Astbury Church – Beating the Bounds.
In the past on Ascension day the Rector, Churchwardens and any parishioners who cared to join in would walk around a portion of the boundary, and it is believed that it would take about four years to complete the entire circuit. It is thought that in the past Schoolboys would have attended, and one of the customs was to bump some of them on the boundary stones, they would then stop at a convenient location for a meal.
It is believed that this custom originated from the belief that all boundaries were thought to be under the control of local and artificial Dieties. These artificial Dieties came about from slaughtering human victims at certain points along the boundary, then erecting a sacred stone to preserve the victims memory.
Each victim that was slaughtered became a Boundary God that was believed to watch out and protect, they were known as Hermes or a Terminus. The Boundary God was renewed each year by sacrificing another victim, the more modern practice of Beating the Bounds is thought to be the surviving remnant of these Pagan practices where a human sacrifice was needed each year.
The Bounds are beaten in order to expel the foreign Gods and malevolent spirits, this would have been done in more recent times by boys who would have been whipped at each sacred stone. This would have been done as it was believed that all artificial Gods had to be scourged before being put to death.
Artificial God making has also been used in the construction of city walls in the past, human remains have been found in them in the belief that the structures would have been stronger, they have also been found in the walls of certain buildings. This may have been the case at Astbury church as coffin lids have been built into the sides of the church tower.