British Folklore
Fairy Lore & Prehistoric Sites in Britain
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Stenness

Stenness

Several 18th and 19th century sources describe ceremonies performed at the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness. On the first day of the New Year, local young people would meet in the Kirk of Stenness, bringing enough food for four to five days. Pairs of lovers would leave the rest of the party and go to the Stones of Stenness, it was known as the Temple of the Moon, where the women would pray to Odin that he would enable them to perform the promises they made to the men; after that the couples would go to the Ring of Brodgar, which was known as the Temple of the Sun, where the men made similar prayers. They would then go to the Stone of Odin, a standing stone with a round hole in it through which the couples would clasp hands and plight their troth, 'a pledge of love which was to them as sacred as a marriage vow.'

The Archaeologica Scotica (1792) records the case of a young man who had got a girl pregnant then deserted her:

The young man was called before the session; the elders were particularly severe. Being asked by the minister the cause of so much rigour, they answered, you do not know what a bad man this is; he has broke the promise of Odon. Being further asked what they meant by the promise of Odin, they put him in mind of the Stone at Stenhouse with the round hole in it; and added, that it was customary, when promises were made, for the contracting parties to join hands through this hole, and the promises so made were called the promises of Odin.

It was also known that if a child was passed through the hole when it was young, it would never shake with palsy in old age. When visiting the stone, it was customary to leave an offering of bread, cheese, a piece of cloth or a pebble.

The Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness can still be seen, although many of the stones have fallen and are embedded in the ground. The Stone of Odin on the other hand was removed in around 1814 by a farmer (not an Orkney native) who was annoyed by the amount of visitors that were coming to it. He is said to have used the stone to build a cow-house, and although no stories of supernatural punishment have ever been recorded, there were two unsuccessful attempts made by aggrieved neighbors to set fire to his property.