Clach an Eolas, St Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NF 101 996?

Also Known as:

  1. Stone of Knowledge

Archaeology & History

This stone has very similar qualities to the one found upon Mullach-geal, ⅔ of a mile to the west, as a place where ritual magick was performed.  And, just like the Mullach-geal stone, we only have an approximate position of its whereabouts: “behind the village”, as Mr Sands (1878) said.  The same words were used by other St Kildan writers when it came to describing the whereabouts of Tobar Childe, so we must assume it to be reasonably close to the old well.

Folklore

Mr Sands seems to be the first person to write about it, telling us,

“At the back of the village is a stone, which does not differ in external appearance from the numerous stones scattered around, but which was supposed to possess magical properties.  It is called Clach an Eolas, or Stone of Knowledge.  If any one stood on it on the first day of the quarter, he became endowed with the second sight — could “look into the seeds of Time,” and foretell all that was to happen during the rest of the quarter.  Such an institution must have been of great value in Hirta, where news are so scanty.  To test its powers I stood on it on the first day of Spring (old style) in the present year, but must acknowledge that I saw nothing, except two or three women laden with peats, who were smiling at my credulity.”

Charles MacLean (1977) mentioned the stone a hundred years later, but seems to have just copied this earlier description.  Does anyone up there know its whereabouts?

References:

  1. MacLean, Charles, Island on the Edge of the World, Canongate: Edinburgh 1977.
  2. Sands, J., Out of the World; or Life in St. Kilda, Maclachlan & Stewart: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.815359, -8.570241 Clach an Eolas

Mullach-Geal Stone, St Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NF 092 996

Archaeology & History

This is a most intriguing site, whose exact location seems to have been forgotten.  It was first mentioned in Macaulay’s History of St Kilda (1764) as being one of four stone altars that the islanders used for worship.  Three of them were related to the early christian figure of St. Brendan, whose well and chapel remains are on the south-side of the island.  However, this fourth stone altar possessed a purely magickal and heathen function.  Macaulay initially gives the location as being “on top of a hill to the southwest” of St. Brendan’s chapel; but subsequently tells us it was upon “Mulach-geall” which is a mile NNW.  It was an important place to the people of Hirta and its exact position needs to be found and, hopefully, the altar still exists.

Folklore

Despite Macaulay’s conflicting directions of how to get here (a common feature of early writers), he wrote:

“I have already made mention of one St. Kilda altar, that in Brendans Chapel.  There are no less than four more in the island, of which three lie at considerable distances from the holy places.  There is one particularly on the top of a hill to the south-weft (sic), dedicated according to tradition to the God who presides over Seasons; The God of thunder, lightning, tempests and fair weather.  To avert the terrible judgments inflicted by this mighty Divinity, the ancient St. Kildians offered propitiatory sacrifices on this altar, sacrifices of different forts, much like the old Pagans, who offered a black sheep to Winter, or the Tempest, and a white one to the Spring…  The place where the people of this island, offered their victims to Taranis, is called Mulach-geall, that is to say, the White eminence or hill…”

More than a hundred years later, Seton (1878) made mention of it, but added no further details.

The invocation to Nature’s elements is something we find echoed at some sites further east, such as the Well of the North Wind on Iona and its compatriot Well of the South Wind.  At both these places, so-called ‘pagan’ rituals were used to both placate and invoke the gods and spirits of the wind.  This one on St Kilda possessed additional magickal prowess.  But where is it?  Have we lost it, or is it sleeping somewhere on the edge of Mullach-Geal…?

References:

  1. Macaulay, Kenneth, The History of St. Kilda; Containing a Description of This Remarkable Island; the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants; the Religious and Pagan Antiquities There Found, T. Becket: London 1764.
  2. Seton, Gordon, St. Kilda – Past and Present, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.814575, -8.585289 Mullach-geal Stone

Tobair na h-oige, St. Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NA 100 000

Also Known as:

  1. Well of Eternal Youth

Folklore

An old story told in previous centuries by the indigenous folk of Hirta (St. Kilda) described a long-lost well that was thought to be an abode of the little people, known as the Well of Eternal Youth.  Not to be confused with the Well of Virtues near the Amazon’s House less than a mile west, the rough whereabouts of this site is cited by J. Sands (1878) in the folklore section of his otherwise historical account on these faraway Atlantic islands.  He wrote:

“Once on a time an old fellow, in going up Connagher with a sheep on his back, observed a Well which he had never seen or heard of before.  The water looked like cream, and was so tempting, that he knelt down and took a hearty drink.  To his surprise all the infirmities of age immediately left him, and all the vigour and activity of youth returned. He laid down the sheep to mark the spot, and ran down the hill to tell his neighbours. But when he came up again neither sheep nor well were to be found, nor has any one been able to find the Tobair na h-oige to this day.  Some say that if he had left a small bit of iron at the well—a brog with a tacket in it would have done quite well—the fairies would have been unable to take back their gift.”

Explorations of old maps and texts has failed to show with certainty where this legendary well may have been (the grid-ref is an approximation), but it was reported in Mrs Banks’ Scottish Calendar Customs (1937) to have been “issuing out of the face of a rock on the north-side of the east bay…only accesible by the inhabitants, no stranger daring to climb the steep rock.” Some of us would try!

References:

  1. Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 2, Folklore Society: London 1937.
  2. Sands, J., Out of the World; or Life in St. Kilda, Maclachlan & Stewart: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.819254, -8.571844 Tobair na h-oige

Tobar nam Buadh, St. Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NA 0863 0024

Tobar nam Buaidh on 1928 map

Also known as:

  1. Canmore ID 3962
  2. Tobar-ianadaiche-buadhan
  3. Well of Virtues

Archaeology & History

This legendary healing spring (the Well of Virtues) is on the north side of the island, a few hundred yards northwest of the legendary Amazon’s House. Martin Martin (1703) told that this well,

“near the female warrior’s house is reputed to be the best, the name Toubir-nim-buey, importing no less than the well of qualities or virtues; it runneth from east to west, being sixty paces ascent above sea; I drank of it twice, and English quart at each time; it is very clear, exceeding cold, light and diuretick; I was not able to hold my hands in it above a few minutes, in regard of its coldness; the inhabitants of Harries find it effectual against windy-chollicks, gravel, head-aches; this well hath a cover of stone.”

The reverend Kenneth Macaulay (1764) also wrote of this place, giving additional details:

“Near the fountain stood an altar on which the distressed votaries laid down their oblations. Before they could touch the sacred water with any prospect of success, it was their constant practice to address the genius of the place with supplication and prayer. No one approached him with empty hands. But the devotees were abundantly frugal. The offerings presented by them were the poorest acknowledgements that could be made to a superior being, from whom they had either hopes or fears. Shells and pebbles, rags of linen, or stuffs worn out, pins, needles or rusty nails, were generally all the tribute that was paid; and sometimes, though rarely enough, copper coins of the smallest value.”

T.S. Muir’s sketch

There was a very small stone-built well-house with a low roof covering the top of the spring, inside which a small pool formed.  The small well-house was described by Thomas Muir (1883) and ruins of it are reported to still cover the sacred waters, which run into an old stone trough.  Muir called it the ‘spring of many virtues’, describing it as one of five holy wells on this small isle.

In James MacKinlay’s (1893) magnum opus he reported that its waters could cure deafness.

References:

  1. Macaulay, Kenneth, The History of St. Kilda, James Thin: Edinburgh 1974 (original edition 1764).
  2. MacKinlay, James, Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  3. Martin, M., Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, Andrew Bell: London 1703.
  4. Mathieson, J., “The Antiquities of the St. Kilda Group of Islands,” in Proceedings Society of the Antiquaries Scotland, volume 62, 1928.
  5. Muir, Thomas S., Ecclesiological Notes on some of the Islands of Scotland, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1883.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.819806, -8.595823 Tobar nam Buadh