Today is December 22, 2011, the Winter Solstice, the probable original reason for us having Christmas in the middle of winter, to replace Roman Saturnalia and other pagan celebrations that are related to this date. If there is any archaeological landscape, which can be associated with Winter Solstice – or any solstice – it is the Stonehenge landscape. The actual direction from which the sun rose or to which went down at any past moment or the visibility of any other star is a matter of archaeo-astrological calculations, carried out in case of Stonehenge with prior knowledge by Clive Ruggles and published in 2001. It may well be that the stones were raised in order to celebrate astrological event(s), if not the ancestors, buried in and around the enclosure, as Mike Parker Pearson suggests. The strong directly visible veneration and evaluation of this landscape as a religious landscape is a recent phenomenon, related to the needs of modern pagan religion.
David Field’s and Trevor Pearson’s Stonehenge World Heritage Site Landscape Project report published in 2010 gives a thorough plan of this landscape in the state it exists today. In order to consider the relationship between different phases and different features inside and outside the circle and the related earthworks AND winter solstice would require thorough astronomical calculations together with the complete deconstruction of this monument. Nevertheless, one can suggest that the earthworks and the stones as they are preserved underline the importance of south-western–north-eastern alignment. This emphasizes the direction of the Woodhenge, although the Avenue seems to curve to a totally different direction. However, if one arrived along it and stopped at the so-called Heel stone the slope towards the south-west was rising, as if to raise something on show either inside the circle or to bring the circle to frame something more clearly.
The importance and the emotional effect of the event of seeing a rising sun through the gaps between the stones is without doubt. The beautiful photographs and long treaties on the Celtic aspects of pagan religion are evidence of this. Similarly, the mental importance of this landscape at Winter Solstice and throughout the year is evident from the number of projects, reports and articles devoted to it in archaeological literature and the discussions among the archaeological community.
Pollard, J., and Ruggles, C. L. N., 2001. 'Shifting perceptions: spatial order, cosmology, and patterns of deposition at Stonehenge', Cambridge Archaeological Journal 11(1), 69–90.