Turning the Devilís Stone, DevonThere is something decidedly creepy about this particular British tradition Ė it sounds like the premise for a Doctor Who plot in which terrible forces will (inevitably) be unleashed. There is much dispute over the antiquity of the ceremony, however, with some suggesting it is of recent invention (recent is a relative term, however, and one documented account dates it to at least the 1870s), while others claim there is evidence pointing to Saxon times and earlier.
Every November 5 the bell-ringers of St Michaelís and All Angels, which dates from the 11th century, are present in the evening ringing the bells in the usual manner, but then at 8pm they ring a discordant peal said to drive evil from the village. This is the precursor to the main event, when the same bell-ringers descend to the churchyard and surround a large stone which lies at the foot of an ancient oak. This is the Devilís Stone, or Devilís Boulder. In earlier times the ceremony was said to have taken place later at night, which must have been spookier still.
The bell-ringers come armed with crowbars. They prise the stone from the earth and flip it over. Local legend has it that the devil resides beneath it, and if the stone is not turned bad luck and evil happenings will befall the village and spread beyond. The stone takes some shifting, being about six feet by four feet in size and weighing over a tonne.
The boulder is of a quartz type not found in the area, explained by geologists as a glacial erratic carried and dumped by melting ice sheets during the last ice age. Others have wondered if it could be a holy stone of some sort, a standing stone or an altar brought to the village in pre-Christian times.
Those of a more supernatural turn of mind say the stone fell from the devilís pocket when he was thrown out of heaven by St Michael (note the name of the church). Alternatively, it is said that the stone was long ago quarried as a foundation stone for a church being built over the river Torrage at Henscott, and the devil kept bringing it back to Shebbear every time it was transported there until the builders gave up and left it where the devil wanted.
Once the stone has been rolled over the ringers and onlookers repair to the village pub, The Devilís Stone Ė naturally said to be one of the most haunted in the country - for a much needed refresher and perhaps some discussion of the legend. All nonsense of course to our enlightened scientific minds. Best not to take any chances though.
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to Turning the Devilís Stone
From Zohara on 12th November 2009
Thanks. that was a great joy!