The Enchanting Lore of Hag Stones: Exploring Centuries of Magical Traditions

For centuries, the mystique of hag stones has been woven into the fabric of folklore and tradition. These naturally perforated stones, also known by many as witch stones or adder stones, have held a place of reverence and mystery in cultures around the world. It’s not just their unique appearance that captures the imagination, but the ancient beliefs that they carry protective and healing powers.

collection of hag stones on a table
Collection of hag stones, also known as adder stones

In the olden days, a hag stone was much more than a simple stone with a hole. It was a powerful amulet, a guardian against the dark arts. People believed that these stones had the ability to ward off curses, spells, and the malevolent gaze of the evil eye. They were particularly valued for their supposed effectiveness in preventing hag-riding—a malevolent spirit’s nocturnal torment of both humans and animals.

Farmers and country dwellers would often hang these holed stones in their stables, a practice vividly described by the 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey. He noted that in the West of England, “the Carters, Groomes, and Hostlers doe hang a flint (that has a hole in it) over Horses that are hagge-ridden for a Preservative against it.” This tradition speaks volumes about the cultural importance of hag stones in rural life.

But the lore of hag stones stretches even further, to the realm of healing. In Cornwall, the famed Mên-an-Tol—a megalithic monument featuring a large holed stone—was renowned for its curative properties. Folklore tells of a time when people with ailments would pass through the stone in hopes of healing pains in their back and limbs. Parents would even draw their children through the stone to cure them of rickets, a practice noted by the 18th-century historian William Borlase.

Mên-an-Tol—a megalithic monument featuring a large holed stone

This belief in the therapeutic nature of hag stones wasn’t confined to megalithic structures alone. Across Cornwall, natural rock formations with openings were sought after by those suffering from rheumatism or lumbago, with the hope that crawling through these natural apertures would bring relief.

The maritime communities also held hag stones in high regard. Sailors from Weymouth to Whitby would attach these stones to their boats or even to their keys, a symbolic gesture to ensure safe passage and prosperity. The tradition underscores the stones’ perceived power to not only protect but also to bring about good fortune.

Today, while we may not share the same beliefs as our ancestors, the allure of hag stones endures. They serve as a tangible connection to the past, to the stories and rituals that have shaped human experience with the natural world. Whether you’re a collector, a history enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of these natural curiosities, hag stones invite us to ponder the mysteries they’ve witnessed through the ages.

For a deeper dive into the fascinating history of hag stones, explore the detailed account at Oxford Reference.

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