Snakestones, Hagstones and a Witch Burning

 

Holey stones are part of a long magical curative tradition in the UK. Different regions of the UK used the stones for different uses, throughout the country holey stones are known as hagstones, witch stones, snake stones, Druids stones and mare stones to name a few. These stones were used to curing eye issues curing diseases in cattle, protecting horses from night-hags and preventing nightmares and to help children through teething (which in the 1700-1800’s in Glasgow, Scotland was the cause of a considerable infant mortality).

Impression of Agnes Sampson, the Witch of Keith

Snakestone Beads

Snakestone beads are generally thought of a being a glassy disc with a hole in the center and said to have been created by the spit or foam from the mouths of snakes. There is a legend from Cornwall which tells of a tradition that snakes would gather at midsummers eve and as they joined their heads together and hisses they created a bubble till it formed around the head of one of the snakes and it would travel over its body until it came off at the tail.

Agnes Simpson –  the Wise Wife of Keith

Snakestone beads were also natural stones with holes in them, were sometimes used to ease the pain of childbirth in Scotland. In the trial of Agnes Sampson, as part of the North Berwick witch trials, another woman on trial –  Eufame Macalyane, is said to have called on the services of Agnes. Eufame had called on Sampson for the relief of her labour pains, the cure involving the use of enchanted powders as well as the ‘baird stane’ (a bored stone, ie a stone with a hole in it). Agnes was eventually convicted not just for having the snakestone but the bigger sentence charged with treason (of allegedly trying to kill Kings James VI and his new wife on their voyage from Denmark by conjuring up a violent storm). Her use of the snakestone inferred her use of using magic as the stone wasn’t attributed with any known actual curative properties – the use of the stone was then used as additional evidence that Sampson was indeed a witch and was burnt at the stake in Edinburgh 1591.

Antler hagstone – click to view in shop

To me, a stone with a hole in it connects us to these wise women and to their beliefs which they tapped into in doing their work, whether helping with childbirth, find something treasured that was lost or to make sense of a particular situation and to bring balance back. People sought out the help of wise women in times of crises in their lives and while the world has gone through many crises we are currently in a monumental planetary wide crisis. There are many women from different traditions who call themselves wise women, or are called wise women by others. Each woman brings about balance in her own way through her skills within her tradition. I work in a pre-Celtic Bean Feasa tradition – while the word is from Gaelic I recognize my recent ancestors and all the generations of women before them. Countless generations of women who brought their healing skills, their helping and organizing skills, their skills as nurturer and therapist, of herbalist and skills of artist and storyteller weaving the magic of imagination.

My hag stones are decorated with an embellished cord, a symbol of the roots, the bones and the blood which link us to the women who came before us – down through countless generations of women healers. The cord is a symbol of the tap root that weaves through us to past generations and all those women. It is emblellished with talismans which some women would have held sacred in that special relationship they had with an animal, plant or Goddess.

Whatever she was doing, weaving together some magic, tracking down a lost calf for someone, a lost mind for someone else or giving out instructions on a ritual on how to appease the Good Folk the Bean Feasa (wise woman) had her own way of working.

Brighid hagstone – click to view in shop

The cord of this stone holds Brighid’s wheel (or cross) and a snake bone. The red yard represents Brighid’s flame, the fire priestesses kept alive or generations. the piece is an invitation to work with the hag stone and Brighid.

Ancestral Mother hagstone – click to view in shop

The threads attached to these stones invite you to follow them, like roots they branch out past your hand, past your mother, your grandmother, further and further to women whose names you don’t know, women whose lives you don’t know. Yet within that lineage sings a language, a magic, a creativity. This is the red thread, the beating in the heart, the wise voice that comes from nowhere, the stream of synchronicity.

 

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