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

Folklore Posts by Jane

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Chateau Bû (Cairn(s))

The wonderful Aubrey Burl, in his must-have book 'Megalithic Brittany', says on page 92:
"Tradition has it that each year in ancient times a young girl was sacrificed on the mound on an altar specially built for the occasion. The meaning of Chateau Bû is obscure, but Bû may derive from the Breton word for cattle, bulls having an important role in the religious celebrations of Brittany."
... as indeed they have throughout the rest of the world, Aubrey.

Tresse (Allee-Couverte)

Aubrey Burl, in Megalithic Brittany says: "legend has it that fairies lived in the tomb's ruins. When their cow trampled on some crops they compensated the farmer with a magic loaf, saying it would never grow less or harden s long as he kept his promise. Forgetting his promise the farmer boasted of his prize one day and the loaf instantly became as hard as brick."

French farmers, eh?!

Men Scryfa (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The inscription, probably made long after the menhir was orginally erected, reads
RIALOBRANI (Royal Raven)
CUNOVALI FILI ('Famous leader' or 'Glorious Prince')
The raven is a bird of carrion, linked with death and the battlefield and was believed to have magical power for those who worshipped it. The raven is one of the forms taken by the Irish Morrigan, goddess of war and death.
Celtic legend links the name of Bran (in RialoBRANi) to a ancient British warrior king, keeper of the cauldron of immortality, whose decapitated head continued to have powers of speech and was later buried on the site of the Tower of London, where ravens still live. Bran also appears in Arthurian legend under a variety of names and he was a Celtic solar war god.

The story of RIALOBRANI (Ryalvran) is clearly very ancient. An invader attacked the Glorious Prince, seized his lands and occupied the Lescudjack hillfort at Penzance, which protected the harbour. The defeated royalty fled possibly to the area around Carn Euny or the hillfort of Caer Bran (Raven Castle). The Royal Raven tried to reclaim his territory and a battle took place, but Ryalvran was killed and buried by the stone which apparently was the same height as the dead warrior.
From Ian Cooke's 'Antiquities of West Cornwall

Men-An-Tol (Holed Stone)

Holed stones have a long tradition of healing properties. At Men An Tol children were passed through the hole as an act of baptism and to seure good health during their lifetime. Engagements were sealed at new year by young people holing hands through the hole and for young women in particular it was considered to help in having easier childbirth and to cure infertility, as well as promote an abundance of crops and cattle.

From Ian Cooke's 'Antiquities of West Cornwall', 1990.

The Merry Maidens (Stone Circle)

The legend
Robert Hunt in the 19th century says:
In the parish of Burian are the Dawns Myin or Men - the dancing stones, commonly called the Merry Maidens; and near them are two granite pillars named the Pipers. One sabbath evening some of the thoughtless maidens of the neighbouring village instead of attending vespers, strayed into the fields and two evil spirits assuming the guise of pipers, began to play some dance tunes. The young people yielded to the temptation, forgetting the day, commenced dancing. The excitement increased and soon the music and dancuing became extremely wild; when lo! a flash of lightening from the clear sky transfixed them all, the tempters and the tempted and there in stone they stand.

No clubbing on a Sunday, then, Pop-pickers.

From Ian Cooke's 'Antiquities of West Cornwall', 1990

The name
Pre-20th century descriptions of Cornish stone circles frequently refer to them as 'Dans Men' or 'Dawns Meyn', usually interpreted at as ritual places where ceremonies including dancing mayhave taken place. However, 'Dans Men' may be a mispronunciation of 'Zans Meyn' the Cornish phrase meaning 'stone circle'.

So, 'maiden' may be a simple misinterpretation of the Cornish word for stone: men, maen or meyn.

The word 'merry' may be a corruption of the word Mary, the name of an ancient goddess and nothing to do with Christianity. She was Ma-Ri, her name signifiying a fruitful or fertile mother.

From Ian Cooke's 'Antiquities of West Cornwall', 1990

Boleigh (Fogou)

The tale of 'Duffy and the Devil' tells of how the squire, out hunting hares one night, chased one from the nearby Merry maidens, past the Pipers and down into the fogou. Once inside the fogou he witnessed a ceremony of witches, disturbing them as they met with the Devil. He reportedly had to run for his life.

From William Bottrell's 'Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall' (1873)

The Hoar Stone (Chambered Tomb)

Local oral tradition has it that the three big standing stones are the remains of an old man, his horse and dog, turned to stone for reasons now not remembered.

The petrification story is similiar to that of other folktales from around the Cotswold, including the Rollrights and the Goose stones.

There is also a local story of a ghost which can be seen walking from the tomb along the old road into the the village of Enstone.

The Hoar Stone (Steeple Barton) (Chambered Tomb)

The two Hoar stones at Steeple Barton, Oxon, are recorded as far back as 1210CE, referring to them as Nordlanglawe, Langlaue and Succelaue, which mean respectively, 'valley of the long barrow', 'the Northern long barrow' and 'the grave of the goblin'. Later 13th century references call one of them Stanlow or 'burial stone', Demnesweye or 'goblin's pathway or track' and Wyrstaneslawe which means either 'Wyrstons' tomb' or 'the Wyr stone at the long barrow', but the reference doesn't distinguish which stone it belongs to.

Thor Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Regarding my folklore post (below) and the derivation of the Thor stone's name....

TomBo reckons that this theory is incorrect. He believes that there's an ancient deity (male) called Toar. It was he for whom the Tors (eg. Glastonbury Tor, Rough Tor) were named. His divine descendants include Thor and Taranus, the Keltic thunder god. The words "taurus" and "altar" (literally all-Toar) are also likely to be derived from his name. He was known in some places as Pen or Ben (for some reason), and in this guise he named Scotland's mountains (Ben Nevis etc.), Italy's Appenines and my own beloved Pennines.

Perfectly plausible, surely?

Devil's Quoits (Circle henge)

One Stanton Harcourt resident told me that some years ago, her neighbour, an old man, now deceased, who had lived his whole life in the village, had been told by his father that he knew the location of one of the 'lost' stones. It was buried beneath the what is now the Stanton Harcourt cricket pitch. Anyone got an instrument for reading subterranean densities?

Thor Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

According to Corbett in 1962, the Thorstone is said to have been cast down form the skies by Thor, God of storms. I believe its more likely to be a corruption of the name of 'Hoar', the great Goddess. Indeed the Hawk Stone, and various Hoar stones stand widely hereabouts and probably derived their names from the same deity.

In 1278 CE, the village of Taston was recorded as being called 'Thorstan', so it seems likely that the village derives its name from the stone itself. About 10ms away is a huge old stone cross, the top it now fallen, which is said to have been erected to abate the evil influence of the ancient standing stone. (Bloody early Christians wanting a monopoly on history and goodness again!)
Habitat: Commonly sighted in fields round Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.
Distribution: Widespread; occasional migrations to overwinter in Africa or other hot climes.
Characteristics: A tall, blonde, opinionated bird with feisty temper when provoked. Prone to spells of gloom during winter months. Usually sporting dark plumage, except for golden head, can often spotted with sketchbook and brushes near megalithic sites.
Feeding habits: Easily tempted with cheese (any variety) or a nice cup of tea. Unfeasibly fond of curry.
Behaviour: Unpredictable, approach cautiously. Responds very favourably to flattery.
Abhors: slugs, invisible sky gods, Tories, the Daily Mail, bigots, eggs, the cold, walking and timewasting.
Adores: a man called Moth, painting, live music, furry creatures, tea administered frequently, hot places, cheese, writing crap poetry, David Attenborough, Ernest Shackleton, Vincent van Gogh and the English language.
Want more?: see her website.
Big old rocks I find appealling
Their secrets they are not revealing
Some are chambers, some are tombs
Hidden in valleys and in combes
Some are said to act like clocks
With shadows cast out from their rocks
I like the way they just survive
When I visit, I feel alive
So I chase my rocks around the maps
Round England, Ireland and France, perhaps
But there ain't nothin' that I liked so much
As to see the Hunebedden, dem is Dutch.

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