The belief that the imperforate
axes of the Stone Age are thunder-bolts which have fallen from the clouds
during thunderstorms, is spread throughout almost the whole world.
Marbodus, Bishop of Rennes, in the eleventh century, ascribes the
following origin and virtues to the stone axe or ceraunius:
“Ventorum rabie cum turbidus æstuat aër,
Cum tonat horrendum, cum fulgurat igneus æther,
Nubibus illisus, coelo cadit iste lapillus,
Cujus apud Græcos extat de fulmine nomen.
Illis quippe locis quos constat fulmine tactos,
Iste lapis tantum repiriri posse putatur;
Unde Ceraunius est Græco sermone vocatus:
Nam quod nos fulmen, Græci dixere kepaôvov.
Qui caste gerit hunc, a fulmine non ferietur;
Nec domus, aut villæ, quibus assuerit lapis ille.
Sed neque navigio per flumen vel mare vectus,
Turbine mergetur, vel fulmine percutietur.
Ad causas etiam vincendaque prælia prodest,
Et dulces sonmos, et dulcia somnia præstat.”
In Sweden stone axes were believed to be a protection against light-ning,
and “in some districts they were formerly placed in the bed beside women
near their confinement, in order to lighten the pains of labour. They are
still occasionally used by the peasantry against a cutaneous disease in
children called the ‘white fire.’ With the aid of a piece of steel, sparks
are emitted from them which are made to fall upon the head of the child.”
In Germany during a thunderstorm a black wedge is believed to dart out of
the clouds and to bury “itself in the earth as deep as the highest
church-tower is high. But every time it thunders again, it begins to rise
nearer to the surface, and after seven years you may find it above ground.
Any house in which it is preserved is proof against damage by lightning;
when a thunderstorm is coming on, it begins to sweat.” Sir John Evans
mentions an instance which came under his own observation in Ireland,
“where a stone celt was lent among neighbours to place in the troughs from
which cattle drank, on account of its healing powers.” In Cornwall water
in which stone axes were boiled for some hours was given to people
suffering from rheumatism.
The name “Thunderbolt” was also given in Scotland to stone axes until
within recent years. A finely formed axe of aphanite found in
Berwickshire, and presented to the Museum in 1876, was obtained about
twenty years before from a blacksmith in whose smithy it had long lain. It
was known in the district as “the thunderbolt,” and had probably been
preserved in the belief that it had fallen from the sky. In Shetland stone
axes were said to protect from thunder the houses in which they were
preserved. One found at Tingwall was acquired from an old woman in
Scalloway, who believed it to be a “thunderbolt “ and “of efficacy in
averting evil from the dwelling in which it was kept;“ while another,
believed to have “fallen from the skies during a thunder-storm,” was
preserved in the belief that “it brought good luck to the house.” In the
North-East of Scotland they “were coveted as the sure bringers of success,
provided they were not allowed to fall to the ground.” In the British
Museum there is a very fine axe of polished green quartz, mounted in
silver, which is stated to have been sewed to a belt which was worn round
the waist by a Scottish officer as a cure for kidney. The late Sir Daniel
Wilson mentions an interesting tradition regarding the large perforated
stone hammers, which he says were popularly known in Scotland almost till
the close of last century as “Purgatory Hammers,” for the dead to knock
with at the gates of Purgatory.’