Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Devils Arrows and English Folklore

I have always been attracted to and fascinated by megaliths, menhirs, dolmens and stone circles. This is one of the reasons why the teachings of Wodens Folk has always resonated with me for in our religion the worship of the Germanic Gods is also associated with the reverence for sacred places in the landscape such as megaliths and dolmens.

As a young boy in the 1960s I remember regularly visiting the remarkable Devil`s Arrows  which are three surviving menhirs alligned in a field near the A1 and the river Ure in Boroughbridge in the old West Riding of Yorkshire. These stones are very distinctive for they have a grooved pattern formed they say due to millenia of rainfall. I am not convinced that rainfall has caused this distinctive pattern for I know of no other menhirs that are shaped in this way. The tallest stone is 22 1/2 feet in height which makes it the second tallest menhir in the United Kingdom. Originally there were at least four such `arrows` but one was pulled down by our ignorant ancestors in the 18th century who were hunting for treasure. The remains of the stone were then used to build a nearby bridge over the river. The stones are formed from millstone grit and apparently this may have been obtained 9 miles away in Knaresborough.

The alignment of the stones is in a NNW-SSE direction conforms with the summer moonrise. The stones are associated with the `Devil` who used them as `arrows` to fire at the nearby ancient Roman town of Aldborough. The `Devi`l shouted:  "Borobrigg keep out o' way, for Aldborough town I will ding down!" We know that in English folklore references to the `Devil` disguise the contempt of the xtian church for our ancient Gods, in particular Woden and Thunor.

However there is a surviving tale of an encounter between the `Devil` and Thor recorded in In Search of the Lost Gods. A Guide to British Folklore by Ralph Whitlock[1979]. A legend from Treyford Hill near Midhurst in west Sussex refers to an argument between the `Devil` and Thor whose sleep was disturbed by the `Devil` leaping from barrow to barrow on the hill. The `Devil` taunted him by saying that Thor "was too old to go jumping about in this way." Thor thus flung a rock which caught the `Devil` in his midriff. It is certainly unusual to see the two beings on separate sides which could be an indication of a remembrance of a local cult to Thor or Thunor and that even with the xtian conversion His followers still stayed loyal to him. It could also be suggestive of a contest between Woden and Thunor as there is evidence of their rivalry in the Eddas and Woden is often demonised by the church and called a `Devil`. The Lay of Harbard in the Elder Edda is one such example of a flyting or verbal contest between the two Gods. However Viktor Rydberg was of the opinion that Harbard was actually Loki in disguise, not Odin. This being the case the `Devil` in the legend from Treyford Hill could in fact be Loki.

As a boy I was told by a friend that if you danced around one of the arrows three times widdershins the `Devil` would appear. I did try this but nothing happened! So even into the 1960s, in the `modern` era these folktales still survived and were passed down the generations. Clearly the reference to dancing around a menhir hearkens back to ancient sun worship. However to dance in a widdershins direction is considered to bring bad luck and this may be why it is associated with the summoning forth of the `Devil`.

A number of years ago I carried out a rite to consecrate these stones to Woden. A picture of the Devils Arrows may be viewed at the top of this blog.