Heidi and I have a bit of a thing for stone circles, amongst other ancient sites, and we recently went in search of the Stanton Drew circles, which are located fairly close to us here in Somerset.
We hadn’t realised this little known site has the second largest stone circle in Britain (nearly 115 metres), and only Avebury is bigger. Next to this super-sized stone circle are two smaller circles, and the whole area has that enigmatic and mystical quality peculiar to these ancient sites.
There’s lots of interesting information about the age of these monuments, who built them, how and why etc, but I thought rather than enthrall you with all that I’d share a story from local folk lore about the origin of the stones. Legend has it that the megaliths are wedding guests that were turned to stone. We don’t know who was getting married, but this party went on all day Saturday, and continued into the night. Around midnight a mysterious man clothed in black, who turned out to be the devil in disguise, started playing his violin for the revellers, who danced and drank and made merry all night. By the time dawn broke on the Sunday the entire party had been turned to stone by the demonic figure. The circles represent the dancers, the avenues are the fiddlers, and located in the beer garden of the local pub – The Druid’s Arms – are three stones known collectively as The Cove, two of which are standing and one is lying on its side. This trio is the bride and groom, with the drunken churchman at their feet.
This story is similar to other myths that attribute stone circles to petrified dancers, who were often, though not exclusively, lead to their demise by the devil. It’s possible these stories were a powerful tool of psychological warfare perpetrated by the church in a bid to demonise paganism and keep people respectful of the sabbath. I would like to think that at Stanton Drew the pagans hit back against the priestly propaganda by not only including the vicar in the group of drunken revellers, but marking him out as the most smashed one of them all.