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In the West, Christianity has lost ground, and both atheism and a myriad personal spiritualities have emerged as alternatives. My thanks are also due to Donald Barrett both for his interest in my work and his company tramping through the British countryside to encounter remarkable monuments. Additionally, sub-disciplines such as aesthetics and phenomenology both within Philosophy and as employed in Religious Studies which in the s and s were regarded as exhausted as sources of new information, and discredited as methodological stances, have been reinvigorated through application to newer contexts Meyer The spatial turn has directed attention to how human beings interact with spaces in religious and spiritual ways, and the aesthetic turn has reactivated deep connections between religious experiences and aesthetic experiences.

The material turn has connected with ecological discourses to locate humanness in the context of the entirety of nature, understood as a living entity Ruse McFarlane ; Blain and Wallis Spiritual tourism differs from both pilgrimage and religious sometimes called faith tourism, though it may take place in traditional religious contexts, such as walking the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, or listening to satsang and practicing yoga in ashrams in India Norman Research on the relationships between modern Pagans and Neolithic monuments in the United Kingdom and Europe more broadly has developed in the past twenty years Wallis and Blain ; Blain and Wallis ; Blain and Wallis ; White , but the focus on spiritual tourists is a new direction.

This article is in four parts.


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The third section explores the links between spiritual tourism and the aesthetic appreciation of prehistoric monuments Lucas 41, The last part discusses the uses of the Rollright Stones by Pagans Worthington , , esotericists Gray and spiritual tourists, in order to identify clear differences between these groups of visitors to the monuments. Modern Paganism and Pilgrimage to Neolithic Monuments Prehistoric monuments, while human constructions, have gained power in the collective imagination, as traditions and folklore accreted throughout their long existence.

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The most famous such monument is Stonehenge, located on the Wiltshire plain near the village of Amesbury. Merlin erected the stones at the burial site. Laura H. Yet, Ronald Hutton has identified the first recorded instance of this idea in England as , making it likely that the legends are later additions that are motivated by Sabbatarianism among Puritan Protestants Hutton In the seventeenth century John Aubrey proposed that Avebury and Stonehenge were built by Druids. This theory was developed by William Stukeley , whose classical education had familiarised him with the Druids in Greek and Roman authors, some of whom for example, Clement of Alexandria and Pliny , described Druids as wise and deeply religious.

It was this spiritual depiction of the Druids that attracted Stukeley. Avebury was restored by Alexander Keiller , and the museum in the town is named for him. Keiller was interested in witchcraft and influenced both Gerald Brousseau Gardner , who founded Wicca in the s, and Philip Ross Nichols , who founded the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in A substantial body of research concerning contemporary Pagans and megalithic sites is by Jenny Blain and Robert J. Wallis also supports alternative archaeologies, as he views academic archaeological interpretations as limiting the experiential reality of Pagan neo-shamanic encounters with megalithic sites and the energies intrinsic to them Wallis ; Wallis Pagan groups have negotiated with government and heritage agencies to permit access to significant monuments, in particular Stonehenge on the Midsummer and Midwinter Solstices.

The interactions of contemporary Pagans with a range of Neolithic sites in the United Kingdom are well-documented and usually unproblematic, as they are grouped under the traditional rubrics of religion and pilgrimage Blain ; Blain and Wallis The reasons given for being unable to count the stones include: that the stones can move at will; that the devil has bewitched them; or that a witch or other evil person put a spell on them Menefee Popular ballads and folktales connected the inability to count the stones with a baker who put a loaf on each stone, counting as he went, and collected the loaves counting again, but was unable to make his two reckonings agree Rickett n.

In early accounts history and legend were intertwined and equally speculative. For example, the seventeenth century antiquarian William Camden described the Rollright Stones as follows: certain huge stones placed in a round circle the common people usually call them Rolle-rich stones, and dreameth that they were sometimes men, by a wonderfull Metamorphosis turned into hard stones.

These I … thinke to have beene the monument of some victorie, and haply erected by Rollo the Dane, who afterwards conquered Normandie. For what time as he with his Danes and Normans troubled England with depredations, we read that the Danes joined battaile with the English thereby at Hoche Norton, and afterwards fought a second time at Scier stane in Huiccia, which also I would deeme to be that Mere-stone standing hard by for a land Marke and parting four shires, for so much doth that Saxon word Schier-stane most plainly import.

Certainly in an Exchequer booke the towne adjacent is called Rollen-drich, whereas it is there specified Tursdan le Dispenser held land by serjeanty of the Kings dispensarie, that is, to be the Kings Steward cited in Aucott and Southall The king enthusiastically strode to a location where the church tower of Long Compton could be seen but was prevented by the witch causing a hill to spontaneously rise up to block his view.

The witch then turned the king and his knights into stones and she became an elder tree.

Legends of the Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

The additional detail that the stones go to drink at a nearby brook at midnight was linked to this tale by the striking of the Long Compton church clock Bord and Bord This legend collected other meanings over the centuries. The Druidic connection was used to explain gatherings at the stones in midsummer and midwinter, which Stukeley attested to in , and the power of the stones was evidenced by a tradition of visitors chipping bits off the stones because of their protective power Lambrick 6.

The witch became connected to the sixteenth century female prophet Mother Shipton, likely because of the nearby town of Shipton-under-Wychwood Grinsell 12 , and as the new discipline of archaeology developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, different perspectives emerged Voss The Rollright Stones also featured in British popular culture from the second half of the twentieth century. The children then battle the witch with a dramatic climax at the Rollright Stones Lively [].

Ritual Murder in Rural England: The Strange Case of Charles Walton | CVLT Nation

This serial had a lurid plot including human sacrifice to the Cailleach, the Druidic goddess of war and death, and stones that come to life when blood is poured on them. The appeal of the Rollright Stones has increased as tourism has become widespread and the monuments are close to the bustling, picturesque town of Chipping Norton, easily reached by car or public transport. Spiritual Tourism and Aesthetic Appreciation of Neolithic Monuments The study of pilgrimage within traditional religions is an established field, and its links with modern tourism have been explored since the s.

Cohen drew parallels between the more serious tourist modes and the experiences of the religious pilgrim and posited the tourist experience as a possible way to make meaning in a de-centred and secularized world. He identified five themes that recur in the narratives of spiritual tourists: healing, experiment, quest, retreat, and collective.

Prehistoric stones are not always beautiful, but they have qualities like massiveness and timelessness that provoke awe and respect, and which persuade visitors to contemplate their existence and place in the universe. The cultivation of an aesthetic attitude develops disinterestedness, sympathy, attention and contemplation. This is insightful for the study of spiritual tourists who are moved to perform rituals at prehistoric sites or to reverence nature at monuments that are so ancient that they seem part of the landscape they occupy.

Further, it links to the extension of the discourse of sacredness that is now used by heritage bodies and the administrators that run them, well as by religious and spiritual people Blain and Wallis The beauty and attractiveness of monuments like the Rollright Stones in the present era are harnessed for a range of ritual activities, only some of which are explicitly Pagan.


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Yet these events are largely connected to Paganism, which however loosely is still a formal religion. For example, HelenMR30, a visitor from Leeds, wrote: I only found this stone circle as I was looking on the map for something else. I love stone circles so this one jumped out at me from the map. I then realised I was only staying about 10 miles away in a holiday cottage so planned in a visit en route to somewhere else. You can park in a lay-by at the roadside and the stone circle is just through a gate.

The Rollright Ritual – by William G. Gray

It's in a lovely setting and a perfect stone circle. Black dogs would feature prominently in the Walton murder case. A lifetime later, during the investigation into his murder, another mysterious black dog encounter would take place. On a nearby stone wall, he noticed a peculiar black dog following his movements. A moment later it was gone. When he left the field, a boy was walking nearby. Fabian asked him if he was looking for his dog. On hearing this, the boy turned pale and fled in a panic.

A series of strange incidents would happen in the days following this phantom black dog encounter. The next morning began with the discovery that another cow had dropped dead in one of the grazing fields around Meon Hill. Never a good way to start a day. Later that day, as Fabian attempted to conduct more interviews, he noted that the entire atmosphere of Lower Quinton had changed. Cottage doors shut in our faces, and even the most innocent witnesses seemed unable to meet our eyes.

Some became ill after we spoke to them. This was likely a sick prank played on Fabian by some locals following the news of his sighting. However, it may have been a warning. What little information there is has been pieced together from the accounts of Roman historians and various archaeological discoveries — both of which point to the importance of ritual sacrifice within the ancient Celtic magico-religious system. Sacrifice was the means by which the balance of nature was maintained, with offerings made to the governing divine forces in exchange for their blessings.

Most consisted of animals, food, wine, incense, weapons or jewelery. However, the ritual murder of humans was not unusual.

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It was an extra-ordinary form of sacrifice made during particularly critical times; to avert a famine or epidemic, provide victory before battle, promote fertility or guarantee a successful harvest. Victims would be selected from across a wide spectrum of candidates that included criminals, kings, menopausal women, adolescents, rival clan chiefs, social outcasts and witches. As it was widely believed that they possessed the power to disrupt or manipulate the natural order, a witch provided the ideal scapegoat offering to appease the gods and restore essential balance.

Celtic Druids are most infamously known for burning people in large wicker effigies. But they also strangled, drowned, poisoned, stoned, beheaded, dismembered and buried them alive.

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One particularly gruesome Druidic ritual shares certain similarities with the Walton murder. As an agriculturally-based society, blood was particularly important to the Celts when it came to maintaining a healthy crop cycle. During the winter months, when the land had frosted over and the sun hung low in the sky, it was believed that the world had reached the end of its life-cycle.

If the Walton murder was indeed some crude form of human sacrifice, the date when it took place may hold some significance. He was killed on February 14th. Going by the old pre-Gregorian calendar, which was twelve days behind, this date would correspond with the Celtic Midwinter festival of Imbolc. As a celebration of new life, Imbolc rituals centered around ensuring a successful growing season and the health and fertility of local livestock. To break the hex he was believed to have placed over the community and restore a sense of natural order, it may be no coincidence that his blood was spilled on this day.

Following the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the area in the fifth-century, new traditions of witch-hunting would take root. Differing from later medieval Christian beliefs, the Anglo-Saxon concept of witchcraft centered on specific acts of perceived sorcery, rather than some broader diabolical conspiracy. The practice itself was not considered a crime; however, if it were used for criminal purposes, punishment could be harsh. If the wounds festered and turned black, it was considered proof that they were practitioners of black magic. One controversial detail is the claim made that he was found with a cross symbol carved into his chest.

If true, this would be strong support for the claim that it was a witch-killing. It may have started as local rumor. But more likely it is based on a previous area murder that shares eerily similar characteristics to, and has since become intertwined with, the killing of Charles Walton. Seventy-five years prior, in the neighboring village of Long Compton, an elderly woman named Anne Tennant some accounts name her as Ann Turner was attacked and killed with a pitchfork by a mentally unstable farmhand named James Haywood.

Her curse drove my father to an early grave! He was later found to be criminally insane and lived out his remaining days at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.


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  • Although James Haywood was ruled to be a man who suffered from delusions, his belief in witches was in fact shared by many people in the community. Years later, just prior to the Walton murder, these regional folk beliefs would once again enter the media spotlight when another seemingly occult-related killing was discovered in nearby Worcestershire. On April 18, , four boys were walking through the forest near Wychbury Hill when, to their horror, they discovered a skeleton staring at them from inside a tree hollow.

    They reported their grisly finding to their parents, who immediately alerted the authorities. A severed hand from the body was also discovered buried in the ground nearby. Dental records failed to reveal the identity of the woman, and there were no local missing persons who fit her description. Police were at a loss.

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