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Scottish Charms and Amulets

That certain stones possessed curative properties of an occult nature was formerly the common belief of the people throughout Scotland, and even at this day is not quite extinct among us. With the exception of the crystal balls already described, the greater number of these curing-stones are merely naturally-formed pebbles, such as may be found in the bed of any stream, or picked up on the sea-shore. Some of these curing-stones are known by name, and have acquired a more than local celebrity from their association with particular individuals. Of these the chief is the Curing-Stone of St Columba, the virtues of which have been recorded by Adamnan as follows:-

Curing-Stone of St Columba.—" About the same time the venerable man, from motives of humanity, besought Broichan the Druid to liberate a certain Scotic female slave, and when he very cruelly and obstinately refused to part with her, the saint then spoke to him to the following effect:—‘ Know, O Broichan, and be assured, that if thou refuse to set this captive free, as I desire thee, that thou shalt die suddenly before I take my departure again from this province.’ Having said this in presence of Brude, the king, he departed from the royal palace and proceeded to the river Nesa (the Ness); from this stream 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 among this heathen nation.’

"Having thus spoken, he instantly added, ‘Broichan is chastised grievously at this moment, for an angel being sent from heaven, and striking him severely, hath broken into many pieces the glass cup in his hand from which he was drinking, and hath left him gasping deeply for breath, and half dead. Let us await here a short time, for two of the king’s messengers, who have been sent after us in haste, to request us to return quickly and help the dying Broichan, who, now that he is thus terribly punished, consenteth to set the girl free.’

"Whilst the saint was yet speaking, behold there arrived, as he had predicted, two horsemen, who were sent by the king, and who related all that had occurred to Broichan in the royal fortress, according to the prediction of the saint—both the breaking of the drinking goblet, the punishment of the Druid, and his willingness to set his captive at liberty; they then added, ‘The king and his friends have sent us to thee to request that thou wouldst cure his foster-father Broichan, who lieth in a dying state.’

"Having heard these words of the messengers, St Columba sent two of his companions to the king with the pebble which he had blessed, and said to them, ‘If Broichan shall first promise to set the maiden free, then at once immerse this little stone in water, and let him drink from it, and he shall be instantly cured; but if he break his vow, and refuse to liberate her he shall die that instant.’

"The two persons, in obedience to the saint’s instructions, proceeded to the palace, and announced to the king the words of the venerable man. When they were made known to the king and his tutor Broichan, they were so dismayed that they immediately liberated the captive, and delivered her to the saint’s messengers. The pebble was then immersed in water, and in a wonderful manner, contrary to the laws of nature, the stone floated on the water, like a nut or an apple, nor, as it had been blessed by the holy man, could it he submerged. Broichan drank from the stone as it floated on the water, and instantly returning from the verge of death, recovered his perfect health and soundness of body.

"This remarkable pebble, which was afterwards preserved among the treasures of the king, through the mercy of God effected the cure of sundry diseases among the people, while it in the same manner floated when dipped in water. And what is very wonderful, when this same stone was sought for by those sick persons whose term of life had arrived, it could not be found. Thus on the very day on which King Brude died, though it was sought for, yet it could not be found in the place where it had been previously laid."

Curing-Stones of St Fillan.—In a niche in the wall of the mill at Killin, Perthshire, there are preserved a number of stones, which are locally known as the healing or curing stones of St Fillan, and considered to be efficacious in cases of insanity and rheumatism. The stones are merely small boulders of quartzite taken from the bed of the river, but are marked by small, shallow, rounded cavities on their faces. They are now known to be nothing more than the "socket stones in which the spindle of the upper millstone used to work before the introduction of the improved machinery." It is stated that a niche has always been made in the wall of the new mill which succeeded the old one down to the present day, as a resting-place for the stones; and that on the saint’s day in 1879, the villagers assembled and put clean straw under them. The precise manner in which the stones were used in effecting a cure is not clear, but it is stated that water poured over them was used by the patient—whether outwardly or inwardly is not known. A correspondent of the late Dr John Stuart, in a letter dated March 1865, also refers to the stones, and adds that each one "was supposed to have the power of healing a particular disease. The tradition of the country points them out as the identical stones blessed by the saint, and used for healing disease through so many centuries, almost to our own time. One was called the ‘heart stone,’ another the ‘thumb stone.’ "

In a paper communicated to the Society some years ago by the Rev. Dr Hugh Macmillan, the writer describes two curing-stones of white quartz which lie on a tombstone in an old burying-ground known as Cladh Davi, on the shore of Loch Tay. These curing-stones, like those at Killin already described, were also originally socket stones. Dr Macmillan says:—"These stones are said to cure pectoral inflammation when the water is applied to the nipples; and 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. In all likelihood the stones belong to the series which is carefully preserved in the modern mill at Killin, as relics of St Fillan. It is said that some of the stones in the collection at the mill were lost. In all likelihood the stones in Cladh Davi are the missing ones, though how or why or when they were brought to the latter spot there is no record to tell."

Curing-Stone of St Molio.—Martin is the only writer who describes this stone, which appears to have been held in great repute in Arran in his day for removing stitches from the sides of sick people, and for securing victory in battle to Macdonald of the Isles. The stone has now disappeared. Martin’s description is as follows:-

"I had like to have forgot a valuable Curiosity in this Isle, which they call Baul Muluy,’ i.e. Molingus his Stone Globe: this Saint was Chaplain to Mack-Donald of the Isles; his Name is celebrated here on the account of this Globe, so much esteem’d by the Inhabitants. This Stone for its intrinsick value has been carefully transmitted to Posterity for several Ages. It is a green Stone much like a Globe in Figure, about the bigness of a Goose-Egg. The Vertue of it is to remove Stitches from the sides of sick Persons, by laying it close to the Place affected; and if the Patient does not out-live the Distemper, they say the Stone removes out of the Bed of its own accord, and è contra. The Natives use this Stone for swearing decisive Oaths upon it. They ascribe another extraordinary Vertue to it, and ‘tis this: The credulous Vulgar firmly believe that if this Stone is east among the Front of an Enemy, they will all run away; and that as often as the Enemy rallies, if this Stone is east among them, they still lose Courage, and retire. They say that Mack-Donald of the Isles carried this Stone about him, and that Victory was always on his side when he threw it among the Enemy. The Custody of this Globe is the peculiar Privilege of a little Family called Clan-Chattons, alias MackIntosh; they were antient Followers of Mack-Donald of the Isles. This Stone is now in the Custody of Margaret Miller, alias Mack-Intosh: she lives in Baellmianich, and preserves the Globe with abundance of care; it is wrapped up in fair Linen Cloth, and about that there is a piece of Woollen Cloth, and she keeps it still look’d up in her Chest, when it is not given out to exert its qualities."

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