On Being Turned to Stone

Jul 5, 2017

Consider this: a fairy has gifted upon no one in particular (the residents of Mitchell’s Fold?) a cow that provides an unlimited supply of milk. One day, an evil witch comes along and milks the cow into a sieve. As punishment, the cow disappears and the witch is turned to stone. A circle of stones is then erected around the witch-stone, in order to prevent the witch’s escape.

Of the many questions this story raises (why did the fairy bequeath a cow upon the countryside? Why is milking a cow into a sieve a punishable offense?) the logistics of petrification deserve some consideration. Why was this particular method of punishment chosen instead of simply disappearing the witch along with the cow? Who petrified the witch—did the fairy return to exact revenge, or was the cow pre-cursed? What does it feel like to be turned to stone? It seems unlikely that one would retain one’s perception, but at the same time, someone saw a need to erect a protective circle of other stones, indicating that the process may be reversible.

In this context, it does not seem a stretch that the subject of petrification may be fully alive and capable of cognition, and perhaps even observation. The witch’s fate, then, has several fascinating implications; the witch will now live forever, or at least far outlast the fragility of a human body. The witch will have seen (and been involved in) every ritual that has occurred on this hill, heard every bleat of a passing sheep, felt rain and snow and sunshine, and stood next to every tourist snapping a picture.

At first, this fate seems unbearable; slogging through the years, unable to die, held in place by dirt and time and gravity, enduring existence. However, this existence could gradually become a learning experience in discovering the patience of stone. The witch-stone must have watched the passing years, seeing fellow rocks chipped away and used while she (out of respect for her position or legendary status) has been left untouched. She must have seen sunrise after sunrise, every possible shape of passing cloud, counted every shade of green in the surrounding countryside. What must it feel like to have lichen grow on one’s skin?

At any rate, the legend gives the landscape a sense of being alive—more than that already imbued by the lively sheep, ferns, grass, and trees.