Historical Superstitions About the Value of Animal Stones

stones may be removed from the bodies of numerous animals, fish, birds, and land animals and worn as charms to repel spirits or taken internally as medical cures

The cinadias, a white and oblong concretion, had in Pliny's time the reputation of possessing extraordinary powers, announcing beforehand whether the sea would be clear or stormy. In what way this weather prediction was manifested we are not told; perhaps the surface of the concretion may have become dull or grayish when there was much humidity in the air. The cinaedia were said to be found in pairs in the fish of that name; one pair being taken from the head of the fish and another pair from the two dorsal fins. Power to cure diseases of the eye was conferred upon these concretions by putting nine of them, duly numbered, in an earthen jar together with a green lizard. Each day one of the "stones" was taken from the vessel in the numerical order, and on the ninth day the lizard was liberated. Evidently it was thought that to kill the animal would interfere with the transmission of its virtue to the concretions.

The eye of the hyena was supposed to furnish a stone called hyaenia and Pliny writes that these animals were hunted to secure possession of it. Like rock-crystal and many other decorative stones, this hyaenia was thought to give the power to foretell the future, if it were placed beneath the tongue. Because of the hyena's uncanny habit of feeding on carrion, and unearthing dead bodies from graves, it has often been associated with necromancy and with evil spirits.

The lacrima cervi, or "stag's tear," is not to be confounded with the bezoar stone according to Scaliger, who maintains that it was a bony concretion that formed in the corner of a stag's eye only after the animal had passed its hundredth year; as the stag never attains this age he might as well have said that the existence of this "tear" was a fable. However, he describes it as though he had carefully inspected a specimen, saying that it was so smooth and light that it would almost slip through the fingers of anyone who held it in his hand. It had similar powers to those of the bezoar, being a powerful antidote to poisons and a cure for the plague if powdered and given with wine; these good effects resulting from the excessively profuse perspiration that followed the administration of the dose.

These fabled stag's tears, though often praised as substitutes for the bezoar, were not believed in by all the early writers, one of them, Rollenhagen, giving expression to a caustic opinion that might do credit to a writer of our own day. Alluding to the many reports of the existence of such "tears," shed by the animals because of the pains they suffered after indulging in a diet of serpents, he notes that all those who make these statements are careful to place the habitat of these eccentric stags as far away from their own land as possible, always "somewhere in the Orient," probably at "Nowheretown," as he adds.

The chelonia is said by Pliny to have been the eye of the Indian tortoise. The magicians asserted that this was the most marvellous of all "stones"; for if bathed in honey and then placed in the mouth, when the moon was either full or new, it conferred the power of divination, and this power lasted for one entire day. This virtue was not, however, altogether peculiar to the chelonia, for it was shared by several other substances; in each case the stone was to be placed in the mouth, thus coming into more immediate contact with the organs of speech, and stimulating to prophetic utterance. A later writer states that it was the uterine stone from the tortoise that gave the gift of prophecy. That from the head cured head-aches and averted lightning, while the stone taken from the liver, if administered in solution, was a remedy for ague.

The wild ass was another of the animals that furnished concretions prized for their talismanic and medicinal powers. That taken from the animal's head cured headache and epilepsy; that from the jaw made the owner indefatigable, so that he yielded to none in battle. It was also a remedy for ague and for the bites of venomous creatures, as well as a marvellously efficacious vermifuge for children. Very likely the story of Samson, who wrought such slaughter among the Philistines when armed with the jawbone of an ass, may have suggested the fancy that the concretion from the ass's jaw would give victory to the wearer.

Pliny notes the opinion that a stone taken from the body of a young swallow, if worn attached to the human body, helps to strengthen the brain, and he adds that the stone is said to be found in the young bird even when it has just broken the shell. According to Thomas de Cantimpre the swallow stone is a talisman for merchants and tradesmen. The merits of the chelidonius, as this stone was called, were fully recognized in Saxon England and are given due prominence in an Anglo-Saxon medical treatise, dating from the first half of the tenth century. When these "swallow-stones" had been obtained they were to be carefully protected from contact with water, earth, or other stones. To secure the best results three of them were to be applied to the person who stood in need of their remedial effects. Not only did they cure headache and eye-smart, but they banished the dreaded nightmare, rendered futile the wiles of goblin visitors, and dissolved all fascinations and enchantments. The seekers after these wonderful stones are stoutly assured that they can only be found in "big nestlings."

The aetites (eagle-stone) is first mentioned by Pliny who states that it was found in the nests of eagles of a certain species, and adds that some called this stone gangites. Fire had no power over it and it was a useful remedy for many diseases. Its special virtue, however, was to prevent abortion, this use being suggested by the character of the stone itself, which "was as though pregnant, for when it was shaken another stone rattled within it, as though in a womb." The curative virtues of the aetites, like that of the swallow-stone, only existed when the stone was taken from the bird's nest. This was probably a story told by the vendors of such geodes to enhance the value of their wares, although there may have been some foundation for it in folklore.

They are really hollow concretions of an iron stone, containing a piece of loose iron or hardened sand, or a concretion of some kind that rattles, and is called by the Italians bambino or "babe." Such concretions are found at many places on every continent, many fine ones having been found in Delaware. They vary in size from one to six inches across. The small ones of a hard, smooth exterior that have become polished from wear, are especially valued as charms.


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