For our latest Curiosity of the Week we’ve decided feature one of the country’s strangest annual customs, Turning the Devil’s Stone. Whilst the rest of the UK is busy with bonfires and fireworks on 5th November, the village of Shebbear in Devon is preoccupied with a different event.
The Devil’s Stone is situated on the village green in Shebbear, and to the average passer-by, it is nothing out of the ordinary. However, the stone is the centre of many myths and has been participating in a local custom for as long as anyone can remember.
The stone itself weighs about a ton and is thought to be made from a type of rock not found in the area. How the stone came to be in the village is subject to many stories. The stories surrounding the stone’s origins include a pagan cult transporting the stone from Wales to be used as an altar; the Devil dropping the stone whilst fighting God; and a supernatural force moving the stone there. No one knows the real reason for the stone’s presence though.
So what is ‘Turning the Devil’s Stone’ and why does it take place? Well, according to folklore it takes a year for the Devil to dig his way out from beneath the stone, and by turning it he will be trapped for another year, thus keeping the village safe. No one knows when the annual ritual of turning the stone began, but every year the local bell-ringers ring out a violent discordant peal of bells at 8pm. This is said to confuse or frighten the evil spirits away. The bell-ringers then make their way, tools in hand, to the stone in order to turn it.
There is only two known occasions when the custom didn’t take place, during the First and Second World Wars. Bad luck followed both times, and ever since the annual Turning of the Devil’s Stone has taken place without fail.
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