Charms and Amulets Balls
of Rock-Crystal used as Charms
According to the Rev. C. W.
King crystal was extensively used among the Romans for the manufacture of
drinking-cups and similar vessels, and for personal ornaments. Mr King
also quotes two passages from Propertius as evidence that balls of
rock-crystal were carried by Roman ladies to keep the hands cool during
the summer heat, a fashion, he adds, which is "kept up by the Japanese to
the present day." In neither instance, however, can the passage quoted be
understood to bear out his statement.
Orpheus appears to be the only writer of antiquity who ascribes any
medicinal virtue to crystal, and he only recommends it as a cure for
kidney disease by external application of the stone, and as a burning lens
for sacrificial purposes. Pliny recommends a ball of rock-crystal as a
cautery for the human body if held up in the rays of the sun. Marbodus
recommends crystal powdered in honey for mothers nursing, to increase
their supply of milk:
"Hunc etiam quidam tritum cam melle propinant
Matribus infantes quibus assignantur alendi,
Quo potu credunt replerier ubera lacte."
In various parts of Europe, and especially in England, balls of
rock-crystal have been found, mostly in connection with interments of the
Iron Age. Many of these balls when found were enclosed within narrow bands
of metal, chiefly of silver, but sometimes of gold or bronze. Formerly
these balls were considered by archaeologists to have been used for
magical purposes, but the general opinion now is that they were worn on
the person as ornaments. At a much later period, however, the use of
crystal balls for magical purposes appears to have been common in England.
In Scotland rock-crystal has been used in the ornamentation of a number of
objects of early date, but, with the exception of the superstitious
practices associated with the balls described below, I have not been able
to find any references to the use of crystal for magical purposes. Lhwyd
mentions the use of the crystal balls among the Highlanders, and says they
were held "in great esteem for curing of Cattle; and some on May Day put
them into a Tub of Water, and besprinkle all their Cattle with the Water
to prevent being Elf-struck, bewitchd, &c."
Dr Anderson has suggested to me that previous to their use as
curing-stones, the crystal balls, found in Scotland may have been used as
vexilla, and, like the Baul Muluy of St Molio described below, have been
borne into battle for the purpose of securing victory. This seems a not
unlikely theory, and I think it is supported by the traditional account of
the Clach-na-Bratach, and by the name given to the Glenlyon ball of
rock-crystal. The account of the former was probably reduced to writing
long after the actual facts had become confused by tradition, and perhaps
it is not going too far to read in it a record of the discovery of the
ball in a grave, and its subsequent use as a vexillum or standard carried
by the clan to battle for the purpose of securing victory. According to
Pennant, the Glenlyon ball was known as the "Clach Bhuai, or the Powerful
Stone," but it is just as probable that the name was Clach Buaidh, or
"Victory Stone." There is probably an allusion to the use of victory
stones by the Highlanders in a letter to Wodrow the historian from the
Rev. John Fraser, Episcopalian minister in the Highlands. The letter is
dated 1702, and in it he says: "Ther was a great many fine and pretious
stons amongst the Highlanders, many of which they hung about their necks
of old, and keepd in their standards, and attributed more vertue to them
[than] Albertus Magnus did, and that was too much."
A common name in the Highlands for these rock-crystal balls, which are
apparently not common in Scotland, was Leug or Leigheagan.
The Clach-Dearg, or Stone of Ardvoirlich, is a ball of rock-crystal,
smaller than the Clach-na-bratach, mounted in a setting of four silver
bands, with a ring at the top for suspension (fig. 1).It is supposed to
have been brought from the East, and the workmanship of the silver
mounting is also said to be Eastern. It was formerly held in great repute,
particularly in diseases of cattle, parties coming from a distance of
forty miles to obtain some of the water in which it had been dipped. The
belief in the virtue of this charm continued till within thirty years ago.
Various ceremonies had to be observed by those who wished to benefit by
its healing powers. "The person who came for it to Ardvoirlich was obliged
to draw the water himself, and bring it into the house in some vessel,
into which this stone was to be dipped. A bottle was filled and carried
away; and in its conveyance home, if carried into any house by the way,
the virtue was supposed to leave the water; it was therefore necessary, if
a visit had to be paid, that the bottle should be left outside."
The Clach-na-Bratach, or Stone of the Standard, is an unmounted ball of
rock-crystal 1 7/8 inches in diameter, and is stated to have been in the
possession of the Clan Donnachaidh since the year 1315. It has already
been twice described in the Proeedings, and is shown the full size in fig.
The commonly accepted account of this ball is as follows:The chief of
that time (1315), on his way with his clan to join Bruces army before the
battle of Bannockburn, observed, on his standard being pulled up one
morning, the ball glittering in a clod of earth hanging to the flagstaff.
The chief showed the ball to his followers, and told them he felt sure its
brilliant lights were a good omen, and foretold their victory in the
forthcoming battle. Ever after the stone accompanied the clan whenever it
was "out," and was always consulted as to the fate of the battle. Its last
outing was at Sheriffmuir in 1715, when a large internal flaw was first
observed. In a manuscript account of the ball, written between 1749 and
1780, and communicated to the Society by Sir Noel Paton, a slightly
different account is given as follows:-
"There is a kind of stone in the family of Strowan which has been
carryd in their pockets by all their representatives time out of mind.
Tradition says that this stone was found by Duncan Ard of Atholl, the
founder of that family in Perthshire, in the following manner: as Duncan
was in pursuit of MDougal of Lorn, who had made his escape from him out
of the island of Lochranoch, night came upon him towards the end of
Locherichk, and he and his men laid them down to rest, the Standard Bearer
fixing the Staff of his Standard in the ground; next morning, when the man
took hold of his Standard (as it happend to be in loose Spouty Ground
near a fountain), the Staff, which probably was not very small or well
polished in those Days, brought up a good deal of Gravel and Small Stones,
and amongst the rest came up this Stone, which, being of a brightness
almost equal to Crystal, Duncan thought fit to keep it. They ascribe to
this Stone the Virtue of curing Diseases in Men and Beasts, especially
Diseases whose causes and symptoms are not easily discoverd and many of
the present Generation in Perthshire would think it very strange to hear
the thing disputed."
In another manuscript, written about 1777, it is further stated of the
Clach-na-Bratach that "it is still looked upon" in the Highlands "as very
Precious on account of the Virtues they ascribe to it, for the cure of
diseases in Men and Beasts, particularly for stoping the progress of an
unaccountable mortality amongst cattle. Duncan (i.e., Donacha Reamhar) and
all the representatives of the Family from Generation to Generation have
carried this atone about their persons; and while it remained in Scotland,
People came frequently from places at a great distance to get water in
which it had been dipt for various purposes."
The last occasion on which this ball was used appears to have been
somewhere between 1822 and 1830, when it was dipped with much gravity, by
the chief, in a great china bowl filled with water from a "fairy" spring,
after which the water was "distributed to a number of people who had come
great distances to obtain it for medicinal purposes."
Clach Bhuai, or the Powerful Stone.Pennant mentions having seen a ball
of rock-crystal, or a "crystal gem" as he prefers to call it, mounted in
silver, in the possession of Captain Archibald Campbell of Glenlyon, which
he says was known as the Clach Bhuai, or the "Powerful Stone," and that
good fortune was supposed to attend the owner of it. It appears to have
been efficacious in diseases of mankind as well as animal, and Pennant
adds that for the use of it "people came above 100 miles, and brought the
water it was to be dipt in with them; for without that, in human cases, it
was believed to have no effect." The ball is about 4 inch in diameter;
and, according to the late Sir James Simpson, "to make the water in which
it was dipped sufficiently medicinal and effective, the stone, during the
process, required to be held in the hand of the Laird."
In the Fingask Collection, at present exhibited in the Museum of
Science and Art, there is another of these balls of rock-crystal, about 1
1/4 inch in diameter, mounted in silver bands, the workmanship of which is
probably of the end of the last or beginning of the present century.
Unfortunately it has no history.
A fourth ball, also mounted in silver, for use as a charm, was
exhibited to the Society on the 14th December 1891, by Mrs Gibson,
Bankhead House, Forfar. It measures about 1 1/2 inch in diameter.
Unfortunately nothing is known of its history beyond the fact that it has
been in the possession of the family of the present owner since the middle
of last century at least. The ball may have been found in England, as the
first member of the family in whose possession it is known to have been
was a schoolmaster in Great Yarmouth.
The National Museum possesses a ball of rock-crystal, 1 3/8 inch in
diameter, said to have been found somewhere in Fife many years ago. It is
unmounted, and may have been found in a grave, like the balls mentioned in
In addition to the balls already described, there are also a number of
other charms of rock-crystal, formerly held in high repute for the cure of
Keppoch Charm-Stone.This charm has already been described in the
Proceedings by the Rev. Dr Stewart, of Nether Lochaber. He makes no
mention, however, of what disease or diseases the stone was intended to
cure, nor how the water in which it was dipped was administered to the
patient. The charm is "an oval of rock-crystal, about the size of a small
egg, fixed in a birds claw of silver, and with a silver chain attached,
by which it was suspended when about to be dipped." The charm was in the
possession of the late Angus MacDonell of Insh, a cadet of the MacDonells
of Keppoch and the Braes, who emigrated to Australia shortly after 1854,
and is believed to have taken the charm with him. The following form of
words was repeated as the charm was being dipped in the water :
Bogam thu sa bhũrn,
A lèug bhuidhe, bhoidheach, bhuadhar.
Ann am bũrn an fhior-uisg;
Nach d leig Bride a thruailleadh,
An ainm nan Abstol naomh,
S Muire Oigh nam beùsan,
N ainm na Trianaid ard,
S nan aingeal dealrach uile;
Beannachd air an lèug;
S beannachd air an uisge,
Leigheas tinneas cléibh do gach creutair cuirte.
Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of Power!
In water of purest wave,
Which (Saint) Bridget didnt permit to be contaminated.
In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, Virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the High Trinity
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.
"To understand the reference to St Bridget in the incantation, it is
necessary to mention that there is a well near Keppoch, called
Tobar-Bhride (Bridgets Well), from which a small streamlet issues. It was
from this stream that the water was taken into which the charm-stone was
to be dipped."
The Marquess of Breadalbane possesses a charm of rock-crystal set in
silver, which was exhibited in the Glasgow Exhibition, and has been
figured. The setting is an octagonal disc of silver, with the crystal
secured to one face, and with eight pearls set round it at regular
intervals. The crystal is probably the one referred to in the "Inventar of
geir left by Sir Coline not to be disponit upon," as follows:"Ane stone
of the quantitie of half a hens eg sett in silver, being flatt at the ane
end and round at the other end lyke a peir, quhilk Sir Coline Campbell,
first Laird of Glenvrquhy, woir quhen he faught in battell at the Rhodes
agaynst the Turks, he being one of the knychtis of the Rhodes." In
noticing this entry Cosmo Innes says:"The jewel so particularly described
as the amulet worn in battle by the Knight of the Cross, would seem to
have been used as a charm for more homely purposes afterwards." He does
not tell us, however, what these "homely purposes" were.
Among the objects in the Sim Collection, presented to the Museum in
1882, is an oblong piece of rock-crystal, 1 5/8 inch in length, 7/8 inch
in breadth, and 3/4 inch in height, in a setting of brass, with a loop at
one end for suspension. "A memorandum accompanying it, in Mr Sirns hand,
states that it was purchased at Oban on 6th June 1851, from Duncan White,
jeweller there, and that it was believed to be an amulet or charm-stone.
The memorandum also states that it had been twenty years in Mr Whites
possession, and during that time he had met with nothing similar, except a
very fine one, set in silver and encased with other red stones, for which
he wanted a large sum."
An oval polished crystal of a yellowish colour, 7/8 inch in length by 1
1/6 inch in diameter, exhibited by Dr R. de Brus Trotter, of Perth, is
said to have been found at Leac-a-Geelie, Carrochtrie, and to have been
used like the clear stone of the diviners in Yucatan, mentioned in the
Appendix (p. 526), "for seeing things in."
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