Twice I have opted to go from the Stenness parish kirk through the fields to the Stones of Stenness but instead had to follow the fence running NE-SW south of it. And each time I have looked at the stump of the old field wall that this follows. Apart from this both times I have cause to note several large stone fragments near the line that aren't from a wall and each time have mistakenly looked for a gate or other entrance. Now I have the explanation because Pococke's location for a holed stone, 124 yards west of a stone 18 yards south-east of the circle. Further I identify this with the stone depicted by Lady Stafford : tall and shaggy, cleft from the top to ground level, having an angled top (not slanted) and with a central hole near to the base. It is even possible that Dr.R.Henry's description of the stone having a hole 3' up, rather than five, is a reference to this rather than a lapsus pennae.I believe it to have been possibly the size and even age of the Watch Stone
So there were two holed stones near the Stones of Stenness. Of the sentinel stones in Pococke's drawing along the shore the one (?'stone of sacrifice') that isn't the Watch Stone ('stone of power') is described as having a stone in the middle of it. It is roughly diamond shaped and matches well with the stone doublet of Stanley's 1789 drawing (admittedly the latter is a shade more rectangular). Walden's map of 1772 shows a single stone, but this is shown as having just been cleaved in two and the other half of the doublet could be the stone lying flat under the breaking instrument but is more likely from this Stone of Odin. If the former was this heaved out of the shallow hole shown or is that the result of an excavation having taken place ? A hundred and fifty yards N of the stones brings it close to the shore as Pococke shows [~HY30671275], near where Odin Cottage is now.
As late as a few years prior to the demolition of the Stone of Odin, a woman was known to have travelled about 12 miles to lay her pain-racked head within the healing embraces of Odin's Monolith. One can picture her disappointment on finding that her low stature precluded her from this privelege. After a little thought she gathered some small stones, and by standing upon them got her head into the desired hole. Whilst thus dedicating herself to the healer, the stones slipped away from beneath her and she was left with her head in the chill, relentless grasp of Odin. After several painful and frantic efforts she managed to extricate her head, and found that her neuralgia was cured, and that her only pains were where her head and Odin had come into too close grips.
From 'Standing Stones and Maeshowe of Stenness.' by Magnus Spence, in the Scottish Review of 1893 (v22, p401).
At some distance from the semicircle to the right stands a stone by itself, eight feet high, three broad, and nine inches thick, with a round hole on the side next the lake. The original design of this hole was unknown till, about twenty years ago, it was discovered by the following circumstance: a young man had seduced a girl under promise of marriage, and she, proving with child, was deserted by him. The young man was called before the session; the elders were particularly severe. Being asked by the minister the cause of so much rigour, they answered, You do not know what a bad man this is, he has broke the promise of Odin. Being further asked what they meant by the promise of Odin, they put him in mind of the stone at Stenhouse with a round hole in it, and added that it was customary when promises were made, for the contracting parties to join hands through the hole, and the promises so made were called the promises of Odin.
The site of the Odin Stone* was pointed out to me by a man who had looked through it in his youth; it stood about one hundred and fifty yards to the northward of the Ring of Stenness, but it does not appear to have had any relation to that structure, though it is probable that it was erected at the same era. All that can now be known of it must be learnt from Barry's or the Marchioness of Stafford's drawings, for the unfortunate tenant of Barnhouse cleared it away.
The stone, which was of much the same shape as those still left, was remarkable from being pierced through by a hole at about five feet from the ground; the hole was not central but nearer to one side. Many traditions were connected with this stone, though with its name I believe them to have been imposed at a late period; for instance, it was said that a child passed through the hole when young would never shake with palsy in old age. Up to the time of its destruction, it was customary to leave some offering on visiting the stone, such as a piece of bread, or cheese, or a rag, or even a stone; but a still more romantic character was associated with this pillar, for it was considered that a promise made while the plighting parties grasped their hands through the hole was peculiarly sacred, and this rude column has no doubt often been a mute witness to "the soft music of a lover's vow."
*"At a little distance from the temple is a solitary stone about eight feet high, with a perforation through which contracting parties joined hands when they entered into any solemn engagement, which Odin was invoked to testify." (Arch. Scot. vol. iii. p107.) This agrees with the description of Mr Leisk; but Barry's plate would lead us to imagine that the height was at least double that given above.
From 'Account of some of the Celtic Antiquities of Orkney, including the Stones of Stenness, Tumuli, Picts-houses, &c., with Plans' by F W L Thomas.
Chapter 13 in: Archaeologia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity By the Society of Antiquaries of London (1851).
The Odin stone, long the favorite trysting-place in summer twilights of Orkney lovers, was demolished in 1814 by a sacrilegious farmer, who used its material to assist him in the erection of a cowhouse. this misguided man was a Ferry-Louper (the name formerly given to strangers from the south), and his wanton destruction of the consecrated stone stirred so strongly the resentment of the peasantry in the district that various unsuccessful attempts were made to burn his house and holdings about his ears.
(County Folk-Lore, vol. 3: Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands, collected by G. F. Black and edited by Northcote W. Thomas (London: Folk-Lore Society, 1903).
At the OrkneyJar webpages http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/historicalfigures/pirategow/
you can read about the 'Stromness Pirate' John Gow, who was hanged in London in 1725. It is said that he was engaged to the daughter of a Stromness merchant, and that they'd pledged their betrothal by joining hands through the Odin Stone. After he was hanged, his poor girlfriend (it is said) had to travel all the way to London, to touch his hand and so release her from the oath. What a terrible thought. You rather hope the story isn't true.
"One of the Stenness stones was particularly noteworthy. This was the Stone of Odin, a six-metre high, one-metre wide and forty centimetre thick monolith destroyed in 1814, through which there was a hole. Through this hole, lovers would clasp their hands and enter into marriage. (This is a variant on the time-honoured custom of handfasting, a form of marriage by public declaration. Couples who wished to divorce could do so by leaving through seperate doors of a church after the service.)"
From "Scotland:Myth, Legend and Folklore" by Stuart McHardy 1999, pages 107-108.
"Before 1814, when it was destroyed by a farmer, the Odin Stone, a holed stone at Croft Odin, Orkney, was used for oath-taking. In 1791, a young man was arraigned by the Elders of Orkney for 'breaking the promise of Odin', that is, breaking an oath sworn on the stone. When visiting the stone ceremonially, it was customary to leave an offering of a stone or a piece of bread, cheese or cloth."
From "Celtic Sacred Landscapes" by Nigel Pennick 1996, page 53.
In 1849 the Stone of Odin, smashed in 1814, is reported as having been 150 yards to the N of the Stones of Stenness. Trouble is Pococke has it 124 yards E of a stone that was 18 yards to the SE of the circle and William Aberdeen's perspective drawing slightly later depicts it to the E and south of the circle too. Pococke's drawing of the the lesser circle from the north shows other stones to its E and perhaps a block between it and the henge but no holed stone.
Very interesting site, maintained by a local enthusiast.
Excellent material on all the Orcadian sites plus general history, brilliant folklore section etc. This specific link is to image of Odin Stone, but check out the rest of this site.