The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Folklore Posts by Arcturus

Latest Posts


Weddings, Sex, Theatre, Contraception... 10 Best Uses for a Stone Circle
Submitted by Lyn on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 14:24

Geoff Holder is an extensively-published author with books that cover Earth mysteries, archaeology, witchcraft and a lot more. His books are an authoritative mix of extensive historical study combined with diligent field research. They are often geographically-based, with titles such as The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow and The Guide to the Mysterious Lake District.

He describes himself as a Fortean, which means he's interested in all things strange and weird, even if they're not true. Archaeology features large in his books, with a particular emphasis on stone circles, henges and other neolithic ritual and funerary sites. His most recent book is 101 Things To Do With A Stone Circle, which covers what people have believed about and done with stone circles and other megaliths over the past few centuries.

Here he selects his top 10 things to do with a stone circle.

1: Commemorate the Dead

Sometimes a society links its own honoured dead with the mythologised dead of the past, to bring together politics and patriotism in a sentimental tour-de-force. The 'stone ship' at Blomsholm, Sweden, is a spectacular ship-shaped monument built as an Iron Age cemetery. During the military campaigns of Karl XII (King of Sweden from 1697 to 1718), the nearby farm was used as a field hospital. The officers who died of their wounds were said to have been buried within the ship, thus equating the dead of Karl's imperial wars (against Denmark-Norway, Russia and Saxony) with the ancient warriors of a glorious golden age.

2: Get Married

The Odin Stone was a tall monolith that once stood north of the famous Stones of Stenness circle on Orkney, and for centuries was the focus of a host of rituals, contracts and cures, all solemnised by the hole that pierced the stone.

If a couple clasped hands through the hole and swore to be faithful to each other, this 'marriage' was more potent than a church wedding. When an Orkney pirate was hanged in London his lover travelled to the gallows so she could touch his dead hand, thus releasing herself from the Oath of Odin they had pledged at the stone.

3: Contraception

Fertility stones are appropriately abundant; the Scottish stone called The Bhacain, however, may be the only contraceptive stone in the British Isles. In the 1800s, when local lasses were about to leave the Perthshire mountain valley of Glen Lyon for jobs in the Lowland fleshpots of Glasgow and Edinburgh, they would crawl under the arm of this low P-shaped standing stone; if they could do this successfully, they would be protected against pregnancy (although it is not clear for how long). I strongly suggest this should not be relied upon as a dependable form of birth control.

4: Medical Miracles

Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall. Photo by DA GinjaNinja

A concern with health and the relief of pain is a universal constant within human experience, and one of the most common uses for stone circles in recent times was as places of healing. Children suffering from rickets and scrofula were passed naked through the huge hole in one of the stones at Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall.

The 'cure' also required that they be hauled along the grass three times towards the east. Adults suffering rheumatism, back pain or ague had to crawl through a total of nine times. It is not recorded if they had to be naked as well.

5: Make a Wish

Wishing at stones is an exchange process; you offer something, such as a coin, and the supernatural agency resident in the stones – whatever it might be – may grant the wish in return. At the dolmen called Kit's Coty House in Kent, the ritual involved visiting at night under a full moon, placing a personal object on the capstone, and walking around the monument three times. After which the object would have disappeared, snatched by the invisible power, and the wish granted. This was regularly carried out until 1946, when local newspaper reports prompted the participants to desist for fear of being thought superstitious.

6: Sex and Fertility

There's no evidence to suggest this visitor to Kerloas is a newlywed. Photo courtesy of Geoff Holder
In the 19th century, France was a hotbed of megalithic amour. Women hoping to conceive straddled the Pierre-de-Chantecoq stone while easy childbirth was assured by sliding down menhirs smeared with butter or honey.

In Brittany, girls danced round the phallic menhir of Plonéour-Lanvern, and newly-wed couples made surreptitious nocturnal visits to Kerloas, the tallest standing stone in Europe, where they rubbed their naked bellies on the stone. In Sweden, an attempt to avert a famine involved a virgin couple having sex and smearing semen and wheat grains into prehistoric cupmarks, all while the mayor, Lutheran minister and villagers looked on.

7: Dine Out On Top Of Stonehenge

In 1723, the pioneering antiquarian William Stukeley and his patron Lord Winchelsea climbed onto one of the Stonehenge trilithons. Despite the lintel being only 4.5m by 1.5m in size, Stukeley considered there was space enough for "a steady head and nimble heels to dance a minuet on". More incredibly, he claimed his Lordship and he had "dined at the Place, and left their Tobacco Pipes upon it." Sadly for the story the al fresco lunch is almost certainly a pipe-dream, invented by Stukeley in his old age to entertain his peers: "That Stukeley! Dined out on top of Stonehenge! What a fine fellow!"

8: Doctor Who and the Druids

The King's Men (Rollright Stones), Oxfordshire
The Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. Photo by Lucy Martin

In 1978, Doctor Who, in his Tom Baker guise, visited the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire for the Stones of Blood episodes. After a run-in with some human-sacrificers at the British Institute of Druidic Studies, it transpires that three of the stones are malevolent silicon-based aliens, and the archaeologist's research assistant is an immortal extraterrestrial criminal masquerading as a bloodthirsty Celtic goddess. The script crackles with subtle jokes - the Doctor mentions that he once met the 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey, who told the Time Lord he had linked stone circles with Druids just for a bit of a laugh.

9: Theatre in the Round

Medieval mystery plays, Civil War defences, Methodist meetings, political rallies, fêtes, the Cornish Gorsedd of Bards, wrestling matches, Home Guard training exercises, devilish illusions – St Piran's Round in Cornwall has seen them all. This Iron Age/Romano-British fortified farmstead was reworked in the Middle Ages as a plen-an-gwary, an open-air theatre where pious travellers following the pilgrimage route of St Piran watched
When all else fails, build your own.
religious plays. Theatrical pieces are still performed here, often connected with the annual St Piran celebrations in March, held in nearby Perranporth. The large embanked open space is now cared for by the St Piran Trust, who have provided excellent interpretation.

10: Build Your Own Circle

Ever since the days of William Stukeley, it has been fashionable to have a megalith of one's own. In recent years more stone circles have been built than at any time since the Bronze Age, and the number of modern circles hidden away in gardens and estates is both enormous and uncounted. You even find them in business parks, and there's one at a service station on the M6. One of the joyful curiosities of modern circles is that, no matter how recent they are, people still treat them as special, even spiritual places. If you build them, they will come.
Arcturus hasn't added a profile

My TMA Content: