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The most stately monument of this sort [circles of detached stones] in Scotland, and probably inferior to none in England, excepting Stonehenge, is formed by what are called the Standing Stones of Stenhouse, in the island of Pomona in the Orkneys, where it can scarcely be supposed that Druids ever penetrated. At least, it is certain, that the common people now consider it as a Scandinavian monument; and, according to an ancient custom, a couple who are desirous to attach themselves by more than an ordinary vow of fidelity, join hands through the round hole which is in one of the stones. This they call the promise of Odin.
Being further asked what they meant by the promise of Odin, they put him in mind of the stone at Stenhouse, with the round hole in it; and added, that it was customary, when promises were made, for the contracting parties to join hands through this hole, and the promises so made were called the promises of Odin.
It was said that a child passed through the hole when young would never shake with palsy in old age. Up to the time of its destruction, it was customary to leave some offering on visiting the stone, such as a piece of bread, or cheese, or a rag, or even a stone.
The Odin stone, long the favorite trysting-place in summer twilights of Orkney lovers, was demolished in 1814 by a sacrilegious farmer, who used its material to assist him in the erection of a cowhouse. this misguided man was a Ferry-Louper (the name formerly given to strangers from the south), and his wanton destruction of the consecrated stone stirred so strongly the resentment of the peasantry in the district that various unsuccessful attempts were made to burn his house and holdings about his ears.
This meeting gave the young people an opportunity of seeing each other, which seldom failed in making four or five marriages every year; and to secure each other's love, till an opportunity of celebrating their nuptials, they had resource to the following solemn engagements:
The parties agreed stole from the rest of their companions, and went to the Temple of the Moon, where the woman, in presence of the man, fell down on her knees and prayed the god Wodden (for such was the name of the god they addressed upon this occasion) that he would enable her to perform all the promises and obligations she had and was to make to the young man present, after which they both went to the Temple of the Sun, where the man prayed in like manner before the woman, then they repaired from this to the stone [known as Wodden's or Odin's Stone], and the man being on one side and the woman on the other, they took hold of each other's right hand through the hole, and there swore to be constant and faithful to each other.
This ceremony was held so very sacred in those times that the person who dared to break the engagement made here was counted infamous, and excluded all society.
Here is a tradition of a monolith on the farm of Achorrachin in Glenlivet. The farmer was building a steading, and took the stone as a lintel to a byre door. Disease fell upon the cattle, and most unearthly noises were heard during the night all round the steading. There was no peace for man or beast.
By the advice of a friend, the stone was taken from the wall and thrown into the river that ran past the farm. Still there was no peace. The stone was at last put into its old place in the middle of a field. Things then returned to their usual course.
The stone stands to the present day in the middle of the field, and in some of its crevices were seen, not many years ago, small pieces of mortar.
The Norwegians once made a sudden descent from their ships on the lower end of Craignish. The inhabitants, taken by surprise, fled in terror to the upper end of the district, and halted not until they reached the Slugan (gorge) of Gleann-Domhuinn, or the Deep Glen.
There, however, they rallied under a brave young man, who threw himself at their head, and slew, either with a spear or an arrow, the leader of the invaders. This inspired the Craignish men with such courage that they soon drove back their disheartened enemies across Barbreck river. The latter, in retreating, carried off the body of their fallen leader, and buried it afterwards on a place on Barbreck farm, which is still called Dùnan-Amhlaidh, or Olav's Mound. The Craignish men also raised a stone at Slugan to mark the spot where Olav fell.
From hence he went to Winchester, to repair the ruins of it, as he did of other cities; and when the work was finished there, he went, at the instance of Bishop Eldad, to the monastery near Kaercaradoc, now Salisbury, where the consuls and princes, whom the wicked Hengist [an Anglo-Saxon chieftain] had treacherously murdered, lay buried. At this place was a convent that maintained three hundred friars, situated on the mountain of Ambrius, who, as is reported, had been the founder of it.
The sight of the place where the dead lay, made the king, who was of a compassionate temper, shed tears, and at last enter upon thoughts, what kind of monument to erect upon it. For he thought something ought to be done to perpetuate the memory of that piece of ground, which was honored with the bodies of so many noble patriots, that died for their country.
For this purpose he summoned together several carpenters and masons, and commanded them to employ the utmost of their art, in contriving some new structure, for a lasting monument to those great men.
But they, in diffidence of their own skill, refusing to undertake it, Tremounus, archbishop of the City of Legions, went to the king, and said, "If any one living is able to execute your commands, Merlin, the prophet of Vortegirn, is the man. In my opinion there is not in all your kingdom a person of a brighter genius, either in predicting future events, or in mechanical contrivances. Order him to come to you, and exercise his skill in the work which you design."
Whereupon Aurelius, after he had asked a great many questions concerning him, despatched several messengers into the countries to find him out, and bring him to him. After passing through several provinces, they found him in the country of the Gewisseans, at the fountain of Galabes, which he frequently resorted to.
As soon as they had delivered their message to him, they conducted him to the king, who received him with joy, and, being curious to hear some of his wonderful speeches, commanded him to prophesy.
Merlin made answer: "Mysteries of this kind are not to be revealed but when there is the greatest necessity for it. If I should pretend to utter them either for ostentation or diversion, the spirit that instructs me would be silent, and would leave me when I should have occasion for it."
When he had made the same refusal to all the rest present, the king would not urge him any longer about his predictions, but spoke to him concerning the monument which he designed.
"If you are desirous," said Merlin, " to honor the burying-place of these men with an everlasting monument, send for the Giant's Dance [Stonehenge], which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand forever."
At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst into laughter, and said, "How is it possible to remove such vast stones from so distant a country, as if Britain was not furnished with stones fit for the work?"
Merlin replied: "I entreat your majesty to forbear vain laughter; for what I say is without vanity. They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coasts of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue."
When the Britons heard this, they resolved to send for the stones, and to make war upon the people of Ireland if they should offer to detain them. And to accomplish this business, they made choice of Uther Pendragon, who was to be attended with fifteen thousand men. They chose also Merlin himself, by whose direction the whole affair was to be managed. A fleet being therefore got ready, they set sail, and with a fair wind arrived in Ireland.
At that time Gillomanius, a youth of wonderful valor, reigned in Ireland; who, upon the news of the arrival of the Britons in his kingdom, levied a vast army, and marched out against them. And when he had learned the occasion of their coming, he smiled, and said to those about him, "No wonder a cowardly race of people were able to make so great devastation in the island of Britain, when the Britons are such brutes and fools. Was ever the like folly heard of? What are the stones of Ireland better than those of Britain, that our kingdom must be put to this disturbance for them? To arms, soldiers, and defend your country; while I have life they shall not take from us the least stone of the Giant's Dance."
Uther, seeing them prepared for a battle, attacked them; nor was it long ere the Britons had the advantage, who, having dispersed and killed the Irish, forced Gillomanius to flee. After the victory they went to the mountain Killaraus, and arrived at the structure of stones, the sight of which filled them both with joy and admiration.
And while they were all standing round them, Merlin came up to them, and said, "Now try your forces, young men, and see whether strength or art can do the most towards taking down these stones."
At this word they all set to their engines with one accord, and attempted the removing of the Giant's Dance. Some prepared cables, others small ropes, others ladders for the work, but all to no purpose.
Merlin laughed at their vain efforts, and then began his own contrivances. When he had placed in order the engines that were necessary, he took down the stones with an incredible facility, and gave directions for carrying them to the ships, and placing them therein. This done, they with joy set sail again, to return to Britain; where they arrived with a fair gale, and repaired to the burying-place with the stones.
When Aurelius had notice of it, he sent messengers to all parts of Britain, to summon the clergy and people together to the mount of Ambrius, in order to celebrate with joy and honor the erection of the monument. Upon this summons appeared the bishops, abbots, and people of all other orders and qualities; and upon the day and place appointed for their general meeting, Aurelius placed the crown upon his head, and with royal pomp celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the solemnity whereof he continued the three following days.
In the meantime, all places of honor that were vacant, he bestowed upon his domestics, as rewards for their good services. At that time the two metropolitan sees of York and Legions were vacant; and with the general consent of the people, whom he was willing to please in this choice, he granted York to Sanxo, a man of great quality, and much celebrated for his piety; and the City of Legions to Dubricius, whom Divine Providence had pointed out as a most useful pastor in that place. As soon as he had settled these and other affairs in the kingdom, he ordered Merlin to set up the stones brought over from Ireland, about the sepulcher; which he accordingly did, and placed them in the same manner as they had been in the mountain Killaraus, and thereby gave a manifest proof of the prevalence of art above strength.
In times gone by, before anyone now living can remember, there was once a dreadful famine all about this country, and the people had like to have been clemmed [nearly starved to death]. There were many more living in this part then, than what there are now, and times were very bad indeed. And all they had to depend upon was, that there used to come a fairy cow upon the hill, up at Mitchell's Fold, night and morning, to be milked. A beautiful pure white cow she was, and no matter how many came to milk her, there was always enough for all, so long as everyone that came only took one pailful.
It was in this way: If anyone was to milk her dry, she would go away and never come again; but so long as everyone took only a pailful apiece, she never would be dry. They might take whatever sort of vessel they liked, to milk her into, so long as it was only one apiece, she would always fill it.
Well, and at last there came an old witch, Mitchell her name was. A bad old woman she was, and did a deal of harm, and had a spite against everybody. And she brought a riddle [sieve], and milked the cow into that, and of course the poor thing couldn't fill it. And the old woman milked her, and milked her, and at last she milked her dry, and the cow was never seen there again, not after.
Folks say she went off into Warwickshire like a crazy thing, and turned into the wild dun cow that Guy Earl of Warwick killed; but anyhow they say she was sadly missed in this country, and many died after she was gone, and there's never been so many living about here, not since.
But the old woman got her punishment. She was turned into one of those stones on the hillside, and all the other stones were put up round her to keep her in, and that's how the place came to be called Mitchell's Fold, because her name was Mitchell, you see.
There used to be more stones than there are now, but they have been taken away at one time or another. It's best not to meddle with such places. There was a farmer lived by there, and he blew up some of them and took away the pieces to put round his horse pond, but he never did no good after.
Now I cannot believe this legend, because according to it the stone circle would come from Christian times, but it has to be much older. When I was a lad I heard another explanation for the stones. I cannot remember any of the details, but I am sure it was much closer to the truth. It has something to do with the ley lines that run through here. In fact, a ley line connects the Blind Fiddler standing stone just up the road from here with my garden. Tomorrow I'll demonstrate its energy for you with a dowsing rod.
Yes, there is a story about the Blind Fiddler, but I don't remember it either. However, I do know a story about the Merry Maidens, and it is a true story.
In 1907 an emmet (that's a Cornish word for outsider) from England bought the farm where the Merry Maidens stone circle stands. Thinking that the stones lessened the value of the field, the new owner ordered one of his workers to pull them down and add them to the stone walls surrounding the meadow.
The worker, a Cornishman, protested, but the Englishman insisted: "This is my field, and I'll do with it what I please, and you'll do as I say!"
Next day the Cornishman hitched up three shire horses to a chain and began the task. (You know shire horses, don't you? They're big one-ton draft horses.) Anyway, while pulling over the first stone the lead horse panicked, reared up, then fell over dead.
Reporting this to his master, the Cornishman asked if he should fetch another horse for the task.
"No," said the landowner. "Set the stone back upright. We'll pull the lot of them down later."
But the stone circle was left undisturbed, and remains so to this day.
If Long Compton thou canst see,He was within a few yard of the spot whence that town could be observed, when his progress was stopped by the magician's transformation,--
King of England thou shalt be.
Sink down man, and rise up stone!The general was transformed into a large stone which stands on a spot from which Long Compton is not visible, but on ascending a slight rise close to it, the town is revealed to view.
King of England thou shalt be none.
Roger Gale, writing in 1719, says that whoever dared to contradict this story was regarded "as a most audacious freethinker."
It is said that no man could ever count these stones, and that a baker once attempted it by placing a penny loaf on each of them, but somehow or other he failed in counting his own bread.
A similar tale is related of Stonehenge.
As soon as the Druids left them, the fairies, who never failed to take possession of their deserted shrines, seemed to have had an especial care over these stones, and anyone who ventures to meddle with them is sure to meet with some very great misfortune.
The old people of the village, however, who generally know most about these matters, say the stones were once a king and his knights, who were going to make war on the King of England. And they assert that, according to old prophecies, had they ever reached Long Compton, the King of England must inevitably have been dethroned, and this king would have reigned in his place. But when they came to the village of Rollright they were suddenly turned into stones in the place where they now stand.
Be this as it may, there was once a farmer in the village who wanted a large stone to put in a particular position in an outhouse he was building in his farmyard, and he thought that one of the old knights would be just the thing for him. In spite of all the warnings of his neighbors he determined to have the stone he wanted, and he put four horses to his best wagon and proceeded up the hill. With much labor he succeeded in getting the stone into his wagon, and though the road lay down hill, it was so heavy that his wagon was broken and his horses were killed by the labor of drawing it home. Nothing daunted by all these mishaps, the farmer raised the stone to the place it was to occupy in his new building.
From this moment everything went wrong with him. His crops failed year after year. His cattle died one after another. He was obliged to mortgage his land and to sell his wagons and horses, till at last he had left only one poor broken-down horse which nobody would buy, and one old crazy cart.
Suddenly the thought came into his head that all his misfortunes might be owing to the identical stone which he had brought from the circle at the top of the hill. He thought he would try to get it back again, and his only horse was put to the cart. To his surprise he got the stone down and lifted it into the cart with very little trouble, and, as soon as it was in, the horse, which could scarcely bear along its own limbs, now drew it up the hill of its own accord with as little trouble as another horse would draw an empty cart on level ground, until it came to the very spot where the stone had formerly stood beside its companions.
The stone was soon in its place, and the horse and cart returned home, and from that moment the farmer's affairs began to improve, till in a short time he was a richer and more substantial man than he had ever been before.
The old rhyme runs --If Long Compton thou can'st see,See Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, i. 230.
Then King of England thou shalt be.
At Bosavern, in St. Just, is a somewhat similar flat stone; and the same story attaches to each.
It is to the effect that some Saxon Kings used the stone as a dining table. The number has been variously stated; some traditions fixing on three kings, others on seven. Hals is far more explicit; for, as he says, on the authority of the chronicle of Samuel Daniell; they were --
Ethelbert, 5th king of Kent;At a point where the four parishes of Zennor, Morvah, Gulval, and Madron meet, is a flat stone with a cross cut on it. The Saxon kings are also said to have dined on this.
Cissa, 2d king of the South Saxons;
Kingills, 6th king of the West Saxons;
Sebert, 3d king of the East Saxons;
Ethelfred, 7th king of the Northumbers;
Penda, 5th king of the Mercians;
Sigebert, 5th king of the East Angles, -- all who flourished about the year 600.
The only tradition which is known amongst the peasantry of Sennen is, that Prince Arthur and the Kings who aided him against the Danes, in the great battle fought near Vellan-Drucher, dined on the Table-mên, after which they defeated the Danes.
Not far from the Devil's Coit in St. Columb, on the edge of the Gossmoor, there is a large stone upon which are deeply impressed marks, which a little fancy may convert into the marks of four horseshoes. This is "King Arthur's Stone," and these marks were made by the horse upon which the British king rode when he resided at Castle Denis, and hunted on these moors. King Arthur's bed, and chair, and caves, are frequently to be met with.
The Giant's Coits, -- and many traditions of these will be found in the section devoted to the giant romances -- are probably monuments of the earliest types of rock mythology. Those of Arthur belong to the period when the Britons were so far advanced in civilization as to war under experienced rulers; and those which are appropriated by the devil are evidently instances of the influence of priestcraft [Roman Catholicism] on the minds of an impressible people.
A more sublime spot could not have been chosen by the Bardic priesthood for any ordeal connected with their worship; and even admitting that nature may have disposed the huge mass to wear away, so as to rest delicately poised on a pivot, it is highly probable that the wild worship of the untrained tribes, who had passed to those islands from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, may have led them to believe that some superhuman power belonged to such a strangely balanced mass of rock.
Nothing can be more certain than that through all time, passing on from father to son, there has been a wild reverence of this mass of rock; and long after the days when the Druid ceased to be there is every reason for believing that the Christian priests, if they did not encourage, did not forbid, the use of this and similar rocks to be used as places of ordeal by the uneducated and superstitious people around.
Hence the mass of rock on which is poised the Logan Stone has ever been connected with the supernatural. To the south of the Logan Rock is a high peak of granite, towering above the other rocks; this is known as the Castle Peak.
No one can say for how long a period, but most certainly for ages, this peak has been the midnight rendezvous for witches. Many a man, and woman too, now sleeping quietly in the churchyard of St. Levan, would, had they the power, attest to have seen the witches flying into the Castle Peak on moonlight nights mounted on the stems of the ragwort (Senécio Jacobæa Linn.), and bringing with them the things necessary to make their charms potent and strong.
This place was long noted as the gathering place of the army of witches who took their departure for Wales, where they would luxuriate at the most favored seasons of the year upon the milk of the Welshmen's cows. From this peak many a struggling ship has been watched by a malignant crone, while she has been brewing the tempest to destroy it; and many a rejoicing chorus has been echoed, in horror, by the cliffs around, when the witches have been croaking their miserable delight over the perishing crews, as they have watched man, woman, and child drowning, whom they were presently to rob of the treasures they were bringing home from other lands.
Upon the rocks behind the Logan Rock it would appear that every kind of mischief which can befall man or beast was once brewed by the St. Levan witches.
For anyone considering this marvel will mark that it is inconceivable how a mass, hardly at all or but with difficulty movable upon a level, could have been raised to so mighty a peak of so lofty a mountain by mere human effort, or by the ordinary exertion of human strength. But as to whether, after the deluge went forth, there existed giants who could do such deeds, or men endowed beyond others with bodily force, there is scant tradition to tell us.
But, as our countrymen assert, even today there are those who dwell in that rugged and inaccessible region to the north who, by the transformable nature of their bodies, are granted the power of being near or distant, and of appearing and vanishing in turn. The approach to this region, whose position and name are unknown, and which lacks all civilization, but teems with peoples of monstrous strangeness, is beset with perils of a fearful kind, and has seldom granted to those who attempted it an unscathed return.
South of Thorsby Church, among the mountains, lies a shattered rock called Gloshed's Altar, concerning which there is an old tradition still living upon the lips of the people, as follows:
A long time ago a man from the parish of Säfve went upon a Hollandish ship, on a whaling cruise. After the vessel had been tossed about the sea for some time, land was one day sighted, and upon the land was seen a fire which continued to burn many days.
It was determined that some of the ship's crew should go ashore, in the hope that shelter might be found, and among those who went ashore was our hero. When the strand was reached they found there an old man sitting by a fire of logs, endeavoring to warm himself.
"Where did you come from?" asked the old man.
"From Holland!" answered the sailors.
"But where were you born?" to our hero.
"In Hisingen, in the parish of Säfve," he answered.
"Are you acquainted in Thorsby?"
"Do you know where Ulfve Mountain lies?"
"I have often passed it, as the road from Göteborg to Marstrand over Hisingen and through Thorsby goes past there."
"Do the large stones and hills remain undisturbed?" asked the old man.
"Yes, except one stone, which, if I remember correctly, is toppling over," said the Hisinger.
"That is too bad!" But do you know where Gloshed's Altar is, and does it remain sound?"
"Upon that point," said the sailor, "I have no knowledge."
Finally the old man continued, "If you will say to those who now live in Thorsby and Torrebräcka that they shall not destroy the stones and elevations at the foot of Ulfve Mount, and, above all, to take care of Gloshed's Altar, you shall have fair winds for the rest of your voyage."
The Hisinger promised to deliver the message when he arrived home, whereupon he asked the old man his name, and how he, living so far from Thorsby, was so well acquainted with matters there.
"I'll tell you," said he. "My name is Thore Brock, and I at one time lived there, but was banished. All my relations are buried at Ulfve Mountain, and at Gloshed's Altar we were wont to do homage to our gods and to make our offerings."
Hereupon they separated.
When the man from Hisinger returned home he went about the fulfillment of his promise, and, without knowing how, he soon became one of the principal farmers in the parish.
The people of Wandelitz relate that in ancient times this stone lay on the other side of Lake Wandelitz. An enormous giant lived there, and in order to prove his strength he picked up the stone, pressed his five fingers into it -- leaving their imprint -- and then threw it across the lake.
About the origin of these stones it is related that at this place several hundred years ago a number of people gathered on Holy Whitsunday to carry out a naked dance.
As special punishment for their wicked behavior they were turned into stones. Thus the stones are called "the Adam's Dance," or "the Stone Dance." The fourteen stones in the circle were the male and female dancers. The two in the middle were the beer servers, and the two outside the circle were the musicians. One can still see violins on these latter ones.
They were completely preserved and enormously large. They measured between eleven and sixteen feet in length, and they all lay in a row. Between each one there was a jar filled with earth. When they began digging into the second grave they heard a great commotion beneath the earth, as though people were dancing and rattling bunches of keys. This so frightened them that they ceased their digging.
Revised January 25, 2010.