Introduction to Blake’s Stonehenge
The impact of William Stukeley’s work on the origins and spiritual meaning of Stonehenge on William Blake was considerable. Stukeley’s theories and investigations regarding the site have often been dismissed by later archeologists and historians – notably, his conjecture that Stonehenge originated with the Druids and Druidic culture, or antecedents of them. Yet his classic book recounting his discoveries, Stonehenge: A Temple Restor’d To The British Druids (1740), which made such a profound impression on Blake, often feels highly contemporary – both prescient in many of its conjectures, and also immensely thought-provoking in a way that modern, Urizenic treatments of the site rarely are.
Stukeley cites Dr Halley, for example, who studied the site in the early 17th century and conjectured that the construction might be “2 or 3000 years old” – a remarkable assessment for the time (modern archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC). Stukeley was also centuries ahead of his time in his attention to the geometry and measurements of the structure, notably his observations of its use of the “royal cubit” (or “Druid cubit”), which are again a subject of huge interest today – linking the geometrical mind-set that constructed them to the mind-set and measuring system used by those constructing Solomon’s temple and the Egyptian pyramids. And of course igniting Blake’s interest in these measurements as the signature and cognitive hallmarks of the presence of Urizenic thinking, which Blake believed lay behind the entire creation of Stonehenge.
Stukeley was also one of the first to make accurate drawings of the site, and coined the term ‘trilithon’ for the doorway-like arrangement of three stones, now common in the literature about megalithic architecture (“certain compages of stones, which I shall call trilithons, because made, each of two upright stones, with an impost at top”). These striking trilithons appear regularly and dramatically in Blake’s illuminated poems and vision of the psychology of Albion.
Reading Stukeley’s original account today, the reader will be struck by many observations and images which Blake clearly drew on, and developed, in his own radical hermeneutics of Stonehenge and the culture that produced it. But equally striking are the omissions and the divergences: Stukeley, for example, is generally very admiring and positive in his comments on the Druids and their magnificent constructions – very different to Blake’s highly critical stance (whilst also being culturally and psychologically respectful of the huge shifts and intellectual legacy that Druidic thinking bequeathed us).
We are in many ways, as Blake was one of the first to really see and explain, living in the perceptual new world that Druidic culture imposed or constructed – believing that the Sun is the centre of our world, and that we are part of Nature, for example – rather than (as Blake believed), that Nature is part of us, and the Sun and Moon and Stars are all dissociated projections and aspects of our inner imaginative consciousness that became alienated and cast onto the night stars, when Human Imagination fell and Natural Perception (the Druidic Program) usurped its place and took over – when the Emissary became the Master, in McGilchrist’s terms. Or as Blake strikingly put it, when “the Sun fled from the Briton’s forehead, the Moon from his mighty loins, Scandinavia fled with all his mountains fill’d with groans” (Jerusalem). This way of seeing the universe – the real way of seeing it, Blake would say – is so different from our inherited, Druidic programming that we even find it hard to imagine what these words mean.
One of the most contested aspects of this whole story is our contrinuing ignorance of who the “Druids” exactly were – where they came from, which other cultures they were related to, and even what period or periods they lived in. Blake largely follows Stukeley in linking them to the mindset that generated Stonehenge – a viewpoint definitely unfashionable today (the earliest known recorded references to the Druids date to the fourth century BC).
But this is taking the term ‘Druid’ in quite a limited and prescriptive way: as Euan MacKie has suggested in his excellent book The Megalith Builders, it seems highly likely that the historical Stonehenge, as well as many other similar megalithic constructions (such as Newgrange in Ireland), were the creation of “a Neolithic priestly caste” – a highly sophisticated, “professional priesthood” that was familiar with proto-Pythagorean principles and possessed remarkable astronomical interests and knowledge. Indeed, he characterises ‘the megalith builders’ as an elite caste of astronomer-priests who “developed geometrical and astronomical knowledge, and skills in surveying and measuring, to a high degree and produced a new religion based on temple-observatories built with standing stones.” If anyone were Blake’s “Druids”, surely these were.
It is also a moot point I think, as to whether these remarkable “astronomer-priests” came from the Middle Eastern areas (the lands of the Phoenicians and Canaanites for example), or if they originated in Britain and the neighbouring Atlantic/Iberian region (an area Blake terms ‘Albion’), and thence travelled Eastwards. MacKie rather follows Stukeley in thinking “that the builders had arrived by sea” (they both have ancient Phoenicia in their sites as the possible place of origin), but he also notes the ambivalence in evidence and cites the respected archaeologist and paleolinguist Colin Renfrew, who holds a perhaps more Blakean view, affirming that “Atlantean culture preceded Mesopotamian” and that “the Atlantean European megaliths should thus be looked on as an entirely European phenomenon owing nothing to the rise of civilised city life in the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean.” That is to say, this is still an exciting and uncertain area of discussion, whose implications and ramifications for our own cultural origins and ancestors are considerable.
Below is an edited excerpt of Stukeley’s magnum opus, which will hopefully re-ignite interest in exploring some of these questions. But perhaps the best way into it is S. Foster Damon’s insightful and incisive summary of the place of Stonehenge, Stukeley, and the Druids in Blake’s thinking.
Damon: Blake, Stonehenge, and Druidism
“To Blake, Druidism, far from being the pure faith of Abraham, symbolized Deism, the religion of the Natural Man, the savage, which was originally universal, and which (however modified) still exists.
It is the Covering Cherub itself, the “Druid Spectre” which is the last enemy to be overcome. It is the whole system of Good and Evil, of the Accuser of Sin and human sacrifice for sin, the invention of “Albion’s Spectre, the Patriarch Druid” (J 98:46–50). It was the religion of the patriarchs from Adam, until Abraham shrank from sacrificing his first born, substituting the ram. It overspread the earth “in patriarchal pomp & cruel pride” (J 79:67).
Blake describes the building of Stonehenge “of Reasonings, of unhewn Demonstrations in labyrinthine arches (Mighty Urizen the Architect) thro’ which the Heavens might revolve & Eternity be bound in their chain. Labour unparallell’d! a wondrous rocky World of cruel destiny, rocks piled on rocks reaching the stars, stretching from pole to pole. The Building is Natural Religion & its Altars Natural Morality, a building of eternal death, whose proportions are eternal despair” (J 66:3).
Stukeley (1740) believed that the temples were erected for serpent worship and that the sanctuary at Avebury was actually laid out in the form of a snake. To Blake, the serpent was the symbol of Nature. So he described the imaginary temple at Verulam as “serpent-form’d,” with “oak-surrounded pillars”; it was made of “massy stones, uncut with tool … plac’d in order of the stars.” It was built when the senses had been closed. Then “Thought chang’d the infinite to a serpent, that which pitieth to a devouring flame”; consequently the serpent temple was “image of infinite shut up in finite revolutions, and man became an Angel, Heaven a mighty circle turning, God a tyrant crown’d” (Eur 10:1–23).
Elsewhere Blake refers to the “Serpent Temples” (J 42:76; 80:48) and even calls them “Dragon Temples” ( J 25:4; 47:6), because Deism promotes war. He represented the Avebury temple as a serpent on the last plate of Jerusalem, but with simple coils in place of head and tail. Human sacrifice, for Blake, was the keynote of Druidism. Twice he referred to the wicker idol in which human beings, innocent as well as guilty, were burned alive (Mil 37:11; J 43:65); but his attention was centered on the altar, the “slaughter stone” of Stonehenge (J 66:13, 19), on which the victims were presumably sacrificed (Mil 12: 8).
The enormous rocks of these temples are their most impressive feature, and Blake constantly connects rocks and stones with the Druids, meaning that their religion is a petrifaction of human feelings. He uses their architecture symbolically, as in the illustrations to Job. There is a magnificent trilithon, far huger than anything actually erected, on Plate 70 of Jerusalem; others appear in Milton, Plates 4 and 6.
There are many prehistoric stone circles in Britain. “The Druids rear’d their Rocky Circles to make permanent Remembrance of Sin, & the Tree of Good & Evil sprang from the Rocky Circle & Snake of the Druid” (J 92:24). Blake refers to circles in Malden, Strathness, and Dura (J 90:62), and refers again to Hants, Devon, and Wilts, “surrounded with masses of stone in order’d forms” (J 83:10). Rocking Stones were also supposed to have been erected by the Druids. Blake refers to them once (J 90:59) and depicts one in Milton, Plate 6. He also refers to the sacred mistletoe as a parasite. “As the Mistletoe grows on the Oak, so Albion’s Tree on Eternity” (J 66:55).
The various pillars which the patriarchs erected were druidic (J 27:40). Greek philosophy was “a remnant of Druidism” (J 52)—possibly a reminiscence of the mythagogues’ theory that Pythagoras learned of transmigration from the Druids. Jerusalem, fainting at the cross, hears a voice: “Wilt thou make Rome thy Patriarch Druid & the Kings of Europe his Horsemen?” (J 61:50). Druid architecture is seen in the head of the Covering Cherub (J 89:22). But “the whole Druid Law [Jesus] removes away” (J 69:39).
Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, contains the Druid circle of Stonehenge. The daughters of Albion play before the armies, “while the Prince of Light on Salisbury Plain [reigns?] among the Druid Stones” (FZ ii:65). There the Spectre Sons of Albion mock and deride the writhings of their victim Luvah (J 65:57). There they erect the stupendous building of Natural Religion (J 66:2). There the heart of the Polypus beats strong (J 67:37). “The Serpent Temples thro’ the Earth, from the wide Plain of Salisbury, resound with cries of Victims” (J 80:48).
Stonehenge is a fane of enormous standing stones on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, dating from the Bronze Age. Inigo Jones thought it was a Roman temple. John Aubrey (1626–97) was the first to conjecture that it was Druid; William Stukeley (1742) elaborated the theory, which is still popularly believed, though the fane is much earlier. It seems to have been built for sun-worship, and was also used as a burial place. One slab is known as “the slaughter stone.”
Stonehenge was sometimes called “The Dance of the Giants.” Blake referred to this dance in describing the disruption of the universe consequent upon the establishment of Natural Religion. “We reared mighty Stones, we danced naked around them, thinking to bring Love into light of day, to Jerusalem’s shame displaying our Giant limbs to all the winds of heaven. Sudden Shame siez’d us, we could not look on one-another for abhorrence: the Blue of our immortal Veins & all their Hosts fled from our Limbs and wander’d distant in a dismal Night clouded & dark. The Sun fled from the Briton’s forehead, the Moon from his mighty loins, Scandinavia fled with all his mountains fill’d with groans” (J 24:4).
Although there were many more stones, Blake specified only twelve “Stones of Power” (J 68:41), like the twelve pillars of the Serpent Temple “plac’d in the order of the stars” (Eur 10:10). He was particularly impressed by the trilithons, which appear in his pictures, especially the magnificent one on Jerusalem 70. See also Milton 4, 6 and Illustrations of the Book of Job 6, 7.” (Damon, A Blake Dictionary).
STONEHENGE: A TEMPLE RESTOR’D TO THE BRITISH DRUIDS
By William Stukeley, M. D.
The patriarchal history, particularly of Abraham, is largely pursu’d; and the deduction of the Phoenician colony into the Island of Britain, about or soon after his time; whence the origin of the Druids, of their Religion and writing; they brought the patriarchal Religion along with them, and same knowledge of symbols or hieroglyphics, like those of the ancient Egyptians. Nor have I any other notion of this performance, than that it is as a first attempt to say something upon those famous philosophers and priests the Druids, who are never spoken of in antiquity but with a note of admiration; and are always rank’d with the Magi of the Persians, the gymnosophists of the Indians, the prophets and hierophants of the Egyptians, and those sort of patriarchal priests, whose orders commenc’d before idolatry began; from whom the Pythagoreans, Platonists, and Greek philosophers learn’d the best things they knew.
Stonehenge has been eminent of all the monuments of antiquity from the remotest ages, tho’ ’tis not the greatest, most considerable, or most ancient. But ’tis my intent to begin my discourse from it, because the latest, and from thence proceed upwards in our inquiries, about the times and authors of these stupendous works, the temples of the Druids in our Island: for I cannot doubt that Stonehenge was such. There is very much reason to believe, these famous philosophic priests came hither, as a Phoenician colony, in the very earliest times, even as soon as Tyre was founded: during the life of the patriarch Abraham, or very soon after. Therefore they brought along with them the patriarchal religion, which was so extremely like Christianity, that in effect differ’d from it only in this; they believed in a Messiah who was to come into the world, as we believe in him that is come.
Further, they came from that very country where Abraham liv’d, his sons and grandsons; a family God almighty had separated from the gross of mankind, to stifle the seeds of idolatry; a mighty prince, and preacher of righteousness.
Whatever is dug up in or near these works are manifestly remains of the Druid times; urns, bones, ornaments of amber, glass beads, snake-stones, amulets, celts, flint-hatchets, arrow-heads, and such things as bespeak the rudest ages, the utmost antiquity, most early plantations of people that came into our island, soon after Noah’s flood. I have all the reason in the world to believe them an oriental colony of Phoenicians; at least that such a one came upon the first Celtic plantation of people here: which reasons will appear in the progress of this discourse.
Measuring the Universe: The Urizenic Cubit
I must prepare the reader for a right understanding of our Druid edifices, by informing him, that Stonehenge, and all other works of this nature in our island, are erected by that most ancient measure call’d a cubit, which we read of in the holy scriptures, and in ancient profane authors. I mean the same individual measure, call’d the Hebrew, Egyptian, Phoenician cubit; most probably deriv’d from Noah and Adam. ’Tis the same that the pyramids of Egypt and other [of] their works are projected upon; the same as that of Moses‘s tabernacle, Solomon‘s temple, &c. and we may reasonably pride ourselves in possessing these visible monuments of the old measure of the world.
My friend and collegue Dr. Arbuthnot has been more successful, in applying it to such parts of the greater pyramid, as evidently establish its proportion, to our English foot, from the measures Greaves has left us: and shows it to be 20 inches and 4/5 of English measure. Thus the Doctor observes the side of the greater pyramid at base, is 693 English feet; which amounts exactly to 400 Egyptian cubits, a full and suitable number for such a square work, and without question the originally design’d measure, by which we see, the Druids well understood the geometry of a circle, and its measure of 360 parts. The Druids understood geometry.
I was forc’d to make many admeasurements and repeated, before I could obtain an exact ground-plot; and it requir’d much consideration to do it, and to find out the true scale by which it was compos’d, the Druid cubit, which they brought with them from the east. It was the eastern way, in laying out a building, to use a staff of 6 cubits long. This was of a convenient, manageable length; and its divisions being half a dozen, suited well a reckoning by duodenaries. Thus in Ezek. xl. 3, S. Apoc. xxi. 16. the angel that laid out the temple of Solomon, is described, as having a reed of 6 cubits (a measuring reed or cane) in his hand. This being the universal and first measure of antiquity, was in time spread all over the world.
The length of Solomon‘s temple was 60 cubits; and the diameter of Stonehenge amounts exactly to 60 cubits. The intention of the founders of Stonehenge was this. The whole circle was to consist of 30 stones, each stone was to be 4 cubits broad, each interval 2 cubits. 30 times 4 cubits is twice 60: 30 times 2 cubits is 60. So that thrice 60 cubits compleats a circle whose diameter is 60. A stone being 4 cubits broad, and 2 cubits thick is double the interval, which is a square of 2 cubits.
In the orthographic plate (see below), we may see the strict geometry of the work of this outward circle, and the artful variation therefrom, in order to make the aperture of the grand entrance somewhat wider than the rest.
Inside the Mundane Egg: The inner matrix of Stonehenge
The cell or adytum of Stonehenge is form’d by a radius of 12 cubits and a half, from the two centers a and b, as to the inward curve; the outward takes a radius of 15 cubits; for these stones are two cubits and a half thick. The two circles are turn’d into an oval, by a radius of 30 cubits, (after the usual manner) set in the two centers c and d, where the two circles intersect. The former centers are 12 cubits and a half distant from each other, the length of the radius. The same oval is obtain’d by a string of 60 cubits, the ends ty’d together, and turn’d round upon two centers, according to the gardiners method.
An oval form’d as this is, upon two centers coinciding with each other’s circumference; or, which is the same thing, whose centers are distant from each other the length of their radius, is most natural and most beautiful, being the shape of an egg. Most probably these religious philosophers had a meaning, in thus including an egg-like figure, within a circle, more than mere affectation of variety.
The ancients thought the world of an egg-like shape, and as the world is the temple of the Deity, they judg’d it proper to form their temples, so as to have a resemblance thereto. The ancient hieroglyphic of the Deity is a circle, and I have reason to believe it more ancient than the flood. Plato, who learnt much from the ancestors of our Druids, says in Diogenes Laertius, that God is spherical, which he must mean hieroglyphically. So our Druids, as well as he, may mean the infinity of nature in the Deity, who made the world, by this scheme of Stonehenge; at least they understand by the circle, the seat and residence of the Deity, the heavens, which include all things.
Such is the noble and easy geometry of the adytum of Stonehenge. The stones that compote it, are really stupendous, their height, breadths and thickness are enormous, and to see so many of them plac’d together, in a nice and critical figure, with exactness; to consider, as it were, not a pillar of one stone, but a whole wall, a side, an end of a temple of one stone; to view them curiously, creates such a motion in the mind, which words can’t express.
And it must be own’d, that they who had a notion, that it was an unworthy thing, to pretend to confine the deity in room and space, could not easily invent a grander design than this, for sacred purposes: nor execute it in a more magnificent manner. Here space indeed is mark’d out and defin’d: but with utmost freedom and openness. Here is a kebla intimating, but not bounding the presence of the Deity. Here the variety and harmony of four differing circles presents itself continually new, every step we take, with opening and closing light and shade. Which way so ever we look, art and nature make a composition of their highest gusto, create a pleasing astonishment, very apposite to sacred places.
The Snake’s Head: Stonehenge and the Serpent Temple
Dr. Halley was at Stonehenge in the year 1720, and brought a piece of it to the Royal Society. The Doctor observ’d from the general wear of the weather upon the stones, that the work must be of an extraordinary antiquity, and for ought he knew, 2 or 3000 years old. The Druids contented themselves to live in huts and caves: whilst they employ’d many thousands of men, a whole county, to labour at these publick structures, dedicated to the Deity.
It was the centre not only of national (Druidic) ideas and ceremonies – a “great Temple” – but the place where people went, even from France, to be initiated. Cæsar informs us in his commentaries, that among the Druids, “one has the supreme authority. When he is dead, whoever excels in dignity succeeds. But if there be more candidates, the Archdruid is chose by the votes of the Druids: and sometimes they fight for it. At a certain fix’d time of the year the Gaulish Druids meet, in the territories of the Carnutes, which country is in the middle of Gaul, in a consecrated place. Hither all persons from all quarters come, who have any controversy, and stand to their determination. The discipline of the Druids arose in Britain, and is said from thence to have been brought into Gaul. And now, they who design to be more throughly initiated therein, go over to learn.”
Here in few lines the great author acquaints us with a vast fund of ancient history, and upon which whole volumes have been wrote. I observe no more from it at present, than that we may very reasonably conclude, the elegant and the magnificent structure of Stonehenge was as the metropolitical church of the chief Druid of Britain. This was the locus consecratus where they met at some great festivals in the year, as well to perform the extraordinary sacrifices and religious rites, as to determine causes and civil matters.
Druid Sacrifice: The Geometry of Moral Slaughter
Just upon the inner verge of the ditch, at the entrance from the avenue, lies a very large stone, at present flat on the ground. The use of it I can’t certainly tell; but I am inclin’d to think, that as part of the religious worship in old patriarchal times, consisted in a solemn adoration, or three silent bowings: the first bowing might be perform’d at this stone, just without the ditch, the second perhaps at the next stone, just within the ditch. Then they turn’d by that stone to the left hand, as the manner was, in a procession round the temple, both the priests and animals for sacrifice. At those two stones and water-vases, probably there were some washings, lustrations, or sprinklings with holy water, and other ceremonies, which I don’t pretend to ascertain. Doubtless in the sacrifices and ceremonies which were here practis’d, water was us’d, and I observe most of our Druid temples are set near rivers.
Then upon the entry into the temple, perhaps they made the third bow, as in presence of the Deity. After this, in the court, we may suppose the priests prepar’d the hecatombs and customary sacrifices. If that great stone just within the ditch, always lay, as it does now, flat on the ground, and in situ, (which I am not unwilling to believe) then, I apprehend, it was a table for dressing the victims. Ezekiel, in describing the temple of Jerusalem, speaks of such in the entry, xl: 30-43.
’Tis just to think, the ancient form of sacrificing here, like that of the Romans, Greeks or elder nations, was pretty much the same as that among the Jews, and that as in patriarchal times; and in short, no other than the original practice of mankind, since the first institution of sacrifices, at the fall.
Arrian II. of the life of Alexander, remarks, “that Gadis [Cádiz] was built by the Phoenicians. There was a temple of Hercules. The form, the sacrifices and ceremonies there perform’d, are all after the Phoenician manner.” Strabo in his Lib. III. says there were two pillars in this temple, dedicate to Hercules; which the learned Tristan in his commentaries on medals, says he doubts not but they were petræ ambrosiæ [‘anointed stones’], in imitation of those of the same name, in the temple of Hercules of Tyre, which Herodotus in Euterpe speaks of. He appears to have been an extraordinary genius, and a man of great piety withal. Therefore where-ever he came, he made these patriarchal temples, or set up pillars of stone, as antiquity called them. Just as the patriarchal family did in the land of Canaan. And Hercules seems to me, to have been a great man, raised up by providence, to carry the reform’d patriarchal religion, to the extremest part of the then known western world.
They represent two great, rough stones, call’d petræ ambrosiæ, with an altar before them, and an olive tree; Hercules the hero of Tyre, the famous Navigator of antiquity, their founder, sacrificing. On some of the coins petræ ambrosiæ wrote in Greek. These reports, as we may find in Nonnus his Dionysiacs, acquaint us that Hercules invented shipping, as a latin poet too intimates, Tibullus.
Prima ratem ventis credere docta Tyrus. [“The first ship to the winds, to trust her off from Tyre.”]
They acquaint us that he ordered Tyre to be built, where the petræ ambrosiæ stood, which were two moveable rocks, standing by an olive tree. He was to sacrifice on them, and they should become fixt and stable: rather, the City should be built with happy auspice, and become permanent. The Tyrian Hercules brought the Druids hither, with Abraham’s religion.
Here, I suppose, the religion of Abraham remain’d pure, for many ages, under the Druids, till perhaps corrupted by incursions from the continent. It is remarkable, that the Romans, who were so catholic, (different from those we now absurdly call Roman catholics) as to permit all religions, persecuted only that of the Druids, and the christian: whence we are naturally led to think, there was a good deal of resemblance.
Here are our Main Ambres, made artfully moveable, a kind of altars, or pillars, the same as the pillars of Hercules so fam’d, and as little understood. They were the original patriarchal altars, for libations and sacrifices, and mean, in general, their Altars, whether moveable or immoveable: or as we may speak, their temples, which imply an altar properly, inclosed with stones and a ditch, or ground dedicated and set apart for public celebration of religious rites. For the word Ambrosius means in general, consecrated, dedicated to religious use.
The truth is, it was a patriarchal custom to consecrate their altars, pillars, or in a general word temples, by anointing with oil, either simple or perfum’d. Rose oil being the oldest, engross’d the general name of the action; so that a stone anointed with oil of roses, is a main amber, or lapis ambrosius. The same is an altar, or stone dedicate to religious use. The plural number, petræ ambrosiæ, import a church or temple, in our way of speaking.
No wonder these matters are well nigh lost, in the mist of extreme antiquity, when even the meaning of the word ambrosius was hardly known, either to the antients or moderns, till Mr. Baxter discover’d it, in his glossary. It signifies oil of roses, rosaceum: the most antient kind of perfume. In the 4th Odyssy, v. 445. Edothea a sea goddess, teaches Menelaus and his companions, to cure the odious smell of the sea calves. She put ambrosia to their noses, sweetly smelling. Again, in his hymn to Venus, the graces washt the goddess, and anointed her with oil ambrosial: such as becomes the immortals. And in Iliad. XXIII. Venus anoints Hector‘s body with ambrosial oil of roses. Virgil seems to understand but somewhat of the original meaning of the word, speaking of Venus; her hair was anointed with ointment perfum’d.
And this is the true ambrosia, which from its very antient use in sacred rites, had almost lost its meaning; and was us’d to signify, one while, the food of the gods, another time, immortality; again, whatever is divine, or appropriate to the gods. But simply, it signifies oil of roses, still from its first use, in sacred matters, it imports anointed, in a religious sense; consecrated, dedicated. Then main ambres, ambres, petræ ambrosiæ, signify the stones anointed with holy oil, consecrated; or in a general sense a temple, altar, or place of worship.
Sacrificing the Human on the Altar of Nature
Indeed, the Druids are accused of human sacrifices. They crucified a man and burnt him on the altar; which seems to be a most extravagant act of superstition, deriv’d from some extraordinary notices they had of mankind’s redemption: and perhaps from Abraham‘s example misunderstood. But as to human sacrifices simply considered, the Romans themselves and all other nations upon earth at times, practis’d them. Doubtless in the sacrifices and ceremonies which were here practis’d, water was us’d, and I observe most of our Druid temples are set near rivers.
The present name of Stonehenge, is purely Saxon, given by our latest ancestors, by a people wholly strangers to the purport of the thing, that had no notion, no report of its having once been a sacred place; and signifies no more than hanging-stones, or a stone-gallows. The ancient Britons call’d it choir-gaur, which the Monks latiniz’d into chorea gigantum, the giants dance; a name suited to the marvelous notion they had of the structure, or of the reports of magic, concern’d in raising it. But I had rather chuse to think choir gaur in Welsh, truly means, the great church; the cathedral, in our way of speaking.
This calls to my memory, what the above-mention’d Dr. Harwood inform’d me, he had heard the great Sir Christopher Wren say, that there were such structures as Stonehenge, in Africa, being temples dedicate to Saturn.