Post by Graveyardbride on Mar 29, 2018 3:00:23 GMT -5
Strange Tales from Scotland’s Stone Circles
With some of Scotland’s stone circles around 5,000 years old, a rich culture of folklore and myth has evolved surrounding the mysterious formations, where ancient peoples worshiped or celebrated. Here we look at six sites and their links to love, health, fertility, fortune and death – and the tale of one tourist who believed he was cursed after visiting a key Highland attraction.
The Ring of Brodgar/Stones of Stenness/The Odin Stone (Orkney). Many believe The Ring of Brodgar (above), consisting of 27 stones from an original 60, was an open-air temple for ancient rites and rituals, possibly including human sacrifice. According to Orkney folk tradition, the Brodgar stones were dancing giants who were petrified when the sun came up and shined on them. Later, the Ring became a place for young people to declare their love, usually following a New Year’s Day dance at a church in Stenness. Colin Richards, in Building the Great Stones of the North, recorded how, if love blossomed, a young couple would walk to the Stones of Stenness – referred to as the Temple of the Moon – where the girl would kneel and pray to the god Odin. The couple would then walk three-quarters of a mile to the Ring of Brodgar – the Temple of the Sun – where the young man would also pray to the powerful deity of Norse mythology. “After that, they both went to the Odin stone, where they stood on either side of it and held hands through the stone and made the Odin oath, which was considered binding,” Richards wrote. “The two people that made the Odin Oath could be married to each other in church afterwards but they could not marry another.” Babies were also sent to Odin Stone, which was destroyed in 1814 by the landowner, to prevent the children’s “shaking with palsy” in later life.
Quoybune Stone (Birsay, Orkney). Sacred stones were/are believed to be brimming with life and power and at one time, it was believed the Quoybune Stone at Birsay physically moved at the stroke of midnight at Hogmanay. “Every Hogmanay night, when the clock strikes 12, [it] marches down to the Loch of Boardhouse and dips its head in the water,” J.M. McPherson wrote in Primitive Beliefs of the North East of Scotland. Those who witnessed this supernatural phenomenon would not live to see another year, according to the account. “It is never safe to be ... watching its movements at that witching hour,” he continued. “There are many stories of venturesome outlanders – natives know better – setting out to watch this stone in its progress to the loch side. Their dead bodies were found in the morning.”
A “daring youth” from Glasgow is said to have had a strange encounter with the Quoybune Stone. According to Ramblings in the Far North by R. Menzies Fergusson (1884), the lad set out to see the stone shortly before 12. “As time worked on and the dread hour of midnight approached, he began to feel some little terror in his heart and an eerie feeling crept slowly over his limbs,” Fergusson recounted. The young man lost consciousness and when his friends found him in “grey dawn in the faint,” he “could not say if the stone had moved and knocked him down or whether his imagination had conjured up the assault.”
Calanais (Lewis, Outer Hebrides). Legend has it that a white fairy cow came to save starving islanders by giving milk at the 5,000-year-old stones of Calanais (above). The red-eared beast – animals of the fairy realm often have red ears – emerged from the sea as a desperate woman waded into the water with the intention of drowning herself, according to Anne Ross’s Folklore of the Scottish Islands. “It spoke with a soft, tuneful voice telling her to return home, fetch her milk-pail and tell her neighbors to come with their own pails to the stones of Callanish,” Ross wrote. A pailful of milk was provided every night to all the women until one visitor, seeking two pails, brought an end to the fountain of milk. The greedy woman was a witch and she returned with one pail, but had punched holes in the bottom of the bucket and after milking the cow dry, it was never seen at Calanais again. Recent research has confirmed the stones were constructed to align with the orbits of the sun and moon.
Granny Kempock (Gourock, Inverclyde). This 6-foot monolith stands above the main shopping street of Gourock and has long been the source of superstition. Originally believed to be an altar where Druids worshiped, Kempocl was said to bring good fortune to newlyweds and fishermen who walked around the stone seven times carrying a basket of sand. In 1662, a plot to throw the Kempock Stone into the Clyde was one of the charges in a witchcraft case. According to reports, a woman named Mary Lamont was burnt at the stake after confessing her part in the plot, which was designed to harm local ships and boats.
Clach-na-Bhan, ‘Stone of the Woman,’ (near Braemar, Aberdeenshire). Pregnant women would journey to this solitary, ancient rock atop Clach-na-Bhan in hopes of increasing their chances of an easy delivery. They would sit on the rock, which has been likened to an arm chair with a natural hollow in its center. According to McPherson, “Women about to become mothers climbed the hill, and seated themselves in the hollow, believing that this chairing ensured an easy delivery.” In New History of Aberdeenshire, published in 1836, the author witnessed the “chairing” of 12 full-bodied women who had walked around 20 miles from Speyside.
Single women made pilgrimages to the stone, too, believing it would aid in their search for a husband. Women would also visit the Kelpie Stone in the Dee near Dinnet because of its “power of making the childless wife a joyful mother.”
Clava Cairns (near Inverness). In the year 2000, a Belgian tourist became convinced he had been cursed after swiping a stone from the 4,000-year-old sacred site of Clava Cairns (above), where the cairns are aligned toward the southwest – the Midwinter sunset. It is believed rituals involving the dead were performed at the site. The visitor was so disturbed about his sudden string of bad luck that he mailed the souvenir he had taken to the tourist office in Inverness. An unsigned letter accompanied the stone wherein the man explained that after stealing the stone, his daughter broke her leg, his wife became extremely ill and he lost his job and broke his arm. The tourist guide who opened the package from the remorseful Belgian admitted Clava Cairns isn’t the sort of place one would want to visit at night.
Sources: Alison Campsie, The Scotsman, April 10, 2017, and Doug MacGowan, Historic Mysteries, January 20, 2017.