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Scottish Charms and Amulets
Miscellaneous Curing-Stones


Three curing-stones from Ledaig, near Loch Etive, have been described in the Proceedings by Prof. Duns. One known as the Clach Leigh, or Stone of Medicine, is a piece of clay ironstone tinged with green, "was kept in the best chest or press in the house, carefully rolled up in the best piece of dress, and when taken to the sick, it was wrapt in the best plaid belonging to the family. It was believed to be efficacious in all sorts of human ailments, and was in use over a very wide district. The stone was put into the hand of the patient, and the amount of clammy sweat which gathered round the stone indicated the extent of the cure.’" The second, or the "Red Stone" (Clach Ruaidhe), was in common use towards the close of the first half of last century "for rubbing the udders of cows when hardened and inflamed by disease." The third specimen is known as the Spotted Stone (Clach Spotaiche), and is merely a piece of coarse black basalt, which had previously been used as a hammer. It is stated to have been in one family "for generations," and to have been used "over the whole district for rubbing horses suffering from stoppage of the urine."

In a note to his paper, Prof. Duns added the following record of the use of a curing-stone in Clackmannanshire, which he had received from Peter Miller, Esq., a Fellow of the Society:-

"I remember when a boy, say about 1820, that one of our family suffered much pain from a ‘whitlow’ in the thumb, which was tedious and long in healing, all the more so that there was a large piece of proud flesh on the sore. Several local applications had been used, but the healing process went on very slowly. The old matrons coming about strongly advised that Mrs Ferguson’s ‘adder stanes should be applied to hasten the cure. The owner of them was an old and infirm person, but her daughter came and performed the operation. It was made by herself by gently stroking the diseased thumb with the stone in a slow measured manner towards its extremity. Then the stone was applied all round the thumb in the same way. These operations were gone over several times by the operator. . . . Some days after, the operation was repeated in the same formal way. The ‘stones’ were carefully wrapped up in some soft sort of cloth and kept in a silk bag, which was tied in a napkin. They were reported to be an heirloom in the family who owned them, and had been handed down from one generation to another. The belief was that their efficacy in promoting a cure depended in a great measure on their application being made, on the diseased member or body, by the owner of them. They were considered very precious, and we were scarcely allowed to touch them, as the handling and touching took away their healing virtues. The stones were round, about an inch in length, and the thickness of a sparrow’s egg at the broad end, of a dark grey colour, and having a very smooth polished surface, just like a very choice pebble that one often meets with on the sea-shore, which I have no doubt they were."

To the Rev. Dr J. M. Joass, of Golspie, I am indebted for the following notice of five curing-stones, formerly used in the parish of Criech, Sutherlandshire. The stones are now in his possession. Dr Joass writes:—"The stones referred to were used for the cure of sick cattle within the memory of the sender, who desired to have his name suppressed lest he should incur blame, or worse, for putting them into the hands of probable unbelievers. He is still alive. They are smooth, beach-rolled pebbles of clay-slate, dark and unctuous with long handling.

"The following was the [Gaelic] formula used within forty years in Strathspey when such charm-stones were employed. ‘Patsher’ is ‘Pater’ and means ‘Pater-noster,’ or the efficacy of the same transferred to a rub with the stone over the afflicted part: ‘Aon patcher, dha patsher, tri patsher,’ &c. (one Pater, two Paters, three Paters, &c.), according to virulence of the disease and relative needful number of rubs. At the close the performer repeated the following, also in Gaelic:

‘Cu maith an diugh, ‘s fhearr’ am maireach;
An deigh sin gun dad ach ‘n larach.’

i.e.,

‘This day well, next better (far);
After that nought but the scar.’"

Stone for Cure of Sterility.—Through the kindness of Mr James Shand of the Union Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh, I am enabled to exhibit an egg-shaped pebble of quartz, 2 inches in length by 1 1/2 inch in greatest diameter, which was formerly used in Shetland as a cure for sterility. In a letter to me, Mr Shand gives the following account of the method of using the stone:

"The charm-stone which I handed to you was for many years used in the west division of Sandsting parish, Shetland, as a cure for sterility in women. It was given to the lady from whom I received it by an old woman who had actually known it in use. The modus operandi was for the would-be mother to wash her feet in burn (i.e., ‘running’) water, in which the stone was laid.’ I rather think there were some other formalities, but these I have unhappily forgotten. The stone was said to have been brought from Italy originally-—this, no doubt, being calculated to make it seem more valuable. Unlike most charms, it was not preserved in one family, but passed from the hands of one wise woman to another, the trust being only relinquished when the holder was on her death-bed."

Notwithstanding the statement that the stone was brought from Italy, there is nothing in its appearance or form to confirm such a belief. In all probability it is nothing more than an ordinary water-rolled pebble, picked up on the beach.

A ring of jet, found in a cairn in the parish of Inchinnan about 1753, was preserved in the parish of East Kilbride as an inestimable specific in diseases, and imagined to be "more valuable than many tons weight of medicine."

An oval water-worn pebble of quartz, now in the Museum, was formerly kept over the lintel of the byre-door at Cachladhu, a croft about a mile from St Fillans, Perthshire, and used to protect the cattle from all kinds of disease. In addition to using the stone, the animal, when ill, "had to be supplied with water from a stream that was commonly crossed by the living and the dead, and two or three pieces of silver money were put in the coggie, and the water was taken from the burn or river, usually under a bridge, ‘in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,’ repeated in Gaelic, and then given to the animal."

A small perforated ball or bead of Scotch pebble, 11/16 of an inch in diameter, exhibited by Mrs Duncan, Rosehearty, through Dr Gregor, of Pitsligo, has already been described by him. It "has been in the possession of the present family for at least six generations, [and] has the virtue of curing diseases of the eye. It goes by the name of the ‘ee-stehn,’ and is thought to contain all the colours of the eye... When put into a mixture of milk and water, a lotion is formed capable of curing every kind of disease of the eye." Should this charm fall to the ground, the virtue is immediately gone from it.

ln Kirkcudbrightshire, according to the late Mr Joseph Train, perforated discs of shale or cannel coal were believed to be capable of preserving horses and cattle from the effects of witchcraft. There have been found at different times near Hallferne, he says, "several round flat stones, each 5 or 6 inches diameter, perforated artificially in the centre. Even within the memory of some persons yet alive, these perforated stones were used in Galloway to counteract the supposed effects of witchcraft, particularly in horses and black cattle. ‘The canie wife o’ Glengappock put a boirt [bored] stane into ane tub filled withe water, and causit syne the haill cattell to pass by, and when passing springled ilk ane o’ them with a besome dipped in it.’ One of these perforated stones, as black and glossy as polished ebony, is also in my possession. It was recently found in the ruins of an old byre, where it had evidently been placed for the protection of the cattle."

Clach-Chrùbain.—Pennant mentions a curing-stone known in Islay as "Clach Crubain," and used "to cure all pains in the joints," which he describes as a "species of fossil shell called Gryphites." Armstrong calls it "an Hebridean amulet for curing rheumatism and all diseases of the joints."

A rough nodule of chalk flints naturally perforated, formerly used in Aberdeenshire for the cure of diseases of the body generally, is exhibited by Dr B. de Brus Trotter, of Perth, who has also kindly communicated the following account of its use :—"The rough piece of flint, with a natural hole in it, I got from a lady now in Perth. It was left with other things to her mother, by an old woman, a reputed witch, named Christian Smith, who had a croft a few miles north of Ellon in Aberdeenshire. She had three perforated stones, which she kept hanging from the backs of chairs in her parlour. One was for curing diseases of the head, one for diseases of the heart, and the one I have for diseases of the body generally. The sick person was brought to her, the stone was placed on a peat in the middle of the fire, some words being said, and when the stone was heated sufficiently to cause a slight fizz it was dipped with some words in some water in a bowl. The patient then drank the water, and, paying a fee, went off rejoicing. Obstinate cases required sometimes the patient to come three times."

"A perforated stone, having the appearance of amber, semi-transparent, weathered on the surface, and waterworn," was described in 1874 as being at that time believed in the Lewis to possess extraordinary curative virtue, "both with regard to man and beast, when they happen to be serpent-bitten." It is further stated "that its loss would be regarded as a great calamity by the whole district," and that "it has been sent to all the villages for many miles round about, and was in special request when the ordinary serpent-stones failed in effecting a cure."


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