November 5th turns out to be a pretty busy night for locals in the Devon village of Shebbear near Holsworthy. Forget Guy Fawkes and his gunpowder, treason and plot; this village is busy Turning the Devil’s Stone each year. Unfortunately on the two nights in history when the duty was neglected, sad news fell on the village so now no-one leaves it to chance!
If you fancy lending a hand, just turn up with a flashlight and a crowbar, or supervise over the proceedings from a safe distance with a flask of hot coffee in your hand.
Crowbars at the ready for the Turning of the Devil’s Stone at Shebbear
The traditional event kicks off at 8pm when villagers gather near the church and the bell ringers set off a discordant peal of bells, allegedly to confuse any lurking spirits. It’s certainly loud enough to wake the dead, if nothing else!
The bell ringers then make their way to the devil’s stone which lies near a huge old oak just outside the churchyard. Apparently the devil is imprisoned underneath the stone and the annual turning ensures that he does not escape and run amok.
Using long crossbars to lever the huge stone up, the villagers manage to flip the stone over completely and re-lay it for another 365 days. Once done, everyone can relax and celebrate at the aptly named Devil’s Stone Inn nearby, knowing that Shebbear is safe from harm – at least until next November 5th.
What is the Devil’s Stone at Shebbear?
Turning the massive stone takes some considerable exertion, as you will see. The stone is about six feet in length and four feet in width. It is made from a type of quartz which is “erratic” or a “sarsen” ie. not found in these parts at all. The bulky boulder weighs over a ton and has a pinkish hue.
If you want to check it out when visiting this scenic area, it lies near a huge oak tree just outside the churchyard. Many villages in mediaeval times had a standing stone which was a marker and a place to appease evil spirits by leaving offerings. The sighting of the stone near an ancient oak adds credibility to this theory.
How the devil did it get there?
Theories abound about where the stone originated and how it arrived in this quiet rural community. Some say it was a sacred altar stone brought to the area by a pagan cult, similar to the Druids transporting stone from Wales to build Stonehenge. Others believe it was dropped by the Devil himself when he was cast out of heaven.
The final theory is that the stone was quarried as a foundation stone for nearby Hanscott Church. The devil, or another supernatural force, kept moving the stone to Shebbear. Every time the stone was returned to the church site, which lies across the River Torridge, it mysteriously returned to Shebbear, so eventually it was left.
Only twice in recent times has the Devil’s stone failed to be turned as per the custom on November 5th. Once was during the First World War when all the able-bodied men were away fighting. Immediately misfortune fell on the village. The same thing happened again in 1940. The stone was left unturned and the war news immediately took a downturn. For sure the locals aren’t taking any chances. The turning of the Devil’s Stone at Shebbear will go ahead for the foreseeable future – just in case!
Devon is known for its ancient customs, mediaeval traditions and pagan rituals. Do you know of any other ceremonies that are held to appease the devil or safeguard the village? Whatever you believe, they make interesting reading so do share.