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The Standing Stones of the Orkney Islands

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The Standing Stones of the Orkney Islands

The standing stones of Orkney are known for their magical properties.

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Far up in the North Sea, off the northernmost tip of Scotland, lie the Orkney Islands. Made up of several dozen small islands, this area was populated by Norse travelers hundreds of years ago. Just fifty miles from Greenland’s southern coast, Orkney today boasts a total population of only about twenty thousand people. Originally settled by the tribe known as Picts, in the eighth century, or thereabouts, Norse voyagers moved in, and it is there language and culture that has greatly influenced Orkney society throughout the years since.

Orkney has a number of standing stones, and many of the Orkney stones appear as solitary megaliths, rather than in circles, henges, or other formations. Made of flagstone, they’ve been dated at over three thousand years old.

There’s a fascinating legend in Orkney, detailing the movement of some of the region’s standing stones. It is said that at various times of the year - particularly around Yule and Hogmanay, the stones walk in the night to the nearest body of water, and bend down to take a drink.

According to the website Orkneyjar, “It was generally thought to be bad luck to see these walking stones, so locals would avoid the areas surrounding the stones until well after sunrise on New Year's Day.”

The Ring of Brodgar, in particular, is known as a magical place. Said to be a ring of dancing giants turned to stone in the glittering sunrise, this ring is the host of a number of local myths and legends.

Other tales have it that the standing stones were once witches, who were turned to rock through the forces of magic.

While you may not be able to set up a giant megalith in your own back yard, you can incorporate the magic of standing stones into your Yule altar.

  • Select a number of large stones to place in a ring around your ritual space. You can use thirteen to represent the thirteen lunar phases, eight to symbolize the NeoPagan sabbats, or have one for each member of your group.
  • If you’re limited on space, use a single large stone, or a ring of smaller ones.
  • Decorate your stone or stones with runes, symbols of your tradition, holly, mistletoe or even candles to ring in the Yule season.
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