Welcomed Visitors

Celtic Music Search Engine

Celtic Faith in Standing Stones - Fairy beliefs in Brittany


La Roche aux Fées (Essé, Ille et Vilaine)
Standing stones like, Menhirs, Dolmens, Cromlechs, and Tumuli are not only solitary stones set vertically in the ground that come in many different forms. They certainly retain a hidden symbolism related to the  Cult Of Gods, Spirits, Fairies, and the Dead. Should there be any relation related to circular fairy dance as an ancient initiatory sun-dance, and thus Standing Stones been related to a Sun-God cult?.
It has been proved by archaeological researches, that many of the great tumuli covering dolmens or subterranean chambers, like that of Mont St. Michel (at Carnac) for example, were religious and funeral in their purposes from the first. 

Moreover, there is a large extent of folk legends regarding  the megaliths, as stones haunted by fairies, pixies, corrigans, ghosts, and various sorts of invisible beings.
To begin with, we shall concern ourselves with menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs, and certain kinds of tumuli--such as are found at Carnac, round which corrigans hold their nightly revels, and where ghost-like forms are sometimes seen in the moonlight, or even when there is no moon. M. Paul Sébillot in Le Folk-lore tie France  has very adequately described the numerous folk-traditions and customs connected with all such monuments, and it remains for us to deal especially with the psychical aspects of these traditions and customs.

The learned Canon Mahé in his Essai sur les antiquités du département du Morbihan  a work of rare merit, published at Vannes in 1825, holds that not only were the majestic Alignements of Carnac used as temples for religious rites, but that the stones themselves of which the Alignements are formed were venerated as the abodes of gods. 

And quoting Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Hermes, and others, he shows that the ancients believed that gods and daemons, attracted by sacrifice and worship to stone images and other inanimate objects, overshadowed them or even took up their abode in them. 

This position of Canon Mahé is confirmed by a comparative study of Celtic and non-Celtic traditions respecting the theory of what has been erroneously called 'idol-worship'. All evidence goes to show that idols so called, are simply images used as media for the manifestation of ghosts, spirits, and gods: the ancients, like contemporary primitive races, do not seem ever to have actually worshipped such images, but simply to have supplicated by prayer and sacrifice the indwelling deity.  

As I commented on other posts, Druid's worship of trees, fish, animals, as well as to inanimate objects of almost every conceivable description, including stones, because of the spirit believed to be inherent or resident in the particular object.

Mr. R. R. Marett, the originator of the pre-animistic theory, believes that originally fetish idols were regarded as gods themselves, and that gradually they came to be regarded as the dwellings of gods. Certain well-defined Celtic traditions entirely fit in with this theory:--e.g. Canon Mahé writes, "In accordance with this strange theory they (the Celts) could believe that rocks, set in motion by spirits which animated them, sometimes went to drink at rivers, as is said of the Peulvan at Noyal-Pontivy' (Morbihan); and I have found a parallel belief at Rollright, Oxfordshire, England, where it is said of the King Stone, an ancient menhir, and, according to some folk-traditions, a human being transformed, that it goes down the bill on Christmas Eve to drink at the river."

In the famous menhir or pillar-stone on Tara to this day, we have another curious example like the moving statues in Egypt and the Celtic stones which move; for in the Book of Lismore the wonderful properties of the Lia Fáil, the 'Stone of Destiny', are enumerated, and it is said that ever when Ireland's monarch stepped upon it the stone would cry out under him, but that if any other person stepped upon it, there was only silence. 

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Merlin constructed Stonehenge by magically transporting from Ireland the 'Choir of the Giants', apparently an ancient Irish circle of stones.
The rational explanation of this myth seems to be that the stones of Stonehenge, not belonging to the native rocks of South England, as geologists well know, were probably transported from some distant part of Britain and set up on Salisbury Plain, because of some magical properties supposed to have been possessed by them; and most likely 'the stones were regarded as divine or as seats of divine power'.  

And further (thereby admitting the sacred purpose of the group), Sir John Rhy^s sees no objection to identifying Stonehenge with the famous temple of Apollo in the island of the Hyperboreans, referred to in the journal of Pytheas' travels.  According to Sir John Rhy^s's interpretation of this journal, 'the kings of the city containing the temple and the overseers of the latter were the Boreads, who took up the government in succession, according to their tribes. The citizens gave themselves up to music, harping and chanting in honour of the Sun-god, who was every nineteenth year wont himself to appear about the time of the vernal equinox, and to go on harping and dancing in the sky until the rising of the Pleiades.' 

Two menhirs, roughly hewn to simulate the human form, are yet to be found in Guernsey, Channel Islands, and formerly there was a similar menhir in the Breton village of Baud, Morbihan. One of the Guernsey figures was dug up in 1878 under the chancel of the Câtel Church, and then placed in the churchyard, so that in this instance it seems highly probable that the Christian Church was built on the site of a sacred pagan shrine where a cult of stones once existed.