standing stones

   Erected in prehistoric times, whether solitary or in groups, these frequently attract legends to explain either how they came to be there or what strange powers they have; the same is true of natural boulders and rock formations, if they are sufficiently dramatic. A single stone is often said to have been thrown or dropped by the *Devil, by *giants, or by some mighty hero such as Robin Hood; occasionally, if the stone is near a church, it is said the Devil was trying to knock it down, but missed. Alternatively, the giant (or Devil) was carrying stones to build something himself, but stupidly dropped one. The very size of the stones inspired some storytellers to claim they were set up with astounding speed and ease. Rudston Stone (Humberside), the tallest standing stone in England, grew up in the churchyard in a single night, by its own power; a group of three large uprights and a capstone at Drewsteignton (Devon) is called the Spinsters' Rock because three old maids set it up one morning before breakfast.
   Such stories are clearly frivolous, but there are about a dozen others (*Long Meg and Stanton Drew are good examples) which tell how evil-doers were turned to stone for dancing, playing sports, or working, instead of respecting the Sabbath, or for witchcraft. The medieval name 'The Giants' Dance' for Stonehenge hints intriguingly that a tale of this type was once told there.
   Another recurrent motif is that megaliths cannot be counted correctly; both at Stone-henge and at Stanton Drew anyone who gets the number right will meet misfortune, even death. Nor can they be shifted from their place, or if they are, they return at once by their own power - though they do move voluntarily, at certain times. L. V. Grinsell (1976: 58-60) listed 23 prehistoric megaliths in England which walk, turn round, or go to a river to drink, when they hear the clock strike twelve, or hear the church bells, or hear the cock crow, and then return to their places; there is a further list in Janet and Colin Bord, The Secret Country (1978), 144-51, which includes natural boulders such as the impressive Cheesewring on Bodmin Moor (Cornwall). The crucial phrase is 'when they hear', for no stone hears anything; several of the tales contain additional improbabilities, such as a cock crowing in the middle of Bodmin Moor, or a church clock striking thirteen. It is possible that the belief was once seriously held, but it is now merely the basis for a catch to tease children.
   ■ Grinsell, 1976; S. P. Menefee, Folklore 85 (1974), 23-42; Folklore 86 (1975), 146-66.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • STANDING STONES —    rude unhewn stones standing singly or in groups in various parts of the world, and erected at remote periods, presumably in memory of some great achievement or misfortune, or as having some monumental reference …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • standing stones — ➡ Bronze Age Britain * * * …   Universalium

  • Standing Stones of Stanness — Stones of Stennes Größenvergleich zum Menschen Die (Standing) Stones of Stenness sind ein neolithisches Henge Monument (class I henge), das sich auf der …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Standing Stones of Stenness — The surviving Standing Stones of Stenness form an impressive Neolithic monument on the mainland of Orkney, Scotland. It is sited on a promontory at the south bank of the stream that joins the southern ends of the sea loch Loch of Stenness and the …   Wikipedia

  • Standing Stones des Weltkulturerbes "Orkney" — Dem Weltkulturerbe The Heart of Neolithic Orkney auf der Insel The Mainland Orkney (Schottland) werden zur Zeit vier Menhire [1] zugerechnet. Entsprechend dem fachsprachlichen Gebrauch in der englischen Literatur handelt es sich bei den Standing… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Stenness Standing Stones — Les pierres levées de Stenness (Stenness Standing Stones) sont situées dans la partie sud ouest de Mainland, île principale des Orcades, près de Maes Howe. De ce cercle de 12 pierres dressées là vers 3000 av. J. C., il n en reste que quatre, la… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • The Standing Stones of Caithness — by Leslie J Myatt, 2003, is the first complete description of megalithic standing stone sites in Caithness, in the Highland area of Scotland, since 1911, when the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments produced its Caithness… …   Wikipedia

  • Cove (standing stones) — Cove is a term used to describe a tightly concentrated group of large standing stones found in Neolithic and Bronze Age England. Coves are square or rectangular in plan and seem to have served as small enclosures within other henge, stone circle… …   Wikipedia

  • Standing stone — For the Paul McCartney album, see Standing Stone (album). For Tennessee State Park, see Standing Stone State Park. One of 60 standing stones from the Ring of Brodgar located in Stenness, Orkney. Standing stones, orthostats, liths, or more… …   Wikipedia

  • Stones of Scotland — There are many large stones of Scotland of cultural and historical interest. There are so many, it is not possible to do more than discuss a few of them. tone of SconeThe Stone of Scone, (pronounced scoon ) also commonly known as the Stone of… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.