Hag Stones - a folk charm against witchcraft
Location: Chesil Beach
Dorset fisherman also adopted the Hag Stone as protective charm against malevolent witchcraft.
Dr. H. Colley March in his article on "Witched Fishing Boats in Dorset" in Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, vol. X, pp .49- 50 (1906) interviewed a Abbotsbury fisherman about the custom of Hag Stones.
"Well within my remembrance, I think in the forties, certainly in the late thirties it was not uncommon for row-boats at Weymouth to have 'holy stones' tied to nails or staples in the bows, close beneath the gunwale. I once saw a man in the act of doing this at the quayside. Holy stones were beach-pebbles with a natural hole through them, such as are not uncommon among the shingle. Whether holy from having a hole through them, or from being sacred, or both, I know not.
At Abbotsbury the fishing-boats do not carry a sail. The bows differ from the stern only being a little sharper. The boat is drawn up on the beach stern first by a rope called the start-rope, which is fastened into the lower part of the stern-post. When the rope is dry it is coiled round the top of the stern-post and then the end of this rope used to be threaded through a beach-holed-stone to keep away the witches [that is, to keep any evil spirit, whether under the direction of a witch or not, from getting aboard the boat.]
The net, when dry, is folded up and placed in the stern-hatch, a compartment open above, but closed from the rest of the boat at the stern thwart.
Sometimes a boat, manned by its owners, is unable to catch fish. There may be fish about in plenty, and neighbouring boats may get hundreds, but this particular boat gets none.
Then it was known that this boat was "witched" [that is, that an evil spirit had got on board, because the holed-beached-pebble had not been placed, or not properly placed, or not placed soon enough, on the start rope]
Then, to dispel the bewitchment, a mackerel stuck with pins was placed in the stern hatch."
Bednobs and Broomsticks
It was also customary for some people to carry these stones around in their pockets as key-fobs or tied to a length of cord and hung around their neck, both to protect themselves against the effects of the evil eye, plague and disease and to generally safeguard their owner's luck.
At night the hag stones would be hung on bed-posts to keep away the demons such as the Night Hag, Nightmare or Succubus who would invisibly seek out their sleeping victims to steal their strength and cause unpleasant dreams.
Footnote: For more information about the history and superstitions that surround folk charms. Visit APOTROPAIOS. It also includes a page on Folk Magic in Dorset. An inventory of concealed finds from the county compiled by Jeremy Harte.