Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween: Behind the Mask

She’s got a date at midnight, with Nosferatu.
Oh baby, Lily Munster, ain’t got nothing on you.
--Black No. 1, Type O Negative
Halloween is probably my favorite holiday.  I’m a fan of horror movies, outrageous costumes, sinister decor, and black cats.  In the eyes of some groups, this means I am headed for Hell.
Thankfully, I won’t be alone--Americans spend six billion dollars on this holiday every year.  But is Halloween really a Satanic holiday?  Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, did declare Halloween as a holiday to be celebrated by Satanists.  But Halloween had its roots established long before LaVey staked his claim in 1969.

Halloween has been traditionally linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain.  October 31st represented the Celtic version of New Year’s Eve. The word “samhain” is thought to mean “season’s end.”  It was the time of year that marked the transition from the fertile summer to the barren winter--the period when the abundance of harvest could soon be replaced by the threat of starvation.  It was a time when life and death were thinly separated.  
The Celts thought spirits of the dead could walk free on the Samhain, mingling with the living.  Celtic priests believed it was the best time to communicate with lost ancestors and to divine the future.
The Celts protected themselves from harm by wearing masks to frighten away more malicious spirits.  They would wear the skins of animals and offer gifts of food to the spirits to keep them happy.  Another tradition included extinguishing all the fires in their villages except for a roaring bonfire at the Samhain festival, in which they burned demon effigies and animal sacrifices to appease the gods.  At the end of the festival, each participant would re-light their home hearth with an ember of the sacred bonfire to ensure success in the new year.  It’s claimed they carried these embers in a carved gourd or turnip.  The carvings were meant to scare away evil spirits as the Celts returned home in the dark. 
Bettin Arnold, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in the Center for Celtic Studies, confirms the traditions of costuming and treat exchange.  She says male Celtic youth often masqueraded as evil spirits during Samhain, demanding food in exchange for good behavior.  They also occasionally performed pranks and dressed as women, which may be the first recorded existence of drag queens.
RuPaul channels his inner Celt.
By 43 A.D., the Celtic territory had been conquered by the Roman Empire.  The Romans incorporated Samhain traditions with the Lemuria, the Parentalia, and the Feralia, Roman ceremonies involving the rites of the dead.  Another fusion occurred with autumn harvest festivals and the Roman worship of Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.  Pomona’s festival was a celebration of fertility and procreation, and often young women received prophesies about their future husbands during the festivities.  Pomona’s symbol was an apple, and bobbing for apples was initially a divination activity to determine who would marry first.  Sleeping with the apple under a pillow was thought to bring dreams of a future mate.  This apple link is also sometimes given the credit for the association of the pentagram with pagan belief--if you cut an apple at its equator, it forms a familiar shape.
By the 700s A.D., Christianity was booming.  Pagan holidays were slowly being assimilated into the new rising beliefs.  Pope Gregory III did some strategic rebranding by renaming an existing holiday based on the consecration of the Roman Pantheon.  He created All Saints Day, a.k.a. All Hallows Day, to commemorate those who attained the vision of Heaven, thereby honoring all saints and martyrs.  The Pope then rescheduled the holiday for November first.  Samhain the pagan holiday became All Hallows Evening.  Just a few portmanteaus later came Hallows E’ening---then Hallowe’en---and finally, Halloween.
Many of the pagan traditions continued, albeit in different ways.  For instance, during the holiday, the poor would go to the doors of the rich, asking for food and drink in return for prayers for dead saints.  These were called “threshold encounters,” and could be considered a form of trick or treating.
Trick or treat.
In colonial New England, the visibility of Halloween diminished due to Protestant influence.  But as different ethnic cultures immigrated to America, a distinct American Halloween tradition was born that was less about spirits and more about social connection.  Festivals celebrating community and the harvest were common, and often included fortune telling, dancing, and stories told around a bonfire.  Halloween also was one of the biggest singles nights in colonial history.  Women thought sugary confections induced dreams of their future husbands.  Throwing acorns representing suitors in a fire on Halloween night also served a similar purpose--the acorn surviving the flame was the lucky guy.  Finally, some Halloween parties involved throwing apple peels on the floor to create the initials of the future Mr. Right.  Fun times.

To think of all the money wasted on when all you need is a Granny Smith.  
The mid 1800s marked Halloween’s emergence as an official holiday.  This is partly due to the mass influx of Irish immigrants during the potato famine.  They brought with them Celtic traditions and also repurposed the colonial pumpkin.

The Irish Halloween myth of Stingy Jack is about a vile drunkard who met the devil and trapped him in a tree.  In exchange for the Devil’s promise to never take his soul to Hell, Jack let old red and horny go.  Unfortunately, when Jack did die, God didn’t want his soul.  Jack moseyed to Hell, but the Devil kept his promise, forcing Jack to roam the earth as a spirit forever.  As Jack left the gates of the damned, the Devil tossed him a chunk of hellfire which Jack put in a turnip to light his way in the darkness.
The Jack Nicholson O'Lantern
The Irish burned candles in turnips to keep Jack--and any other spirits roaming in purgatory--at bay.  Pumpkins were plentiful in America and soon replaced turnips as the preferred medium for Jack O’Lanterns.  Because have you ever tried to carve a turnip?
A traditional carved turnip.  Leaves a bit to be desired.
Over the years, Americans have continued to make Halloween a more “family friendly” -- i.e. commercial -- holiday.  During the post WWI years, less emphasis was placed on the superstitions and religious overtones and instead focused on the merriment and mischief of the holiday.  Trick or treating was revived as a way to have an inexpensive community celebration for children.   Hallmark issued the first Halloween cards in the 1920s.  Haunted houses sprang up, likely influenced by the handed down musings of colonial and immigrant storytellers.  They took inspiration from classical myths, folklore and literature like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, published in 1818.  The first horror films started around 1920, with 1922's Nosferatu as the most recognized.  

The average American will spend $72.31 on decor, candy and costumes for Halloween this year.  According to National Geographic, the top ten adult costumes for 2011 are:

1.   Witch
2.   Pirate
3.   Vampire
4.   Zombie
5.   Batman character
6.   Cat
7.   Vixen
8.   Ghost
9.   Nurse
10. Scary mask

Michael Myers and his scary mask.
The most popular pet costumes are pumpkins and devils.

I told you I wanted to be a fairy princess!
Part of the appeal of Halloween is the chance to be frightened.  Some humans enjoy being scared--and not just after the threat is removed.  A study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggested that when fearful stimuli is presented in a controlled environment and with psychologic detachment, positive feelings can actually accompany fearfulness.
Unfortunately, as with everything in our world these days, real threats do haunt modern Halloween.  Most true Halloween horrors tend to be related to those who use the holiday as a convenient cover for misdeeds.  One popular Halloween urban legend is the tainted candy story.  Professor of Sociology Joel Best investigated this legend, reviewing 78 cases of alleged Halloween candy poisoning.  He could find no substantiated reports of children injured by randomly given tainted candy.  Most of the cases involved those using the myth for their own evil agenda.  One of the most horrendous crimes was that of Ronald O’Bryan, who killed his 8 year old son with a lethal dose of cyanide in a Pixy Stick and then claimed the candy was tainted.  He did it for the insurance money, and was later executed in 1984.
The ritual mutilation of black cats is also a sick and sad Halloween urban legend.  According to Celtic belief, black cats could hold a reincarnated soul.  They were occasionally used in animal sacrifice for that reason.  Black cats weren’t associated with evil until the Middle Ages, when they became the witch’s familiar.  Sadly, there are documented acts of animal violence on Halloween, but most reports reveal they are perpetrated by mentally disturbed people looking to frighten others,  and not by ritualistic cults.  Some animal adoption agencies still tighten their adoption policies during the season.
Don't be cruel to animals.
The commercial cleavage-baring Halloween conglomerate of the 21st century is a far cry from what the ancients probably imagined as a harvest festival.  However, I feel like the underlying thread may still be there underneath the layer of fake blood and boobs:

     Let’s commune with our neighbors, exorcise our fear of the strange and unknown, and create a celebration of the cycle of life.  

     Happy Halloween, everyone!
I hope you like this Sunday series on myths and folklore.  If there is any subject you’d like me to investigate the origins and myths behind, please leave it in the comments and I will address it in a future Sunday mythbusters!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Neighbors From Hell--Third Campaigner Challenge

And as hard as they would try, they’d hurt to make you cry.
But you never cried to them, just to your soul.
--Small Town Boy, Bronski Beat

I’m getting my offering for Rachael Harrie’s Third Campaigner Challenge in right at the wire.  For this one, we had to come up with a 300 word short story involving a character at the beach in the morning, a foul smell, a sense of boredom, and a surprise ending.  This was a challenge in the five senses, with focus on showing, not telling.  Finally, just for fun, you could also include the pseudo-words tacise, wastopaneer, and synbatec.  I have to admit, this one was the hardest of all.  Many thanks to Rach and all the campaigners, judges, and helpers that have made this such an amazing opportunity to meet new folks in the writerly blogosphere.  You guys rock!

Neighbors from Hell

The summer crowds are back in Tacise.  Tanned and toned collegiates with the vapid stares of youth, looking for a no-strings-attached hookup.

The beach house next door to mine is a rental.  Three southern gents moved in for the season with Confederate flags, six packs of Synbatec, and Waylon Jennings on the stereo.  Every morning those wastopaneers have interrupted my sleep with the reverb of Classic Country bass.

But today, a sliver of pink sunrise spills under the blinds in my beachfront bedroom, accompanied by nothing but glorious silence.

Yawning, I cat-stretch, enjoying the subtle burn of overused muscles.  My mouth is tacky and hot, a rancid stench wreathing my head.  I slide my tongue across my teeth, sampling their copper-penny tang.

My gaze drops to the bed, black satin a sharp contrast to the pale sinewy leg partly wrapped in the sheets.  I nonchalantly trace the sharp line of his hip, the broad expanse of his chest smooth like an Abercrombie model.  Last night, his face was all hard, arrogant lines when I made my proposition.  Now his swollen lips and golden eyelashes fanned against his cheeks look cherubic.

Pushing up on my hands, I acknowledge another arm wrapped around my waist, dark hair swirling like spiderwebs against white skin.  This one’s face is hidden beneath a cowboy hat, but I can still recall his aquiline nose and dark eyes, full of anticipation and greed when we started.

He became quite a giving lover.

At the foot of the bed, the third one moans softly. Chestnut hair tumbles past his shoulders, one lank strand falling right beside the soft pulse in his neck.  Slower than it was last night, but still strong.

My stomach twists, hungry again.  There are risks to being a noisy neighbor.

Thought this one fit nicely into the Halloween season.  Hope you enjoyed it.  I actually missed the deadline by 15 minutes--dang my confusion with time zones, anyway!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unlucky Thirteen

No dawn, no day.  I’m always in this twilight.
--Cosmic Love, Florence and the Machine

Thirteen.  The age when you are officially a teenager--and boys can have a Bar Mitzvah.  Perhaps that transition to adulthood explains why the number inspires fear.  If you’re in the mood for a tongue twister, there’s even a name for it:  triskaidekaphobia.  Not linguistically laborious enough for you?  How about paraskevidekatriaphobia?  That’s the fear of Friday the 13th, and according to a Gallup poll from 1990, 9% of us have the diagnosis.
Why does this number incite such apprehension? 
In the earliest cultures, thirteen actually represented a lucky number. 
Prehistoric goddess worshippers used the number thirteen to represent femininity.  The Earth Mother of Laussel, a 27,000-year-old limestone carving, depicts a female figure holding a crescent-shaped horn with thirteen notches.  It has been asserted that these marks represent the number of “moon cycles”, i.e. menstrual cycles, in a year.  If you’re a math type, that’s 28 days X 13 months = 364 days. 
The Earth Mother of Laussel
The true lunar calendar, however, only has a 13th month in certain years given subtle alterations of the moon’s cycle.  Still, there are those who believe the thirteen month calendar is the most suitable for timekeeping.  In his book Campaign for the New Time, Dr. Jose Arguelles, a New Age spiritualist who founded the Planet Art Network and the Foundation for the Law of Time, supported the use of a thirteen month calendar: 
     "If we choose the 13 Moon Calendar, the species will operate by a 28-day cycle which is the female biological cycle. . .We will find that this tool synchronizes the lunar and other world calendars according to a mathematical harmony previously unknown. . . A new synchronic order of human life will unify the planet.”  

I’m not sure if world peace will occur, but at least we may get holidays for PMS.

The goddess worshippers were not alone in their homage to thirteen.  To the ancient Egyptians, thirteen was a stage of spiritual ascension--twelve stages occurred during life, and the 13th represented the afterlife. 
In Judaism, God has thirteen attributes of mercy, reminding his followers that repentance is always possible.  The Magi even visited Jesus on his thirteenth day of life.
So how did thirteen meet its run of bad luck?
Some believe that as cultures turned more patriarchal and less pagan, the idea of following a cycle based on the female biological system and the moon was not as desirable as one based on the more "masculine" solar year.  Others think that people misinterpreted thirteen’s role in the afterlife to mean the concrete idea of death.  This confusion can also be applied to the tarot, in which the thirteenth card represents Death as well--but typically not in physical terms. 
Covens of witches were said to have thirteen members, reflecting goddess and moon worship.  As fear of the occult and pagan religions spread during the 14th and 15th centuries, ideas about the bad mojo of thirteen did, too.    
"Vanity Fair says these hats are the next big thing for covens everywhere."
Lest you think fear of thirteen reflects fear of women and witchcraft, some claim the execution of the Knights Templar by King Phillip IV of France on October 13, 1307 marked the number as evil--oh, and BTW, it was a Friday, too. 
Norse myth connects the fear to a banquet at Valhalla celebrating the invulnerability of one of their favorite sons, Baldur, God of Light and Joy.  Loki, God of Mischief, took offense at not being invited.  He crashed the party as the 13th guest and then tricked Baldur’s brother Hod, the blind God of Darkness, to attack Baldur with a piece of mistletoe--the one thing that could kill him.  Baldur died and with that, the world started its plunge towards Ragnarok, the great battle of the Gods and destruction of earth as we know it.  
Not quite such an innocuous tradition when you think of Baldur.
Similar to the Norse myth is the Christian belief linking thirteen to the Last Supper, where Jesus supposedly sat in the 13th seat and Judas, his betrayer, was the 13th and final guest.  In fact, the French are so opposed to having a 13 person dinner party that you can hire a quatorzieme, a fourteenth guest, from an agency to attend for a more aethestically pleasing soiree.
Contractors often avoid putting a thirteenth floor in buildings (or at least labeling it thirteen).  An internal review by Otis Elevators showed that up to 85% of buildings that utilize their elevators do not have a thirteenth floor.  It’s often renamed as a subfloor, or skipped entirely.  Hospitals often do not have a thirteenth operating suite or a thirteenth floor, believing it spares patients with thirteen phobia undue stress.  Fiction has a heyday with the idea of a hidden thirteenth floor where something sinister occurs--there was a 1999 film by that name, and reference to a thirteenth floor in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  
Other infamous thirteens include the ill-fated moon mission of Apollo 13 in 1970.  It launched at 1313 hours and the oxygen tank explosion occurred on April 13th.  If you want statistics, a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1993 compared traffic volume and accidents on two different days--Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th.  It showed that although volume was significantly less on the 13th, there were still more accidents on that unlucky day.  
Gratuitous picture of Olivia Wilde, aka Thirteen on House.
So if you weren’t triskaidekaphobic already, all of this may have you thinking twice before putting a downpayment on that house on 1313 Mockingbird Lane.  But before you get too down on the number 13, remember this--there were thirteen original American colonies and thirteen people signed the Declaration of Independence. There are thirteen stripes on the American flag.

Moreover, if you pull a dollar bill out of your pocket, look at how many stairs there are on the pyramid.  How many leaves on the olive branch the eagle is holding.  How many stars are above the eagle, and how many arrows it holds.  Some go as far as to point out there are thirteen letters in E Pluribus Unum.  So, maybe thirteen isn’t all bad--unless money really is the root of all evil.

Have a wonderful Sunday.  And a special shout out to my friend Lydia Kang who landed a publishing deal this week with her awesome YA novel.  I can't wait to see it on the shelves!

Also, if I'm not following your blog but you're following me, let me know.  I like to know who's out there and keep in touch.  That is assuming you want me to find your blog.  If not, then never mind.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's All in the Interpretation

If I gave you pretty enough words
Could you paint a picture of us that works?
An emphasis on function rather than design.
--Lip Gloss and Black, Atreyu
I took my medical boards on Monday.  I spent six hours in a cubicle staring at a computer screen, reading vignettes about patients and then choosing the right (I hope) answer.  
In the eyes of the American Board of Internal Medicine, nothing was open to interpretation.  It all boiled down to 180 multiple choice questions determining my worth as a physician. 
When all else failed, I picked “C”.
Some claim writing is just like that multiple choice test.  They say for all things literary, there's one--and only one--correct answer.  These writing pedagogues say there’s one way to do a plot arc.  One type of successful protagonist.  One acceptable villain.  One appropriate setting.  Every story has been told before, so just play it safe and escape the big red check mark.  Your worth as a writer depends on picking the right answer and following the right formula
But what happens when both “A” and “C” make sense?  

The formula may provide the story a backbone, but the author’s interpretation is what makes it run, jump, and fly.  It's the unique twist that makes an old plot into a new story.  
Formulas are for textbooks.  Writing is for those who approach life without all the right answers.   
Here are just a few questions that are open for interpretation:

1.  Your protagonist is stranded on a deserted island with two attractive colleagues, Vlad and Joe.  Upon learning that Vlad is a vampire, does she:
A.  Fall for Joe, who has a solid job, IRA, and is emotionally mature
B.  Fall for Vlad, who is dead, hogs the sunscreen, and has a thing for 17-year old girls
C.  Cut herself on a palm frond, causing Vlad to go chupacabra on her jugular
D.  Make a coconut neck guard using a tampon and a bobby pin 
E.  Call the elite Navy Seal team she secretly works for to pick them up in the invisible jet

2.  Your main character has just walked in on her husband and her best friend in flagrante delicto.  Does she:
A.  Throw a vase at her husband, pull off her wedding ring, and cry
B.  Say something disparaging about fake breasts, then set fire to the house
C.  Shift into a were-tiger, and eat them both
D.  Become a vigilante private investigator with a penchant for donuts
E.  Join in

3.  You are 168 pages into your epic fantasy novel.  Your villain has finally captured the protagonist at a moment of weakness.  Does he:
A.  Kill him
B.  Pontificate on the reasons he is evil, and then go get a latte, giving the protagonist time to escape
C.  Give the job of killing the protagonist to his two inept sidekicks because LOTR is coming on cable later
D.  Challenge him to a winner-take-all game of Boggle
E.  Remind the protagonist of his special secret warrior escape power that only works if he truly believes in magic and unicorns

4.  Your main character, a cynical detective with a chip on his shoulder, is driving to work.  He is:
A.  Drunk on tequila at 9 a.m.
B.  Thinking about a prostitute he used to know
C.  Contemplating his volatile relationship with his father while arching one brow and listening to Phil Collins
D.  Petting a three legged dog named Mutt found down at the docks
E.  About to stumble across a murder scene involving a dwarf and a former Dominatrix
Happy Wednesday!!  And if you're in the mood for an excellent example of the power of interpretation, check out what these guys did with a Guns N' Roses song.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seven Things I Need to Get in the Mood

If man is five, if man is five, if man is five
then the devil is six, then the devil is six, then the devil is six
and if the devil is six
then god is seven.
--This Monkey's Gone to Heaven, The Pixies
I am so grateful to all of the people I have met in the short time I have been blogging.  I truly have never been associated with a more supportive group, and the fact that some of you have taken the time to consider me worthy for these lovely awards just makes me all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside!

As part of the awards, I am challenged to give the blogosphere seven tidbits about life as I know it.  As I thought about this, I found myself thinking, why seven?  What is the writerly significance of that number anyway?
Religious texts are full of sevens, as is mythology.  There’s seven days of creation, corresponding to our days of the week.  There are seven Archangels and seven Princes of Hell.  Seven years of feast--and seven years of famine.  Seven chakras.  Seven deadly sins--and seven virtues.  The Menorah has seven branches.  The Irish mythologic hero Cuchulainn is associated with sevens (boyfriend had seven fingers and seven toes.  Finding shoes was a bitch).  Eastern Europeans believe seventh sons of seventh sons are capable of anything from clairvoyance to vampirism.
Historically there were Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and seven emperors of Rome.  In medicine, we have seven cervical vertebrae (them's the neck bones.  Mmm, crunchy).  In music, there are seven notes on the major scale.  There are seven continents.  Seven colors in a rainbow. Seven celestial bodies can be seen from earth with the naked eye.  
Pop culture is filled with sevens as well.  Snow White has her Seven Dwarves.  There are Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  Who can forget 007?  And the Seven Year Itch?  And if that’s not enough, read all about The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  If you need a pick-me-up, go to the 7-11 and buy a 7-up.  The list just keeps going.
Obviously, this prime number inspires and enlightens.  So here goes my homage to seven:
The Seven Things I Need to Get in the Mood

1.  A quiet house with the munchkins barricaded in their rooms tucked securely in their own beds.
2.  A long hot shower followed by copious amounts of lotions and potions so I smell like a vanilla cookie, preserved for all eternity. 
3.  The soft strains of the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack playing on the stereo (and the mental image of Daniel Day Lewis in a loin cloth in the back of my mind).
4.  Enough candles to make my freshly exfoliated skin look luminescent, but not so many that if I fall asleep the house will burn down.
5.  No bra.  Sometimes no undies, depends on where I’m at with the laundry week cycle.
6.  A soft, malleable pillow for butt support.
7.  A big glass of red wine.
Harry Potter said seven was the most powerful magical number, and I completely agree.  After my ritual of sevens, this is where the magic happens.

Don't tell me you were imagining something more on the Sealy Posturepedic side?

When the ritual of seven is complete, I’m in the mood to WRITE, of course!

On another happy note, I am participating in the Pay It Forward Blogfest today, set up by Matthew MacNish at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment with some help from Alex J. Cavanaugh.  The idea was to name three blogs that you think are swell and get them out there for others to appreciate, too.  I chose three that make me laugh, because that's the only way I get through the day sometimes. 
A final word--I am taking my medical boards on Monday, so there will be no Sunday Mythbusters this week.  I’ll be back with a post on October 23rd.
Have a beautiful weekend!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stonehenge: a darn big calendar that doesn't look anything like lady parts.

Though he's wild and he's bad
And sometimes just plain mad.
I need him to keep me satisfied.
--Misguided Angel, Cowboy Junkies
I watched This Is Spinal Tap a few nights ago, which gave me the idea for this Sunday’s Mythbusters.  If you are not familiar with the Rob Reiner mockumentary, there’s a scene based on the true story of Black Sabbath (sans Ozzy Osbourne) using a set inspired by Stonehenge.  There were some issues with the measurements, and a parody of microlithic proportion was born.  Go to 2:12 to see what I mean.

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument found in Southern England about 90 miles west of London on the Salisbury plain.  The site was used for ritual as early as 7000 B.C., although construction of Stonehenge as we know it did not start until around 3100 B.C.  It has been proposed that the axis of the monument is based around the midsummer solstice sunrise, although recently others have suggested the opposite. 
Stonehenge today.

Aerial view showing the surrounding embankment and ditch.
There are believed to be three distinct phases of build.  The first detectable part created was an outer circular band of embankments and ditches, with an inner circle of 56 holes, named Aubrey holes for the man who described them.  During the second phase, these holes were partially filled with timber, and new holes created.  Some speculate that a temple of wood stood on the site during this period.  The third phase, which lasted until 1500 B.C., involved the erection of stones on the site.  
Phase One

Stonehenge is made from three types of rock--Welsh Cosheston sandstone, a hard sandstone with silaceous cement referred to as Sarsen stone, and Bluestone.  The outer circle consisted of 30 Sarsen stones (only 17 still stand), joined across their tops by what are called lintel stones.  An inner horseshoe of trilithons (pairs of stones with a single lintel) was also created from Sarsen stones.  The largest of these was 25 feet high, with another 8 feet below ground.
Trilithon stone at Stonehenge.

Stonehenge at completion.

The two Bluestone circles within the sarsen formations elicit the most controversy.  Bluestone is traced to the Preseli mountains in southwest Wales.  The distance to Preseli is 200 miles and involves waterways and rough terrain.  Although people have used techniques of ropes and pulleys and log rolling to move similar stones (i.e. like the pyramids), a journey of that proportion seems impossible--especially over water.  In addition, no evidence has been found in the mountains of significant quarrying.  A team of Stonehenge enthusiasts tried to recreate the journey, but they lost their bluestone at the bottom of one of the waterways.  A more recent theory claims that glaciation--not human effort--is the reason such stones were found in the area.  Still, there is no definite explanation for how the builders of this monument moved the stones on site--especially when the stones of the trilithons weighed up to 50 tons a piece, and the smallest stones are at least four tons.  Some suggest that the extra boulders and stones that have been found at the site were used as devices to move and pivot stones into position.
Schematic on how to place a 50 ton stone.
There are a few special stones that are part of Stonehenge lore.  The Heel stone (aka Friar’s stone or Sun stone) stands outside the main circle and is made from sarsen stone.  It is connected to the summer solstice and creates a frame for the sun when it rises.  The Altar stone is the central megalith and is the only stone made from a type of mica-filled sandstone.  The Slaughter stone, a stone with a reddish stain due to iron oxidation, was named when Stonehenge was still thought to be a place of ritual virgin sacrifice.  It is now felt to represent part of the main entrance to Stonehenge. 
Looking at Stonehenge from the Heel Stone, the Slaughter stone is in the foreground.
There is quite a bit of romance surrounding who actually built Stonehenge.  Celtic folklore links Stonehenge to Giants, which they thought were the progeny of fallen angels.  During one raging party, the Giants danced in a circle holding hands.  The noise alerted the heavens of their existence, and they were frozen into a stone circle for eternity.  Major party foul. 
The Devil also has been blamed for the creation of Stonehenge.  In Irish folklore, the Devil swindled an old Irish woman out of the stones, and then repositioned them on the Salisbury Plain.  He taunted the local villagers to give him the correct count of the stones, or face misery.  After the villagers had all guessed too few, a monk faced the Devil and gave his answer, which was simply “more than be counted.”  This enraged the Horny one, and he threw one of the stones at the monk, pinning him to the ground by his heel--which may be why the front stone is called the Heel stone.  There is still superstition today that if you count the stones you bring the wrath of the devil upon you.
You wouldn't throw stones at a monk, right Oz?
Arthurian legend is also connected to Stonehenge.  Supposedly, the stones were to be brought to the site as a war memorial.  However, since the stones were originally placed by Giants, there was no way to move them--until Merlin came along and zapped them to their current position.
Back in the realm of less magical species, another popular myth claims the Druids are responsible.  The Druids were an ancient priesthood of philosophers, poets, and seers.  They followed solemn--and sometimes gory--ceremonies of their religion, including human sacrifice.  However, the Celtic tribes that spawned the Druids did not exist until around 300 B.C., too late to take credit for the stone circle.  The Druids possibly used Stonehenge as a ritual site, although this seems to be a more modern practice.  In 1905 the Ancient Order of Druids performed initiation ceremonies at Stonehenge.  However, the debauchery at Druidic celebrations ultimately led to the group losing its privileges to hold their festivals there.
Druid initiation ceremony at Stonehenge, 1905.
Much less fantastic, but probably the most factual, is the suggestion that two neolithic agrarian tribes, the Beakers and their later counterparts the Wessex peoples, were responsible for the creation of Stonehenge and did so as part of their religious beliefs.
I built Stonehenge?
The question of why was Stonehenge built has been debated since the place was first discovered.
Most feel Stonehenge has religious significance and was a ritual burial ground for tribes and their ancestors.  The Beakers were sun worshippers and the connection of the stones with solstices seems to support this theory, as well as their arrangement along the lines of sunrise.  
Stonehenge at Sunrise, midsummer solstice.
Professor Geoffrey Wainwright has suggested that Stonehenge functioned as a healing commune.  Burial sites from around the area have showed remains of people with serious disease and injury, and over half of them were from places beyond the Stonehenge area.  However, there is no record of any special healing wisdoms passed down in the culture of this area.  Wainwright asserts that it may have functioned not for physical wellness, but as a religious healing center.
The idea of Stonehenge representing a prehistoric calendar has also been suggested.  It is an attractive theory, highlighting this period where hunter/gatherer tribes were transitioning to more agricultural based cultures.  The stones may have functioned like a primitive almanac using the moon's phases.
Gerald Hawkins, Professor of Astronomy from Boston University, expanded on the calendar belief by suggesting Stonehenge was an ancient observatory used to predict the movement of the stars and planets.  He and his team were able to predict cycles of planetary movements off of the stones, including eclipses.  His work was notable, partly because he used one of the first IBM computers to calculate his equations.  He coined the term “neolithic computer” when he later discussed Stonehenge's relationship to astronomy. 
Some less tangible theories include the idea that Stonehenge represents a portal to other worlds.  This idea was propagated by the Druid culture, who described each stone as a “gate” that gave the ability to enter certain Fey worlds.  Like Stargate, only without the flight suits.
I really loved this show.
This area is also famous for other oddities of nature, namely crop circles and UFO sightings.  It is reputed to have strong electromagnetic forces, and is the epicenter of several key ley lines, which are ancient pathways used for both travel and spiritual purposes.  When Stonehenge is combined with two other ley associated sites nearby, a right triangle pointing towards magnetic north appears. This has led to the claim that Stonehenge is an ancient radar beacon for extra-terrestrials.
The theory that suggests porn had loftier origins came out around 2003.  A scholar from British Columbia declared that Stonehenge was a prehistoric tribute to the Mother Earth Goddess.  The stones were basically a representation of Big Momma Gaia’s lady parts.  “The vagina monoliths”, as the media dubbed it, never really caught on as a seriously considered theory.
There have been many attempts to recreate the oddity of Stonehenge.  The first was the Maryhill Stonehenge in Washington, dedicated in 1918 as a WWI memorial.  In Ingram, Texas, there's a full scale replica using plaster and wire frames.  Burning Man offered their own interpretation in Twinkiehenge in 2001. 
But my favorite recreation of Stonehenge exists in my great state of Nebraska.  Carhenge is a Stonehenge replica built from 38 automobiles by artist Jim Reinders.  He constructed it in 1987 as a memorial for his late father.  A 1962 Cadillac takes the honor of being the heel stone.

Carhenge from above.
Detail of Carhenge.
Whether dedicated to a religion based on the sun or part of a greater tool to calculate the celestial measurements of our universe, Stonehenge is a truly amazing example of humanity’s ability to do the impossible.  We may never know what its original intended use was, although I have an idea . . . 

Those damn pigs.