Brooding over Salisbury Plain in England, stands one of the wonders of the Prehistoric world, the monument known as Stonehenge.
Various and wondrous theories, none of which has been complete, have been postulated to explain its existence. Probably the best known of these, and the one which is the least plausible, is that the monument was erected by the Druids. This theory is definitely not true. The stones were ancient many years before the First Druid set foot in England.
The Druid theory owes it prominence to the famous antiquary, John Aubrey, who advanced the idea in 1663. Dr. William Stuckley, in his report of 1740, gave the theory more credence. Add to these famous men's beliefs, the fact that a group, which calls itself the "Most Ancient Order of Druids", though it was established in 1781, performs various unauthentic ceremonies at the monument each midsummer day, and it is apparent that these theories would so long survive. Merely let a group of people make some claim, no matter how outlandish and extravagant, and there wil1 be someone who will readily believe it.
Freemasonry has, of course, been the target of a large number of these theorists. It is not necessary to mention the work of LePlongeon, nor Churchward, in which the claim was advanced that Freemasonry was the survival of the supposed "Lost Continent" of Mu. Neither should the Egyptian theories be dwelt upon wherein the Great Pyramid, from its orientation, and form the manner of its construction was supposed to be the seat of al1 arcane knowledge. The Druid theory, whether or not connected with Stonehenge, has been promulgated to explain the beginnings of the Masonic institution from the first century of its existence. Thomas Paine, though not himself a Mason, wrote a paper supposedly tracing the Masonic institution to a Druidical origin.
Winwood Reade in the "Veil of Isis", also tried to claim a Druidical basis for Freemasonry. In the European Magazine of February, 1792, George Drake, a Lieutenant of Marines, endeavored to advance an explanation which involved the similar sounds of words in the Celtic language and in modern English. He endeavored to convince his readers that the word Mason was derived from the goddess Maia and the "On", the supposed Celtic for man, where the word Maia's-on meant men of the May. W. J. Hughan gave this explanation short shrift. which it deserved. It is of interest, though, to note that the similarity of word sounds in various languages has been used by enthusiastic, though ignorant, brethren to endeavor to explain Masonic origins.
Apparently many of our brethren cannot bear to belong to an organization which originated with a group of medieval stone workers, and must invent these outlandish explanations to give some type of mystic origin to the institution. Certainly no coincidence is too incredulous,
nor any similarity too far-fetched, to give them any pause in their efforts. Merely let two stones get piled together, one on another, and some member of our fraternity will make the assertion that it must have been done by operative Masons. These same brethren would have us believe that Freemasonry is some type of ancient, arcane wisdom inherited from such semi-mystical places as Atlantis, Lemuria, or Mu.
Recently our intelligence has been assailed by a spate of stories in the Masonic press, not only giving a Druidical origin to the Masonic institution, but purporting to prove that, on the upright sarsen stones at Stonehenge, a number of marks, allegedly made by operative Masons, appear.
The only real Masonic research which has been done into the supposed connection between the Druids and Stonehenge, though it is implausible, was done by Brothers Dudley Wright and Sir Henry Lovegrove, in AQC, Vol. 15. These brethren go far afield and reintroduce the supposed ten lost tribes of Israel, etc., a subject on which far too many Masonic theories have been founded.
Actually the only Masonic connection which we have found with these stones occurs in an investigation made by Inigo Jones, early in the 17th century, in which he looked at the stones as an architect and made some well reasoned and inevitably wrong conclusions. Jones, however, whose name we preserve on the Inigo Jones manuscript, did not believe in the Druid theory. His sympathies were with the Romans: who, he stated, had undoubtedly built the structure. Since Stonehenge had first been builded many years before Rome rose on the seven hills, we must regretfully abandon Jones' theory with the others.
Before entirely leaving the theories, a closer look should be taken at the most modern one. This one was postulated in 1964 by Gerald S. Hawkins, and published in 1965 as "Stonehenge Decoded". In the book Hawkins endeavors to prove that Stonehenge, though built approximately 1600 B.C., was a primitive astronomical observatory. Whether or not Mr. Hawkins' conclusions are correct, and it would appear that he has used only the evidence which is favorable to his theory, his approach is at least a scientific, hard-headed, realistic one.
The connections with the Masonic publications at Stonehenge first appeared in 1953. In that year there were discovered carvings of some bronze axe heads as well as a Mynacean dagger carving. Our theorists immediately came up with the explanation that these were marks of pre-historic stonemasons, and that, not only these, but a number of other Masons' marks were to be found on the stones of Stonehenge.
Having seen too many of these supposed proofs of the antiquity of Masonry turn out to be nothing but dreams, I determined to investigate these marks fully.
Not having the time nor the money to travel to Salisbury Plains to undertake the type of investigation which would have to be made, I enlisted the aid of a friend, Anthony Chaffe of Oxford, England. Tony, while not a member of the Masonic fraternity, is a thorough and conscientious researcher. Tony visited the monuments, looked them over closely, took rubbings of all the marks on the upright stones, and examined the entire area closely. Upon checking with Corpus Christi college, he was allowed to examine their fourteenth century manuscript which contains the oldest known drawing of Stonehenge as well as a number of other exhibits concerning the monument. He also forwarded a letter to me from Corpus Christi college which states that, within the limits of believability, there are "no Masons' marks on the drawings". nor is these any record of any in the archives of the college.
Tony further went to the ministry of public works, and to the ministry of buildings and works. They advise that they have had the larger stones apart during reconstruction of the monument to keep it in its original state, and that they found nothing but the markings of axes and the bronze dagger, other than some graffiti which dates from the early fourteenth century. As far as significant markings, the bronze axes and the dagger are the only marks on the sarsen stones. Dating these markings is difficult; but though the erection of Stonehenge was done in three different periods, a good beginning for the first markings would be approximately 1800 B.C.
Perhaps the axe heads were of the axe cult of ancient Greece, perhaps there was some other reason for their being carved there, such as a group of symbolic weaponry by a Wessex chieftain. The only thing of which we can be certain is that these axes were not carved in the sarsens by any forerunners of speculative Freemasonry.
With this evidence, and with the assistance of the various agencies of Her Majesty's government, we are forced to the conclusion that the supposed Masons' marks on the pillars of Stonehenge, like many another would-be Masonic symbol, are the products of the imagination of some enthusiastic Masons who have not taken the time nor the trouble to investigate the phenomena about which they are writing. Stonehenge stands dark and gloomy on Salisbury Plain. Perhaps it was a temple, perhaps some other public building, perhaps even an observatory, as Mr. Hawkins claims. One thing of which we can be certain that it is not, is a structure erected by Operative Freemasons, complete with Masonic symbols and with Masons' marks. No matter how we would like to use this monument to establish a great antiquity for our Order, the Masons marks simply do not appear there.