Sacred, secular, or sacrilegious? prehistoric sites, pagans and the Sacred Sites project in Britain

BLAIN, J. and WALLIS, R. J. (2008). Sacred, secular, or sacrilegious? prehistoric sites, pagans and the Sacred Sites project in Britain. In: SCHACHTER, J. and BROCKMAN, S., (eds.) (Im)permanence: Cultures In/Out of Time. Pittsburg, Penn State University Press, 212-223.

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This paper explores issues and tensions developing within today's Britain around prehistoric 'sacred sites' and their appropriation by a wide range of interested or concerned groups. In examining and theorising competing constructions of 'sacredness' and its inscription today, we will draw on examples from well-known and less well-know British prehistoric places, to illustrate how claims and appropriations emerge from spiritual and political processes, and to question how places are themselves agents in the demarcation of their own sacredness. We focus on contemporary pagans as ‘new-indigenes’ and their engagements with the past and performances of spirituality on the stage of the heritage of Britain, as examined in our ‘Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights Project’ (, now in its fifth year. From the deposition of votive offerings at West Kennet long barrow and long-running disputes over access to Stonehenge as a ‘sacred site’, to the display of ritual paraphernalia derived from archaeological contexts (a Thor’s hammer pendant, for instance), pagans perform their worldviews and engage with heritage in diverse ways. Pagan re-enchantment of the past not only re-places heritage, myth, artefacts, ‘cultures’ in/out of time, highlighting (im)permanence as a linking theme in our analysis, but also disrupts the fixed and unchanging ‘past’ imposed onto heritage by much heritage discourse – challenging the permanent to yield, bend and accommodate.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Copyright retained by authors
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sociology, Politics and Policy Research Group
Page Range: 212-223
Depositing User: Ann Betterton
Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2008
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 14:32

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