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  Orkney's Giant Folklore

Walking stones

Lochside Monolith: 3D Illustration by Sigurd TowrieAs is mentioned elsewhere on Orkneyjar, a specific type of legend has become attached to a number of Orkney's solitary standing stones.

This legend 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.

The 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".

Extracting 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.

"Right 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.

Jettanas had a servant but unfortunately for this poor man, Jettanas planned to eat him.

Once 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.

Infuriated 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 to stone."

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.

However, the close connections to certain Norse tales would certainly indicate that these indigenous tales were reinforced and embellished by the later settlers from Norway.

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