Flip the stone to maintain the satan away: Bonfire Night time in a Devon village | Devon holidays

A peal of clashing bells echoes throughout the hills. Lots of of rooks roosting within the cemetery bushes splutter into the darkness. At 7.45pm on 5 November, St Michael’s church bells ring out in discord throughout the village of Shebbear, in rural west Devon overlooking the Dartmoor hills. On Bonfire Night time right here, there aren’t fireworks, there isn’t even a bonfire. As an alternative, there’s a stone.

Beneath an historical oak in Shebbear’s village sq. is the Satan’s Stone. It’s a sarsen – a international stone not from this space. The boulder is considered quartz composite, the place the native geology is predominantly sandstone and shale. Nobody attending the ritual turning of the stone on 5 November is concerned what it’s made from. It’s that the stone is turned that issues.

Shebbear’s vicar, Reverend Martin Warren, performs a number one position within the ritual. He says the legend of the Satan’s Stone is that it was dropped upon the satan after a celestial battle with the archangel Michael, trapping him in Shebbear. It’s turned yearly to avert catastrophe, Martin says, and guarantee he doesn’t “wriggle out from underneath it”.

Ron Ackland, Shebbear historian and 89-year-old keeper of the village secrets and techniques, tells me a barely completely different model. “It’s all legendary,” Ron says, “however they used to say that the satan dropped the stone right here on his option to Northlew [a nearby village] the place he died of the chilly.”

Turning the stone in 2021. {Photograph}: Jade Angeles Fitton

The eerie peal alerts the group that it’s time to complete their hog roast and collect across the stone, the place Martin provides his sermon accompanied by the rustle of oak leaves. The satan will get an excellent “booing” after which Martin shouts: “To declare the satan doesn’t have the final phrase, to face upon the stone of fame, we name upon Shebbear’s ringers!” Right here, Shebbear’s bellringers seem brandishing crowbars.

A sluggish, mesmeric chant of “Flip the stone! Flip the stone!” rises from the group because the bellringers heave the rock with their crowbars. The chanting turns into more and more frenzied as time goes on, with some rising fairly impatient. “Go on, flip it!” somebody shouts. When the big boulder is lastly turned, the group cheer and kids scream. “One 12 months once we turned it,” Ron says, “a rat ran out, and everyone thought it was the satan himself!”

There are numerous theories about how the stone arrived in Shebbear, however the most certainly is that it was deposited by glacial ice, as there are related “erratic” stones close by. As to its goal traditionally, many consider it’s the remnants of a pagan altar stone. Additionally it is thought an Anglo-Saxon parliament gathered round it, since Shebbear was the centre of an Anglo-Saxon “hundred” – the division of a shire for navy and judicial functions underneath the frequent legislation.

Revelations – each pious and heathen – typically occur on hilltops with their clear views of the heavens, and Shebbear is on the high of a hill virtually 150 metres above sea stage. A hilltop with an enormous, unusual stone would have been an auspicious website for rituals. As to why folks began turning it, that’s one other thriller. “Anyone who says they know is telling porkies,” Ron says.

Turning the stone in 1946

The ritual is alleged to be one of many oldest people traditions in Europe. Though there isn’t a proof of the turning earlier than the twentieth century, Ron says, “I solely turned the stone for about 20 years, and my dad solely did it for about 45 years – like the boys earlier than.” (The stone has been left unturned twice in dwelling reminiscence, through the two world wars. Within the second world conflict, regardless of blackouts, this was swiftly rectified to keep away from additional misfortune.)

The turning drew a crowd in Ron and his father’s day, and a few keep in mind it being broadcast on BBC radio in 1946. Then it went very quiet, till lately. Within the twenty first century, worries concerning the plight of our planet, have led to a revival in folkloric customs. Such rituals are a method of connecting with an ancestral neighborhood that had reverence for the land and believed havoc would ensue if it was handled badly. Final 12 months about 400 folks crowded into the sq..

skip previous e-newsletter promotion