SCOTTISH CHARMS AND AMULETS. By
GEO. F. BLACK,
ASSISTANT-KEEPER OF THE MUSEUM.
The subject of Scottish charms and amulets, although one of great
interest, has scarcely as yet been touched upon by antiquaries. With the
exception of two or three brief notices of individual charms, the only
special article of any importance is the paper of the late Sir James Young
Simpson, published in the fourth volume of our Proceedings. In the present
paper it is purposed to describe in detail all the known specimens of
Scottish amulets and charms, accompanied by such extracts from various
sources as are calculated to shed light on their uses and on the motives
which induced the people to believe that such objects possessed the power
to protect them from innumerable dangers, avert evil from themselves, or
cause evil in others.
Although the words amulet and charm, as now used, are synonymous, yet
each has its own clearly defined and distinct meaning.
The earliest known writer who uses the word amulet is Pliny, and it is
employed by him with the same meaning that we attach to it, namely, as a
preservative against poison, witchcraft, and sorcery ("venoficiorum
amulets," Historia Naturalis, lib. nix, cap. xix). The derivation of the
word is not known, but by some a Latin origin is assigned to it as being
that "quod malum amolitur." By others the word is derived from amula, "vas
lustrale." The etymology from the Arabic himälah (= "that which is carried
") usually assigned to the word in modern dictionaries is wrong, the
resemblance between the two words being purely fortuitous.
The word charm, from the Latin carmen, a song, was in later times
understood to mean a form of words possessing some occult power for good
or evil, more often the former. Charms were of two kinds, written and
recited. Of the former, the toothache charms described below are typical
examples, and of the latter the Shetlandic incantation for the cure of a
sprained joint or sinew is an instance:-
"The Lord rade, and the foal slade;
He lighted, and he righted,
Set joint to joint, bone to bone,
And sinew to sinew, heal in the Holy Ghost’s name."