There are a number of legends concerning witches and witchcraft associated with the Rollright Stone circle complex and its wider locale. Here I’ll be focussing on the story of the witch who became an elder tree as mentioned in my last post, “Jesus Tree That Bled”.
Many centuries ago, when England was ruled by various tribes, a king was attempting to become ruler of the entire land. During the course of his travels he and his army arrived at Rollright hill. There he met a witch who owned the land standing at the foot of the hill. The witch told the king:
“Seven long strides shalt thou take.
If Long Compton [a nearby village] thou canst see,
King of England thou shalt be”
The king, convinced that climbing the hill would be an easy endeavour, replied:
“Stick, stock, stone,
As King of England I shall be known.”
However, the witch caused the land to rise so the king was unable to complete his climb in the required seven strides. She then invoked her curse:
“As Long Compton thou canst not see,
King of England thou shalt not be.
Rise up, stick and stand still, stone,
For king of England thou shalt be none;
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be
And I myself an eldern tree.”
So the king, his army and a group of knights who had been plotting in the background were all turned to stone. The king became the King Stone, his army the stone circle, and the knights, the four stones of the Whispering Knights. The witch then transformed herself into an elder tree. They remain at Rollright to this day.
The (Pre-)History Bit
The Rollright stones were made from oolithic limestone between 3,800 BCE and 1,500 BCE. Aside from the King’s Men stone circle, in a nearby field the group of rocks which make up the Whispering Knights comprised the walls of an ancient burial chamber. Across the road from the stone circle, the King Stone, actually of a much later date than his “army”, acted as a marker for a Bronze Age burial ground.
Next time… back to the Caribbean for the God-wood Tree (aka Birch Gum).
The Rollright rhyme comes from Meg Elizabeth Atkins, Haunted Warwickshire (London: Robert Hale, 1981), p. 114.
Image credits: Photos of the Rollrights by Simon Noel