I actually know very little about the solstice. Specifically, the origins of the English customs surrounding it. My only knowledge of paganism derives from watching The Wicker Man – a film I genuinely love and have watched many times over the years. So I know pagans end up burning police officers in huge corn effigy’s, but that’s the limit of my knowledge.
So when I moved to Avebury in March 2013 I had little idea that three months later, I would be infiltrating the secret druid circles of pagan witchcraftinism and that my chakras would be re-aligned by a sexy gothic chic with silver stockings and a tattoo on her head of issue one of The Unexplained magazine.
I knew a little about the henge at Avebury and was aware it was roughly five thousand years older than Stonehenge. I didn’t realise it was such a focal point for alternative folk. I guess that’s an injustice really isn’t it, using a label as ‘alternative folk’. But you see, I was one of them, a long time ago. In the late eighties and early nineties, between roughly 17 and 23, I was heavily into crystal healing, tarot cards, ley lines and all that stuff. I even tried to project my astral body on many occasions. I was never successful mind you. I always used to fall asleep.
So on Thursday 20th June I walked down to the centre of Avebury. Some months earlier on a visit to my old home town of Cwmbran, I had bought a Nepalese hand woven purple coat and a red fabric shirt. Very hippy-like and I wore it now, hoping to blend in with the other solstice attendees. It was 8pm as I reached The Red Lion pub and the police were about already. They were quite pleasant and mingled happily with the crowd in all fairness. One officer even had his hat stolen by a young lad and instead of beating him up and claiming “he just fell over a leaf, yer ‘onor”, he just grabbed it back with a strained smile.
The main field was filling up fast and I felt sadly nostalgic for my past. Those youthful days when I would dress in painted boots, wild, loud clothes and with my hair halfway down my back. I was a bit like Russell from the ‘underground’ Big Bang comics.
They were great comics actually. I stumbled across them in July 1989 when I was at Glastonbury for a small Kate Bush fan gathering. I was browsing Gothic Image, a weird and wonderful shop on the high street, when I came across some of these comics and bought a couple. I remember sitting in my little tent at the base of the Tor that evening, reading them by flashlight. Worth a hunt down if you like off the wall humour, though they can go for a pretty penny on Ebay these days. Not an ugly penny mind you. Just pretty ones.
Sorry – I digress…
There was a large number of more elaborately dressed people in one corner of the field. I guessed they were the performers and the druid folk who would host the initiation ceremony of planet earth into the new celestial advocacy of perpetual love. Or whatever it is called.
I have always enjoyed being on the outside and looking in, rather than be at the centre. I enjoy the detached process of observation. It allows me to write up events like this with a flippancy and satirical slant which I would be unable to do if I was part of the process. That being said, I did fancy being the puppeteer of the huge cockroach that I saw a couple of people assembling on the side.
I wandered up to the ridge that encircled the henge and as I stood there, surveying all that I owned, a bearded man wandered up to me and introduced himself.
“I’m William,” he said.
William told me, drunkenly, that he was camping in a nearby field.
“You look like you are from Nepal,” he said, looking at my coat.
I smiled and told him he was absolutely wrong.
“Are you from Africa or Morocco? Maybe Tibet?”
“Cwmbran,” I said. “It’s near Newport.”
William appeared a little lost. For all my humour, I saw something in his eyes that reminded me of myself, then and now.
“What do you do for a living William?” I asked.
“I just travel,” he drawled. “I go around, here.”
A long pause.
“There,” he added.
“You?” he questioned.
“I work in mental health but really, I am a writer. That’s my dream. To make a living from writing so I can devote eight hours a day to it.”
“An artist. I’m an artist. Here, I have something to show you.”
He rummaged in his bag and brought out some pictures.
He then offered me a swig of whisky which I accepted, with a sort of feigned trepidation masquerading as horror.
“Thank you,” I said. I began taking photographs of the scenes around me. People of all ages and all cultures, congregating in this small village with just a population of five hundred, but brought together because they felt some unity with these strange monoliths that ancient man had dragged from some quarry. Or the beach at Porthcawl.
“You’re ignoring me?” William said plaintively.
I ignored him and walked down to the stones again. I remained there a few hours, watching the festivities, listening to the out of tune drumming and staring at the stars. I wondered if, somewhere in the heavens above, was another William, ruling over a nebulae or some dwarf star. I wondered upon this a while and then passed out from the excitement.