THE DANCING STONES, THE HURLERS, &c.
IN many parts of Cornwall we find, more or less perfect, circles of stones, which the learned ascribe to the Druids. Tradition, and the common people, who have faith in all that their fathers have taught them, tell us another tale. These stones are everlasting marks of the Divine displeasure, being maidens or men, who were changed into stone for some wicked profanation of the Sabbath-day. These monuments of impiety are scattered over the county; they are to be found, indeed, to the extremity of Old Cornwall, many of those circles being upon Dartmoor. It is not necessary to name them all. Every purpose will be served if the tourist is directed to those which lie more directly in the route which is usually prescribed. In the parish of Burian are the "Dawns Myin" or Mên--the dancing stones--commonly called "The Merry Maidens;" and near them are two granite pillars, named the "Pipers." One Sabbath evening some of the thought. less 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; and, forgetting the holy day, commenced dancing. The excitement increased with the exercise, and soon the music and the dance became extremely wild; when, lo a flash of lightning from the clear sky transfixed them all, the tempters and the tempted, and there in stone they stand.
The celebrated circle of nineteen stones,--which is seen on the road to the Land's End,--known as the "Boscawen un Circle," is another example. The "Nine Maids," or the "Virgin Sisters," in Stithians, and other "Nine Maids," or, as called in Cornish, Naw-whoors, in St Colomb-Major parish, should also be seen, in the hope of impressing the moral lesson they convey yet more strongly on the mind. [a]
The three circles, which are seen on the moors not far from the Cheesewring, in the parish of St Cleer, are also notable examples of the punishment of Sabbath-breaking. These are called the Hurlers," and they preserve the position in which the several parties stood in the full excitement of the game of hurling, when, for the crime of profaning the Sabbath, they were changed into stone. [b]
[a] The following quotations are front Davies Gilbert. It must not be forgotten that this gentleman was President of the Royal Society, and therefore a sceptic in local tradutionary story:-- -
"On the south-west part of the parish of Stithians, towards Gwendron, are still to be seen nine Stones set perpendicularly erect in the earth, in a direct manner, about ten feet apart, called the Nine Maids, probably set up there in memory of nine religious sisters or nuns in that place before the fifth century; not women turned into stone, as the English name implies, and as the country people thereabout will tell you"
"The Nine Maids--in Cornish, Naw-voz, alias the nine sisters--in Cornish, Nawwhoors--which very name informs us that they were sepulchral stones, erected in memory either of suns natural or spiritual Sisters of some religious house, and not so many maids turned into stones for dancing on the Sabbath-day, as the country people will tell you. Those stones are set in order by a line, as is such another monument, also called the Nine Maids, in Gwendron, by the highway, about twenty-five feet distance Irons each other."
[b] "With respect to the stones called the 'Hurlers' being once men, I will say with Hals, 'Did hut the ball which these Hurlers used when flesh and blood appear directly over them, immovably pendant in the air, one might he apt to credit some little of the tale;' but as this is not the case, I must add icy belief of their being erected by the
Druids for some purpose or other -- probably a court of justice; bog subsequent to which erection, however, they may have served as a goal for hurl-players."--Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Love, by Thomas Bond.
May we not address Mr Bond, "O ye of little faith!" A very small amount of which would have found the ball, fixed as a boulder of granite, not as it passed through the air, but as it rolled along the ground.
That an ancient priesthood, endeavouring to reach the minds of an ignorant people through their sensations, should endeavour to persuade the old Celtic population that God's vengeance had fallen on the Sabbath-breaker, is not to be wondered at. Up to a very recent period, hurling matches usually came off on the Sunday--See "Hurling," in the chapter on Cornish Customs