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Scottish Charms and Amulets
Amber Beads Used As Charms


Among the Romans amber was worn as an amulet by children against secret poison, and as a counter-charm against sorcery. Pliny records the opinion of Callistratus, that the substance was also of service at all periods of life against insanity and stranguaries, either taken inwardly in powder or worn round the neck. A particular kind of amber, called by Callistratus chrys-electrum, worn round the neck, cured fevers, and diseases of the mouth, throat, and jaws. When powdered and mixed with honey and oil of roses it was a specific for deafness, and mixed with Attie honey it was good for dimness of sight. In Scotland necklaces of amber beads are said to have been particularly prized among the fishing population of the East Coast on account of the talismanic virtues of the substance. Leslie says that the women on the East Coast in his time used amber hung round their necks to decorate themselves, and also hung it on their infants to protect them from evil: "necnon et infantes suos adversus nescio quć mala munire solent." According to an old rhyme, amber beads possessed the power of driving away witches. Four small amber beads, presented to the Museum in 1849, were stated by the donor to have been formerly regarded by the Macdonalds of Glencoe as a charm for the cure of blindness. In the North-East of Scotland an amber bead was commonly used to remove a chaff from the eye of man and beast; and a necklace of the same material was worn as a cure for disease of the eyes. On Tweedside an amber bead was also used for the cure of sore eyes and sprained limbs.

To Dr R. de Bras Trotter of Perth, I am indebted for the following account of an amber bead in his possession, which was formerly used as a charm. The bead is 7/8ths inch in diameter and ˝ inch thick, and has a silver ring through the perforation:-

"I got the bead when a boy (about 1845) from Mrs Shaw, near Auchencairn, Rerwick, Galloway. It originally belonged to her father, a man of the name of Carnochan, a celebrated smuggler of the end of last century. The history of it, which of course is entirely fabulous, was that he took it from a "bing o’ eththers" which were busy making it, at the fort of Knocktintal that he galloped with it in his hand, and the adders in pursuit, across the sands of Auchencairn Bay at half tide, and swam his horse through the tide to the island of Hestan, the adders being drowned when they got among the broken water. He wore it on a ribbon round his neck as a talisman for luck, and used it for curing "backgaun weans," "elfshot kye," and "sick beass" generally, and for averting the effects of the evil eye. It had to be dipped three times in water, which was given to the sick child or animal to drink. I don’t remember if any words were said. Old Carnochan lost it one Sunday when digging for worms in his garden, and his luck left him, his cargoes were captured, his hiding-place betrayed, and he died in poverty. One of his grand children many years after found it in the garden, but the luck didn’t return with it. It was tried to cure Jean Craig’s cat, but the cat died, and so it was thought of no more use."


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