Matt recently wrote a story about magical places in Cornwall, among which Mên-an-Tol, a monument of ancient belief, still so alive in Britain. I’ve never been there, but at home I have a ‘Holey stone’, a flint one, rather big, found in England years ago. Stones with holes in them are not that plentiful, so when you find one, you are tempted to take it with you.
Sometime later I discovered that my holey stone is magical. Or it could be.
Holed stones also go by the names of Hag stones, Fairy Stones or Odin Stones, names with a certain magical ring to it. The hole is the result of erosion, mostly, and they are often found in or around water. There must be plenty of holey stones everywhere in the world.
To know more I took Gary Varner’s book on stones, and here is what he says (p 15): “Because of their magical properties holed stones were believed to be linked directly to the Goddess. In North Carolina, at least through the 1920s, holed stones were worn by pregnant women to ease childbirth. In Northumberland up to the early 20th century holy, or holed stones were placed around a horse’s neck to protect it from disease. It was a common belief in the Ozarks that stones with naturally occuring holes could ward off witches and evil spirits. It was also believed that such a stone tied to the bedpost would prevent nightmares.” Elsewhere Varner mentions that in Cornwall and Scotland they protected horses against being taken by witches to the Sabbath, and keeping frogs from entering a house.
But one of the legends attached to the holey stone is that looking through the hole may show you the invisible world. (I tried with mine, in vain) That belief is the main theme of the wonderful Fantasy movie ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ , after the books of Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi. Looking through the hole reveals a world of weird and dangerous creatures, which can only be defeated while visible with the magic of the stone.
Holey stones have made a come back, and they are pricy on eBay. Much more fun to find one yourself. Paganists love them, hang them around their neck, above the cradle and even in their cars, for protection. All the old notions around a holed stone are leading to new uses for people with love for old traditions. Who will say if it works. Maybe it does.
A man who thought so was the Scottish Coineach Odhar (translated in English: Kenneth MacKenzie) who went into history as The Brahan Seer. Born around 1660 near Uig, on the Scottish Isle of Lewis, he worked as a farmhand for the Seaforth lords, on the estate of Brahan, which gave him his name.
Although he really existed, the way he obtained his psychic powers is the stuff of (more than one) legend. According to one tradition he fell asleep on a fairy mound, and when he woke up, he found a stone on his chest with a hole in it. Another story says he found it in a raven’s nest. Whatever happened, from that day on he was clairvoyant. Whenever he looked through the hole, he could tell the future. Most of it was rather vague, but nevertheless his psychic powers were a dangerous gift.
That experienced the seer when he was called to Isabella, the wife of the Count of Seaforth, and his employer. Isabella, known as the most ugly woman in the whole of Scotland, asked why her husband didn’t come home.The seer tried to save his skin by assuring Isabella that the Count was doing well, but the woman, her character as ugly as the rest of her, demanded the truth, on penalty of death.
The poor seer had no option but telling the furious woman that her husband was in the bed of someone else. Maybe he should have shut up, but he added that there was trouble ahead for the mighty House of Seaforth. It would perish with the last Count and Brahan castle would be lost.
Oh dear. Screaming Isabella gave her attendants the order to grab the seer and throw him in a cauldron with burning tar. And of course the dutiful attendants did as the lady wished. What became of the holed stone of the Brahan Seer no one knows, but his predictions turned ou to be accurate.
A stone monument at Channory Point, Rosemarkie, tells the story of his last prediction and marks the spot where the poor seer was murdered. His many predictions are still available in a book, if you are interested.
Conclusion: when you find a holey stone, don’t forget to look through it, but keep your predictions to yourself.