What Are Hag Stones?
A Hag Stone, often referred to as an Adder Stone, is a unique type of rock characterized by a naturally formed hole piercing straight through it. These stones have been shrouded in mystique for centuries, with many cultures attributing magical qualities to them. It’s said that possessing a Hag Stone could grant one the power to cure venomous snake bites or to peer through the veil of enchantment, revealing the true form of witches or fairies when gazed upon through the stone’s aperture.
Hag stones go by a lot of different names. You might see them called any one of these:
- Adder Stone
- Witch Stone
- Serpent’s Egg
Despite the many names, they all share the same single feature: a round hole that penetrates through the stone.
Traditionally these stones have been held in high regard, dating back to the Druidic rituals of pre-Rome Britain. To this day they find use among practitioners of Western folk magic, where the practice descends from medieval witchcraft.
They often find themselves in simple jewelry, where the natural hole makes it easy to wear the stone.
They come in a wide variety of different sizes, from smaller than a quarter to larger than the palm of your hand.
They’ve remained as simple talismans through thousands of years. With different cultures assigning them different origins and properties. The bulk of what you’ll find in the modern age is descended from Irish legend. To this day some collectors will pay a bit more for hag stones from Ireland instead of other locations.
How Are Hag Stones Formed?
There are a couple of mechanisms that cause the distinct holes of these rocks.
The first, and most common, is simply the byproduct of Pholad clams burrowing into the rocks to get a hold. These filter feeders burrow and grow in stones to protect themselves from predators.
The rocks in areas with these clams are often riddled with holes, and some of these holes will naturally go all the way through the stone.
The other type of formation is rarer. In these cases, the stone is caught in a way that another stone rolls against it for years and years, often with sand providing more abrasive power.
Both types are nearly identical, and for most of us, it doesn’t matter. It’s just exciting to find a hag stone of your own!
Legends About Hag Stones and What They Mean
Hag stones are reputed to have a lot of metaphysical properties. Which ones depend a lot on who you’re asking, especially since they’ve been handily absorbed into New Age traditions.
The properties that they’re reputed to have are usually protective. The common name, hag stone, comes from the belief that they would keep away witches. The stones were often strung up in barns and across the entryways of homes as a barrier to prevent evil.
They’re reputed to protect children, crops, livestock, and essentially everything that would have been important for the majority of human history.
In regions where they have different names, their traditional properties are usually tied to the name. “Adder stones”, for instance, were reputed to protect the wearer from snake bites.
Much of the lore of ancient Europe is lost, but we can find references to the Druidic faith prizing them. In this case, the stones were often thought to secure lawsuits and grant access to powerful people, rather than the protective qualities of many legends.
In addition to the protective qualities of the stone, other traditions hold that they can allow the bearer to divine things. The idea is basic: the hole in the hag stone can be used as a lens to see into other realms and discover truths and spirits.
On the other side of Europe, Slavic legends call the stones Kurinyi Bog, or “The Chicken God.” Sometimes this is translated as “Guardian of Chickens” but in all cases, the stone is reputed to be the home of powerful spirits.
They were, naturally, placed somewhere around the coop to protect chickens.
These reputed powers are why the stones have been prized for so long.
But, whether you regard these stones as magical guardians or simply as amazing formations the end result is the same: hag stones are a unique feature that belongs in the home of every mineral collector!
Where and How To Find Hag Stones?
If you’re hoping to find your own hag stones, and live near a coastal area, you’re probably in luck!
I’ve been able to find them on the majority of rock and gravel beaches, particularly those where the current is directed by rock reefs just off-shore. These hag stones may be comprised of a harder mineral, like flint, or softer stones like sandstone or limestone. The latter tend to be larger, as the weaker stone doesn’t maintain shape with thin walls and a hole all the way through.
The best way to find out if your local coast has them is to check on the presence of Pholad clams in the area. The majority of stones that have holes in them owe their holiness to boring clams.
Flint is the standard because most Westerners are familiar with the legends from Wales and Ireland, where flint is present everywhere.
Your best bet? Hit the beach and look.
But if you want to increase your chances of finding these stones then here’s a few tips to help you out.
Tips For Finding Hag Stones
Finding hag stones is a normal occurrence for a lot of beachcombers, but it’s a little bit different than most rockhounding.
The first step is to identify an area that looks promising. This depends largely on the beach, but I’ve found that the ends of narrow areas in rock reefs are great. You just need to be aware of the waves to avoid getting wet.
It’s much easier to find stones on the beach after a storm, but you don’t have to wait until the next one to get digging.
You’re looking for areas where there are shells piled up, possibly seaweed, with a lot of gravel. Sandy beaches aren’t a great spot to find these stones, although they do show up on occasion in most areas after a storm shakes things up.
I pick a promising spot, preferably against the edge of a rock reef to start. I usually look for stones that are roughly palm-sized and find a “scraper.” You’re looking for a long, flat rock with a relatively even edge. You can use your hand, but it’s a bit rough and you may get cut.
The goodies on a beach are layered, with the smallest stuff usually on top. Dig down until you find stones that are a couple of inches across, then begin shoving the top layer off.
I work in areas that are two feet by two feet, but you’ll find a comfortable size for your own wingspan and tolerance for crouching. Spread the gravel in a wide path, then pick through the trail and repeat.
Once you’ve reached the right size? All you have to do is spread everything flat with your scraper. You may find other bits depending on your beach as well, so keep your eyes open for anything interesting.
In the same areas where you find hag stones, you may also find:
- Polished bits of shells
- Sea glass
- Sea polished agate or jasper
- Other interesting specimens
The stones will be easily recognizable, the problem for most people is just finding them.
If you use the above beach combing method and pick your spot wisely, then you’ll be amazed at how many specimens can be collected from a small area.
Remember to look up local regulations and to periodically backfill the area you’re working to avoid leaving the beach heavily disturbed.
A Note About Fake Hag Stones
On occasion, I’ve seen “hag stones” that are drilled or otherwise formed by man instead of the oceans.
I’ve also seen back-painted glass sold as labradorite. That doesn’t mean it’s common practice.
While some unscrupulous dealers will find a way to bore a hole in stones and sell off river pebbles for $10 a pop, it’s not a common practice.
The best way to tell is to look for sharp edges on the hole in the rock. Very large holes with no other holes are also a bit suspicious, but some folks do grind down the rest of the pebble to make a more distinct pendant.
For the most part, fake hag stones aren’t something you should worry about. If you’re metaphysically inclined, then you may be best off finding your own stone even if you know where to purchase real ones according to the legends.