I made friends with psytrance ravers, druids and wolf-spirits.
“It’s all about a magnetic shift in the Earth’s polarity,” he breathed at me.
No matter where he seemed to be looking, Ross’s eyes were staring at something far beyond anything extant in our reality. His whiskey breath, vapourised into clouds in the cold night air, spoke to me of distant worlds, unseen star-grids locked together by some ancient logic at least as old as God himself.
He’d also been holding the joint far too long. From the looks of things, he was also bumming it.
“It will upset everything," he continued, referring back to the prophesied magnetic shift in the Earth's polarity that, at some point tonight or early tomorrow morning, was going to bring about the demise of our home planet. "The North Pole and the South Pole will switch, and the magnetic rays will be projected from the sun.”
He must have forgotten he’s still holding it.
Ross, self-described "spiritual loose cannon".
“So if you reverse the polarity from north to south, then the field of protection is weakened.”
When will your field of protection weaken? When are you going to pass that joint?
“The world will start ending at some point from now until midnight tomorrow. That’s my theory. Whether it will happen at six in the morning or midnight tomorrow, we’ll see.”
“Well, that gives us three hours,” I responded. “Are you gonna pass that before we all die?”
Ross described his spiritual beliefs as “loose cannon”, but it was the same regurgitation of Maurice Cotterel’s book Future Science that I’d heard from the other New Agers gathered at Stonehenge to watch the world end that night. He served a muddled cocktail of pseudoscience, ancient philosophy and Dan-Brown-esque conspiracy theory in a schizotypal glass with psychedelic garnish.
It was the last day of the 12th b’ak’tun of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, moments before the planet Nibiru smashed into Earth, hours before a shift in the global collective consciousness brought about the end of capitalism, seconds before the reputation of thousands of astrologers was to come to an abrupt end, and seemingly aeons before Ross was going to pass that fucking joint. It was also the Winter Solstice, marking the beginning of the new Pagan calendar, and we were at Stonehenge with 5,000 other people who were just as weird as us or weirder, waiting for the police to let us in so we could welcome whatever apocalypse, revolution, or spiritual awakening that the universe had in store.
A large police presence made sure we didn’t go near the stones before the allotted hours. Timetables are important in apocalypse situations.
The fact that the night ahead promised both a Winter Solstice and an apocalypse brought out a far more eclectic crowd than I'd expected. People dressed like San Fran Gandalfs mingled with people who looked like they probably still had their V Festival wristbands on beneath their North Face jackets.
We’re only allowed to trample this archaeologically significant site at all due to a legal battle spearheaded by a reincarnated King Arthur. Despite that, English Heritage restricts access to the hours of 6.30 to 11 in the morning, which meant we had all night to wait around listening to people's unique takes on the end of the world. Ross represented the drunken New Age literalist view, but what about everyone else?
Guns ‘n’ Bombs, UFOlogist.
We found this guy in a dark corner by himself, typing furiously into a laptop whilst speaking into a headset.
“What’s your name,” I asked.
“Guns ‘n’ Bombs,” he replied.
“Guns ‘n’ Bombs is your name?”
Guns ‘n’ Bombs said he was a citizen journalist, transmitting information to his “tribe,” a group of like-minded individuals who believe in sustainable energy and dabble in UFOlogy.
“That laptop looks like it’s built to survive an apocalypse,” I said.
“It’s military spec,” he grunted.
Unlike Ross, though, Guns ‘n’ Bombs didn’t think the world would end that day.
“There may well be huge catastrophes around the planet and amazing weather phenomena. The solar system will enter the central galactic plane of the Milky Way. Earth’s polarity will shift, as may well human consciousness – for the better. This is some kind of end, in a sense.”
Like Ross, he’s talking about geomagnetic reversal. It’s a real phenomenon, but it hasn’t happened for 780,000 years, and it’s difficult to predict when it will happen again. Even if it did, it would probably just mean our compasses would stop working. Unlike Ross, though, for Guns ‘n’ Bombs it meant a positive shift in the human psyche.
“We’re entering a more mutually beneficial age where women and men are on an equal footing. The psychopaths that are running the system right now are being ousted by companies like WikiLeaks.”
Susan Morie, Guardian, left, and The Reverend Grimear, Ásatrú pagan.
Others were there for purely spiritual reasons. Susan was a “Guardian” and a swordsmith. Aside from her chieftain Hawkwind, who was too ill to make it, she was the last of her people. Her friend, The Reverend Grimear, was of the Ásatrú tradition, a brand of Germanic neo-paganism.
“This is a very, very special solstice,” said the Reverend. “It hasn’t been seen for 25,800 years. It’s tied in with the Mayan Calendar, which was given to the Mayans by the Atlantians.”
“Does it represent the end of the world?” I asked.
“Certainly not. The end of an era. We’re now entering the Age of Aquarius. The only people who might end the world are Obama and all them.”
“It’s also the beginning of the new pagan year, so we’re here to greet Lord Sun as he starts his new cycle,” Susan chimed in.
Caras, wolf-spirit of the Eagle Tribe.
I also met Caras, whose name is “held by one person and one person alone, each generation for over 3000 years”. Confusingly, he was a wolf-spirit, despite being the leader of the Eagle Tribe, and also led an ancient band of Cornish warriors whose name “cannot be spelled in any modern tongue”, but sounds like “Keer-nuh-kai”. He also claimed to be the CEO of the Institute of Anthropic Ecology (which doesn’t exist) and an expert in rain-dances as well as fire-dances.
I guess this is what happens when your generation is too old for World of Warcraft. You make your own staff, robe and backstory and head down to Stonehenge to meet all the other wizards and warriors. I even heard that Merlin was in the crowd somewhere, but I couldn’t find him. +13 Obsolescence, perhaps?
When I asked him about the end of the world, all Caras said was “every moment is both an end and a beginning, is it not?” I left him debating JRR Tolkien’s influence on Runic scripts with another druid. Classic neo-pagan banter.
From left to right: Derek, 45, Rowena, 2, Maria, 36, unknown baby and mother, Macy, 10.
There were a surprising number of families in attendance as well. I met a really, really kind couple and their kids who were of the Norse pagan tradition, believing in gods like Odin and Thor.
“The Mayan Civilisation was terribly advanced and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had predicted a shift in the collective consciousness whereby people will wake up to the fact that capitalism and the way we run our planet isn’t working,” said Derek, the father.
Of course, no quasi-spiritual New Age vichyssoise would be complete without the psytrance kids. I met them outside an apocalypse barge that was blasting Goa-psy like there was no tomorrow. Except there really was no tomorrow, so there was also free ket.
“What do you think about the end of the world?” I asked one of them, named Benny.
“I’m quite happy because I thought it was gonna happen but obviously it’s not gonna happen,” he replied. "I'm open-minded and I'm here to learn."
Charles Jeffrey, far right, "banana conspiracy theorist".
And then there was this guy.
“I’ve seen the same trucks here that I have at the source in Latin America. All the bananas are coming from the same source,” he said.
We couldn’t get him to leave our campsite, so we thought we may as well indulge him.
“Is there someone behind all this?”
“Pratt’s Bananas. They shift a lot of shit. I’ve seen their trucks. They’re actually coming to the coast every week with just fuel.”
I didn't really get what he was saying, but he seemed pretty excited about it.
It was reaching sunrise, and people began to muster at the entrance to Stonehenge. Drums were beating and horns were sounding. Shit was getting real. I didn’t know if I was excited for the new b’ak’tun or the end of capitalism but the tribal vibe was infectious and I was soon chanting “Let us in!” along with everyone else.
All of a sudden the gates opened, and we all charged for the stones. Why? Who knows! Who even knows what the fuck the stones are there for in the first place? I was so confused by this point. Fuck the police! Yay, Odin! Let’s go climb some ancient stones!
And for a moment, as I brandished my dictaphone and marched brazenly toward the potential apocalypse, to the tempo of an antler-clad shaman’s battle drum, I actually felt a bit giddy. Was I participating in the closest contemporary approximation of a woodland war-band’s berserker charge? Or was the ket creeping up my spine? Fucking DRUIDS, man!
Archdruid Rollo Maughling, left.
Archdruid Rollo Maughling, leader of all the druids in England and 1960s counter-culture icon, led the ceremonies. By this point it became clear that no one really knew what was going on or what was supposed to happen, but “fuck organised religion, it’s all about spirituality”. Somehow I knew that 6,000 years ago the druids were doing the same shit. Grab a drum, grab some flowers or a stick or something nature-y, and “Just, like, ground yourself, man.”
Old Rollo had us all go “aahhhhhh” in unison and I admit it sounded real mystical. He asked for three things in his obviously improvised sermon: World Peace, an end to the war in Syria and, strangely, an end to the conditions set forth at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference which set up the International Monetary Fund. This was met with chants of: “Take the power back, take the planet back!”
And finally, as the sun rose, everyone reflexively exposed their frigid palms to the warming sunrise. I guess it just seemed like the spiritual thing to do. Meanwhile Rollo was back at the stones, proclaiming the official end of an era, a shift in our collective consciousness, and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
And then this rag-golem erupted from nowhere and danced a flamboyant jig with an accordion hidden under his spirit-tassles.
You have to wonder, what about all the people like myself who are already left-wing and environmentalist? Do we simply not sense the shift in the collective consciousness? Or do we become right-wing? Come to think of it, I have become slightly more laissez-faire since the 21st of December.
When King Arthur started knighting the cyberpunks, I knew I was witnessing the greatest counter-culture medley the world has ever known.
Throughout my time at Stonehenge I had met hippies, Norse gods, ancient kings, bygone warriors, conspiracy theorists, senile Druids, schizophrenics, witches, wizards, demons, hackers, viking families, trance-heads, and even a guy who thought he was a squirrel in human form. Is atheism passé for the left now? Is it time to define a new spirituality for ourselves – one that dances over the line of true belief and metaphor? What if we agreed to harness this prediction and let the proclaimers be right for once? The world may not have ended, but with Obama’s re-election it isn’t hard to see this as a shift in consciousness. And even if that doesn’t really mean anything, we may as well act like it does.
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