Stories about sacrificial stones

Caspar David Friedrich painted this, now gone, dolmen with three old oaks. In 1818 the mayor of Gützkow (Johann Balthasar Pütter) had the dolmen, which was popularly called 'Opferstein', blown up.

Stones that bleed when you poke them. Stones with imprints of the fingers, claw or foot of a devil, saint, hero or giant. Sometimes it is just a hoof print. There are (boundary) stones that absolutely cannot be moved and stones that have been thrown for miles. There are even stones under which you can find a baby. There are stones that you pour water over or drink water from, stones whose water is used for baptism. Stories about special stones occur worldwide. In this article I pay attention to some stories that occur in the Netherlands, Germany and the Slavic culture. At first glance they have nothing to do with each other, but sometimes you see striking similarities.

In my first article, megaliths in the moonlight, I already wrote about the Bloodstone at the Kernhem house (Ede). Blood would come out of this if you poked the stone with a pin at midnight on a full moon. The information about a pin (or needle) and a bleeding stone also occurs in Utrecht (De Gesloten Steen or The Closed Stone, also called devil’s stone) and is also told about De Amersfoortse Kei and other stones.

There are several legends about ‘The Closed Stone’. One of those legends is that the devil and his servant were throwing this stone at night between the nearby Geertebrug and Vollersbrug. On a miss, the stone hit the ground with such a thud that the houses shook to their foundations. Subsequently, the boulder was chained (closed) to get rid of the devil. The stone could no longer be moved.

Woodcut of the Closed Stone

A devil’s stone indicated exactly where the division between the marke De Lutte and the marke Zuid-Berghuizen lay. You could pass the stone via a very narrow ‘church path’. A woman in a hurry forgets to cross her path when she passes the stone, suddenly a man walks next to her. At the postal road from Deventer to Hannover, which crosses that church path, she hears a big bang and smells sulfur vapour. The man has disappeared. At the beginning of the 20th century, people were warned not to walk along the stone; “Watch out, you can’t pass there, because that’s not a good idea.”

That stones bleed is also said about certain boundary stones. There was said to have been sacrificed, and through this the blood still flows. It is said that children were frightened in order to avoid coming near the stones. The soul of a deceased does not rest if that person has moved boundary stones during his life, as is also said in folk tales. The souls drag around glowing stones or glow themselves. The only redemption lies in putting the stone back in the right place: the place it came from.

It is said about yet another stone that the devil threw it at the tower of Doesburg, but it ends up in De Steeg. The imprint of the devil’s claw can be seen on the stone.

Similar stories occur in many countries. Often the devil aimed at a church under construction, or other Christian shrine.

Another example is a stone in the forest near Rheden. In days gone by, residents of the village of Doesburg had collected money to build the tower of the church here.

The devil wants to throw a stone at the church in Münster. He misses and the stone ends up in the nearby cemetery in Ingolstadt.

Probably the devil was so angry when he heard this, he couldn’t control his powers anymore. As a result, he threw too hard, causing the stone to miss the target. Every woman who could not conceive had to come to this stone in the forest. The women then had to drive a nail into the stone and if blood came out, the woman would become pregnant. A forest nymph later placed a second stone in the forest. She was completely fed up with the crowds in the forest and therefore decided to place a second stone, so that the women no longer knew which stone was the right one and it became quiet again in the forest. Very occasionally, early in the morning when the fog is in the valley, you can still see the ‘real’ stone because it floats through the valley… the stories tell.

Two giants threw stones between Michelsberg and Todenhausen. Elias lost. The stone, on which the imprint of Elias’ huge thumb is clearly visible, is still on the road between Michelsberg and Linsingen.

Something similar is told in Friesland, where fingers in a stone can be seen in Gauw. It was also thrown. This stone was not thrown by the devil from Akkrum to Gauw, but by a giant. Unfortunately, the stone has disappeared.

Another Frisian place, Drachten, is about the devil. He didn’t throw a rock here, but left his footprint in a rock after a jump. At Aldwâld (Veenklooster) the devil also jumped over a ditch, but left a horse’s leg behind in the stone. This was near a bridge. This is also told about the Bonkebrêge and the Alddyk at Wykgeast. And during the pole vault, the devil leaves a footprint in a stone at Burgum.

A footprint of a horse is also left on a hunebed in the Netherlands. According to tradition, Napoleon Bonaparte jumped horse and all on top of the large flat capstone of D45. The hunebed is located in the Emmerdennen, a forest area in the town of Emmen. According to other accounts of the same dolmen, the dents are said to be the fingerprints and thumbprints of a giant. W.J. de Wilde heard the story about the footprints of Napoleon’s horse on dolmens D9, D17, D18, D14, D27, D28, D29 and D45. A constable shows him the footprint on D45.

The ‘hunebed’ (also called ‘sacrifice stone’) at Lage Vuursche would bleed if one pricked it. Near Nunspeet is also a stone that would bleed if you prick it, it would be a petrified soldier. Also near the Belgian border are many (flat) stones from which blood would flow if you pricked them. Bloodstones also occur in Germany, here they are also called Opfersteine ​​(sacrificial stones).

In the Netherlands, these stones are known as pancake stones. These are stones that have artificial cup-shaped depressions. Mette van Merwe showed cups at D02 in Westervelde, D03 in Midlaren, D12 in Eext, D16 in Balloo, D32 in Odoorn, D35 in Valthe and D49 in Schoonoord.

It is suspected that the alleged grooves of the devil’s claws in the Teufelsstein near the church in Lübeck are a simple crack, but according to folk tales he unknowingly helped build the church. He thought to build a winery. When he realized what was going on, the devil tried to destroy the house of worship with the stone, but he missed. In 1999 the bronze statue was placed on the devil stone.

At the entrance of the Frauenkirche in Munich in Bavaria is the Devil’s Footstep or Teufelsschritt. This mark in a tile resembles a footprint, where legend has it that the devil stood after he struck a deal with the builder to finance the construction of the church on the condition that there were no windows in it. The builder managed to trick the devil by placing columns so that the windows were not visible from where the devil stood at the entrance. The devil eventually found out that he had been fooled, but he could not enter a consecrated church and could only stand in the entrance hall, stamping his foot furiously, leaving the footprint that can still be seen today in the entrance of the church.

On the Pierre Brunehaut it is precisely the footprint of Mary, she wanted to help build the Cathedral of Tournai. As she was on her way with the stone, she heard that a foundation had already been laid. That’s why she left him in Hollain. She returned to heaven, leaving her footprint on the west side of the stone. There are more folktales associated with this stone. According to one of those stories, the stone was erected on the spot where Brunhilde’s body was found after she was put to death tied to a galloping horse. If the stone falls, the world will end.

Sacrificial stones are sacred stones used for offerings. Its use has been documented from prehistoric times to modern folk culture.

Sacrifice stones play an important role among the Slavs and in Slavic mythology. Their origin as a separate people must be about the 2nd millennium BC. have been when the Celts, Germans and other Indo-European peoples started to profile themselves.

Until the beginning of the era, the Slavs lived in eastern Poland, Belarus and western Ukraine around the Pripyat swamps.

They lived mainly in the vast forests in this region and traces of this can still be found in Slavic mythology. After the Great Migration, the Slavs spread across Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. In the early Middle Ages – after the migrations – Slavs lived in Central Europe (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic), but the German colonization after the year 1000 and the stronger influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages drove them again partly east. There is still a minority living in Germany.

In Russia, the story is told that stones are turned over, but that what one expects is not found. The story is set in Russia near the Volga and is dated on July 23, 1669. But similar stories also occur in the Netherlands, as we will see later…

In the Pskov region, stones were sacrificed in the 20th century, which, according to archaeological finds, had the same function as early as the Bronze Age. In the village of Kołbiel in Masovia, people put money and food scraps in the stone depressions at Easter. These sacrifices were called joście. Until 1906, 0.5 kilometers south of the village of Głupianka lay a jagged boulder, adored by the locals. It had niches in which food for the poor was placed during the vernal equinox. The stone was broken at the request of the parish priest of Kołbiel and was intended for the construction of the church stairs. The place is still called Joście, a pre-Christian holy place of the Slavs. There is now a stone chapel.

In de Oost-Slaven worden soortgelijke stenen sledovik genoemd. De meeste sledovik-stenen hebben legendes die ermee verbonden zijn. In de moderne, christelijke (of postchristelijke) wereld zeggen de meeste van deze legendes dat het een voet van Christus was (ook wel de Maagd Maria of een van de heiligen) die de afdruk op de steen heeft achtergelaten.

An icon from Pochaiv Lavra; the Virgin Mary leaving her footprint on a stone

However, in some cases the imprint is associated with the devil and the stones are considered impure and harmful. So here too, stories about hands, fingers and footprints left behind by an imposing figure (a saint or devil).

It is believed that these stones were used as pagan shrines in the past. However, it is unlikely that they served as altars and were used for bloody sacrifices. It is more likely that rainwater and dew collected in these cavities and this was considered sacred or blessed (and used in certain rituals).

Some rituals have survived to this day: for example, in Pochaiv Lavra, the local Sledovik, interpreted as a place of revelation of the Virgin Mary, is revered as one of the most important remains of the monastery. Pilgrims are allowed to drink water that has been poured into the footprint and thus is considered blessed.

Sledovik and nasturtiums found in the wild are in some cases also revered by the locals. Either in the Christianized interpretation or in “alternative” semi-pagan style. People usually came to the stones and left food, sweets or icons there or burned church candles. Wishing trees can often be found near such stones.

Sin-Kamen at Lake Plecheyevo with offerings (petals), the stone sometimes stands in the water when the water level rises

The Slavs also know other sacred stones. Sin-Kamen (literally in Russian “Blue Stone”) is a type of pagan sacred stone common in Russia (in areas historically inhabited by both East Slavic and Volga Finnish tribes). Unlike sledovik, Sin-Kamen had no saints associated with the stone and were worshiped in a simpler way: by pouring water on it or leaving food offerings behind. Some Blue Stones are still known and revered by the locals.

The Sin-Kamen near Lake Pleshcheevo used to be a Meryan shrine. Where in most cases the Sin-Kamen type stones are black or dark grey, this stone does indeed look dark blue when wet. The surface is covered with small bowls; the weight is estimated at about 12 tons.

A well-known Slavic sacred stone is the Kudepsta cult stone (also called Circassian stone). It is a megalithic monument near the Kudepsta district. Only the eastern half of the stone has been worked. There are two recesses, which resemble chairs, separated by a kind of “armrest”. The width of the chairs is 75 centimeters, the depth is 45 centimeters. The seats are oriented along the 60-degree azimuth, presumably to the point of sunrise on the days of the winter solstice. Many consider the Kudepsta stone to belong to the dolmen culture of the Western Caucasus.

Thee Kudepsta-cult stone

And there is a legend in Altentreptow an der Tollense. The inhabitants of Altentreptow would have fought the devil because their church, seen from Neubrandenburg, had a tower that was much too high. The devil then threw the giant stone of Neubrandenburg, but missed the church tower. That is how the “Big Stone” fell on the Klosterberg. The “handle of the devil” can be seen in the stone measuring 8 meters long and 6 meters wide.

In Germany, stories are also told of horses that left hoof marks on a stone. Brunhilde is said to have jumped from the Hexentanzplatz to the Rosstrapp with her horse, when she was on the run from knight (or giant) Bodo. He died trying to make the same jump. He still watches in the river, for Brunhilde has lost her crown there. The print of the ‘horse hoof’ can still be seen on the Rosstrapp.

A horseshoe can also be seen on the “Breitenstein”. This horseshoe is said to have been carved along with a cart track to commemorate a knight and his horse jumped from the cliff and died in the river.

The Teufelsstein near Haardt (Rhineland-Palatinate) is a rock formation about 2.50 meters high and up to 4 meters wide. There are no chairs here, but five steps carved into the rock. They lead to the top of the rock where there is a cavity believed to be a sacrificial bowl (Opferschale) for religious rites of its former, probably Celtic, users and from which a blood channel (Blutrinne) runs down the rock via the steps. Numerous symbols have been carved into this rock, dating back to different periods. In addition to sun wheels, runes and Roman letters, there are several markings that recall the stonemason’s marks of the 12th and 13th centuries. According to older records, two crudely drawn human figures were also once visible, but these have since been weathered or deliberately destroyed.

Teufelsstein at Haardt
Top of the Teufelsstein near Haardt. One large and three small pits can be seen. You can reach it by climbing the carved steps.

In the middle of the former Melzinger Heide in Germany lies a large granite stone, popularly known as the “sacrifice stone”. A deep man-made groove runs over one end of the stone, which has been called the “Blutrinne” (“Blood Groove”). According to a legend, the moss that grows around the stone smells like blood. The water in the pond would once have been red. According to another legend, there is said to be a treasure buried under the stone.

Scientific research has shown that a lot of organic matter has entered the soil at this point. It can only be assumed that these were offerings. Various finds found here prove that the sacrificial stone was visited between 2500 and 600 BC.

During excavations conducted by Wolfgang Dietrich Asmus between 1954 and 1957, it was discovered that the sacrificial stone lay on a cobblestone pavement in the center of a cavity 30 meters long and 21 meters wide. The cavity was probably originally surrounded by a flat earth wall. A pit 0.5 meters deep was found on the east side of the stone. It was probably the pit in which the stone once stood, which would mean that the stone was originally an upright menhir.

Near Detmerode, just like the Opferstein of Melzingen located in Lower Saxony, there is also an Opferstein. A lot of cups have been put in here. This stone was used in Neolithic rituals. The pans are relatively small, unlike the Opfersteine ​​of Juhöhe in Hesse. These sacrificial stones are granodiorite rocks with large eroded cup-shaped cavities and a lattice of weathering cracks. The bowl-shaped cavities are said to have been man-made for sacrifices. At least that’s how the ancient legends and stories of the region tell us. It is said that the holes of the Opfersteine ​​cups were for the devil.

“Opferstein of Melzingen” in
 Schwienau, Nedersaksen
Detmeroder Opferstein; the stone was used in Neolithic rituals, Wolfsburg
Opferstein Juhöhe, Hessen

Near Burgwalde, Eichsfeld district of Thuringia, is a small hill covered with a group of spruce trees. In the middle of the trees is a small red sandstone chapel, dedicated to Saint Boniface. Behind the Bonifatius chapel on the Brink south of Burgwalde is a stone with a filled floor. The location of the rock indicates that there was once an ancient pagan sacrificial site at this point and that the boulder served as a sacrificial stone. The pre-Christian sacrificial stone became a Christian baptismal font, and even today it is still referred to as the “baptismal font of St Boniface” stone. The hill is still called Boniface Mountain.

According to the villagers, this should contain brown colored water all year round. According to legend, the Apostle of the Germans preached Christianity here and thus put an end to the old Germanic worship of the gods.

Every evening, when the daylight faded, the preacher of the Word of God climbed the hill to the Brink, where he proclaimed the teachings of the Crucified to the people who gathered there. But the words that were heard were loud and the listeners became less and less every day. Weeks passed like that. One day no one came to listen, but then Boniface remembered that the next day would be the festival of the summer solstice. He knew Germanic customs and knew that the festival would start at sunrise.

According to the story, a sacrifice of the local population goes wrong. The dawn shone brighter and brighter, and suddenly the sun, which was called the eye of Wotan (Wodan), cast its first rays over the wooded mountains and bathed the whole landscape in its golden light. The populace said to Boniface, “If your god is really as powerful as you tell us, may he now fill the basin of the sacrificial stone with water.”

Then Boniface made the sign of the cross over the stone with his crucifix, and to the astonishment of all a soft dripping sound was heard, as if a spring had sprung from the earth. But when one looked, one saw that the stone basin was slowly filling with clear water. In the days that followed, Boniface again climbed the Brink as before, and preached, teaching the Christian doctrine to all who had come. Then he baptized them with the water he took from the stone basin.

Shortly after Schönau, on the road leading to Burgwalde, is the “little Bonifatiusstein”. Until the end of the last century, the stone, about half a meter high, was decorated with a mitre, a bishop’s hat. From here the saint climbed the “loop path” to the Brink, where he preached daily. The path no longer exists, but old people still remember where it went.

The Boniface Chapel and Baptismal Font of St. Boniface

According to the folk tales, the special stones may not be moved. Why is sometimes unknown, but in other cases the stones indicate an important place or border. Yet in certain cases a devil moved the stones, throwing the stones over long distances with ease. He usually aimed for Christian buildings. In some cases it was a saint who moved the stones. And sometimes it was a giant. In my article King Arthur and Megaliths it was already mentioned that a similar story is told about King Arthur. A pebble in his shoe was thrown away by him and in his place assumed enormous dimensions from the contact with the mythical king.

About the Amersfoortse Kei it is said that it was written: If you saw me from below, you would be amazed! So the stone was turned over. And turning stones over, that also happens with the Slavs (so shows a story recorded in 1669). In all cases, what was expected was not found, a treasure or message on the bottom. Usually people have gone to great lengths to find out that the stone is now on its other side. This is also told about other boulders, sometimes they were cleaned with water in order to read the text (for example in a story told in Drachten). This is reminiscent of the rituals performed by the Slavs, pouring water over a sacred stone.

Marinda Ruiter

This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: verhalen over offerstenen


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