Long Meg and Her Daughters (excerpt)

Earlier this year, I sat down on an unseasonably cool day to write about the folklore of a Cumbrian icon, Long Meg and Her Daughters, for Creative Countryside magazine’s 5th issue, “Roots”. The following piece of fiction is an excerpt from that article, and describes the folkloric origins of this neolithic monument.

The reverberations of a deep, beating drum echoed out over the wide-open Cumbrian landscape. On the crest of a small hill, a group of women were illuminated by the amber sunset that bathed them in a sanguine glow. With only the rhythm of the drum to follow, they danced with wild fervour, their long white dresses tearing at the hems and their arms and legs moving with desperate grace. Every one of them was barefoot and carefree, churning up the damp grass with their dancing, calling up ancient spirits and connecting with the ethereal wilderness around them.  

One woman, visibly taller and older than the rest, clutched the drum and danced with it as it if were an extension of herself. She had thick silver hair that fell loose and unkempt around her bare arms and strange black markings inked in swirls on her wrinkled skin. The group of women moved as she did, following her cues and the rhythm she created. At once, their voices joined together in shouts and song, chants and prayer. Far away from the wandering eyes or questioning glances of those that did not understand, Long Meg and her Daughters danced their ritual in the firelight of the sun. Unbeknownst to them, it would be their final dance.  

Five cloaked men appeared on the threshold of their ceremony and, in outraged voices, called for the immediate ceasing of their practice.  It was against the laws of the Sabbath, they cried, to dance and sing, to be wild and free. If they refused to stop, they would be forced to. However, the women were unfazed and continued their dancing alongside their mother, wilfully ignorant to the threats of the men. They were warned one final time, and with their refusal, a thunder crack echoed through the sky. One of the cloaked men stood forward with a wizened hand raised, looked to the sky again and, with another crack of thunder, whispered a curse under his breath. One by one, the women stopped dancing. Then they stopped moving. Then they stopped breathing. For their crimes, Long Meg and her Daughters were turned to stone, unmoving where they once danced.