Beneath the Hallowed Hill is set in Avalon, home of the Tor and the Twin Springs. One scene takes place in Avebury, the largest megalithic monument in the world. Medievalist and archaeologist A.J. Walker drops by to talk about ancient stone monuments in “Fertility, chastity, and ancient monuments.”
The landscape of Western Europe is dotted with megalithic ruins as well as strange natural rock formations. These enigmatic stones have created an entire mythology around them that’s probably only vaguely related to their original purpose.
Take this naturally cleft stone pictured above in this photo courtesy of Lisa Jarvis. It’s a naturally occurring rock on top of a Celtic hill fort at Traprain Law in Scotland. The little one is called the Maiden Stone, and the big one is the Mother Stone. If you pass naked between them you’ll get good luck and lots of kids.
This is a common legend for both natural and artificial stones. In European folklore, it seems to be the women who are more interested in them, so it’s no surprise that many of the legends have to do with fertility and childbirth. A married woman had to have children to have status, yet childbirth was often fatal. A little help from the stones must have put many a worried mind to rest!
People were especially attracted to stone circles where one of the stones had a hole through it. Babies would be passed through the hole to give them health or luck, or women would crawl through to ensure fertility. At the Odin Stone in the Orkneys, men and women would join hands through the hole in order to get married. At the Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall, pictured here in a photo courtesy of Jane Osborne. Babies with rickets would be passed through naked to cure them. For some reason these folklore cures often required a person to be naked in public, something frowned on in a traditional society. This added a layer of danger and rebelliousness to the ritual.
The Bhacain in Scotland is different than other stones. It’s a monolith (what we archaeologists called a menhir) but it curves around like a P. In the 19th century, women leaving the Highlands to take jobs in the city would sit under the overhang to ensure they didn’t get pregnant while away from the stern protective gaze of their parents. Most menhirs look pretty phallic and were used for fertility rituals. Perhaps because The Bhacain is a bit droopy it was believed to have the opposite effect!