The decline of Christianity in the Western world is not, contrary to the hopes of humanists and secular science fiction writers, leading to a new, enlightened age of atheism. It’s ushering in a return to the days of worshiping the fallen angels.
Witness the summer solstice, which drew a record 35,000 seekers to Stonehenge:
“It’s the most magical place on the planet,” said antique salesman Frank Somers, 43, dressed in the robes of his Druid faith. “Inside when you touch the stones you feel a warmth like you’re touching a tree, not a stone. There’s a genuine love, you feel called to it,” he said.
The prehistoric monument in southern England is the site of an annual night-long party — or religious ceremony, depending on perspective — marking the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
“You can feel the energy from your feet climb up your body,” said Diane Manuel, 50, a supply company director from Middlesbrough in northern England. “It’s like having heart palpitations.”
Solstice celebrations were a highlight of the pre-Christian calendar, and in many countries bonfires, maypole dances and courtship rituals linger on as holdovers from Europe’s pagan past.
Libby Davy, 40, an Australian living in Brighton, southern England, was attending the solstice for the first time with friends and her 8-year-old daughter. She wore sparkling dust on her face and wrapped a monkey doll around her neck as she embraced the festive mood.
“It’s kind of a pilgrimage,” she said. “As a sculptor, I can’t help being interested in the stones — they’re historic, spiritual — people went to a huge effort to put them here not anywhere else. Why here? And why this configuration? It’s fascinating.”
Gaisva Milinkeviciute, 30, a yoga instructor originally from Lithuania, came with two friends, who like many in the crowd, wore wreaths in their hair.
“This place actually gives people so much energy and thoughts, things that we kind of neglect in the daily lives and wish for,” Milinkeviciute said. “We can come here and make them come true.”
This weekend, oddly, is one of the few times a year that people are allowed close enough to touch the stones. So most of the rest of the year, the English government keeps people away to preserve the site, and then on the summer solstice, a pre-Christian (i.e., pagan) holiday, tens of thousands are allowed in to party.