THE spirit of a slain girl who inspired a Hardy poem was honoured by druids and witches at Maumbury Rings in Dorchester.

Taloch, the stag lord of the Dolmen Grove, blessed the memory of Mary Channing, who was executed there in 1705.

Channing was the inspiration behind the Thomas Hardy poem The Mock Wife.

Chris Walsh, arch druid of the Dolmen Grove who led the ceremony, said: "The story goes that she was sold as part of her family's rent to a local landowner at the age of 14 and basically used for sex."

The grisly story continues that the man who bought her had a sexually transmitted disease and died after taking an overdose of cyanide, which was used at the time as a painkiller.

It is not known to this day whether this was an accidental or deliberate overdose or whether Channing murdered him.

The girl had become pregnant with the man's child and was due to inherit all of his wealth.

But Channing's family waited until her baby was born before accusing her of being a witch.

Shortly after this she was dragged to Maumbury Rings, strangled and burned.

Mr Walsh added: "Just imagine the sheer fright of the girl.

"It is a most awful story and one repeated many times throughout history."

The Dolmen Grove completed a ritual to honour life and the earth at the rings and formed a henge of Druids within a larger circle of witches as part of the ceremony.

Members of the grove also called for peace and wisdom as well as honouring the memory of the little girl.

Mr Walsh said: "At the ritual we looked to recognise her fate and call for her spirit to pass by peacefully.

"There was a strange chill in the air within the ancient site during this time."

Mike Nixon, who is secretary of the Thomas Hardy Society, said: "Maumbury Rings is a very historical site.

"Thomas Hardy was aware of the area's nature and some of the dreadful things that used to happen there."