View Full Version : Oaths to the Odin Stone

Friday, December 16th, 2005, 10:17 PM
The Odin Stone


Until the winter of 1814, in a field by the Standing Stones o' Stenness, stood a holed monolith that occupied a particularly special place in the customs, traditions and lore of the Orcadian people.

The Odin Stone, or Stone o' Odin, stood approximately 2.5 metres (8 feet) high with a breadth of about one metre (3.5 feet). It is thought to have been cut and dragged to its lochside location around 3000 BC.

But although it had stood resolutely in the same position for millennia, the destruction of the Odin Stone took less than a day.

The destruction begins...

In December 1814, the farmer on whose land the stones stood - an incomer by the name of Captain Mackay - waged an attack on the Stenness megaliths.

At the time, the Odin Stone and the circles of Stenness and Brodgar still played a major part in common Orcadian tradition. Claiming that his land was being ruined by the large numbers of people visiting the ancient sites, Mackay set out to remove them.

He began with the Odin Stone, which he destroyed, allegedly using the stone fragments to construct a byre.

This misguided "ferrylouper" - the dialect word used to describe non-Orcadians living in the isles - was already not well-liked, but his destruction of the fabled monolith did nothing to increase his popularity.

Mackay's actions stirred up so much anger among Orcadians that various attempts were made to burn his house and holdings about his ears. He was finally stopped while attempting to destroy the Standing Stones o' Stenness, but not before managing to topple one stone and obliterating a second.

The fate of the Odin Stone

Though local tradition has it that the remnants of the Odin Stone were used for building material, local antiquarian Ernest Marwick could find no evidence to prove that this was actually the case.

He did however discover that the main portion of the stone - the holed segment - survived into the 1940s before it too was finally destroyed. This section of the stone, Marwick learned, had been used as an anchor for a horse-powered mill shaft, moving around the parish of Stenness as the mill changed hands.

The final destruction

When it was finally decided to replace the horse-drawn mill with an engine-driven threshing machine, the mill was uprooted and lay around with the Odin Stone fragment gathering moss. Then one fateful day the owner’s son decided to clean up the area and remove the old machinery. Unable to move the stone, and ignorant of its history, he smashed the remains to dust.

His unwitting destruction of the stone fragment finally closed a chapter of Orkney history. But also roused the fiery wrath of his father who exclaimed: "You had no damned business to break that stone: that was the Stone o' Odin that came from Barnhouse!"

The site of the Odin Stone

The original location of the Odin Stone remained unclear until May 1988 when archaeologists surveyed over 8,000 metres of land surrounding the Stenness stones.

They uncovered socket holes for several stones and finally the socket of the Odin Stone itself. The holed monolith was shown to have stood approximately 140 metres (150 yards) to the north of the Standing Stones o' Stenness - between the stone ring and the current house of Odin.

Magical traditions

As can be gathered from their reaction to its destruction, to the Orcadians of yesteryear, the potency of the Odin Stone was unparalleled. It was not only the focus of a number of "magical" rites but was also thought to possess miraculous healing powers.

When visiting the stone it was customary to leave offerings of food or ale at the stone and it was common for young people to pass their heads through the stone to acquire immunity from certain diseases.

Along the same lines, new-born infants were passed through the hole to ensure a healthy future and crippled limbs were passed through in the hope of some supernatural cure.

"It was said that a child passed through the hole when young would never shake with palsy in old age. Up to the time of its destruction, it was customary to leave some offering on visiting the stone, such as a piece of bread, or cheese, or a rag, or even a stone."
G H Black

The stone's healing powers were often combined with the magical water of the well at Bigswell a short distance away. For more information on sacred wells, click here.

The Odin Stone apparently had the power to bestow some of its magic onto mortals. One old folktale tells how a farmer from Turriedale in the parish of Evie:

"for nine moons at midnight, when the moon was full, went nine times on his bare knees around the Odin Stone of Stainness. And for nine moons, at full moon, he looked through the hole of the Odin Stone and wished he might get the power of seeing Hildaland."

Later in the tale the farmer's wish is granted and he drives the finfolk from their magical island, claiming it for the Christian God and renaming it Eynhallow - Holy Island. For a full version of this tale, click here.

The Odin Oath

But aside from its healing and magical powers, the Odin Stone was perhaps best known for the part it played sealing agreements and binding marriages and unions.

People from every corner of the isles, in particular young lovers, would visit the stone to make their vows absolute by clasping hands through the hole and swearing the Odin Oath.

Read more (http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/odinstone/odinoath.htm)

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006, 10:44 PM

Saturday, October 28th, 2006, 03:03 PM
Was there text to go with this picture?

Saturday, October 28th, 2006, 06:30 PM
Was there text to go with this picture?

Yes, but it didnt post my reply. I guess I was on a bad comp. I forgot what I was going to say now. Pardon