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Scottish 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, bewitch’d, &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. 2.

The commonly accepted account of this ball is as follows:—The chief of that time (1315), on his way with his clan to join Bruce’s 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 carry’d 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 M’Dougal 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 happen’d 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 discover’d 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 Appendix II.

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 various diseases.

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 bird’s 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 didn’t 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 (Bridget’s 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 hen’s 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 Sirn’s 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 White’s 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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