The Pre-Celtic Traditions of Holed Stones

By C. Austin

The wheel of the Celtic year has turned from Spring to Summer. The time of one season has passed to another, with the great festival of Beltaine on May 1 to mark the threshold.

“Threshold” moments were venerated by our ancestors. Threshold events can be considered those in which one way has ended and other is yet to, but has not begun. These can be the great and lesser Celtic festivals, midnight and noon or the household doorway. In these places the Otherworld holds sway as time and even space is suspended between the then and the now, the before and the after.

Another area of threshold space is the holed stone, that is, a stone with a hole drilled through it. These stones, known as “An cloc cosanta” or “luck stone” were thought to promote healing, fertility and seership.

Holed stones can be megaliths, usually standing alone, which exist near and are associated with a more complex structure, such as a stone circle. The size of the hole in the stone determined its use from passing babies and young children through the hole for healing purposes to grasping hands to form a Teltown marriage; a marriage of a year and a day in which either party can return to the spot a year later, renounce the marriage and walk away from the stone (and their paramour).

Looking through a holed stone is thought to give “second sight” and some later Christian pilgrim sites retain the holed stones which exist in the area so that pilgrims, when visiting the station, may get a “glimpse of heaven.”

Holed stones were, and are still today, worn on a thong around the neck to provide protection and luck to the wearer. When not being worn, the stone is hung over the bed or the doorway to ward off evil spirits which may be lurking thereabouts.

The origin of the special powers associated with holed stones may derive from the construction of some pre-Celtic structures such as cairns. Many of these structures contain a small opening in the stone which allows light to pierce the architecture to the centre where entombed remains lie. The light passing through the portal may have been intended to provide passage or second life to those within. An excellent example of this is the famous passage grave Newgrange, located in the Boyne Valley, Ireland.

If you are lucky enough to visit a holed stone, pause to take a look through the opening and visit, for just a moment, a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time.