As is mentioned elsewhere on Orkneyjar,
a specific type of legend has become attached to a number of Orkney's
solitary standing stones.
dictates that once a year, usually New Year, these stones - said to be transformed
giants - move from their resting place to nearby bodies of water where they dip
their heads down and "drink" the water.
best known of these stones are the Yetnasteen
and the Stane o' Quoybune, but
the giant connection includes even the Ring of Brodgar.
The motif of the petrified giant is clear
when it comes to the Yetnasteen on the island of Rousay.
This monolith takes its name from the Old Norse "Jotunna-steinn" and
simply means "Giant's Stone".
the "jotun" element and following it back to Norway we can look at one
example that may point to the origin of these Orcadian legends.
up in the north of Finmark, the mountain Lapps tell tales of Jettanas, a creature
who could not be exposed to the rays of the sun.
had a servant but unfortunately for this poor man, Jettanas planned to eat him.
the servant found out the fate that awaited him, he escaped taking with him three
items - a comb, a whetstone and a bottle of water.
Jettanas came after the fugitive but the servant threw down the comb, which magically
transformed into a forest. Jettanas hacked down this magical forest with ease
and the pursuit continued.
Next, the servant threw down the
whetstone, which transformed into a mountain that Jettanas has to smash in order
to continue his pursuit.
Finally, the servant hurled down
the water-bottle which produced a great lake, as big as any sea, and blocked the
path of the giant.
Jettanas lay down to drink up the water,
but while he was drinking, the sun came up and "Jettanas burst and was turned
The idea of giants, or people, being turned
to stone, as well as walking stones, is widespread throughout Scotland, England,
Ireland and Wales. This would indicate that the theme has a pre-Norse origin,
perhaps involving some form of ancient stone and water veneration.
the close connections to certain Norse tales would certainly indicate that these
indigenous tales were reinforced and embellished by the later settlers from Norway.