Many years ago, I featured a cover picture on my Facebook page, showing dozens of hag-stones washed in sea water, and received a message from someone asking how I managed to create so many without shattering the pebbles! Apparently the sender had been trying for years to make them by drilling the holes in order to sell them online! Wrong … in fact, according to Beachstuff.com cheating by drilling a hole through any old stone you pick up is liable to bring you curses and pestilence and other undesirable occurrences.
A hag-stone is an elusive and extremely magical stone tumbled by tides and winds over time to create a naturally forming hole through them. Hag-stones are special because they are rare to find and are also called adder-stones, faerie-stones, Odin-stones, eye-stones or witch-stones. Most are caused by water eroding weakened spots on the stone until a hole occurs, though many are created by wind, erosion, and weathering alone. They can also be formed as a result of the boring of a bivalve mollusk called a ‘piddock,’ whose shells look like angel wings. Or, as a result of smaller stones repeatedly grinding into the stone’s surface caused by weathering or water pressure. Or, more rarely from the deterioration of an embedded crinoid fossil.
First, however, we need to start with the geological aspects of the hag-stone. These small witch-stones all have naturally formed holes in them but they originally came from the bed-rock of the Earth, having been chipped off by impact, tectonic activity, glacial movement, seismic eruptions and weathering. So the original rocks that make up the small pebbles from which our hag-stones are formed may, in some places, be over 3 billion years old; the actual pebbles are probably only a few thousand years old since it only takes a relatively short time (geologically speaking) for streams and rivers to transport them.
As rocks are weathered and otherwise broken up, they go through many stages. Pebbles start off as part of a much larger formation of bed-rock in the ground. A crack formed and water flowed through; later, this chunk was broken off by some natural process and has been worn down, probably by being tumbled in a river, or by waves, until it became fairly round and smooth. Pebbles are very common along the lower boundaries of the last glaciers. The rocks get eroded by ice and water, getting smaller and smaller as they are borne along. Most of these pebbles will be rounded off over hundreds or thousands of years.
Beach pebbles form gradually over time as the ocean washes over loose rocks; the result is a smooth, rounded appearance with colours ranging from translucent white to black, and including shades of yellow, brown, red and green. Some of the more plentiful pebble beaches are found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, beginning in the United States and extending down to the tip of South America in Argentina. Other pebble beaches are found in northern Europe (particularly on the beaches of the Norwegian Sea), along the coast of the U.K. and Ireland, on the shores of Australia, and around the islands of Indonesia and Japan – and here hag-stones of all sizes and colours can be plentiful.
Inland pebbles (pebbles of river rock) are usually found along the shores of large rivers and lakes. These pebbles form as the flowing water washes over rock particles on the bottom and along the shores of the river. The smoothness and colour of river pebbles depends on several factors, such as the composition of the soil of the river banks, the chemical characteristics of the water, and the speed of the current. Because a river current is gentler than pounding ocean waves, river pebbles are not usually as smooth as beach pebbles. The most common colours of river rock are black, grey, green, brown and white and hag-stones tend to be much rarer.
A large number of hag-stones are made of flint and in some of the old Victorian compilations about superstitions, customs and folklore, they are often described as a ‘flynt stone with hole’. This has led a lot of folk to believe that other types of stones with a hole are not true hag-stones but there is no written rule that says that a piece of limestone or sandstone with a naturally occurring hole does not have the magical properties of a hag-stone. In truth, it is about the essence of each individual stone and its geological properties – but it has to have a hole that has been weathered over a long stretch of time.
From a magical perspective, hag-stones are generally used as protective amulets to deflect negative energy and their additional properties are governed by the type of stone they are made from. Flint is the most common type found in Western Europe and, as a result, these stones have traditionally been seen as the ‘real’ hag-stones described in the old books. Flint is not tied to any geological period and has been formed ever since the pre-Cambrian period, but almost all flint found in Europe was deposited in the period that we call Cretaceous when the world was a vastly different place.
In the early Cretaceous age, the continents were in very different positions than they are today. Sections of the supercontinent Pangaea were drifting apart. The Tethys Ocean still separated the northern Laurasia continent from southern Gondwana; the North and South Atlantic were still closed, although by the middle of the period, ocean levels were much higher and most of the landmass we are now familiar with, was underwater. By the end of the period, the continents were much closer to their current configuration. Africa and South America had assumed their distinctive shapes; but India had not yet collided with Asia, and Australia was still part of Antarctica …
Flint hag-stones are often created when crinoids fossils deteriorate. The crinoid is an example of a marine animal that left a poorly fossilized image due to its delicate parts … They are an ancient fossil group that first appeared in the seas of the Middle Cambrian age, about 300 million years before dinosaurs and, since crinoids were not usually buried quickly, their hard stem-parts are far more frequently found as fossils. Crinoids are common fossils in the Silurian rocks of Shropshire; in the Early Carboniferous rocks of Derbyshire and Yorkshire; and in the Jurassic rocks of the Dorset coast and Yorkshire (Robin Hoods Bay).
Flint is a hard, shiny, almost glassy, stone which is often pointed and flaky rather than smooth and rounded. It is formed from a complex process deriving from animals such as sponges, urchins and other marine animals in the sediments lain down to form the rocks. Because it is hard, and can easily form sharp edges, it was used as first human tools. If you find a flint hag-stone, you have good reason to be absolutely delighted with yourself! If it is flint then it could be the remains of a fossil that has been eroded by wave action; these in their whole state are usually a roughly spherical hollow flint with the inside encrusted with crystals.
The magical properties are enhanced, depending on the type of rock that the pebble is composed of. Coming originally from mountains where rocks and minerals have been brought up from deep within the Earth’s crust, in many cases deep from within the mantle of the planet’s interior where metals and gemstones are formed. Most gemstones are found in igneous rocks and alluvial gravels, but sedimentary and metamorphic rocks may also contain gem materials. From a geologist’s point of view, however, hag-stones are mainly pebbles of sedimentary rocks that have a naturally occurring hole or holes in them.
Some of the folklore stories link them to having been created by ‘serpents venom in the centre of the stone’, however, the scientific explanation might be less fascinating! The culprits behind the creation of those holes are, as we have seen, those common piddocks – with specially adapted oval shells that are edged with fine teeth, which they use to excavate burrows in rock. These creatures can bore holes into a rock by locking on with a sucker-like foot and then twisting its shell to drill. Their long oval shells are distinctively wing-shaped, giving piddocks their other common name of ‘angel wings’. Even more magically, during the low tide and in darkness, we may witness a weird bluish-green glow because the animals are bioluminescent.
Anyone who has ever walked on the beach, especially in southern England, has come across flint. For most people it is not really an especially attractive or beautiful stone, despite the interesting shapes or beautiful colours – but no rock or mineral has had so much influence on human history as flint. This makes it one of the most important, if not the most important rock in human development. Flint is a cryptocrystalline quartz rock, ranging from black to grey and from red to brown – caused by contamination with chalk, iron or organic material. In England (actually across the whole of Europe) we find flint almost always as layers in chalk or limestone: sometimes in narrow bands, sometimes in thicker layers.
Flint is always a marine deposit – a seawater deposit. Silicon dioxide, the building blocks of quartz, dissolves in water at high temperature (no worries, your quartz crystal really does not dissolve should you decide to wash it in warm water). Seawater normally contains little silica, and silica-containing water is often only seen after volcanic eruptions in the cavities in the solidified lava. That is why quartz geodes form here – but in seawater it has to come from somewhere else. The theory is that the silica from which flint is formed comes from animal remains: microscopically small skeletal particles of micro-organisms in the sea. Of all these animal fossils many have been found in flint. In addition to the organic origin, silica-containing water also enters the sea through groundwater in which silica is dissolved from the soil, and through clay particles that wash into the sea and dissolve in sea water. Flint is very ‘fossiliferous’ anyway and the fossils are often very well preserved: for example sea urchins, shells, ammonites, etc.
Flint is created on the seabed. Many of these cavities were made by animals that lived in the seabed, such as crustaceans. These critters dug a way through the seabed and in these burrows flint eventually formed. Hence flint concretions can have the most amazing shapes. These petrified burrows are not fossils, after all they are not actual imprints or physical remains from the animal. We call these types of remains ichnofossils, trace fossils. Just like, for example, saurian footsteps or crawling traces of trilobites are ichnofossils. The ‘skin’ of a flint concretion is often white. Sometimes flint can also have beautiful bands. This is the so-called banded flint. In southern England, the colour of the rock sometimes tells where the flint comes from. In the Southeast, the White Cliffs area, the flint ranges from pale gray to black. Further west, towards Dorset, the flint becomes more reddish brown in colour.
Fossils in flint also plays an historical role. Flint containing a fossil has sometimes been worked in such a way that the fossil had a prominent place in the tool. An example of this is a flint axe with a sea urchin from Homo heidelbergensis, which is 400,000 years old; and a Neanderthal axe from Norfolk with a fossil shell that is 200,000 years old. A recent study also shows that Neanderthals had an eye for the beauty of stone and that they kept exceptionally beautiful pieces of flint.
Hagstones by Mélusine Draco is the third title published in the ‘Arcanum series’ for Ignotus Books. Arcanum books will be titles of under 100-pages of practical and/or instructional text on a specific esoteric subject or theme and written by magical practitioners with proven antecedents. Based on the idea of those children’s ‘Ladybird’ books that often introduced us to an interest that lasted a life time and, taking its name from the Coven of the Scales’ foundation course, the aim is to offer further tuition/guidance on specific elements of witch-lore and practice.
Coming in at around 25,000 words, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications. The series will be aimed at those who have attained a certain level of magical competence and who don’t need to be spoon-fed basic instructions for Circle-casting with each volume – and are therefore not written with beginners in mind.
Hagstones compiled by Melusine Draco for the Arcanum series, published by ignotus press uk : ISBN: 9781803020334 : In paperback and e-book format : Pages: 98 : Published: 23 June 2021: Price £6.68 : Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/HAGSTONES.aspx