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Scottish Charms and Amulets
Willox's Ball and Bridle


Dr Gregor in his work on Folk-lore describes a famous charm known as "Willox’s Ball and Bridle," which at one time was held in great repute throughout the North-East of Scotland. "The ‘Ball’ is the half of a glass ball, whose original purpose it is not easy to divine. It was concealed for untold ages in the heart of a brick, and was cut from its place of concealment by a fairy, and given generations ago to an ancestor of the present owner as payment for a kind service." The" Bridle" is a small brass hook, and is said to have been cut from a Water-Kelpie’s bridle by an ancestor of Willox. The story of the meeting with the Kelpie and capture of the "Bridle" is given by Dr Gregor and at greater length by Stewart, the latter of whom states that he had the details from "the celebrated Mr Wellox" of that time. It it therefore unnecessary to repeat the story here. The manner in which the Ball and Bridle were used in order to effect a cure was as follows: "A small quantity of water is poured into a basin. The stone is put into the water and turned three times round while the words, ‘In the name of the Father the Son and of the Holy Ghost,’ are repeated. The bridle is then dropped into the water and turned round in the same way, and with the same words. The water so treated has the power to cure all manner of disease."

Willox’s Ball appears to have been held in great repute in the early part of this century, and two instances of its use are recorded by hall, who says:- "There are in the Highlands quacks and pretenders, even yet, to prevent witchcraft, enchantments and barrenness in women. There is a Mr Willox, near Tamintoul, a man of some information, and who always wears scarlet clothes, that pretends he possesses this art; and, I am sorry to hear, is not unfrequently applied to." A man on the banks of the Spey, "who had been married nine years, and had no children, went to the said Willox, and laid down his guinea, the ordinary fee. Willox, having a large black pebble of a curious shape, which he keeps in an elegant gold and silver box, and which he says came from Italy, being handed down to him from his grandfather, took it, went out to a well, near his house, brought in about half an English gallon of water; and, with the pebble or stone in his hand, moved the water quickly, several times; then, saying the Lord’s prayer three times, in Latin, and other Latin prayers, which, as he is a Roman Catholic, he can do, he bottled up the water, desired the man to say his prayers regularly every evening, and give his wife three wine glasses of this water at bed time, and there was no fear. The man did so, and actually, I am assured, has had a child every other year since. This seems to exceed the miracle of what made so great a figure in advertisements in London newspapers, some years ago, of the nine times died blue flannel." The second case was that of a farmer, who lived at a distance of more than forty miles from Tamintoul, "whose wife had lingered for years, without any physician being able, and many were tried, to discover what was the matter with her was at length persuaded by his neighbours that she was witched, as they term it. . . He sent to Willox, paid him a guinea, and all expenses. When Willox came, in his scarlet coat, breeches, &c., he perambulated the house, garden, barns, &c., frequently standing and holding out his nose, as if to smell where the witchcraft was lodged. At length he pretended he had discovered it; and, running hastily, put his hand into a hole of the wall of the house, and pulled out a fowl’s stomach, broiled, and cut into certain bits, which he said had been put there by some person, in concert with the devil. The poor woman, it seems, got a little better; and, so credulous was the farmer, as well as his neighbours, as to believe that Willox cured her."


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