About the Historical Uses of White Stones or Quartz

quartz and white stones as used for early burials in Ireland and crystals as used for divining in the Yucatan, as well as American ornaments and jewelry

The burying of white stones or lumps of quartz with the dead was not infrequent in early times in Ireland. The peasants of the north of Ireland call these Godstones. A cist found at Barnasraghy, County Sligo, was nearly filled with quartz pebbles, and not long since a white stone was found in a primitive burial place near Larne, County Antrim. That this was a usage confined to the earlier period of Irish history is generally admitted, and the discovery of such white stones in a grave is accepted as an indication that it belongs to an early date.

It has been suggested that these white stones were used for burials because of the symbolic meaning of the color, which to the minds of many primitive peoples was that of purity, as indeed it is still among most modern peoples, although the symbolism may not always be consciously accepted. White marble seems to most of us the most appropriate and beautiful stone for monuments, and if to a very considerable degree granite is now used as a substitute, this is principally because of its greater resistance to the deteriorating effect of atmospheric changes. Already in prehistoric times, the cave-dwellers showed a fondness for gathering quartz crystals and fragments, and specimens of those taken from the Auvergne Mountains have been found in the cave-dwellings of Les Eyzies; they may have been used as amulets or talismans.

A legend of the great Irish saint, Columba, gives an instance of the curative use of white pebbles. After this saint had vainly entreated Broichan the Druid to free a Christian bond-maiden, as a last resort he menaced the druid with approaching death. The prediction or curse was speedily on the way to fulfilment, Broichan sickened unto death, and in his terror consented to free the maiden. Here-upon St. Columba went to the river Ness and picked up out of its shallows several white pebbles, announcing that they would, by the Lord's power, work the cure of heathen people. One of the stones was blessed by the saint and placed in a vessel filled with water, on the surface of which it floated, and as soon as Broichan had taken a draught of the liquid he was restored to perfect health.

A famous Scotch amulet was a polished globular mass of white quartz, an inch and three-quarters in diameter, owned by the chiefs of Clan Donnachaidh and known as the "Stone of the Banner." It had been accidentally found by a chief of this clan, who, on his way to join Robert Bruce in 1315, before the battle of Bannockburn, noted a glittering stone embedded in a clod of earth that had become attached to his flagstaff. It was looked upon as a powerful talisman in battle, and water in which it had been dipped was said to cure diseases. Tradition asserted that this white stone of Clan Donnachaidh was identical with that used long before by St. Columba. As such white stones were often deposited in graves, sometimes even being placed in the mouth of a deceased person, it has been suggested that perhaps the sparks emitted by the quartz on percussion were believed to shed some faint gleams along the dark pathway of the departed in his journey to the underworld. In Christian times there can be little doubt in regard to the influence exercised by the text in Revelation: "To him that over-cometh...I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it."

Crystal balls are not only valued for the visions to be seen, or supposed to be seen in them, but are sometimes worn as amulets against illness. In some parts of Japan they are thought to ward off dropsy, and their wear is also recommended to guard from all wasting diseases. The likeness of rock-crystal to congealed water may well be credited, in the doctrine of sympathy, with its putative power of preventing the watery infiltration from which a dropsical patient suffers. As the Japanese make many choice crystal balls, these objects are generally more or less familiar in that land and have thus appealed as well to those who were superstitious as to those who appreciated things beautiful in themselves.

In Yucatan quartz crystals were not only used for divining, but also to ensure the success of the crops. The fact that such crystals have been found in the Indian mounds of Arkansas, North Carolina, and elsewhere, may warrant the supposition that they had been worn as talismans and then interred with the deceased persons as a most intimate part of their property. The writer's personal observation in Garland and Montgomery counties, Arkansas, demonstrated that quartz crystals were to be found in mounds together with chipped arrow-points of chalcedony, although the crystals did not appear to have been worked in any way. The region about Hot Springs, Arkansas, has furnished some of the finest rock-crystal found in the United States. From North Carolina also have come many remarkable specimens, the largest of which, found in 1886, was unluckily broken up by the person who discovered it. In its crystal state it must have weighed about 300 pounds, and if cut would have furnished a crystal ball 4 1/2 or 5 inches in diameter. This splendid crystal came from Phoenix Mountain, Chestnut Hill township, in Ashe County, North Carolina, and from the largest fragment recovered, weighing 51 pounds, several slabs 8 inches square and from half inch to one inch in thickness were cut. Nearby a crystal weighing 285 pounds was found, and another weighing 188 pounds. Some of the crystals from this locality had on one side a green coating of chlorite, and when this was not removed, the effect was as though one saw a green moss growing beneath a pool of water. The rock-crystal slabs have an advantage over glass when used for mirrors, as they more truly reflect the tints of a fine complexion. Brilliant crystals from Lake George and its neighborhood have been called "Lake George Diamonds." In marked contrast with the large examples we have noted, many crystals of quartz are so small that 200,000 would have an aggregate weight of but one ounce and yet many are perfect crystals and doubly terminated.

The presence of white quartz pebbles in some graves of the Indian Moundbuilders, appears to be indicated to a satisfactory extent in the case of certain specimens from the Etowah Mound in Georgia; these pebbles, which form part of the Steiner collections in the United States National Museum, were not, however, worked or polished in any way, nor are there any traces of use for ornament or decoration. On the other hand, white quartz pebbles from the Pueblo region of the Southwest offer undeniable signs of having been long used and are of frequent occurrence; some of these have been found in graves. In connection with the probable reasons determining their presence the designations "fire stones" or "charms" have been given them; some specimens of this worked quartz had evidently been worn as pendants, while others had probably been regarded as fetishes.


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