(this is a guest blog by my wife, Ann)
Hi there! I am writing this on the shortest day of the year. Last night apparently thousands of people visited Stonehenge to witness the sunset closest to the solstice, as presumably many people have done in the last few thousand years. Standing at the head of the avenue leading to the stones, the midwinter sunset is visible (weather permitting!) through the central arch.
It is easy to understand why those of us who live this far north should find this an important time of year – I, for one, feel greatly cheered by the prospect of more sunlight and the hope of summer! It is thought that it was the advent of farming (as a change from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle) which made marking the seasons so important – knowing when to sow crops, for a start. If we were going by what nature is doing in England at the moment, for example, we could easily think it was spring already and time to start planting! (We have had an exceptionally mild spell and around here we have daffodils flowering two or three months early.) Certainly those who built Stonehenge and other Neolithic monuments had a good knowledge of the movements of the sun, the moon and some of the planets. Apparently even the Romans realised that the ancient Britons had far more astronomical knowledge than they did!
Actually, of course, the Stonehenge monument was built and rebuilt over a long period of time – more than a thousand years at least, so it is likely that knowledge increased during that time and that some beliefs changed. From a Bahá’í point of view, we understand that God has always sent His Messengers to earth – no part of the world has been left out, at any time in history. Of course, we only know about those Messengers who appeared before the advent of writing through the stories handed down through the generations. However, these provide plenty of evidence for Great Teachers in many parts of the world, such as among the native Americans, for instance.
We will never know the beliefs of the Stonehenge people, but we can know something about their civilisation. They were certainly organised enough to meet together at Stonehenge from all over Britain (even as far away as Orkney) and live, feast, and presumably worship together, not to mention working together to raise huge stones as monuments to their beliefs. They obviously had a certain degree of unity, even if it was only perhaps once a year. Now, thousands of years later, we can build on that idea, only this time we need to live and work in unity with the people of the whole world in order to achieve much greater monuments to our civilisation, such as equal opportunities, peace and justice for every single person. Then the people of the future will be able to look back in admiration and approval of what we have achieved. No doubt those people will have their own challenges, perhaps learning to live with people from other planets? At least they will have a Messenger for their own time to guide them.
Whatever happens, I suspect that if people are still living this far north, then at this time of year they will still welcome the prospect of more sunshine!