Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
Continuing on the road towards Boskenna, a minute's walk from the Menheres brings us to a holed stone standing in the hedge on the right hand side. This stone has been removed a considerable distance from its original site to form the side of a gateway. The upper portion of the stone is very much broken, and is irregular in shape, yet its head appears to have been triangular and worked to an angle similar to the Men-an-tol at Lanyon.
In the lane near the holed stone is an ancient cross, seemingly placed in the midst of the Druidic monuments to sanctify what the old Celts would not permit the Christian teachers to remove.
There is another holed stone near by, in Rosemodrass lane, placed head downwards, and it serves for the hanging-post of a gate. The form of the head of this stone cannot be easily ascertained, as it is buried so deeply in the ground that only a small portion of the hole is to be seen.
The aperture in both these stones (about six inches in diameter) is too small to pop the smallest, or all but the smallest, baby through; yet the people call them crick stones, and maintain that they were so-called before they were born. Crick stones were used for dragging people through, to cure them of various diseases. As these holed stones at Boleigh have been removed from their original site no satisfactory conclusion can be arrived at as to their primitive use. Some have thought that these stones, in common with the men-an-tol at Lanyon, the tolmen in Constantine, and many others, might have served the same important purpose as the menheres—to fix the proper time for the celebration of the autumnal equinox, by the stones being so placed that the sacred index of the seasons on rising above the
horizon would be seen through the perforation, at a right angle to the face of the stone, and that the triangular head of the stone formed such an angle that when the sun was on the meridian, (at certain periods of the year, which were required to be known,) its altitude would denote the time, by its place in the heavens being in a line with the slope of the primitive time-piece, which would then cast no shadow on the ground at mid-day If these monuments were intended for stone calendars, and any can be found in their original position, it might be possible, at least approximately, to fix the time of their erection, by their present variation from true east and west. If the deviation is in the direction demanded by the precession of the equinoxial points, the difference might be calculated at the allowed rate of fifty seconds a year. There is but little doubt but the men-an-tol still remains where it was first erected.
As urns, or crocks of ashes and charred bones, have frequently been found near these, and other mystic stones, which were generally regarded as Celtic relics, it has been conjectured that long-stones holed-stones and quoits (cromlechs) were all raised to mark the last resting-places of some noted personages. Is it not as probable that they were erected for the use of the living, and, by being associated with the religious observances of the time and people, came to be regarded as garrac-zans or holy stones; and that the priest, or chief, would desire to be buried near them, prompted by a feeling identical with that of the present time and common to all ages, which makes many desire that their poor dust and ashes may rest near the shrine at which they worshipped, within the bounds of what they regard as holy ground? Sacerdotal communities have always been ready to grant this distinction to the rich, and encouraged this enshrining of the relics of mortality, because the presence of the King of Terrors in the temple augments that mysterious awe with which all ancient theocratical hierarches endeavoured to invest themselves, and all their ghostly appurtenances; as by this means they acquire more power over those who live in dread of the spirit world, easily conjured up by morbid fancies, when surrounded by whatever engenders melancholy.
Besides the tolmen noticed above there are several others in the western part of Cornwall. Some thirty years ago, two holed stones, about the size of those at Boleigh, might be seen in Treen Cliff at no great distance from the end of Pedny vounder lane, on the sea side of the wheel-road to Castle Treen and the Loan Rock. These stones were amidst other rocks. One was standing upright and the other lying flat on the ground a few feet from it. The old people of Treen did not know what these stones were placed there for.
In a field on the southern side of the lane is the circle of upright stones called by the people of Buryan, Daunce-Mayn. The name is most probably a corruption of Zans Mëyn (sacred stones,) and has nothing whatever to do with dancing maids. The legend that the (originally) nineteen posts were damsels, thus fixed for dancing on Sunday, was evidently suggested by the name to some manufacturer of such wares, who as readily converted the two longstones, in the field across the road, which we have already noticed, into the Pipers, who took to their heels and left the damsels to their fate as soon as their metamorphosis began; but their ungallant action did not avail, as the petrifying power of the cursing saint, who stopped their sweet pipings, overtook them when they ran thus far, and laid them up in stone as we now see them.
No such legend, however, is native to the place, as the old folk only know it from having it repeated to them by visitors, who have seen it in books. They never regard the name as having any connection with dancing maids any more than dairy maids, and the Menhere, changed into Pipers, were known to them by the name of the Hurlers, from their having been a goal for the hurling-run, when the starting-post (where the ball was thrown up) was the cross in the Church-town.
This story affords another example of the way in which the meaning is lost of many an ancient Cornish name, (which tells a history,) from the foolish desire to assimilate the expressive old Cornish name to some unmeaning English nick-name. Thus, goon-here-an (the long downs) near Tregonebras, is become goldherring. And the town-arms of Penzance is just as bad a punning king of Blazon. It is easy to understand how Zans-Mëyn became Daunce-Meyn. A common form of mën is mêdn, as pen changes into pedn, in Tol-Pedn-Penwith. And this is near enough to maiden, for the legend to spring up to account for the name.
Another common name for the Celtic circles is the Nine Maidens. Now, as the usual number of stones in the circle is nineteen, that number may have something to do with the first part of this name, and the latter would come from the Cornish, as before, mêdn.
The Daunce-Mêyn is the best known of all the Druidic circles in the west, as it is within sight from the road frequently taken by those visitors to the Logan Rock who care for seeing the many interesting objects, and fine sea views, visible from the lower road, as we call this route near the sea shore. Yet the circle at Boscawen On, in the higher side of the parish, is invested with a peculiar interest, from the fact of the opinion held by Dr. Borlase that these circles were places of council of judgment, has been
confirmed by an old Welsh triad, which makes this place still more remarkable by naming it as one of the three Gorsedds, or places of judgment for poetry and bardic minstrelsy. This valuable relict of Welsh poetry, as translated by the eminent Welsh scholar, the late Rev. Thomas Price, is in English:—"The three Gorsedds of Poetry of the Island of Britain; the Gorsedd of Boscawen Damnonium; (Damnonium included Cornwall and great part of Devon;) the Gorsedd of Salisbury, in England; and the Gorsedd of Bryn Gwyddon in Wales."
We hope that when the laureate revisits Cornwall he may be induced to go there, and, sitting on a granite throne, by the side of the tall central stone, sing the "Idyls of the King," if only in honour of the Welsh bard who has preserved the remembrance of this remarkable temple where ancient minstrels sung of how Merlin, the enchanter, deceived the beautiful Igerna, so that she received King Uter Pendragon as her husband—how King Uter died, and Arthur, his son; by Igerna, kept his court at Wild Dundagel, by the Cornish sea"—and how our own Prince Arthur, and his knights of the table rounde, slew all the enemies of Britain. Here they sang of the beauty and guile of the fair and frail Guenever—of the honour and truth of Arthur's knights, and the treachery of Mordred. Here the Bard sounded a lament for the lost lands of Lethowsow, and the submerged City of Langona:—
We owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Borlase for preserving to us a graphic description of these, and many other, Druidic circles which have disappeared since his time.
Fortunately, work of destruction has been arrested at Boscawen-un circle as the lady to whom the property belongs caused it to be surrounded with a good hedge to prevent further spoliation. Some years ago a wholesome hedge prevailed of bad luck following anyone who removed these landmarks of a long past age, but now our country folk think themselves more enlightened, respect unless those who have some respect for the monuments of ancient times, take measures to prevent the recipients of this questionable sort of enlightenment from exercising their vandalism, our Celtic remains will disappear. Pages might be filled with an account of the destruction which has taken place within the past half century.
That these circles were used for religious, judicial, or political purposes, (and in ancient times all three were combined), there
can be no doubt, from the veneration with which they were formerly regarded. This solemn respect was expressed in the belief that the avenging deity, in the shape of Bad Luck (which was felt to be as real a personage as any other undefined invisible demon) would sooner or later overtake the sacrilegious destroyer of the ancient holy stones. In many of the oldest villages there were formerly altar-like stones, known by the name of garrac zans, (the holy stones) which were protected by the fear of the goddess of Bad Luck; and until within these last few years, no rude hand would dare to remove or spoil them. We remember one of these venerated rocks in the village of Rosekestal and another in Sowah town-place. The noted stone in Mayon was also called indifferently the garrac zans or table men. We have heard of many others which were formerly to be seen in the town-places of ancient hamlets, but their places know them no more.
Dr. Borlase describes many circles and other Celtic remains as being in his time almost as perfect as when left by our forefathers thousands of years ago. Of these public monuments; there is now scarcely a trace to be found. Recent investigation proves the trustworthiness of the information preserved by the antiquary, born and bred in Pendeen, in the very heart of a district which contains, even now, more Celtic remains of all kinds than any other portion, of equal space, in the British Isles.
By similar monuments to those we have noticed at Boleigh, the migrations of the ancient Celtic race may be traced from farthest Ind to the Scilly Isles.
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