would put it, thereby hangs a tale.


The “Hanging Stones.” Writer after writer has read this to mean “Stone Gallows” or “Place of Hanging.”

Supposedly, the Anglo-Saxons were wont to build their gallows à la Hanged Man card, as two uprights with a cross-piece. (Later gallows, of course, generally took the form of a single standing post with cross-arm and brace.) Thus, to their barbarian eye, Stonehenge resembled a place of mass execution.

We're only a step or two away here from Stonehenge as a temple to Woden, the Anglo-Saxon Odin. If we can trust the Norse evidence (but can we? That's 400 years later, and 1000 miles away), men were hanged as offerings to him: Galgaguð, Snorri calls him, the Gallows God.

Stonehenge, place of mass sacrifice. Just imagine a corpse swinging from every lintel-stone, rope creaking, in the eternal wind of Salisbury Plain.

Really, one has to wonder just how much of this is mist: paganophobia, essentially. You know those wicked heathens and their dreadful human sacrifices.


Myself, I have to wonder of there isn't a simpler explanation of the name by which we still know Stonehenge today. “Hanging Stones”? Well, what's unique about Stonehenge? The lintels. They're the major marvel. How the heck did they get them up there?

Maybe it's the lintels themselves that are the “hanging stones.” Stones are heavy, but these stones seem to hang in heaven: a circle in the sky.


Stonehenge: place of hanging men, or hanging stones?

Well, I like mist, and mystification, as much as the next pagan. But in this case, I think I'll go with good old Occam: the simpler—in this case, the descriptive—explanation is likelier to be true.

The "Hanging Stones": a good name, actually, concise; really rather poetic, in a terse, "them's-the-facts", Anglo-Saxon kind of way.

Where else could it be but Stonehenge?




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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