Moving stones and spinners

Spinster's Rock

It has been documented as far back as the 13th century that some menhirs can rotate on holidays. If you put your ear to certain menhirs, you can hear wails. For many, the stones were – and are – bearers of supernatural powers. And in many stories, it would be the fairies (aka goddesses or witches) who built them as they spin or spin; the spinners. Examples were already given in the article about the dolmen and fairies in France and who built the megaliths in the Iberian Peninsula. But in more places there are moving (often rotating) stones and the spinners are connected to the megaliths. In the Netherlands too.

The Pierres Branlantes (the rickety stones) has over 60 cupmarks. The two large stones, placed at right angles to each other, are located at the end of the rue des Deux Pierres (street of the two stones), east of the commune of Biéville-Beuville in France. Legend has it that the stones shake when the parish church’s bell chimes at midnight or noon. As with many other remarkable stones, it was told that treasures were buried there and the ground was moved in vain. It is also said that the megalith contained a small cave: the chamber of the fairies.

“Sorgiñetxe”; witch house

According to the local Basque people, it was the witches who built the Dolmen de Sorginetxe (dolmen of the witch, etxe means house; so it could be translated as house of the witch), the large stones of which were brought from Atokolarri, in the Entzia Mountains. They carried the stones on the tips of their spinning wheels. In these dolmen the “sorginak” or “sorguinas” (witches) celebrated their akelarres (witches’ sabbath) at night. The goat, seated on the horizontal capstone, also took part. In addition, the legend goes on to say that very close to the dolmen they buried a bull’s skin full of gold.

According to legend, an old spinner carried the Filadoira stone on her head over the mountains of San Roque to the area of ​​Entrerríos (without stopping to turn) to place it as a capstone on a dolmen. This is the La Piedra de Filadoira Dolmen in Western Asturias. And it is recorded that one of the Les Grises Pierres (the gray stones) at Montaigu-la-Brisette used to stand with its narrow end in the ground. The two stones lie on the slope of the cone-shaped Montaigu hill, behind the old church (on a hilltop within the walled circular churchyard). According to legend, the largest of these stones rotates three times on Christmas Eve. And according to folklore, the capstone of Pierre-qui-Vire (turning stone) in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is said to turn itself every hundred years.

The capstone of St Lythans Cromlech is said to revolve three times on Midsummer’s Eve. Also, all the stones would go to the nearby river for bathing. Wishes made on this site on Hallowe’en (October 31) are, according to the stories, guaranteed to come true. The cromlech stands in a field known as “Accursed Field”, so named because of its supposed barrenness. The name could be a variant of the Arthurian legend of Culhwch and the giant’s daughter Olwen, which appears in two 14th-century Welsh texts, but the site itself is much older, dating back to the Neolithic period, some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.

Tinkinswood is about a mile from St. Lythans Cromlech. It is a Cotswold-Severn Group type dolmen. According to legend, anyone who spent a night at Tinkinswood on the evenings before May 1, St. John’s Day (June 23) or Midwinter’s Day would either die, go mad or become a poet. The group of boulders to the southeast of the monument are said to be women who were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath day, another legend associated with multiple megaliths (examples can be found in Petrification).

Above: Pierre-qui-Vire & right: St. Lythans Cromlech

Cheesewring (cheese dairy) in Devon is an iconic collection of stones that is often thought to be an ancient structure (but was actually formed by wind and weather erosion) would also move on its own. It has a typical folkloric story, in this case the Cheesewring is said to be the result of a stone-throwing contest between a local giant Uther and Saint Tue. But according to another legend, the top stone rotates at dawn when it hears roosters crowing.

And of another stone in Gloucestershire it is said: “When the Longstone hears the clock strike twelve, it runs about the field.” In the parish of Avening, about half a mile south of the Longstone, is Tinglestone. This is a menhir crowning a long burial mound; it is also related that the stone “runs around the field when it hears the clock strike twelve.”

A little further north than the Tinglestone is Avebury. The Diamond Stone at Avebury (also called Swindon Stone) is also said to rotate once on its axis at midnight. The Swindon Stone also likes to get out and about, with local legends stating that he is prone to go for a walk, crossing the nearby road at midnight.

However, it seems that such stories about walking stones are in fact very old. Around AD 828, a Welsh monk named Nennius wrote an epic work entitled: Historia Brittonum.

Nennius makes a very interesting reference to a story about an ancient standing stone found in Wales: a stone that moves at night in Glenn Cindenn, and if it were thrown into the sea it would be found again at the edge of the same valley.

A story recorded in Somerset Folklore (1965) by Ruth L. Tongue tells a similar story about the Wimblestone (dizzy stone or lively stone):

Zebedee Fry came home late from making hay over Shipham. The moon was full because they had worked late and the harvest was late because it was a hilly field, he had forgotten what night it was. He thought he saw something big and dark moving in the field where the great stone stood, but he was too tired to go after a stray bull. Then something huge and dark came rustling in the field past the hedge of the lane, and he got up and dove into the bushes in the ditch till the huge object went right past him, and then he tiptoed to reach Shipham. When he gets to the field gate, he rushes past it.

But in spite of all that, he saw this stone twelve feet and more dancing before him in the moonlight over the top of the field. And where he always stood, the moon shone on a pile of gold money. But he didn’t go there. He shouldn’t stop for that, not until he was safe in the inn in Shipham. They called him foolish for not getting his hand to the treasure – but no one seemed eager to try – not after he told them how nimbly the stone danced around the field. And no one knows if it will dance again in a hundred years when there is a full moon on Midsummer’s night.

And there are other stories of people disturbing the Wimblestone. One such story tells that the stone attacked a farmer who hit it with a stick, and chased him across the countryside until the farmer took refuge in a nearby church. And yet another story about the Wimblestone tells that the stone turned over and crushed a fellow who tried to pull it up with oxen.

Spinster’s Rock

Spinsters Rock in Devon is located 2 miles west of the village of Drewsteignton (which translates as “place/farm of the Druid Stones”). According to local legend, the dolmen was built by three spinners (or maidens or witches) on their way to the market to sell their wool. These were not “spinners” in the sense of single ladies, but in the woolen sense, i.e. wool spinners. One morning before breakfast, the three ladies left to take their spun wool to the local ‘jobber’ (wool merchant). Passing the spot where the fallen cromlech stood, they decided to spend some time re-erecting three granite slabs that resembled the walls of a house of cards. The Spinsters covered them with a huge granite slab, leaving us with the ‘Spinsters’ Rock’ that we can see today.

Another version is that one day a mysterious old man accompanied by his three sons suddenly appeared from the hills, erected the structure and promptly disappeared (suggesting that they had turned to stone). In 1779, a writer named William Chapple believed that the name ‘Spinsters’ Rock’ was derived from the Celtic phrase ‘Lle Yspiennwr rhongoa’, which translates as ’the place of the open observatory’ or ’the open observatory’. When the structure was first mapped by archaeologists, Spinster’s Rock was surrounded by a number of other stones arranged in circles and rows that may have been added after the dolmen was erected, but these have now disappeared.

Around the two megalithic tombs of Wapserveen (D53 and D54 located in the Netherlands at Havelte) a saga exists that also has to do with the spinners. At the Havelterberg, these two dolmens are 150 meters apart. It concerns a medium-sized hunebed and a large hunebed. With a length of almost 18 meters, this is the second largest hunebed in the Netherlands. This story – recorded in 1845 – goes as follows:

At the dolmens in the vicinity of Wapserveen, old women are spinning on golden spinning wheels. A farmhand wanted to tease the females.

On horseback he rode to the dolmens and exclaimed: Old wiefien flatfoot, Komstoe mar oet; As ’t kwaad doet. In other words: Old woman flat-footed, come out; if [teasing] hurts.

The great hunebed of Havelte in 1737 by Cornelis Pronk

The women became angry. Then he rode off quickly, but the females followed him and threw green bones. Fortunately, he reached the stable in time: one of the bones, however, hit the horse on the leg and the animal remained paralyzed for the rest of its life. Had the bone hit the farmhand, he would surely have been dead.

There are several legends about the pursuit of a supernatural being who throws something, which can only be narrowly escaped. This is how it often occurs in the stories about the witte wiefen or white women, they hit the spit with a spit. The stiepel is the pole that stands in the middle of the mendeur in the old Saxon farmhouse. A private label is often found on the stipel as proof of ownership, but also as a protective sign. The stipple sign in the Dutch province Twente is a sun wheel or moon sign (ancient pagan – with a cross, a chalice or a heart as Christian symbols, often also the hourglass).

A white damselfly is also associated with Kernhem (Keerum, turn around) in the Netherlands. Here lies the Bloedsteen or Bloodstone, the stone near the Doolhof (Maze) would bleed if pricked with a pin at midnight on a full moon. There would have been a solar observatory here, as I mentioned in previous articles.

There is also an Irish story of the Banshee chasing a farmer and throwing her pestle at him; who misses and then twists his fireplace tongs in her iron grip. The Banshee is also called “woman of the fairy mound” or “fairy woman”: a fairy or woman of the magic mound (a burial mound).

The Banshee Appears by R. Prowse (1862)

It is said about the Wendelstein in Germany that: when they hear the noon chime, they turn on their other side. The word “Wenden” means “to turn” in German.

But ‘Wenden’ can also stand for a people; it is an obsolete designation for Slavs in the German speaking area. Certain stories tell that Wenden were buried in the Wendenstein; those who fell in the battle between Margraves Albert and Hoder. These ‘Wendenstein’ near Ballenstedt and Grävenitz were destroyed before 1840. The stones of one of the graves (probably grave 2) are said to have been thrown from Schorstedt to Grävenitz by giants with catapults. According to another legend, a gigantic king is said to have been buried in this tomb.

The Slavic uprising of 983 may have played a role here in the stories that Wends are buried here. Local farmers report that ghosts could be seen during the day and night and cries could be heard at the graves. The story of a miller who took a stone from grave 3 to turn it into a millstone also has legendary features. This did not bring him luck, because the grain could not be ground with the stone….had this stone stopped rotating?

Ballenstedt 1, 1751
Ballenstedt 2 en 3, 1751

A similar legend to the one about the Wendelstein is told in Marmagen in the Eifel. The so-called Runde Stein (round stone) at Milzenhäuschen is probably the lower part of a Roman milestone. It is said that the stone rotates when the clock strikes 12:00. The idea of ​​the “rotating stones” (Marmagen No. 2) also reflects ancient thinking. In Brittany, stories of spinning or dancing dolmens are quite common. Because the solstice or the highest position of the sun (when noon strikes) is mentioned again and again, these stones are associated with solar cults. So it is not the stones that rotate, but the sun revolves around the stones, which thus served as a sundial and calendar.

In some places in Germany, the menhirs are said to spin at midnight, when the church bells ring or when mass is read. They would also make wailing noises if you put your ear to them. And sometimes sick people hope to be cured by touching such stone monuments.

The Wippchensteinen in Hessen is a rocking stone. It would be a pre-Christian place of sacrifice. People also gathered here in more recent times. According to legend, two giants who lived on the Amöneburg and the Landsburg threw stones at each other. In addition, the “Wilde Reiter” is said to be up to mischief at the Wippchensteinen, legend has it that nocturnal walkers were terrified. Another legend mentions the Weißen or Weisen Frauen (White Woman) who served the Germanic god Thor on the Wippchensteinen. Due to the spread of Christianity (after the felling of the Donar oak by Boniface at Geismar in Hessengau), the once holy place was declared a place where people were not allowed to enter.

The Christianized Kaltenstein, the cross can still be seen on the stone and the path around the stone was probably a station of the cross

The Hoxberg (and especially the Kaltenstein) is said to have been a meeting place for witches in the 16th century. The Kaltenstein is said to have been the magical center of the witches. Here the witches would have performed gruesome rituals and courted the devil. A legend tells that rich treasures are hidden under the Kaltenstein, which were already offered to the gods in pagan times. Druids are said to have buried them there as Christianity spread, which could indicate an already Celtic origin of the legend.

On the first night of May (Walpurgisnacht or Sankt-Walpurgisnacht), the gnomes living in the Hoxberg around the Kaltenstein celebrate a feast of joy, during which the treasure shows itself and shines in the starlight. However, he could only come to light forever if the bells of the Heilige Dreifaltigkeit und St. Marien (a church in Lebach) rang of their own accord on Good Friday. Then the stones would rotate three times on their own axis, revealing the treasure of mankind. It has also been reported that these dwarves came out of the mountain at night to turn the top stone once on the bottom one, when the midnight bell rang, and then disappear back into the mountain.

The Kaltenstein is Christianized; a large wooden cross is placed on it. A sign that it was already a sanctuary in pre-Christian times. There are several indentations on the stone for placing candles and images of holy figures to represent the “Seven Sorrows of Mary”. The Kaltensteinpad, which runs around the Kaltenstein, may once have been a Stations of the Cross.

Sometimes it is people who turn the stones, as mentioned in the following text by Xavier Kurt Naidoo:

Ich was’ dich suchen, muss dich finden, in alle Länder fall ich ein
muss mich an deine Wege bind, dreh’ und wende jeden Stein
Wo immer du auch sein willst, ich finde diesen Platz
wenn du mir dann verzeih’n willst find’ ich dich mein Schatz

Turning stones over to find a treasure (sometimes in the meaning of a love) also occurs in other stones, such as in Slavic mythology and also in the Netherlands. Examples were already given in the article about sacrificial stones. Other stones were not allowed to be moved by the population. And in some cases, this kept the megaliths from being destroyed. For example, the Yongsan-ri Dolmen in South Korea was preserved because the location of the rock was good for divination/divination (based on topography).

A llastra da Filadoira

A burial mound field has been found in El Campillín, and between the hills is a megalithic tomb called “A llastra da Filadoira” (“The Slab of the Revolving Woman”). They say it was a woman who carried the slab to cover the dolmen, walking and turning at the same time.

There is also a standing stone called “Fusu la Reina” or “Queen’s Spindle”. The character may be given different names in different places, such as “Virgin”, “Queen”, or “Sacred”, referring to the great power or sacred essence.

It is clear that the mound field of Entrerríos has had great symbolic significance as a frontier site from its inception, some five thousand years ago. The question that then arises is: did the builders of the dolmen already worship the spinning woman? Here is an extremely interesting ‘coincidence’: medieval Irish sources mention several plains very similar to those of Entrerríos, located in the border between different areas.

Let’s take Tara, for example, in the center of the country: this is the border between the four Irish provinces. In Tara, the mound of Tailtu was placed, Tailtu being the mother of god Lugh. All old Irish roads lead to this place. It was a sacred place that hosted a very important summer fair, the Tailtean, which attracted people from all over the country. Tara was also the place where the High Kings of Ireland were crowned. The mythological people of the Tuatha Dé Danann would have already crowned their kings on the hill.

Another example: Carman, the sorceress queen, on whose mound a great fair was held in Leinster every three years. There is a clear pattern that the boundary between different areas, the so-called “navel”, is connected to the burial mound of the goddess and to a summer fair where the people of the area gather in a sacred truce.

Could it be a coincidence that the “A llastra da Filadoira” is also known by another name, “The Tomb of Entrerríos”? Could it be a coincidence that a fair was held every May in the plain of El Campillín, called “A Feria del Año”, where the neighbors from the three counties of Eilao, Allande and Villayón gathered, just like the Irish in Tara ?

In many cases, we can be sure that the rock where the “giant woman” lives was already sacred in prehistoric times. For example, in Pena Colmea, in San Salvador de Valledor (Allande province), the legend tells of an old woman who can be seen spinning with a spindle and a distaff. She stands on a rock in which some petroglyphs were carved during the Neolithic age. Another interesting case is “la Peña la Deva”. La Deva is a Celtic name meaning “Goddess” and is found in both the rivers of the Bay of Biscay and southern England.

Mount Chamorro is located in Galicia, in the county of Ferrol. A very busy fair is held there on the first Monday of Easter. Some huge granite rocks have been found on the top of the mountain, so large that the Chapel of the Virgin could be built on top of them. They say that one of them is a “swinging stone” like the one in Muxía.

The astonishing mobility of the balanced, often huge, stones led to the creation of myths and legends in many places in which such stones play an essential role, for example as oracles or “toys” of giants. And in some cases, human intervention is the reason for the rocking stone. In Ganløse Eged, a 167 hectare forest on the Danish island of Zealand, the stone of a Langdysse (dolmen) has been turned into a rocking stone.

Pedralta, early 20th century

Rocking stones or wobbling stones are called Rokkkesten in Denmark. Most rocking stones no longer move. Until 1996, when a severe storm dropped it, Pedralta was one of the largest rocking stones in Europe. With only light pressure of one hand, the stone could be rotated. It is the symbol of Sant Feliu de Guíxols (Spain); in 1890 a cross was added on Saint John’s Eve. However, this cross disappeared and was later replaced. In 1961, the hermita (chapel of the Virgin of the Assumption) was built next to the stone.

Thanks to a collection, Pedralta stone was restored with large cranes two years after the fall, but the stone no longer rocks. Today, the location is still the scene of Aplec de Pedralta (celebrated on the second Monday after Easter, in May). And on the last Sunday in May, there is a popular pilgrimage to the site. At this festival, the villagers gather with food and folk dance around this ancient shrine. A dinosaur footprint can be seen on the underside of the stone, according to local residents.

Christianized granite rock “Pedralta” in Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Catalonia
The Externsteine ​​relief; descent from the cross

The rocking stone of the Externsteine ​​is nationally known in Germany. This stone on the Wackelsteinfels (loose stone rock) was anchored in the early nineteenth century with iron hooks. Wilhelm Teudt was convinced that the Externsteine ​​had already been a place for a sun cult in prehistoric times. In his view, this place had also functioned as an old solar observatory and central sanctuary of the Saxons. Teudt wrote:

“Horn is known for the ‘Rock of the Magpies’, an ancient monument mentioned by older writers.
I have read that Charlemagne consecrated this “Rock of the Magpies,” then a pagan cult image, as a sacred altar,
decorated with statues of the apostles”

So this place is also Christianized. The Externsteine ​​Relief is a monumental rock relief depiction of the scene of the Descent from the Cross, carved into the side of the Externsteine. For neo-pagan groups, the evidence that this place was important for a long time lies in the sacellum of rock II of the Externsteine: the round opening above the altar is in fact oriented towards the sunrise during the solstice.

Etching of the Externsteine ​​with the hunting lodge by Elias van Lennep, 1663

There is a famous pair of rocking stones on the Faroese island of Eysturoy in the village of Oyndarfjørður. These are known as the Rinkusteinar. According to local legend, an old sorceress cursed two pirate ships that threatened the village and turned them to stone. A chain connected to the mainland makes it easier to see the rock’s movements.

The Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in Burma is a religious shrine built on top of a huge granite boulder that is also a rocking stone. Nowadays the stone is golden because it has been covered with gold leaf by believers. The pilgrims bring gold leaf, which they stick on the most sacred rock. The stone is gilded to a height of about two meters. According to tradition, the whole is kept in balance by a hair of Buddha. Buddha, during one of his many visits, gave a lock of his hair to Taik Tha, a hermit. The hermit, having safely tucked it into the tuft of his hair, in turn gave the strand to the king, wishing that the hair be enshrined in a boulder in the shape of the hermit’s head.

The king had inherited supernatural powers from his father Zawgyi, a skilled alchemist, and his mother, a naga serpent-dragon princess. They found the rock at the bottom of the sea. Thagyamin, the king of Tawadeintha Heaven in Buddhist cosmology, found the perfect spot in Kyaiktiyo for locating the golden rock and built a pagoda. It is this lock of hair that, according to legend, prevents the rock from falling down the hill. The boat used to transport the rock turned into a stone. This is also worshiped by pilgrims at a location about 300 meters from the golden rock. It is known as the Kyaukthanban Pagoda or stupa (literal meaning: stone boat stupa). The Golden Rock is one of the three most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Myanmar. Women are not allowed to touch the rock.

An image from 1919, The Encyclopedia Americana
The pagoda on top of the stone is 7.3 meters high
The stone only makes contact at a small point
The area is dominated by the sacred stone that can be seen between the trees

There are countless other rocking stones. North of the Breton city of Huelgoat is the 137-ton rock La Roche Tremblante (the trembling stone). The Omu di Cagna (man from Cagna) is a typical rocking stone in Corsica. The Witch’s Rocking Stone at Craigs o’Kyle near Drongan, Scotland, was used for druidic rituals and judgments. The Pontypridd Rocking Stone in Wales is in the center of a Druidic stone circle. The Witch’s of Boarstone stands atop the Craigs of Kyle near Coylton in Ayrshire. It weighs about 30 tons and rests on two or three stones. A large standing stone known as Wallace’s stone is said to have stood nearby. Another example is the Logan Stone. The word “logan” is probably derived from the word “log”, which means to rock (swing) in an English dialect. In Galicia rocking stones are called pedras de abalar (shaking stones).

Trembling, quivering, shaking, spinning or rocking stones. Sometimes built by goddesses or fairies, but also witches, queens and saints are connected to the stones. These stones have been important since ancient times. In pre-Christian times people came together to perform rituals or celebrate feasts, sometimes judgments were passed. In various cultures, the stones are associated with the sun, moon or stars and certain holidays (or other special days such as the solstices). The stones were in some cases Christianized or incorporated as a sacred place in another religion, the stories show that the stones are not ordinary stones.

Marinda Ruiter

Logan Stone of Rocking Stoney, Schotland, The Antiquities of Scotland, 1797

This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: Bewegende stenen en spinsters


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