Winter Solstice prompts gatherings of druids, spiritualists, and doomsday party goers

The winter solstice was celebrated at Stonehenge in England – and New Hampshire – Friday morning, Dec. 21, 2012. In Pennsylvania, atheists marked the winter solstice by hanging a banner next to a nativity scene.

By , Associated Press

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    People celebrate the Winter Solstice sunrise at the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge, in southern England on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012.
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As Dec. 21, 2012 marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the event is being marked in a variety of ways around the globe.

 In Salem, N.H., folks are gathering to mark the Winter Solstice at what's called "America's Stonehenge."

Solstice gatherings have taken place at the archaeological site made up of stone structures for years. The site is opening early Friday. The actual solstice is at 6:12 a.m. and sunrise at 7:10 a.m.

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A ceremony marking the occasion is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday.

The origin and age of the made-made piles of stones and chambers in New Hampshire is a mystery. Some people think they were built by early American Indians, others think they were built long before that. The stones are thought to be used as an astronomical calendar.

In Britain, home of the original Stonehenge, hundreds of people have already converged on Stonehenge for an "End of the World" party that coincides with the Winter Solstice.

Arthur Uther Pendragon, Britain's best-known druid, said he was anticipating a much larger crowd than usual at Stonehenge this year. But he doesn't agree that the world is ending, noting that he and fellow druids believe that things happen in cycles.

"We're looking at it more as a new beginning than an end," he said. "We're looking at new hope."

Meanwhile, end-of-days parties will be held across London on Friday. One event billed as a "last supper club" is offering a three-course meal served inside of an "ark."

In Mexico, about 1,000 self-described shamans, seers, stargazers, crystal enthusiasts, yogis, sufis and swamis are gathering in a convention center in the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula about an hour and a half from the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, convinced that it was a good start to the coming "New Era" supposed to begin around 5:00 a.m. local time Friday.

These are not people who believe the world will end on Friday: the summit is scheduled to run through Dec. 23. Instead, participants say, they want to celebrate the birth of a new age.

"This is not the end of the world. This is the beginning of the new world," Star Johnsen-Moser, an American seer, said at a gathering of hundreds of spiritualists at a convention center in Merida.

Meanwhile, Mexico's self-styled "brujo mayor," or chief soothsayer, Antonio Vazquez Alba, who warned followers to stay away from all gatherings on Dec. 21. "We have to beware of mass psychosis" that could lead to stampedes or "mass suicides, of the kind we've seen before," he said.

Star gazers are planning to welcome in the new era with a dawn ceremony Friday at Uxmal, the only major Mayan pyramid that has rounded edges. Others will spend the day at the more famous Chichen Itza archaeological site.

Also, organizers of Yucatan's broader Mayan Culture Festival saw the need to answer some of the now-debunked idea that the Mayas, who invented an amazingly accurate calendar almost 2,000 years ago, had somehow predicted the end of the world. The Yucatan state government asked a scientist to talk about the work of Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to debunk the idea it could produce world-ending rogue particles.

In Wilkes-Barre, Penn., a banner proclaiming religion a myth has joined a Nativity display and menorah in a northeastern Pennsylvania town square.

Two Wilkes-Barre men paid a $50 fee to hang the banner supplied by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the same public square that the town's Christmas tree has been erected.

The banner reads, in part, "At this Season of the Winter Solstice, Let Reason Prevail."

Justin Vacula and Rodney Collins paid the fee for the banner's display. The NEPA Freethought Society members say the city is being courageous to allow diverse viewpoints.

Vacula tells The Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre that atheists are entitled to share their views if religious displays are allowed on public land.

A city spokesman says Wilkes-Barre can't discriminate and endorses no religious beliefs.

(Reporting by Vanessa Gera, and Paisley Dodds in London)

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