Stonehenge: A View From Medicine
Goddess Movement Looks to Stonehenge's Feminine Side
July 12, 2003 -- In
his paper published in a British medical journal, Dr. Anthony Perks has put forward a theory that Stonehenge was designed
as a fertility symbol in the form of female genitalia, "based on the resemblance of the henge to the human vulva, with
the birth canal at its centre."
When his theory was reported in the mainstream press this week, headline
writers were tittering:
''The Vagina Monoliths: Stonehenge
Was Ancient Sex Symbol,'' read a headline in The Observer of London, punning the title of Eve Ensler's hit play, "The
Vagina Monologues." CBC News in Canada proclaimed: ''Stonehenge Mystery Solved: It's a Girl.''
To adherents of the goddess movement,
though, the new theory is serious business. They are hoping this woman-centered interpretation of Stonehenge, a monument with
a unique hold on the world's imagination, will help build momentum toward a recognition of what they call ''the feminine sacred''
and further add to the ranks of their growing movement.
''In the circles of women priestesses,
we have always believed the stone circles were somehow linked to fertility -- but fertility in a much broader sense,'' Hemitra
Crecraft, a self-described ''Dianic priestess,'' said yesterday from Malvern, Pa. ''Returning to these ideas, and visiting
the whole principle of the sacredness of the earth, is imperative if we're going to create a sustainable future.''
Crecraft hopes that the Stonehenge theory will be seen as a reminder of
a time when societies were constructed around a belief in female deities -- a belief, she says, that holds a message and lesson
for our own war-torn, environmentally ravaged time.
The new theory is serious business for the author of the research paper,
as well. Retired gynecology professor Anthony Perks, touched on the fertility theme, writing that Stonehenge ''could represent,
symbolically, the opening by which Earth Mother gave birth to the plants and animals on which the ancient people so depended.''
He noted an observation made by an earlier scholar that the upright sarsens
of the innermost arches, particularly the ones which flank the entrance, seem to be in pairs, with one of smoother finish
than the other.
He claims that, "to a biologist, the smooth and rougher stones arranged
in pairs, united by their heavy lintels, suggest the male and female, father and mother joined together."
He, like other Stonehenge scholars, has also studied the stones at Avebury,
and has seen the suggestion of a similar division of male and female stones there.
Going further, Perks included diagrams in his paper, comparing the plan
of Stonehenge to the human vulva. Stonehenge's altar stone is at about the right location to symbolize the female clitoris,
the outer Trilithon circle corresponds to the labia majora, the inner circle to the labia minora, and the open center of Stonehenge
seem to correspond to the vaginal opening and birth canal.
Some archeologists have scoffed at the theory. They note that the builders
of Stonehenge could not have seen the monument from above, as Perks did, and that the monument was not constructed all at
once but was modified repeatedly over 1,500 years. Perks himself notes that, since Stonehenge was believed to have healing
powers, people were chipping away pieces of the stones to effect cures at least up until the 18th century. However,
he feels that Stonehenge was used by believers over all that time, and continued to be built up over the years to further
symbolize more specific characteristics as their beliefs evolved and changed.
Feminist author Cynthia Eller said that evidence does not support the notion
that human society was more female-centered thousands of years ago.''
As for the new theory, she observed wryly, ''Stonehenge is phallic in a
way you can't ignore.'' Still, she said, the Stonehenge story ''can't help but be good for the goddess movement."
That movement has gained force in recent years, as followers, many inspired
by feminist thinking, have sought an alternative to male-centered mainstream religion. Proponents of the goddess movement
say that millions of people across the world subscribe to a belief in female deities or to a belief that God can be seen as
both female and male.
Belief in goddesses takes a different form, with different names, depending
on the culture. The goddess movement, Eller said, is ''an effective way of getting at our preconceptions about God's maleness
and raising people's awareness of how the God we talk about now is very gendered, and very narrow as a result. It excludes
To capitalize on growing interest, tour companies have begun to organize
trips to goddess temples in Malta, Egypt, India, and elsewhere. In this context, the Stonehenge story created a considerable
Mara Lynn Keller, head of the California Institute of Integral Studies
in San Francisco's women's spirituality program, said yesterday that she believes Stonehenge ''represents not only the genitalia
of the Great Mother but her womb. The entry in and out of the womb was the way people celebrated their relationship to the
regeneration of life and tapped into those powers of the earth and the cosmos.''
Perks asserts that archaeology and history must rest on evidence, not speculation,
and admits that he offers no clear evidence. However, he believes that his proposal is cohesive and rests on four basic facts:
- The observed differences between the surfaces of pairs of stones
- The resemblance between the pattern of the stones and structures which
surround the opening of the birth canal
- The concept of the Earth Mother
- The widely claimed relationship between the stones and the changing seasons,
which find unity in the concepts of Earth Mother and Sun Father
He points to the fact that Stonehenge was not used for burials, although
it may have been used for funeral ceremonies. Only one body was buried at an unknown date within the sarsen circles, and a
second, probably from the Roman era, was buried long after the builders of Stonehenge passed into history. A third body found
in the outer ditch, though within the span of the latter part of construction, is of a young man who was shot in the back
with arrows, not apparently a ceremonial entombment.