Spring at Monzie

In all ages much attention has been given to the weather, with special
reference to its bearings on human well-being. As Mr. R. Inwards truly
observes, in his “Weather-lore,” “From the earliest times hunters,
shepherds, sailors, and tillers of the earth have from sheer necessity
been led to study the teachings of the winds, the waves, the clouds,
and a hundred other objects from which the signs of coming changes in
the state of the air might be foretold. The weather-wise amongst these
primitive people would be naturally the most prosperous, and others
would soon acquire the coveted foresight by a closer observance of the
same objects from which their successful rivals guessed the proper time
to provide against a storm, or reckoned on the prospects of the coming
crops.” Hence, naturally enough, the weather has an important place in
folklore. Various prognostications concerning it have been drawn from
sun and moon, from animals and flowers; while certain meteorological
phenomena have, in their turn, been regarded as prophetic of mundane
events. Thus, in the astrological treatise entitled “The Knowledge
of Things Unknown,” we read that “Thunder in January signifieth the
same year great winds, plentiful of corn and cattle peradventure;
in February, many rich men shall die in great sickness; in March,
great winds, plenty of corn, and debate amongst people; in April, be
fruitful and merry with the death of wicked men;” and so on through the
other months of the year. One can easily understand why thunder should
be counted peculiarly ominous. The effects produced on the mind by its
mysterious noise, and on the nerves by the electricity in the air, are
apt to lead superstitious people to expect strange events. Particular
notice was taken of the weather on certain ecclesiastical festivals,
and omens were drawn from its condition. Thus, from “The Husbandman’s
Practice,” we learn that “The wise and cunning masters in astrology
have found that man may see and mark the weather of the holy Christmas
night, how the whole year after shall be in his making and doing, and
they shall speak on this wise. When on the Christmas night and evening
it is very fair and clear weather, and is without wind and without
rain, then it is a token that this year will be plenty of wine and
fruit. But if the contrariwise, foul weather and windy, so shall it
be very scant of wine and fruit. But if the wind arise at the rising
of the sun, then it betokeneth great dearth among beasts and cattle
this year. But if the wind arise at the going down of the same, then
it signifieth death to come among kings and other great lords.” We do
not suppose that anyone nowadays attends to such Yule-tide auguries,
but there are not wanting those who have a lingering belief in the
power of Candlemas and St. Swithin’s Day to foretell the sort of
weather to be expected in the immediate future.

Witches were believed to be able to raise the wind at their
pleasure. In a confession made at Auldearn in Nairnshire, in the
year 1662, certain women, accused of sorcery, said, “When we raise
the wind we take a rag of cloth and wet it in water, and we take a
beetle and knock the rag on a stone, and we say thrice over–

‘I knock this rag upon this stane,
To raise the wind in the devil’s name.
It shall not lie until I please again!'”

When the wind was to be allayed the rag was dried. About 1670 an
attempt was made to drain some two thousand acres of land belonging
to the estate of Dun in Forfarshire. The Dronner’s, i.e., Drainer’s
Dyke–remains of which are still to be seen behind the Montrose
Infirmary–was built in connection with the scheme. But the work
was destroyed by a terrible storm, caused, it was believed, by a
certain Meggie Cowie–the last to be burned for witchcraft in the
district. About eighty years before, a notable witch-trial in the
time of James VI. had to do with the raising of a storm. A certain
woman, Agnes Sampson, residing in Haddingtonshire, confessed that she
belonged to a company of two hundred witches, and that they were all
in the habit of sailing along the coast in sieves to meet the devil
at the kirk of North Berwick. After one of these interviews the woman
took a cat and christened it, and, after fixing to it parts of a dead
man’s body, threw the creature into the sea in presence of the other
witches. The king, who was then returning from Denmark with his bride,
was delayed by contrary winds, and such a tempest arose in the Firth
of Forth that a vessel, containing valuable gifts for the queen on her
arrival, sank between Burntisland and Leith. The Rev. T. F. Thiselton
Dyer makes the suggestion in his “Folklore of Shakespeare,” that it
was probably to these contrary winds that the author of “Macbeth”
alludes when he makes the witch say–

“Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.”

Even down to the end of last century, and probably later, some
well-educated people believed that the devil had the power of raising
the wind. The phrase, the prince of the power of the air, applied
to him in Scripture, was interpreted in a literal way. “The Diary of
the Rev. John Mill,” minister in Shetland from 1740 till 1803, bears
witness to such a belief. In his introduction to the work, the editor,
Mr. Gilbert Goudie, tells us: “He (Mill) was often heard talking aloud
with his (to others) unseen foe; but those who heard him declared
that he spoke in an unknown tongue, presumably Hebrew. After one of
these encounters the worthy man was heard muttering, ‘Well, let him
do his worst; the wind aye in my face will not hurt me.’ This was in
response to a threat of the devil, that wherever he (Mill) went, he
(Satan) should be a-blowing ‘wind in his teeth,’ in consequence of
which Mill was unable ever after to get passage out of Shetland.” On
the 5th of November, 1605, a terrible storm swept over the north of
Scotland and destroyed part of the cathedral at Dornoch. As is well
known, the day in question was selected by Guy Fawkes for blowing up
the Houses of Parliament. In his “Cathedral of Caithness, at Dornoch,”
Mr. Hugh F. Campbell tells us: “When the news of the gunpowder plot
reached the north, the co-incidence of time at once impressed the
imagination of a superstitious age. The storm was invested with an
element of the marvellous.” Mr. Campbell then quotes the following
curious passage from Sir Robert Gordon, specially referring to Satan’s
connection with the tempest:–“The same verie night that this execrable
plott should have been put in execution all the inner stone pillars of
the north syd of the body of the cathedral church at Dornogh–lacking
the rooff before–were blowen from the verie roots and foundation
quyt and clein over the outer walls of the church: such as hath sein
the same. These great winds did even then prognosticate and forshew
some great treason to be at hand; and as the divell was busie then
to trouble the ayre, so wes he bussie by these hiss fyrebrands to
trouble the estate of Great Britane.”

The notion that storms, especially when accompanied by thunder
and lightning, were the work of evil spirits, came out prominently
during the middle ages in connection with bells. The ringing of bells
was believed to drive away the demons, and so allay the tempest. A
singular superstition concerning the causation of storms was brought
to light in Hungary during the autumn of 1892 in connection with
the fear of cholera. At Kidzaes a patient died of what was thought
to be that disease, and a post mortem examination was ordered by
the local authorities. Strenuous opposition, however, was offered
by the villagers on the ground that the act would cause such a
hail-storm as would destroy their crops. Feeling ran so high that
a riot was imminent, and the project had to be abandoned. Eric, the
Swedish king, could control the winds through his enchantments. By
turning his cap he was able to bring a breeze from whatever quarter
he wished. Mr. G. L. Gomme, in his “Ethnology in Folklore,” remarks,
“At Kempoch Point, in the Firth of Clyde, is a columnar rock called
the Kempoch Stane, from whence a saint was wont to dispense favourable
winds to those who paid for them, and unfavourable to those who did
not put confidence in his powers–a tradition which seems to have been
carried on by the Innerkip witches who were tried in 1662, and some
portions of which still linger among the sailors of Greenock.” The
stone in question consists of a block of grey mica schist six feet in
height and two in diameter. It is locally known as Granny Kempoch. In
former times sailors and fishermen sought to ensure good fortune on
the sea by walking seven times round the stone. While making their
rounds they carried in their hand a basket of sand, and at the same
time uttered an eerie chant. Newly-married couples used also to walk
round the stone by way of luck.

At the beginning of the present century a certain woman, Bessie Miller
by name, lived in Stromness, in Orkney, and eked out her livelihood by
selling winds to mariners. Her usual charge was sixpence. For this sum,
as Sir W. Scott tells us, “she boiled her kettle, and gave the barque
advantage of her prayers, for she disclaimed all unlawful arts. The
wind, thus petitioned for, was sure to arrive, though sometimes the
mariners had to wait some time for it.” Her house was on the brow
of the steep hill above the town, “and for exposure might have been
the abode of Eolus himself.” At the time of Sir Walter’s visit to
Stromness, Bessie Miller was nearly a hundred years old, and appeared
“withered and dried up like a mummy.” We make her acquaintance in
the “Pirate,” under the name of Norna of the Fitful Head. In his
“Rambles in the Far North,” Mr. R. M. Fergusson tells of another
wind-compelling personage, named Mammie Scott, who also belonged to
Stromness, and practised her arts there, till within a comparatively
recent date. “Many wonderful tales are told of her power and influence
over the weather. Her fame was widely spread as that of Bessie. A
captain called upon Mammie one day to solicit a fair wind. He was
bound for Stornoway, and received from the reputed witch a scarlet
thread upon which were three knots. His instructions were, that if
sufficient wind did not arrive, one of the knots was to be untied;
if that proved insufficient, another knot was to be untied; but he was
on no account to unloose the third knot, else disaster would overtake
his vessel. The mariner set out upon his voyage, and, the wind being
light, untied the first knot. This brought a stronger breeze, but
still not sufficient to satisfy him. The second knot was let down, and
away the vessel sped across the waters, round Cape Wrath. In a short
time the entrance to Stornoway harbour was reached, when it came into
the captain’s head to untie the third knot in order to see what might
occur. He was too near the end of his voyage to suffer any damage now;
and so he felt emboldened to make the experiment. No sooner was the
last knot set free than a perfect hurricane set in from a contrary
direction, which drove the vessel right back to Hoy Sound, from which
she had set out, where he had ample time to repent of his folly.”

Within the last half-century there lived in Stonehaven an old
woman, who was regarded with considerable awe by the sea-faring
population. Before a voyage it was usual to propitiate her by the
gift of a bag of coals. On one occasion, two brothers, owners of a
coasting smack, after setting sail, had to return to port through
stress of weather, the storm being due, it was believed, to the
fact that one of the brothers had omitted to secure the woman’s good
offices in the usual way. The brother who was captain of the smack
seems to have been a firm believer in wind-charms, for it is related
of him that during a more than usually high wind he was in the habit
of throwing up his cap into the air with the exclamation, “She maun
hae something.” She, in this case, was the wind, and not the witch:
and the cap was meant as a gift to propitiate the storm. Dr. Charles
Rogers, in his “Social Life in Scotland,” tells us that “the seamen
of Shetland, in tempestuous weather, throw a piece of money into the
window of a ruinous chapel dedicated to St. Ronald in the belief that
the saint will allay the vehemence of the storm.” According to the
same writer, “Shetland boatmen still purchase favourable winds from
elderly women, who pretend to rule or to modify the storms.” “There are
now in Lerwick,” Dr. Rogers continues, “several old women who in this
fashion earn a subsistence. Many of the survivors of the great storm
of the 20th of July, 1881–so fatal on northern coasts–assert that
their preservation was due to warnings which they received through
a supernatural agency.”

Human skulls have their folklore. The lifting of them from their usual
resting-places has, in popular belief, been connected with certain
mysterious occurrences. According to a story told by Mr. Wirt Sikes,
in his “British Goblins,” a man who removed a skull from a church
to prove to his companions that he was free from superstition was
overtaken by a terrible whirlwind, the result, it was thought, of his
rash act. In some Highland districts it used to be reckoned unlucky
to allow a corpse to remain unburied. If from any cause, human bones
came to the surface, care was taken to lay them below ground again,
as otherwise disastrous storms would ensue.

We have a good example of the association of wind-charms with water
in the case of a certain magical stone referred to by Martin as
existing in his day in the island of Fladda, near Skye. There was a
chapel to St. Columba on the island, and on the altar lay the stone
in question. The stone was round, of a blue colour, and was always
moist. “It is an ordinary custom,” Martin relates, “when any of
the fishermen are detained in the isle by contrary winds, to wash
the blue stone with water all round, expecting thereby to procure
a favourable wind, which, the credulous tenant, living in the isle,
says never fails, especially if a stranger wash the stone.” The power
of the Fladda stone was equalled by a certain well in Gigha, though in
the latter instance a dweller in the island, rather than a stranger,
had power over it. When a foreign boat was wind-bound on the island,
the master of the craft was in the habit of giving some money to
one of the natives, to procure a favourable breeze. This was done in
the following way. A few feet above the well was a heap of stones,
forming a cover to the spring. These were carefully removed, and the
well was cleared out with a wooden dish or clam-shell. The water was
then thrown several times towards the point, from which the needed
wind should blow. Certain words of incantation were used, each time
the water was thrown. After the ceremony, the stones were replaced,
as the district would otherwise have been swept by a hurricane. Pennant
mentions, in connection with his visit to Gigha, that the superstition
had then died out. In this he was in error, for the well continued to
be occasionally consulted to a later date. Even within recent years,
the memory of the practice lingered in the island; but there seemed
some doubt, as to the exact nature of the required ritual. Captain
T. P. White was told by a shepherd, belonging to the island, that,
if a stone was taken out of the well, a storm would arise and prevent
any person crossing over, nor would it abate till the stone was taken
back to the well.

From the evidence of an Irish example, we find that springs could
allay a storm, as well as produce a favourable breeze. The island
of Innismurray, off the coast of Sligo, has a sacred well called
Tobernacoragh. When a tempest was raging, the natives believed that
by draining the water of this well into the sea, the wrath of the
elements could be calmed. Mr. Gomme, in his “Ethnology in Folklore,”
when commenting on the instance, remarks, “In this case the connection
between well-worship and the worship of a rain-god is certain, for
it may be surmised that if the emptying of the well allayed a storm,
some complementary action was practised at one time or other in order
to produce rain, and in districts more subject to a want of rain
than this Atlantic island, that ceremony would be accentuated at the
expense of the storm-allaying ceremony at Innismurray.” The Routing
Well, at Monktown, in Inveresk parish, Mid-Lothian, was believed to
give notice of an approaching storm by uttering sounds resembling the
moaning of the wind. As a matter of fact, the noises came from certain
disused coal-workings in the immediate neighbourhood, and were due
to the high wind blowing through them. The sounds thus accompanied
and did not precede the storm.

To procure rain, recourse was had to various superstitious
practices. Martin tells of a stone, five feet high, in the form of
a cross, opposite St. Mary’s Church, in North Uist. “The natives,”
he says, “call it the ‘Water Cross,’ for the ancient inhabitants
had a custom of erecting this sort of cross to procure rain, and
when they had got enough, they laid it flat on the ground, but this
custom is now disused.” Among the mountains of British Columbia, is
a certain stone held in much honour by the Indians, for they believe
that it will produce rain when struck. Rain-making is an important
occupation among uncivilised races, and strange rites are sometimes
practised to bring about the desired result. By some savages, human
hair is burned for this end. Mr. J. G. Frazer, in “The Golden Bough,”
has some interesting remarks on rain-production. After enumerating
certain rain-charms among heathen nations, he remarks, “Another way of
constraining the rain-god is to disturb him in his haunts. This seems
the reason why rain is supposed to be the consequence of troubling
a sacred spring. The Dards believed that if a cowskin or anything
impure is placed in certain springs storms will follow. Gervasius
mentions a spring, into which, if a stone or a stick were thrown,
rain would at once issue from it and drench the thrower. There was
a fountain in Munster such that if it were touched or even looked
at by a human being it would at once flood the whole province with
rain.” Curious survivals of ancient rain-charms are to be found in
modern folk-customs. Thus, in connection with the rejoicings of the
harvest-home in England, when the last load of grain was being carried
on the gaily decorated hock-cart to the farm-yard, it was customary
to throw water on those taking part in the ceremony. This apparently
meaningless frolic was in reality a rain-charm. A Cornish custom,
at one time popular at Padstow on the first of May, can be explained
on the same principle. A hobby-horse was taken to the Traitor’s Pool,
a quarter of a mile from the town. The head was dipped in the pool,
and water was sprinkled on the bystanders.

Such charms depend for their efficacy on what is called “sympathetic
magic.” Mimic rain is produced on the earth, in the hope that the same
liquid will be constrained to descend from the heavens, to bring fresh
fertility to the fields. Professor Rhys, in his “Celtic Heathendom,”
traces the connection between modern rain-charms and the rites of
ancient paganism. He there quotes the following particulars regarding
Dulyn, in North Wales, from a description of the place published in
1805:–“There lies in Snowdon Mountain a lake called Dulyn, in a
dismal dingle surrounded by high and dangerous rocks; the lake is
exceedingly black, and its fish are loathsome, having large heads
and small bodies. No wild swan or duck or any kind of bird has ever
been seen to light on it, as is their wont on every other Snowdonian
lake. In this same lake there is a row of stepping stones extending
into it; and if any one steps on the stones and throws water so as to
wet the furthest stone of the series, which is called the Red Altar,
it is but a chance that you do not get rain before night, even when
it is hot weather.” The spot was, probably in pre-Christian times,
the scene of sacrifices to some local deity. Judging from the dismal
character of the neighbourhood, we may safely infer that fear entered
largely into the worship paid there to the genius loci. The Fountain
of Barenton, in Brittany, was specially celebrated in connection
with rain-making. During the early middle ages, the peasantry of
the neighbourhood resorted to it in days of drought. According to a
time-honoured custom, they took some water from the fountain and threw
it on a slab hard by; rain was the result. Professor Rhys reminds
us that this fountain “still retains its pluvial importance; for,
in seasons of drought, the inhabitants of the surrounding parishes,
we are told go to it in procession, headed by their five great banners
and their priests ringing bells and chanting psalms. On arriving,
the rector of the canton dips the foot of the cross in the water,
and it is sure to rain within a week’s time.” The Barenton instance is
specially interesting, for part of the ceremony recalls what happened
in connection with a certain Scottish spring, viz., Tobar Faolan at
Struan, in Athole. This spring, as the name implies, was dedicated
to Fillan. In his “Holiday Notes in Athole,” in the “Proceedings of
the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” volume xii. (new series),
Mr. J. Mackintosh Gow says, “It is nearly one hundred yards west
from the church, at the foot of the bank, and close to the river
Garry. It is overgrown with grass and weeds, but the water is as clear
and cool as it may have been in the days of the saint. There is no
tradition of its having been a curing or healing well, except that
in pre-Reformation days, when a drought prevailed and rain was much
wanted, an image of the saint, which was kept in the church, used to be
taken in procession to the well, and, in order that rain might come,
the feet of the image were placed in the water; and this, of course,
was generally supposed to have the desired effect.” At Botriphnie,
in Banffshire, six miles from Keith, the wooden image of St. Fumac
used to be solemnly washed in his well on the third of May. We may
conclude that the ceremony was intended as a rain-charm. It must have
been successful, on at least one occasion, for the river Isla became
flooded through the abundance of rain. Indeed, the flooding was so
great that the saint’s image was swept away by the rushing water. The
image was finally stranded at Banff, where it was burned as a relic
of superstition by order of the parish minister about the beginning
of the present century. In Glentham Church, Lincolnshire, is a tomb,
with a figure locally called “Molly Grime.” From “Old English Customs
and Charities,” we learn that, till 1832, the figure was washed every
Good Friday with water from Newell Well by seven old maids of Glentham,
who each received a shilling, “in consequence of an old bequest
connected with some property in that district.” Perhaps its testator
was not free from a belief in the efficacy of rain-charms. Otherwise,
the ceremony seems meaningless. If the keeping clean of the figure
was the only object, the seven old maids should not have limited
their duties to an annual pilgrimage from the well to the church.

Trees were at one time worshipped as well as fountains. Ygdrasil,
the world-tree of Scandinavian mythology, had three roots,
and underneath each, was a fountain of wonderful virtues. This
represents the connection between tree and well in the domain of
mythology. But the same superstition was connected with ordinary
trees and wells. Glancing back over the history of civilisation,
we reach a period, when vegetation was endowed with personality. As
plants manifested the phenomena of life and death like man and the
lower animals, they had a similar kind of existence attributed to
them. Among some savages to-day, the fragrance of a flower is thought
to be its soul. As there was thus no hard and fast line between man
and the vegetable kingdom, the one could be derived from the other;
in other words, men could have trees as their ancestors. Curious
survivals of such a belief lie both revealed and concealed in the
language of to-day. Though we are far separated from such a phase
of archaic religion, we speak of the branches of a family. At one
time such an expression represented a literal fact, and not a mere
metaphor. In like manner, we call a son, who resembles his father,
“a chip of the old block.” But how few when using the phrase are alive
to its real force! Mr. Keary, in his “Outlines of Primitive Belief,”
observes, “Even when the literal notion of the descent from a tree
had been lost sight of, the close connection between the prosperity
of the tribe and the life of its fetish was often strictly held. The
village tree of the German races was originally a tribal tree with
whose existence the life of the village was involved.”

The picturesque ceremony known as the “Wassailing of Apple-trees,”
kept up till lately in Devon and Cornwall, carries our thoughts back
to the time when tree-worship was a thriving cult in our land. It was
celebrated on the evening before Epiphany (January 6th). The farmer,
accompanied by his labourers, carried a pail of cider with roasted
apples in it into the orchard. The pail was placed on the ground,
and each one of the company took from it a cupful of the liquid. They
then stood before the trees and repeated the following lines:–

“Health to thee, good apple tree,
Well to bear pocket-fulls, hat-fulls,
Peck-fulls, bushel bag-fulls.”

Part of the contents of the cup was then drunk, and the remainder was
thrown at the tree amid shouts from the by-standers. Relics of the
same cult can be traced in the superstitious regard for such trees as
the rowan, the elder, &c., and in the decoration of the May-pole and
the Christmas Tree. According to an ancient Irish legend, a certain
spring in Erin, called Connla’s Well, had growing over it nine mystical
hazel trees. Year by year these trees produced their flowers and
fruit simultaneously. The nuts were of a brilliant crimson colour and
contained in some mysterious way the knowledge of all that was best
in poetry and art. Professor O’Curry, in his “Lectures on the Manners
and Customs of the Ancient Irish,” refers to this legend, and says,
“No sooner were the beautiful nuts produced on the trees than they
always dropped into the well, raising by their fall a succession of
shining red bubbles. Now, during this time the water was always full of
salmon, and no sooner did the bubbles appear than these salmon darted
to the surface and ate the nuts, after which they made their way to
the river. The eating of the nuts produced brilliant crimson spots on
the bellies of these salmon, and to catch and eat these salmon became
an object of more than mere gastronomic interest among those who were
anxious to become distinguished in the arts and in literature without
being at the pains and delay of long study, for the fish was supposed
to have become filled with the knowledge which was contained in the
nuts, which, it was believed, would be transferred in full to those
who had the good fortune to catch and eat them.”

In many cases it was counted unlucky to cut down trees, since the
spirits, inhabiting them, would resent the injury. In the sixteenth
century the parishioners of Clynnog, in Caernarvonshire, refrained
from destroying the trees growing in the grounds of St. Beyno. Even
though he was their patron saint, he was quite ready to harm anybody
who took liberties with his grove. Loch Siant Well, in Skye, was
noted for its power to cure headaches, stitches, and other ailments,
and was much frequented in consequence. Martin says, “There is a
small coppice near to the well, and there is none of the natives dare
venture to cut the least branch of it for fear of some signal judgment
to follow upon it.” Martin also tells us that the same reverence
was for long paid to the peat on the island of Lingay. This island,
he says, “is singular in respect of all the lands of Uist, and the
other islands that surround it, for they are all composed of sand,
and this, on the contrary, is altogether moss covered with heath,
affording five peats in depth, and is very serviceable and useful,
furnishing the island Borera, &c., with plenty of good fuel. This
island was held as consecrated for several ages, insomuch that the
natives would not then presume to cut any fuel in it.”

When trees beside wells had rags hung on them as offerings,
they would naturally be reverenced, as the living altars for the
reception of the gifts. But even when not used for this purpose,
they were sometimes thought to have a mysterious connection with
the springs they overshadowed. In the parish of Monzie, Perthshire,
is a mineral well held in much esteem till about the year 1770. At
that time two trees, till then the guardians of the spring, fell,
and with their fall its virtue departed. On the right bank of the
Clyde, about three-quarters of a mile from Carmyle village, is the
once sylvan district of Kenmuir. There, at the foot of a bank, is a
spring locally known as “The Marriage Well,” the name being derived,
it is said, from two curiously united trees beside its margin. These
trees were recently cut down. In former times, it was customary for
marriage parties, the day after their wedding, to visit the spring,
and there pledge the bride and bridegroom in draughts of its sparkling
water. On the banks of the Kelvin, close to the Glasgow Botanic
Gardens, once flowed a spring styled the Pear-Tree, Pea-Tree, or
Three-Tree Well, the last name being probably the original one. In
former times it was a recognised trysting-place for lovers. A tragic
story is told in connection with it by Mr. James Napier in his “Notes
and Reminiscences of Partick.” A maiden, named Catherine Clark,
arranged to meet her lover there by night,

“nor did she ever dream
But that he was what he did ever seem.”

She never returned to her home. “A few days after,” remarks Mr. Napier,
“her body was found buried near a large tree which stood within a
few yards of the Pea-Tree Well. This tree was afterwards known as
‘Catherine Clark’s Tree,’ and remained for many years an object
of interest to the visitors to this far-famed well, and many a
sympathising lover carved his name in rude letters on its bark. But
the tree was also an object of terror to those who had to pass it in
dark and lonely nights, and many tales were told of people who had
seen a young female form dressed in white, and stained with blood,
standing at the tree foot.” The tree was removed many years ago. The
spring too is gone, the recent extension of the Caledonian Railway
to Maryhill having forced it to quit the field.

Near the moat of Listerling, in county Kilkenny, Ireland, is a
holy well dedicated to St. Mullen, who is said to have lived for
a while in its neighbourhood. A fine hawthorn, overshadowing it,
grew–if we can believe a local legend–from the staff of the saint,
which he there stuck into the ground. This reminds one of the famous
Glastonbury Thorn, produced from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea,
who fixed it in the ground one Christmas Day. The staff took root at
once, put forth branches, and next day was covered with milk-white
blossoms. St. Servanus’s staff, too, had a miraculous ending. He threw
it across the Firth of Forth, and when it fell on the Fife coast,
it took root and became an apple-tree. A group of thorn-bushes, near
Aghaboe, in Queen’s County, Ireland, was dedicated to St. Canice. The
spring, overshadowed by them, was much resorted to for the purposes
of devotion. At Rearymore, in the same county, some hawthorns,
growing beside St. Finyan’s spring, were, and doubtless still are,
religiously preserved by the natives. In the Isle of Man is Chibber
Unjin, signifying The Well of the Ash. Beside it grew an ash tree,
formerly decorated with votive offerings.

What has been called the external soul has an important place in
folklore, and forms the theme of many folk-tales. Primitive man does
not think of the soul as spiritual, but as material–as something
that can be seen and felt. It can take different shapes. It can leave
the body during sleep, and wander about in the guise of an animal,
such as a mouse. Considerable space is devoted to this problem in
Mr. J. G. Frazer’s “Golden Bough.” Mr. Frazer there remarks, “There
may be circumstances in which, if the life or soul remains in the man,
it stands a greater chance of sustaining injury than if it were stowed
away in some safe and secret place. Accordingly, in such circumstances,
primitive man takes his soul out of his body and deposits it for
security in some safe place, intending to replace it in his body when
the danger is past; or, if he should discover some place of absolute
security, he may be content to leave his soul there permanently. The
advantage of this is, that so long as the soul remains unharmed in the
place where he has deposited it, the man himself is immortal; nothing
can kill his body, since his life is not in it.” Sometimes the soul is
believed to be stowed away in a tree, injury to the latter involving
disaster to the former. The custom of planting trees, and calling
them after certain persons may nowadays have nothing to do with this
notion; but, undoubtedly, a real connection was at one time believed
to exist between the partners in the transaction. A certain oak,
with mistletoe growing on it, was mysteriously associated with the
family of Hay. The superstition is explained in the following lines:–

“While the mistletoe bats on Errol’s oak
And that oak stands fast,
The Hays shall flourish, and their good grey hawk
Shall not flinch before the blast.

But when the root of the oak decays
And the mistletoe dwines on its withered breast,
The grass shall grow on the Earl’s hearthstone,
And the corbies craw in the falcon’s nest.”

At Finlarig Castle, near Killin, in Perthshire, are several trees,
believed to be linked with the lives of certain individuals, connected
by family ties with the ruined fortress. Aubrey gives an example
of this superstition, as it existed in England in the seventeenth
century. He says, “I cannot omit taking notice of the great misfortune
in the family of the Earl of Winchelsea, who, at Eastwell, in Kent,
felled down a most curious grove of oaks near his own noble seat, and
gave the first blow with his own hands. Shortly after, the countess
died in her bed suddenly, and his eldest son, the Lord Maidstone,
was killed at sea by a cannon bullet.” In the grounds of Dalhousie
Castle, about two miles from Dalkeith, on the edge of a fine spring
is the famous Edgewell Oak. Sir Walter Scott, in his “Journal,” under
date May 13th, 1829, writes, “Went with the girls to dine at Dalhousie
Castle, where we were very kindly received. I saw the Edgewell Tree,
too fatal, says Allan Ramsay, to the family from which he was himself
descended.” According to a belief in the district, a branch fell from
this tree, before the death of a member of the family. The original oak
fell early in last century, but a new one sprang from the old root. An
editorial note to the above entry in the “Journal” gives the following
information:–“The tree is still flourishing (1889), and the belief in
its sympathy with the family is not yet extinct, as an old forester,
on seeing a branch fall from it on a quiet still day in July, 1874,
exclaimed, ‘The laird’s deed, noo!’ and, accordingly, news came soon
after that Fox Maule, eleventh Earl of Dalhousie, had died.”

The external soul was sometimes associated with objects other than
living trees. Dr. Charles Rogers tells us that “a pear, supposed
to have been enchanted by Hugh Gifford, Lord of Yester, a notable
magician in the reign of Alexander III., is preserved in the family
of Brown of Colston, as heirs of Gifford’s estate.” The prosperity
of the family is believed to be linked with the preservation of the
pear. Even an inanimate object would serve the purpose. The glass
drinking-cup, known as the “Luck of Edenhall,” is connected with
the fortunes of the Musgrave family, and great care is taken to
preserve it from injury. Tradition says that a company of fairies
were making merry beside a spring near the mansion-house, but that,
being frightened by some intruder, they vanished, leaving the cup in
question, while one of them exclaimed:–

“If this cup should break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Edenhall.”

Some living object, however, either vegetable or animal, was the
usual repository of the external soul. A familiar folk-tale tells of a
giant whose heart was in a swan, and who could not be killed while the
swan lived. Hunting was a favourite occupation among the inhabitants
of the Western Isles; but on the mountain Finchra, in Rum, no deer
was killed by any member of the Lachlan family, as it was believed
that the life of that family was in some way linked with the life of
these animals. A curious superstition is mentioned by Camden in his
“Britannia.” In a pond near the Abbey of St. Maurice, in Burgundy,
were put as many fish as there were monks. When any monk was taken
ill, one of the fish was seen to float half-dead on the surface of
the pond. If the fish died the monk died too, the death of the former
giving warning of the fate of the latter. In this case the external
soul was thought of as stowed away in a fish. As is well known,
the Arms of the City of Glasgow are a bell, a tree, a fish with
a ring in its mouth, and a bird. The popular explanation of these
emblems connects them with certain miracles, wrought by Kentigern,
the patron saint of the burgh. May we not hold that an explanation
of their symbolism is to be sought in a principle, that formed an
article in the beliefs of men, long before Kentigern was born, as well
as during his time and since? The bell, it is true, had, doubtless, an
ecclesiastical association; but the other three symbols point, perhaps,
to some superstitious notion like the above. In various folk-tales,
as well as in Christian art, the soul is sometimes typified by a
bird. As we have just seen, it has been associated with trees and
fish. We are entitled therefore to ask whether the three symbols
may not express one and the same idea under different forms. It is,
of course, open to anyone to say that there were fish in the river,
on whose banks Kentigern took up his abode, and quite a forest with
birds singing in it around his cell, and that no further explanation
of the symbolism need be sought. All these, it is true, existed
within the saint’s environment, but may they not have been regarded
as types of the soul under the guise of objects familiar to all, and
afterwards grouped together in the burgh Arms? On this hypothesis,
the symbols have survived the belief that gave them birth, and serve
to connect the practical life of to-day, with the vague visions and
crude conjectures of the past.

We have already seen that in early times water was an object
of worship. Stones also were reverenced as the embodiments of
nature-deities. “In Western Europe during the middle ages,” remarks
Sir J. Lubbock in his “Origin of Civilisation,” “we meet with
several denunciations of stone-worship, proving its deep hold on
the people. Thus the worship of stones was condemned by Theodoric,
Archbishop of Canterbury, in the seventh century, and is among the
acts of heathenism forbidden by King Edgar in the tenth, and by Cnut
in the eleventh century.” Even as late as the seventeenth century,
the Presbytery of Dingwall sought to suppress, among other practices
of heathen origin, that of rendering reverence to stones, the stones
in question having been consulted as to future events. It is not
surprising therefore that stones had certain mysterious properties
ascribed to them. In all ages precious stones have been deservedly
admired for their beauty, but, in addition, they have frequently
been esteemed for their occult qualities. “In my youth,” Mr. James
Napier tells us, in his “Folklore in the West of Scotland,” “there
was a belief in the virtue of precious stones, which added a value to
them beyond their real value as ornaments…. Each stone had its own
symbolic meaning and its own peculiar influence for imparting good and
protecting from evil and from sickness its fortunate possessor.” By the
ancient Jews, the topaz and the amethyst were believed to guard their
wearers respectively against poison and drunkenness; while the diamond
was prized as a protection against Satanic influence. Concerning the
last-mentioned gem, Sir John Mandeville, writing about 1356, says,
“It makes a man stronger and firmer against his enemies, heals him
that is lunatic, and those whom the fiend pursues and torments.” By
certain sects of the Gnostics, precious stones were much thought of as
talismans. Among the sect founded by Basilides of Egypt, the famous
Abraxas gems were used as tokens by the initiated. The Gnostics also
placed gems inscribed with mystic mottoes in sarcophagi, to remind the
dead of certain prayers that were thought likely to aid them in the
other world. In Scandinavia, warriors were in the habit of carrying
about with them amulets called life-stones or victory-stones. These
strengthened the hand of the wearer in fight. In our own country,
the use of amulets was not uncommon. A flat oval-shaped pebble,
measuring two and a half inches in greatest diameter, was presented
in 1864 to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It had been worn
as a charm by a Forfarshire farmer, who died in 1854 at the age
of eighty-four. When in use, it had been kept in a small bag and
suspended by a red string round the wearer’s neck.

Even when stones were not used as amulets, they were sometimes held
in superstitious regard. When in Mull, Martin was told of a yellow
stone, lying at the bottom of a certain spring in the island, its
peculiarity being that it did not get hot, though kept over the fire
for a whole day. The same writer alludes to a certain stone in Arran,
called Baul Muluy, i.e., “Molingus, his Stone Globe.” It was green
in colour, and was about the size of a goose’s egg. The stone was
used by the islanders, when great oaths had to be sworn. It was also
employed to disperse an enemy. When thrown among the front ranks, the
opposing army would retreat in confusion. In this way the Macdonalds
were said to have gained many a victory. When not in use, the Baul
Muluy was carefully kept wrapped up in cloth. Among oath-stones,
the black stones of Iona were specially famous. These were situated
to the west of St. Martin’s Cross, and were called black, not from
their colour–for they were grey–but from the effects of perjury
in the event of a false oath being sworn by them. Macdonald, Lord
of the Isles, knelt on them, and, with uplifted hands, swore that he
would never recall the rights granted by him to his vassals. Such a
hold had these oath-stones taken on the popular imagination, that
when anyone expressed himself certain about a particular thing,
he gave weight to his affirmation, by saying that he was prepared
to “swear upon the black stones.” Bishop Pocoke mentions that the
inhabitants of Iona “were in the habit of breaking off pieces from a
certain stone lying in the church,” to be used “as medicine for man
or beast in most disorders, and especially the flux.”

Charm-stones were sometimes associated with early saints. The following
particulars about St. Declan’s Stone are given by Sir Arthur Mitchell
in the tenth volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland”:–“We are told in the life of St. Declan that a small
stone was sent to him from Heaven while he was saying Mass in a church
in Italy. It came through the window and rested on the altar. It was
called Duivhin Deaglain or Duivh-mhion Deaglain, i.e., ‘Declan’s Black
Relic.’ It performed many miracles during his life, being famous for
curing sore eyes, headaches, &c.; and is said to have been found in
his grave sometime, I think, during last century. Its size is two and
a-fourth by one and three-fourth inches, and on one side there is a
Latin cross, incised and looped at the top. At the bottom of the stem
of this cross there is another small Latin cross. On the other side
of the stone there is a circle, one and a-fourth inch in diameter,
and six holes or pits.” Curing stones are still used occasionally
in connection with the diseases of cattle, particularly in Highland
districts; but they have ceased to do duty in the treatment of human
ailments. Mary Queen of Scots seems to have been a firm believer in
their efficacy. In a letter to her brother-in-law, Henry the Third
of France, written on the eve of her execution, the Queen says,
“She ventures to send him two rare stones, valuable for the health,
which she hopes will be good, with a happy and long life, asking
him to receive them as the gift of his very affectionate sister-in
law, who is at the point of death, and in token of true love towards
him.” In a case of curiosities at Abbotsford, there is an amulet that
belonged to Sir Walter Scott’s mother. It somewhat resembles crocodile
skin in colour, and has a setting of silver. The amulet was believed
to prevent children from being bewitched.

It is nowadays difficult to ascertain the whereabouts of curing-stones
in the Highlands, owing to the reticence of those who still have faith
in their virtues. Till lately there was one in the neighbourhood
of Aberfeldy that had been in use, it is believed, for about three
hundred years. In shape, the charm somewhat resembled a human heart,
and consisted of a water-worn pebble fully three inches in greatest
length. When required for the cure of cattle, it was rubbed over the
affected part or was dipped in water, the water being then given to
the animal to drink. Recently the family who owned it became extinct,
and the charm passed into other hands. Martin gives some curious
information with regard to the employment of charm-stones, among
the inhabitants of the Western Isles. After describing a certain
kind of stone, called lapis ceranius, found in the island of Skye,
he remarks, “These stones are by the natives called ‘Cramp-stones,’
because (as they say) they cure the cramp in cows by washing the part
affected with water in which this stone had been steeped for some
hours.” He mentions also, that in the same island, the stone called
lapis hecticus was deemed efficacious in curing consumption and other
diseases. It was made red-hot, and then cooled in milk or water,
the liquid being drunk by the patient. On Bernera, the islanders
frequently rub their breasts with a particular stone, by way of
prevention, and say it is a good preservative for health. Martin adds,
“This is all the medicine they use: Providence is very favourable
to them in granting them a good state of health, since they have no
physician among them.” In connection with his visit to the island of
Rona, the same writer observes, “There is a chapel here dedicated to
St. Ronan, fenced with a stone wall round; and they take care to keep
it neat and clean, and sweep it every day. There is an altar in it,
on which there lies a big plank of wood, about ten feet in length;
every foot has a hole in it, and in every hole a stone, to which the
natives ascribe several virtues: one of them is singular, as they
say, for promoting speedy delivery to a woman in travail.” The blue
stone in Fladda, already referred to in connection with wind-charms,
did duty as an oath-stone, and likewise as a curing-stone, its special
function being to remove stitches in the side. The Baul Muluy in Arran,
alluded to above, also cured stitches in the side. When the patient
would not recover, the stone withdrew from the bed of its own accord.

A certain white stone, taken by Columba from the river Ness, near
what is now the town of Inverness, had the singular power of becoming
invisible, when the illness of the person requiring it would prove
fatal. The selection of this stone was made in connection with the
saint’s visit to the court of Brude, king of the Picts, about the
year 563. Adamnan, who tells the story, thus describes an interview
between Columba and Brochan (the king’s chief Druid or Magus),
concerning the liberation of a female slave belonging to the latter:
“The venerable man, from motives of humanity, besought Brochan the
Druid to liberate a certain Irish female captive, a request which
Brochan harshly and obstinately refused to grant. The saint then spoke
to him as follows:–‘Know, O Brochan, know, that if you refuse to
set this captive free, as I advise you, you shall die before I return
from this province.’ Having said this in presence of Brude the king,
he departed from the royal palace, and proceeded to the river Nesa,
from which he took a white pebble, and, showing it to his companions,
said to them:–‘Behold this white pebble, by which God will effect
the cure of many diseases.’ Having thus spoken, he added, ‘Brochan is
punished grievously at this moment, for an angel sent from heaven,
striking him severely, has broken in pieces the glass cup which he
held in his hands, and from which he was in the act of drinking,
and he himself is left half-dead.'” Messengers were sent by the
king to announce the illness of Brochan, and to ask Columba to cure
him. Adamnan continues:–“Having heard these words of the messengers,
Saint Columba sent two of his companions to the king with the pebble
which he had blessed, and said to them:–‘If Brochan shall first
promise to free his captive, immerse this little stone in water,
and let him drink from it; but if he refuse to liberate her, he will
that instant die.’ The two persons sent by the saint proceeded to
the palace, and announced the words of the holy man to the king and
to Brochan, an announcement which filled them with such fear that he
immediately liberated the captive and delivered her to the saint’s
messengers. The stone was then immersed in water, and, in a wonderful
manner and contrary to the laws of nature, it floated on the water
like a nut or an apple, nor could it be submerged. Brochan drank from
the stone as it floated on the water, and instantly recovered his
perfect health and soundness of body.” The wonderful pebble was kept
by King Brude among his treasures. On the day of the king’s death,
it remained true to itself, for, when its aid was sought, it could
nowhere be found.

According to a tradition current in Sutherland, Loch Manaar in
Strathnaver was connected with another white pebble, endowed
with miraculous properties. The tradition, as narrated by
the Rev. Dr. Gregor in the “Folklore Journal” for 1888, is as
follows:–“Once upon a time, in Strathnaver, there lived a woman who
was both poor and old. She was able to do many wonderful things by
the power of a white stone which she possessed, and which had come to
her by inheritance. One of the Gordons of Strathnaver having a thing
to do, wished to have both her white stone and the power of it. When
he saw that she would not lend it, or give it up, he determined to
seize her, and to drown her in a loch. The man and the woman struggled
there for a long time, till he took up a heavy stone with which to
kill her. She plunged into the lake, throwing her magic stone before
her and crying, ‘May it do good to all created things save a Gordon
of Strathnaver!’ He stoned her to death in the water, she crying,
‘Manaar! Manaar!’ (Shame! Shame!). And the loch is called the Loch of
Shame to this day.” The loch had a more than local fame, for invalids
resorted to it from Orkney in the north and Inverness in the south:
its water was deemed specially efficacious on the first Monday of
February, May, August, and November, (O. S.). The second and third
of these dates were the most popular. The patient was kept bound and
half-starved for about a day previous, and immediately after sunset
on the appointed day, he was taken into the middle of the loch and
there dipped. His wet clothes were then exchanged for dry ones, and
his friends took him home in the full expectation of a cure. Belief
in the loch’s powers was acknowledged till recently, and is probably
still secretly cherished in the district.

In a graveyard beside Loch Torridon, in Ross-shire, is a spring,
formerly believed to work cures. From time immemorial three stones
have been whirling in the well, and it was usual to carry one of
these in a bucket of water to the invalid who simply touched the
stone. When put back into the well, the stone began to move round and
round as before. On one occasion a woman sought to cure her sick goat
in the usual way, but the pebble evidently did not care to minister
to any creature lower than man, for when replaced in the well, it
lay motionless at the bottom ever afterwards. A certain Katherine
Craigie, who was burned as a witch in Orkney in 1643, used pebbles
in connection with the magical cures wrought by her. Her method,
as described by Dr. Rogers in his “Social Life in Scotland,” was as
follows:–“Into water wherewith she washed the patient she placed
three small stones; these, being removed from the vessel, were placed
on three corners of the patient’s house from morning till night,
when they were deposited at the principal entrance. Next morning
the stones were cast into water with which the sick person was
anointed. The process was repeated every day till a cure was effected.”

At some wells, what the water lacked in the matter of efficacy was
supplied by certain stones lying by their margins. These stones,
in virtue of a real or fancied resemblance to parts of the human
body–such as the eye or arm–were applied to the members corresponding
to them in shape, in the expectation that this would conduce to a
cure. At Killin, in Perthshire, there are several stones dedicated
to Fillan, at one time much used in the way described. These are,
however, not beside a spring, but in the mill referred to in a previous
chapter. They lie in a niche in the inner wall, and have been there
from an unknown past. Whenever a new mill was built to replace the old
one, a niche was made in the wall for their reception. They are some
seven or eight in number. The largest of them weighs eight lbs. ten
oz. Special interest attaches to at least two of them, on account of
certain markings on one side, consisting of shallow rounded hollows
somewhat resembling the cup-marks which have proved such a puzzle
to archæologists. There is reason to believe that the stones in
question were at one time used in connection with milling operations,
the hollows being merely the sockets where the spindle of the upper
millstone revolved. On the saint’s day (the ninth of January), it was
customary till not very long ago, for the villagers to assemble at the
mill, and place a layer of straw below the stones. This custom has a
particular interest, for we find a counterpart to it in Scandinavia,
both instances being clearly survivals of stone-worship. “In certain
mountain districts of Norway,” Dr. Tylor tells us in his “Primitive
Culture,” “up to the end of the last century, the peasants used to
preserve round stones, washed them every Thursday evening (which
seems to show that they represented Thor), smeared them with butter
before the fire, laid them on the seat of honour on fresh straw, and
at certain times of the year steeped them in ale, that they might bring
luck and comfort to the house.” The ritual here is more elaborate than
in the case of the Killin stones; but the instances are parallel as
regards the use of straw. Fully a couple of miles from Killin, below
Mornish, close to Loch Tay, is the lonely nettle-covered graveyard
of Cladh Davi, and on a tombstone in its enclosure lie two roundish
stones, believed to belong to the same series as those in the mill, and
marked with similar hollows. These stones were thought to cure pectoral
inflammation, the hollows being filled with water, and applied to the
breasts. The Rev. Dr. Hugh MacMillan, after describing the stones
in the volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland” for 1883-84, mentions that “not long since, a woman, who
was thus afflicted, came a considerable distance, from the head of
Glen Lochay, to make use of this remedy.”

Charm-stones were sometimes kept on the altars of ancient churches,
as in the case of St. Ronan’s Chapel, and the church in Iona already
referred to. At other times they were associated with crosses. Sir
Arthur Mitchell tells of an Irish curing-stone in shape like a
dumb-bell, preserved in Killaghtee parish, County Donegal. “There is,”
he says, “a fragment of a stone cross on the top of a small cairn. In
a cleft or hollow of this cross is kept a famous healing stone, in
whose virtues there is still a belief. It is frequently removed to
houses in which sickness exists, but it is invariably brought back,
and those living near the cross can always tell where it is to be
found, if it has been so removed.” Pennant, in connection with his
visit to Iona, speaks of certain stones lying in the pedestal of
a cross to the north-west of St. Oran’s Chapel. “Numbers who visit
this island,” he remarks, “think it incumbent on them to turn each
of these thrice round, according to the course of the sun. They
are called Clach-a-brath–for it is thought that the brath, or
‘end of the world,’ will not arrive till the stone on which they
stand is worn through.” Pennant thought that these stones were the
successors of “three noble globes of white marble,” which, according
to Sacheverel, at one time lay in three stone basins, and were turned
round in the manner described, but were afterwards thrown into the
sea by the order of the ecclesiastical authorities. MacCulloch says
that, in his day, the superstition connected with the Clach-a-brath
had died out in Iona. We do not think that this was likely. Anyhow
he mentions that “the boys of the village still supply a stone for
every visitor to turn round on its bed; and thus, in the wearing of
this typical globe, to contribute his share to the final dissolution
of all things.” MacCulloch alludes to the same superstition as then
existing on one of the Garveloch Isles. Sometimes hollows were made
on the pedestals of crosses, not for the reception of stone-balls,
but to supply occupation to persons undergoing penance. A sculptured
cross at Kilberry, in Argyllshire, has a cavity of this kind in its
pedestal. In connection with his visit to Kilberry, Captain White
was told that “one of the prescribed acts of penance in connection
with many of the ancient Irish crosses required the individual under
discipline, while kneeling before the cross, to scoop out a cavity
in the pedestal, pestle-and-mortar fashion; and that such cavities,
where now to be seen, show in this way, varying stages of the process.”

One of the wonders of Harris, when Martin visited the island, was
a lunar stone lying in a hole in a rock. Like the tides, it felt
the moon’s influence, for it advanced and retired according to the
increase or decrease of that luminary. Perforated stones were formerly
much esteemed as amulets. If a stone, with a hole in it, was tied to
the key of a stable-door, it would prevent the witches from stealing
the horses. Pre-historic relics of this kind were much used to ward
off malign influences from cattle, or to cure diseases caused by the
fairies. Ure, in his “History of Rutherglen and Kilbride,” refers to a
ring of black schistus found in a cairn in the parish of Inchinnan. It
was believed to work wonderful cures. About a hundred years ago, a
flat reddish stone, having notches and with two holes bored through it,
was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It came from
Islay, and had been used there as a charm. It belonged to the Stone
Age, and had, doubtless, served its first possessor as a personal
ornament. Ivory had magical properties attributed to it. The famous
“Barbeck’s Bone”–once the property of the Campbells of Barbeck,
in Craignish parish, Argyllshire, and now in the National Museum of
Antiquities–is a piece of ivory seven inches long, four broad, and
half an inch thick. At one time it had a great reputation in the West
Highlands for the cure of insanity. It was counted so valuable that,
when it was lent, a deposit of one hundred pounds sterling had to
be made.

The antiquarian objects, popularly called adder-beads, serpent
stones, or druidical beads, were frequently used for the cure of
cattle. The beads were dipped in water, and the liquid was then
given to the animals to drink. These relics of a long-forgotten past
have been found from time to time in ancient places of sepulture,
and as they usually occur singly, it has been conjectured that they
were placed there as amulets. “Many of them,” remarks Sir Daniel
Wilson in his “Pre-historic Annals,” “are exceedingly beautiful,
and are characterised by considerable ingenuity in the variations of
style. Among those in the Scottish Museum there is one of red glass
spotted with white; another of dark brown glass streaked with yellow;
others of pale green and blue glass, plain and ribbed; and two of
curiously figured patterns, wrought with various colours interwoven
on their surface.” A fine specimen of this species of amulet was
discovered in a grave mound at Eddertoun, in Ross-shire, during the
progress of the railway operations in 1864. The Rev. Dr. Joass, who
interested himself in the antiquarian discoveries then made, thus
describes the find:–“The glass, of which this bead was composed,
was of a dark blue colour, and but partially transparent. It was
ornamented by three volutes, which sufficed to surround it. These
were traced in a yellow pigment (or enamel) as hard as the glass
and seeming to sink slightly below the surface into the body of the
bead, as could be seen where this was flattened, as if by grinding
at the opposite ends of its orifice.” These adder-beads seem to have
been common in the seventeenth century. Edward Llwyd, who visited
Scotland in 1699, saw fifty different forms of them between Wales and
the Scottish Highlands. Crystal balls, he tells us, were frequently
put into a tub of water on May Day, the contents of the tub being
sprinkled over cattle to keep them from being bewitched.

Flint arrow-heads–the weapons of early times–became the amulets of a
later age. In folklore they are known as elf-bolts. Popular credulity
imagined that they were used by the fairies for the destruction of
cattle. When an animal was attacked by some sudden and mysterious
disease, it was believed to be “elf-shot” even though no wound could
be seen on its body. To cure the cow, the usual method was to make it
drink some water in which an elf-bolt had been dipped, on the principle
of taking a hair of the dog that bit you. Elf-arrows were at one time
thought to be serviceable to man also. The custom was not unknown of
sewing one of them in some part of the dress as a charm against the
influence of the evil eye. Occasionally one still sees them doing
duty as brooches, and in that form, if not now prized as amulets,
they are esteemed as ornaments.

Sir J. Y. Simpson, in his “Archæological Essays,” gives some
interesting particulars about two ancient charm-stones, the
property of two Highland families for many generations. Of these,
the Clach-na-Bratach, or Stone of the Standard, belongs to the head
of the Clan Donnachie. It is described as “a transparent, globular
mass of rock crystal of the size of a small apple. Its surface has
been artificially polished.” The stone was picked up by the then
chief of the clan shortly before the battle of Bannockburn. It was
found in a clod of earth adhering to the standard when drawn out of
the ground, and on account of its brilliancy the chief foretold a
victory. In later times it was used to predict the fortunes of the
clan. We are told that before the battle of Sheriffmuir, in 1715,
which proved so disastrous to the cause of the Stuarts, as well as
to that of Clan Donnachie, the Clach-na-Bratach was found to have a
flaw, not seen till then. When wanted to impart curative virtue to
water, the Clach-na-Bratach was dipped in it thrice by the hand of
the chief. The other charm-stone alluded to is the Clach Dearg, or
Stone of Ardvoirlich. It resembles the Clach-na-Bratach in appearance,
though it is somewhat smaller in size. It differs from it, moreover,
in being surrounded by four silver bands of eastern workmanship. The
charm has belonged to the family of Ardvoirlich from an unknown past,
but there is no tradition as to its early history. As a healing agent
it has had more than a local fame. When its help was sought certain
rules had to be attended to. The person coming to Ardvoirlich was
required to draw the water himself, and bring it into the house in the
vessel in which the charm was to be dipped. A bottle of this water was
then carried to the invalid’s home. If the bearer called at any house
by the way, it was requisite that the bottle should be left outside,
otherwise the water would lose its power.

In the mansion-house of Lee, some three miles north of Lanark, is kept
the Lee Penny, an amulet of even greater fame than the Clach-na-Bratach
or the Clach Dearg. This charm–the prototype of Sir Walter Scott’s
“Talisman”–is a semi-transparent gem of a dark red colour. It is set
in a silver coin, believed to be a groat of Edward the Fourth. In shape
it rudely resembles a heart. This circumstance doubtless strengthened
the original belief in its magical powers, if, indeed, it did not give
rise to it. The tradition is, that Sir Simon Lockhart, an ancestor of
the present owner of the estate, left Scotland along with Sir James
Douglas, in the year 1330, to convey the heart of Robert Bruce to the
Holy Land. Douglas was killed in Spain in a battle with the Moors, and
Sir Simon returned to Scotland, bringing the heart with him. He had
various adventures in connection with this mission. One of these was
the capture of a Saracen prince, who, however, obtained his freedom
for a large sum. While the money was being counted out the amulet
in question accidentally fell into the heap of coin, and was claimed
as part of the ransom. Previous to its appearance in Scotland it had
been much esteemed as a cure for hemorrhage and fever. After it was
brought to our shores its fame increased rather than waned. During
the reign of Charles the First it was taken to Newcastle-on-Tyne to
stay a pestilence raging there, a bond for six thousand pounds being
given as a guarantee of its safe return. The amulet did its work so
well, that to ensure its retention in the town the bond would have
been willingly forfeited. It was reckoned of use in the treatment of
almost any ailment, but specially in cases of hydrophobia. A cure
effected by it at the beginning of last century is on record. Lady
Baird of Saughton Hall, near Edinburgh, showed what were believed to
be symptoms of rabies from the bite of a dog. At her request the Lee
Penny was sent to Saughton Hall. She drank and bathed in water in which
it had been dipped, and restoration was the result. The amulet was
also used for the cure of cattle, and when every other remedy failed
recourse was had to the wonder-working gem. When it was employed
for therapeutic purposes, the following was the modus operandi:–It
was drawn once round the vessel containing the water to be rendered
medicinal, and was then plunged thrice into the liquid; but no words
of incantation were used. For this reason the Reformed Church, when
seeking to abolish certain practices of heathen origin, sanctioned
the continued use of the Lee Penny as a charm. A complaint was made
against the Laird of Lee “anent the superstitious using of ane stane
set in silver for the curing of diseased cattell.” The complaint came
before the Assembly which met in Glasgow; but the case was dismissed
on the ground that the rite was performed “wtout using onie words
such as charmers and sorcerers use in their unlawfull practices; and
considering that in nature there are mony things seen to work strange
effects, q.r. of no human wit can give a reason.” Nevertheless the
Laird of Lee was admonished “in the useing of the said stane to tak
heed that it be used hereafter w.t. the least scandal that possiblie
may be.” Belief in the efficacy of the amulet continued to hold its
ground in the neighbourhood of Lee till towards the middle of the
present century. In 1839 phials of water which had felt its magical
touch were to be seen hanging up in byres to protect the cattle from
evil influences. Some fifteen years earlier a Yorkshire farmer carried
away water from Lee to cure some of his cattle which had been bitten
by a mad dog. Attached to the amulet is a small silver chain which
facilitated its use when its services were required. The charm is
kept in a gold box, presented by the Empress Maria Theresa.

Another south-country amulet, not, however, so famous as the Lee Penny,
is the piece of silver, known as the Lockerbie Penny. It was, and still
is, we suppose, used to cure madness in cattle. In his “Folklore of
the Northern Counties,” Mr. Henderson gives the following particulars
about the charm:–“It is put in a cleft stick and a well is stirred
round with it, after which the water is bottled off and given to any
animal so affected. A few years ago, in a Northumbrian farm, a dog bit
an ass, and the ass bit a cow; the penny was sent for, and a deposit
of fifty pounds sterling actually left till it was restored. The dog
was shot, the cuddy died, but the cow was saved through the miraculous
virtue of the charm.” After the death of the farmer who borrowed the
Penny, several bottles of water were found stowed away in a cupboard
labelled “Lockerbie Water.” Mr. Henderson also mentions another Border
amulet, known as the Black Penny, for long the property of a family at
Hume-byers. It is larger than an ordinary penny, and is believed to
be a Roman coin or medal. When brought into use it should be dipped
in a well, the water of which runs towards the south. Mr. Henderson
adds:–“Popular belief still upholds the virtue of this remedy; but,
alas! it is lost to the world. A friend of mine informs me that half
a generation back the Hume-byers Penny was borrowed by some persons
residing in the neighbourhood of Morpeth and never returned.”

You may also like