“The Standing Stones”

Alternate titles: “The Lovers--A West Mainland Legend”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1883 (John Mooney's "Songs of the Norse")
Keywords: grief hate jealousy courting love promise violence crime homicide beauty death mourning ritual supernatural lover ghost
Found in: Britain(Scotland(Hebr))

Description

Two lovers meet at the Standing Stones and promise to wed. After she leaves, a rival stabs him to death, solely to cause the girl pain. She hears a cry, turns, and sees her beloved. He points to the stars and vanishes; she pines away and dies

Long description

In the Orkneys lives a beautiful young woman who has been loved since childhood by a young man. They meet at the Standing Stones and promise to wed, sealing the promise by joining their hands through a hole in the Lovers' Stone. He kisses her goodbye, watches her leave, then turns to go home, but a rival attacks him and stabs him to death, solely to cause the girl pain. She is arriving home when she hears a cry, turns, and sees her beloved standing near. He points to the stars and vanishes; knowing he is dead, she pines away and dies

Notes

The "Standing Stones" are prehistoric stone circles, found throughout Britain, including the Orkneys, where this song was collected. It was the custom in the Orkneys for lovers to plight their troth by joining hands through a hole in the "Odin Stone," then dividing a broken sixpenny piece between them. - PJS

References to Odin may seem odd in Scotland, but the Orkneys were largely settled by the Old Norse. I have not been able to find proof of this, but I believe "Odin stones" are so-called because they have a single hole representing Odin's single eye.

However, the Standing Stones would appear to predate the Norse legends. Magnus Magnusson's_Scotland: The Story of a Nation_ (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000), pp. 6, describes the Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis at Calanais (Callanish); "It was built in stages from about 3000 BC and was certainly completed by 2000 BC. Briefly, it is a circle of thirteen standing stones huddled round a massive central monolith, 4.75 metres high, and a small chambered cairn. A double line or 'avenue' of stones comes from the north, and ragged tongues protruding from the circle create a rough cruciform shape." Magnussen goes on to describe the partial rehabilitation of the site. - RBW

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Kennedy 332, "The Standing Stones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. DT, STANSTON
  3. Roud #2151
  4. BI, K332