At the moment when the true king of Ireland was crowned, the Stone of Destiny, or Lia Fail, cried out to voice its approval. The stone stands 32 kilometers from Dublin at the ancient site of Tara, sacred since Neolithic times and the legendary center of Ireland. The stone is unknown antiquity, but legend says it was one of four talismans brought to Ireland by the magical People of the Goddess Danu.
In Ireland kings could be chosen rather than gain the throne by inheritance. One method of selecting a new sovereign was by performing rituals that culminated in a vision of the chosen man. Summoned to Tara, he was installed as king on or alongside the Lia Fail. The Feast of Tara then celebrated the king’s ritual marriage to the goddess of the sovereignty of Ireland, which bound him forever to the land and its security, peace and prosperity.
Such marriages, which united king and country, were also performed in other parts of Europe and often involved the symbolic use of king stones. Some like the Lia Fail, were phallic; others were shaped like thrones, such as the king stone at Castlereagh, Ireland. Yet others were simply rocks, possibly with footprints carved in them to hold the king’s bare feet during inauguration – examples are the 2-meter-square stone of the kings of O’Doherty in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and the sacred Zasliai Stone in Lithuania, which has one engraved footprint.
The king stone of the Saxons is now enclosed in iron railings at Kingston-upon-Thames in England. Queen Elizabeth II was the last British monarch to be crowned over a stone – the Stone of Scone that rested for 700 years under the seat of the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey, London.
The concept of the king stone, echoed in the tale of Arthur drawing the sword Excalibur from a stone and so affirming his right to be king, is closely related to the ancient view of divine kingship. The belief in the supernatural powers of a king or queen lingered until recent centuries in Britain, where it was thought monarchs had the “healing touch.”