In Mexico stands the great ceremonial El Castillo pyramid. In the late afternoon of the Spring Equinox, a majestic light bathes the western face of this vast monument, creating dramatic shadows that trail downwards, mimicking a snake in descent. This moment, known as ‘The Return of the Serpent’, has been celebrated by Mayan people in Central American for over ten centuries. Representing a time of renewal and rebirth, the Spring Equinox in March sees the sun rise exactly in the East, travel through the sky for twelve hours and set exactly in the West.
‘Ostara’ is just one of many names used to describe the Spring Equinox celebrations; for early Pagans, this was a time to celebrate the new crop season. To this day, people will travel to monoliths across England to witness the sun rising on the Equinox. A highly spiritual experience, these ad hoc celebrations bring together England’s New Age tribes, including neo-druids, neo-pagans and Wiccans. The most widely known gathering in England takes place at Stonehenge; with a history spanning 4000 years, the Stone Circle serves as a place of spiritual enlightenment and inspiration for many.
During the 1960s, monoliths such as Stonehenge and Avebury became integral to the psychedelic landscape of the era, with many visiting on spiritual pilgrimages. While the purpose of the stones is unconfirmed, many believe that during the Neolithic period, rituals would have been performed at Avebury to prevent death and disease. David Bailey’s images of the Rolling Stones in 1968 taken at Avebury represent the full flush of hippy euphoria. As a close friend of the band, these images not only illustrate an intimate portrayal of the subjects, but also capture the band’s fascination with the occult. Other iconic imagery of these monoliths includes footage of the Beatles performing ‘The Night Before’ on Salisbury Plain in 1965; filmed as part of the film ‘Help!’, the band play beneath the shadows of Stonehenge.
In 1969, author and esotericist John Michells published his landmark book ‘The View over Atlantis’. This text embraced the counter-cultural ideas of the Earth Mysteries in the 1960s; Michells believed in the existence of an ancient spiritual tradition that connected humanity to divinity, but had been lost as a result of modernity. He believed this knowledge would be reborn with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, allowing for the ‘rediscovery of access to the divine will’. These beliefs were shared by many; a passion for the occult infiltrated music, art, literature and film. Derek Jarman’s short film ‘Journey To Avebury’ (1971) presented psychedelic versions of these stones as enticing, mystical and full of power to those lucky few who possessed the occult knowledge. The film is broken down into fragments that take on a dream-like quality, representing Jarman’s notion that this trip was deep in his consciousness and could not be replicated; the Avebury stones give rise to a psychical power upon the people who visit them.
The occult was integral to the work of underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger; his series of nine films entitled ‘Magick Lantern Cycle’ explored spiritual concepts that aligned with his Thelemite religious beliefs. In 1966, Anger released a version of his film ‘Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome’, and screened it to an audience on hallucinogenic LSD, aiming to heighten their sensory experience. A close friend of the Rolling Stones, he believed the band possessed satanic powers and cast Mick Jagger’s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull in his film ‘Lucifer Rising’, in the hope she was attuned to these alleged influences. The film centred on the Aeon of Horus; in Anger’s Thelema religion, the history of humanity is divided into three aeons that represent various magical expressions. The Horus represents the belief that humanity will enter a period of self-realisation and self-actualisation. Segments of the film were shot at Avebury, Egypt, and The Star Mountain, an ancient Neolithic place of worship in Germany, on the morning of the Winter Solstice.
The Autumn Equinox will take place on the 22nd September, and will be celebrated by new age tribes at Stonehenge and Avebury. A masterpiece of engineering, these monoliths will no doubt stand for thousands of years to come, as will their cultural and spiritual significance.