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Chanctonbury Ring



[Chanctonbury's] traditions have been extensively reported and collected by Dr. Jacqueline Simpson. The earliest example which she reports occurs in Arthur Beckett's The Spirit of the Downs: 'If on a moonless night you walk seven times round the Ring without stopping, the Devil will come out of the wood and hand you a basin of soup.' [1909].
Others substituted a glass of milk, or stated that Satan will 'offer you porridge from his bowl' after you have run thrice round the earthwork. Several variants of this versioin have been collected from newspapers and from oral informants during the past fifteen or so years.

'If you run round seven times while the clock is still striking midnight, the Devil will come out. There's something about porridge, but I cannot remember what."

"If you run round backwards seven times at midnight, the Devil will give you a glass of milk."

"It is said that if you run round the Ring three times at midnight on Midsummer Eve, the Devil comes out from the trees and offers you a bowl of soup."

Other versions of the circumambulation also involve raising the Devil; thus, a teenage girl reported that seven circuits at 7.00am on Midsummer morning would raise Satan. Another informant stipulates that the circling is to be 'three times anticlockwise on Midsummer Eve,' while a more earthy variant calls for the practitioner to circumambulate '17 times stark naked on a night of the full moon.'

[..]The Devil, however, was not the only one being raised - three circuits brought a view of 'a lady on a white horse,' while twelve rounds at midnight on Midsummer Night conjured up a Druid. In the 1940s, some people apparently feared to circle the Ring at night 'lest they should meet the old white-bearded ghost that walks with bent head, seeking his treasure.' Finally, a 50 year old teacher reported that circling seven times at midnight on Midsummer Eve would mean that 'all your wishes will come true. We all believed that when I was a girl.'
There's obviously no single version but lots of variations - though the idea of 'circling' is at their heart. Simpson apparently laments that no version explains whether you should accept the beverage/food or not, or what will happen if you do. "She considers at arm's length" a suggestion that it could come from folk memories of real rites in the Romano-Celtic temple, but concludes that it, and 'that the Chanctonbury Devil is a dim memory of a Romano=Celtic god' is "an attractive hypothesis, but no more."!

Circling as an Entrance to the Otherworld
Samuel Pyeatt Menefee
Folklore, Vol. 96, No. 1. (1985), pp. 3-20.

Simpson's (surely definitive!) article on Chanctonbury's folklore can be found in Folklore volume 80, p122-131.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
29th September 2006ce
Edited 28th November 2006ce

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