Sculptured in its frozen calm it stood apart, alone,
Sharing with God the hidden knowledge of the sleeping stone.
The Sleeping Stone by Patience Strong
Over the years I have noticed that many practitioners of ‘The Faith’, me included, seem curiously drawn to all manner of stones. Altars and shrines I have constructed as well as others I have seen always seem to hold one or two choice pieces of rock whether from the local surroundings or further afield. There is something about stone which allures us. Stone, regardless of type, form or location has an unsurpassable ability to retain. Despite being among the hardest of materials stone absorbs and holds on to energy as if it were the softest and most porous of sponges. Stone seems to exude memory, each one a little repository of lost and forgotten knowledge having soaked up millennia of history from its environment. Stone is our environment, stone is the very rock beneath our feet, and a stone, no matter how small, is a shard, a tiny fragment of our land…our world.
Within the core of our planet burns a fire which has been alight almost forever. Certainly for as long as the sun has illuminated our solar system, an eternal forge of churning ore and mineral soup has continued to heat and replenish the surface of our Earth. The component elements of this immense core had their origins light years away in the starry cosmos and helped produce the dense rocky surface we walk and live upon every day. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that each piece of rock or stone we find retains some memory of this ancient heritage just as the bricks and mortar of any dwelling seem to retain the memory of all those who have called it home. A stone never loses its connection to its origin; no more than a child can ever truly sever the connection with its mother…and her mother…and her mother….
In Britain we are virtually tripping over extant testaments to a pre-historic reverence for the inherent power within stone and rock, Monoliths, Menhirs, Dolmens, Henges and so on litter our landscape. Once man attained the knowledge and skills (the skills which some say were also ‘star born’) to extract and carve stone man has learnt of its practical and more spiritual properties. Stone is of course strong and the hardest of rock is virtually impervious to elemental wear and tear plus it’s available in large sizes and enormous quantities. It is no wonder that our Pre- Historic ancestors exploited these properties and extracted large chunks of stone which they often transported for miles to build their most holy, and impressive of structures many of which still stand today.
For every one of these structures, there seems to be double, if not triple, the amount of lore and legend associated with them and the stones that built them. In Kent there is of course Little Kits Coty also known as ‘The Countless Stones’ because it is said to be impossible to count the stones and get the same number twice. I have personally tried this and it appears to be quite true! An old legend tells of a cunning baker who placed a bread roll upon each stone so he could determine the exact number, it turned out however that the Devil, being of course the master of cunning, ate some of the bread rolls (or added extra ones depending on the version) so thwarting the poor bakers attempts.
Just up the road a little stands The White Horse stone reputed to mark the site of King Horsa’s grave and the place where the White Horse standard of Kent fell during the battle between the Jutes and the Romano British in 455 AD. Here people have reported sights of a ghostly burning white horse and rider…an apparition or perhaps a memory of King Horsa’s cremation seen by those attuned to the stones power of recall? Well, if truth be told it is supposed that the White Horse stone which stands today is not the original stone which witnessed the fall of Horsa but part of a long since destroyed long barrow called ‘Smythe’s’, the true White Horse Stone may well have been part of this same barrow now sadly ploughed away.
‘Smythe’s’ or Smith’s speaks of a common association with Long barrows and the old Smith Gods such as Volund or Wayland, as can be seen at Wayland Smithy in Oxfordshire. This is one of my favourite sites outside of Kent as it also happens to be a short walk away from The White Horse of Uffignton, a special place indeed. The connection of these sites with The Smith is clear, for these sites are passages to the underworld, the home of the Smith at the core of the earth where the very rocks which created these tombs were born. And suffice to say stone is of course the very material The Smith uses to extract the precious metals required to craft his tools and weapons.
There is an almost seamless flow of immensely deep correspondence and symbolism associated with stone from the time man first learnt to extract rock right through the ages into modern day craft. The mystery of ‘The Stone’ is worthy of pursuit for it is profound. Yet the mystery of the stone however, is not by any means exclusive to Traditional Craft. Even Christianity hints at deeper symbolism with what some may view as a lump of old rock. The Book of Ephesians, chapter two (KJB) says:
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ himself being the chief corner stone;21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Although I stumbled upon this passage only for the purpose of this blog, in actual fact there hides a wealth of truth within it, and all based around a seemingly incongruous stone!
Besides Christians there are 2 other groups which immediately come to mind when discussing the importance of the stone. The first are The Freemasons who have quarries full (pun intended!) of stoney symbolism, after all the very name of the cult derives from the Stonemasons. Many of the tools and icons of the Freemasonry are also tools of the Stonemason and Architect and I personally consider Freemasons to be very closely related to Witches of my ilk for not only do they revere old Tubal Cain but they also seek the mysterious truth locked in the heart of stone and perhaps go even further in its ‘public’ exploration especially around the imagery of King Solomon’s temple, physically crafted from stone yet representing something deeper than just a stone structure.
How could I not mention Alchemists and their endless quest for the philosopher’s stone? This item has become synonymous with attaining the seemingly unobtainable for it has the power to turn lead into gold, rejuvenate the old and bestow immortality. All quite true of course and that which the alchemist terms the philosopher’s stone, some might call The Grail.
This series of blogs however, is about actual implements so it’s only right that I should mention some of the stones I have in my possession.
By the hearth-stone
She sits alone,
The long night bearing:
With eyes that gleam
Into the dream
Of the firelight staring.
Low and more low
The dying glow
Burns in the embers;
She nothing heeds
And nothing needs
Sir Henry Newbolt
Home is indeed where the heart is, and also where the Hearth is! The Hearth Stone is an implement which is less of a ‘tool’ and more of a….reminder perhaps or a focal point. I fashioned this stone from Kentish rock (for I am a Kentish Man) found close to the Coldrum Long barrow and whilst I am not lucky enough to live in an older house with a true hearth and a genuine hearth stone, I have improvised and created one from the living rock beneath my feet. My hearth stone is consecrated according to folklore, as if it were an actual Hearth stone, with a cross of ashes and / or blood. A candle before it is sufficient to gather the spirits of Kin, ancestors who were and are yet to be, to learn of their wisdom and replenish bonds. The stone is rededicated every year, again according to lore which blesses and dedicates the hearth and myself anew to my Ancestors and Gods.
The Hearth stone is akin to the Dolmen or Cairn, or perhaps even the family stone which Bill Gray describes in his ‘Rollright Ritual’ where within a stone circle; each stone surrounds a central fire and corresponds to a specific family within the wider community. This idea is indeed a powerful one, for the stone circle is then not only a location for the community to gather, but a representation of the community itself, a blot which can be seen for miles delineating the intrinsic link between the people and the place and indeed the hearth.
“Visita Interioaterrae rectificando invenies occultum lapidem”
(“Visit the interior parts of the earth, by rectification thou shalt find the hidden stone”)
Another stone I make frequent use of is the Mazey stone. Common nowadays certainly in West Country craft the image of the Troy Maze pops up regularly within and / or upon some Cornish landmarks. Placing the slab of rock upon my lap, engraved and painted with the spiral maze winding in and out I am reminded of the spiralling serpent powers within the earth and the seed of cunning at the heart of all things…seeds scattered aeons ago from the starry cosmos. A finger placed upon the stone and traced in and out, round and round through the maze is a form of sympathetic magic…travel to the centre of the maze, the heart of the stone and you inevitably travel to the deepest most inner part of yourself, again to seek a common origin, a seed which slumbers at the heart of all things and then return perhaps a little wiser than before.
But when the hour of the Divine draws near
The Mighty Mother shall take birth in Time
And God be born into the human clay
In forms made ready by your human lives.
Then shall the Truth supreme be given to men:
The third and final stone in my possession is the one I make ‘use’ of most frequently. I call it my altar stone but others may call it the pentacle. On the surface no one could tell the difference between a ceremonial pentacle and my altar stone but appearances can be deceiving. I do not use my altar stone to command spirits or as a receptacle for tools during consecration and so on, but this object truly does symbolise the corner-stone of my faith, it represents the mystery central to my work, the centre of my compass if you like, and it (or rather what it represents) is my raison d’etre and it becomes many things in one. It is a stepping stone or stone style demarking the boundary between mundane and liminal upon which I enter sacred space. It represents the place from which metal was hewn and the whetstone upon which the dullest of blades may be sharpened anew. It is life, yet more than life it is living, it is therefore experience and the wisdom gained from such experience. It is the earth, the world and Mankind, his toils and labours and as such it becomes the millstone grinding the corn, which just like experience releases the potential within, so it is therefore evolution, destiny and nothing less than truth itself.
Finding one of these stones for yourself couldn’t be easier; for the most part nature has done the hard work for you. When out in the wilds, spend a while in quiet contemplation, open yourself up to the land and the environment and call for which that which you seek. I have heard of people literally falling over stones before, sometimes people sense a radiance, a sparkle of other worldliness about a piece of stone they see. As they say “Seek and you shall find.” When you have your stone, hold it, touch it, examine it commune with it. Rock is not dead…just deep in slumber, all you need do is gently stir what sleeps within.
Massive thanks to Matt Baldwin-Ives for allowing me to use his images (Images 1, 5 and 7) www.milescross.co.uk