The Magic of Jewels and Charms
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
By George Fedrick Kunz
On the Virtues of Fabulous Stones, Concretions, and Fossils Page 173 - 200
ON THE VIRTUES OF FABULOUS STONES 173
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
A passage in the treatise on stones by Theophrastus, pupil of Aristotle, might seem to indicate that the aetites was
already known in the third century b.c. The words he employs are as follows: "The most astounding and greatest
power of stones (if indeed this be true) is that of bearing progeny." As both Pliny and Dioscorides name this stone or geode and fully describe its character, laying especial stress upon the loose, rattling material enclosed in its hollow
interior, this fact giving rise in later time to the half -poetic
33 Naturalis historia," lib. x, cap. 4, and lib. xxx, cap. 44.
name of "the pregnant stone," there is every reason to believe that it was already known of three or four, or even
more centuries before their time.33
Marbodus of Eennes calls this stone "the guardian and defender of nests. 34 Enclosing as it did one or more smaller stones, it was thought to be symbolically designated as an aid to parturition. According as it was attached to the left
arm or to the left thigh, it either retarded or accelerated the natural processes. This, however, by no means
exhausted the virtues of the stone, for when worn on the left arm of man or woman, it conferred sobriety, increased
riches, and moved the wearer to love; it also brought victory and popularity, and preserved children from harm. In
addition to all its other powers this stone seems to have possessed a certain detective quality, to judge from the
following words of Aetius, who wrote in the sixth century a.d.: 35
The aetites serves to discover thieves, if anyone places it in the bread which they eat; for whoever has committed a theft is unable to consume the bread. It has also been stated that, if cooked with any kind of food, the aetites
unmasks thieves, since they cannot eat such food. If taken with wax from Cyprus, with fresh olive oil, or with any
other ealef acient, this stone greatly helps those suffering from rheumatism and paralysis.
The loose, enclosed concretion was named in Latin callimus, and we have a detailed description from the sixteenth century of one of these, which belonged to Georgius Fabricius. Because of its curious markings he had it set on a
pivot in a ring, so that both sides of the stone could be easily seen. The material was in part as clear as a
rock-crystal, evidently a very translucent chalcedony, but the
33 Theophrasti, "De lapidibus" (Peri lithOn), ed. by John Hill, London, 1746, p. 16; cap. 10; see Hill's note,
34 Marbodei, loc. cit.
35 Aetii, Tetrabiblos, Basilese, 1542, p. 77.
chief interest centred in the images or figures traced by nature upon the stone. These showed what seemed to be two forms, one of a cowled monk, and the other that of a tall, beardless man;
there was also a third, showing an undefined form. On the under side of this
callimus was marked the outline of a crescent moon.36
A seventeenth-century writer, not otherwise uncritical, does not hesitate to
declare that he had himself witnessed, in the case of a fig-tree, an instance
of the special power exercised by the cetites. One of these stones having
been attached to this tree, all the fruit dropped off in the space of ten hours,
although the tree had apparently lost nothing of its vigor, its foliage
remaining as luxuriant as before.37
An old treatise on the aetites gives the following names as applied to it in
various languages: 38
Italian: Aquilina, pietra d'aquila, pietra aquiliua, ethite.
French: Pierre de I'aigle.
Spanish: Piedra de I'aguila.
Polish: Orlovi Kamyen.
English : Eagle-stone.
riemish: Adelersteen, arensteen.
Arabic: Hager achtamaeh.
36 Conradi Gesneri, "De flguris lapidum," Tiguri, 1565, pp. 142, 143; with figures of ring. Pliny already mentions the callimus, "Naturalis hlstoria," lib. xxxvi, cap. 39.
37 Bauschii, " De lapide setite," Lipsise, 1665, p. 64.
38 Ibid., p. 9.
Syriac: Abno dneshre.
Chaldaie: Abno dineshar, or abno denishra.
Hebrew: 'Eben ha-nosher.
Some said that this stone might be found not only in the eagle's nest, but also in that of the stork. This idea was,
however, entirely erroneous in Bausch's opinion, for though he had caused diligent search to be made by all those
who encountered such nests, no "eagle-stone" could ever be found. To the supposed ''stork-stones'' had been given
the name lychnites, as they were believed to be luminous, their light serving to frighten off any snakes which might
be seeking the new-laid eggs.39
Bausch enumerates and rejects a number of explanations to account for the supposed presence of the aetites in the
nests of eagles. One theory was that these stones served to give stability to the nest, and enabled it better to resist
the assaults of the wind; others asserted that the coolness of the stones lowered the unduly high temperature of the eggs and of the parent bird's body; others again were inclined to attribute to them a mysterious formative and
vivifying power exerted on the eggs, or else a talismanic power protecting these from injury. While rejecting all these notions, as we have stated, and indeed denying the truth of the assertion that such stones were ever found in eagles' nests, Bausch cites the authority of St. Jerome, in his commentary on Isaiah, chap. Ixvi, that the amethyst had been found with the young of the eagle, being placed with them in the nest to protect them from venomous creatures.40
That the ''eagle-stones'' were not always hollow is shown by a specimen owned in the eighteenth century by the
English family Postlethwayte. This was solid, and had been cut into the shape of a heart, a hole being pierced at the
39 Ibid., pp. 9, 10.
40 Ibid., pp. 11, 12,
upper end so that the stone could be worn suspended. In a curious letter written April 25, 1742, by Martha
Postlethwayte, sister of Sir Thomas Gooch, who successively presided over the episcopal sees of Bristol, Norwich
and Ely, to her daughter Barbara Kerrick, the writer advises her correspondent, in order to avoid a repetition of
former misadventures, to "wear the eagle-stone and take Mrs. Stone's receit,'' and adds: "I hope it may have good effect and make me a good grandmother." The result was favorable, and must naturally have affirmed the faith in the powers of the stone.41
An inventory of the furniture, plate, jewels, etc., of Charles V of France, made in 1379,42 describes two stones
preserved in a case of cypress-wood which the king always carried about with him. One of these was called the
"holy stone" and aided women in childbirth. This was probably an "eagle-stone." It was set in gold and the setting
was adorned with four pearls, six emeralds and two balas-rubies.
The other stone, which cured the gout, was an engraved gem bearing the figure of a king and an inscription in
Hebrew characters. This description suggests one of the Gnostic gems so common in the early Christian centuries.
The gem was suspended from a silver cord, so that it could be worn on the neck, or perhaps attached to some other
part of the body. We find in the comptes royaux of 1420 an electuary composed of powdered precious stones, for the cure of the infirmities of Isabel of Bavaria, who was fifty years old and had been for several years obese and a valetudinarian.73
In some parts of the Orient the superstitious notion exists that the cetites occasionally emits a wailing sound during
the night, and this is said to be either an expression of the
71 Albert Hartshorne, F.S.A., in Proceedings of Society of Antiquaries of London, Sec. Series, vol. xxii, p. 517,
May 27, 1909.
72 MS. 8356 of the Bibliotheque Nationale, f . LXXII, verso.
73 F. de Mely La Grande Encyclopedie, vol. xxvi, p. 884. 12
birth-pangs of the mother stone, or else the cry of its newborn offspring, the small stones enclosed within the geode,
for the story goes that each night some of these are generated.44
These "eagle-stones" still retain their repute in Italy, where they are called pietre gravide, or "pregnant stones,"
and are considered by many of the peasants as almost indispensable aids to parturition. They are in such demand
that the lucky owners rent them for the nine months during which they are worn. As soon as one case has been
happily concluded, the amulet is passed on to some other woman who is in need of it. A fee of five lire, or one dollar,
is paid in each case, and a pledge worth a hundred lire ($20) is required before the stone is handed over. Some
amulets of this class bear Christian symbols.45
Geodes of this description consisting of limonite are to be found in many places. Some of them are of relatively
recent formation, and one of these shows curiously enough that in addition to its other virtues the aetites can on occasion perform the functions of a savings-bank. This strange specimen was found in 1846, at Perigueux,
department Dordogne, France. On opening the geode there appeared within some 200 silver coins dated in the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; all of these were encrusted with the material forming the enclosing mass.46
Long, white, rough stones, calcareous shell growths, were sometimes taken from snails and cockles. These were
believed to have a marked diuretic action, and were therefore strongly recommended for certain diseases of the kidneys and the bladder. They were also believed to be helpful in
43 Julius Euska, "Das Steinbuch des Aristoteles," Heidelberg, 1912, p. 4, citing Petermann, "Eeisen im Orient,"
vol. ii, p. 132.
44 Bellucci, "II feticismo in Italia," Perugia, 1907, p. 94, note. (Figures on pp. 94 and 95.)
45 Lacroix, "Mineralogie de la France," Paris, 1893-1910, vol. lii, p. 399.
cases of difficult parturition. Although no details are given, it seems most probable that the stones were reduced to a
powder from which some sort of potion was concocted, 47 this having no more action than so much ground shell or
The alectorius or "cock-stone" is one of the most famous of those real or supposed animal concretions that were
known in ancient times. From the age of Pliny — and unquestionably long before his time — there was a popular
belief that this stone was only to be found in the gizzard of a cock which
had been caponed when three years old, and had lived seven years longer.
This was believed to allow the substance to acquire its boasted virtue, for
the longer it remained in the body of the capon, the greater its power.
Such a ''cock-stone'' never exceeded the size of a bean.
From its association with the pugnacious fowl, the alectorius became a
favorite stone with wrestlers, and the great and invincible Milo of Croton
is said to have owed many of his victories to the possession of one, for if
held in the mouth, it quenched the thirst and thus refreshed the combatant.
Many other virtues of this stone are recorded; it rendered wives agreeable
to their husbands, dissolved enchantments, brought new honors and
powers in addition to those already enjoyed, arid helped kings to acquire
How persistent was the faith in the virtue of the alectorius is shown by
the fact that the great astronomer Tycho Brahe
47 Lemnii, " De miraculis naturae," Francofurti, 1611, p. 213.
greatly valued a stone of this kind, not larger than a bean, and believed that it brought him luck in gambling and in
love. Thomas de Cantimpre48 says that the name signifies an allurer or enticer, because the stone excites the love of husbands for their wives.49 In order to secure the due effect it should be held in the mouth, possibly because this
would render the wife less eloquent.
A specimen of the alectorius is listed in the inventories of Jean Due de Berry (1401-1416). It is called there a
"capon-stone" and is described as having red and white spots. Several other objects to which talismanic virtues were ascribed are also noted, such, for instance, as the
Alectorius. From Mercati's "Metallotheca Vaticana," Rome, 1719.
"molar of a giant," set in leather; probably the tooth of a hippopotamus, or the fossil tooth of some antediluvian
creature. There is also what is termed a ''tester,'' composed of several "serpent's teeth" (glossopetrae?) , horns of
the "unicorn" (narwhal's teeth) and stones regarded as antidotes to poison. These were all suspended by golden
chains, and were valued at seventy-five livres toumois.50
As a companion piece to the "cock-stone," the hen furnished a concretion possessing special virtues. This came from the fowl's gizzard and was of a sky-blue color; its
48 In Konrad Von Megenberg's version, "Buch der Natur," ed. by Dr. Franz Pfeiffer, Stuttgart, 1861, p. 435.
49 The writer erroneously derives the name from the Latin verb alleotare, the true derivation being from the Greek a cock.
50 Guiffrey, " Inventaires du Due de Berry," vol. i, p. 166.
Arabic name was hajar al-hattaf. If it were worn by an epileptic, the attacks of his malady would cease; it favored
procreation and also nullified the effects of the Evil Eye, and it kept children from having bad dreams if placed
beneath their heads when they were sleeping. Thus the effects it was fancied to produce differed from those ascribed
to the alectorius.51
In medieval times bunches of dried "serpent's tongues" were sometimes hung around salt-cellars or attached to
spits; but frequently, for royal or princely use, such tongues, or the jawbones of snakes, were set with valuable
precious stones and constituted a peculiar jewel termed in old French a languier, or epreuve (tester); for these
utensils, often very rich and tasteful specimens of the goldsmith's art, were believed to show in some way the
presence of the much-dreaded poison in any viands with which they were brought in contact.52
The Indians and Spaniards in South America made remedial use of a stone said to be obtained from the cayman or alligator, at Nombre de Dios, Cartagena, etc. This was employed as a cure for various intermittent fevers. Monardes writes that he applied two of these lapides caymanum to the temples of a young girl suffering from an attack of
fever, and found that the fever was alleviated thereby; but he doubts that fevers could be entirely cured by this
From New Spain was also brought the lapis manati, taken from the manatee, or sea-cow. This does not appear
51 Julius Ruska, "Das steinbuch aus der Kosmographie des Muhammad ibn Mahmud al-Kazwini," Beilage to
the Jahresberieht of the Oberrealschule, Heidelberg, 1895-96, p. 15.
52 Chabceuf " Charles le Temeraire a Dijon," 1474 ; in Mem. de la Soc. burg. geog. et hist., vol. xviii, p. 137.
53 Monardes, " Semplicium medicamentorum ex novo orbe delatorum historia " (Latin version by Clusius),
Antverpise, 1579, p. 51.
to have been a stone, but rather the cochleae of the animal, the small bones in the head which transmit the
auditory-vibrations to the sensorium. They were highly valued by the Indians for their remedial action in cramps and colic, and the Spaniards collected them and brought them to Spain to enrich their very miscellaneous pharmacopoeia. Sometimes they were taken internally, but often they were set in rings or worn suspended from the neck as amulets. This stone, or bone, is described as oval in shape and of a hue
Lapia manati. From Valentini's "Muaeum Museorum, oder Vollstandige Schau-Buhne," Frankfurt am Main, 1714.
resembling that of ivory. When pulverized and dissolved, the solution was odorless and tasteless. They are in size
often as large as a woman 's clinched fist.54
The ear-bones of fish, almost invariably in pairs, are still used as amulets in Spain and Italy. One of their chief
virtues is to protect children from the Evil Eye, as well as
54 Valentini, "Museum museorum, oder Vollstandige Schau-Buhne," Frankfurt am Main, 1714, Bk. Ill, cap. 27,
§§ 1, 4.
from accidents of any kind. They are also believed to preserve the wearer from deafness or diseases of the ear.55
This is quite in accord with the primitive fancy that the different parts of the animal body had prophylactic or
curative powers in. relation to any disease of that portion of the human body.
Even the spider was supposed to produce a stone having remedial power, especially that variety called by the
Ger- mans Kreuzspinne ("cross-spider"). The belief was general in Germany, in the sixteenth century, that it was
very unlucky to injure one of these spiders; indeed, Encelius writes that although he
had never seen a "spider-stone," he had never dared to dissect one of the spiders
to seek for the stone. He also remarks that it was in no wise strange this should
have such power, since spider-webs were used as remedies for many diseases.
Naturally enough the 'spider-stone" was an antidote against poisons, and a belief
was current that in a year when the plague was raging no Kreuzspinne was to be seen.56
An attempt to induce one of these spiders to secrete or produce its stone or calculus is
told by Simon Paulli. On his return from France in 1630, he stopped for the summer with
his revered master, Sennart, at Wittenberg, in order to pursue his studies. One day they
found by chance that an enormous spider had wandered into the rain-water holder, and
the extraordinary size of the creature — it was as big as a muscat nut — suggested the
idea of making it the subject of experiment. It was therefore put into a glass jar
55 W. L. Hildburgh, "Further Notes on Spanish Amulets," in Folk Lore, Vol. xxiv. No. 1, p. 70, March 31, 1913. Sec. Plate I, Fig. 27.
56 Encelii, "De re metallica," Francofurti, 1557, p. 219. 1
with a quantity of powdered valerian root, this material (or salt) being reputed to have a favorable influence in the
production of the stone. However, the experimenters were doomed to disappointment, for the poor spider was unable
to live up to its reputation. Tired of waiting for nothing, recourse was finally had to the drastic measure of dissection,
but no stone of any kind could be found. This convinced the observers that all the talk about spiders' stones was
mere foolishness or deception. In a note in the Miscellanea Curiosa, under date of 1686, the statement is made that such stones could indeed be found, but only in the autumn season and in no other part of the year.57
A small golden amulet, having the form of a heart and set with various stones, was strongly recommended to ward off the plague by Oswald Croll, a writer of the early part of the seventeenth century. On the upper side of the
heart-amulet should be set a fair blue sapphire; above, beneath, and at either side of this should be put a toad-stone,
or a "spider-stone," so as to give a cross effect. The "spider-stones" were asserted to be powerful enemies of the plague.
On the under side of the heart a good-sized jacinth was to be set, the jacinth also being credited with great virtue against plague or pestilence. The gold heart was to be hollow within. To give a finishing touch to the efficacy of the
amulet it was necessary to take a living toad and keep the creature suspended by its hind-legs until it died and dried
up so that the body could be reduced to a powder. This powder was then to be kneaded into a sort of paste with a
little very sharp vinegar and introduced into the hollow interior of the gold heart.58
The "fretful porcupine" also contributed its stone to the
57 See text in Axel Garboe's "Kulturhistoriske Studier over Edelstene," Kjbenhavn og Kristiana, 1915, p. 56, note from Simon Paulli, "Quadripartitum botanicum," Argentorati, 1667, p. 163.
58 Oswaldus Crollius, " Basilica chymica," Frankfurt, 1623, p. 213.
series of concretions ; this was usually found in the animal's head, and was considered to be even superior to the
bezoar as an antidote against poison. If steeped in water for a quarter of an hour, the water became so bitter that
"there was nothing in the world more bitter.'' Another stone supposed to be found in the animal's entrails possessed
like properties, but was said to lose none of its weight when placed in water, while the first-mentioned stone became
lighter. Tavernier bought three of these stones, paying as much as five hundred crowns for one of them.59
A jewel made of ambergris, in the J. Pierpont Morgan collection, is said to be the only specimen of its kind that has
been preserved for us from medieval times. The perfumed material has been skilfully carved into the symbolic
figures of a woman and three children. At one time believed to symbolize Charity, the later theory is that these
figures have a less pure significance and rather denote the reproductive energies, for ornaments of this material
were credited with aphrodisiac powers; however, they were also believed to cure stomachic disorders. The delicate perfume they exhaled was one of their chief titles to admiration, and after the lapse of more than three centuries, this particular jewel still emits a fragrant aromatic odor when it has been held for some time in a warm hand. The style of
the workmanship indicates that this is a piece of cinquecento Italian work. It was at one time in the Wencke
Collection, in Hamburg, and later formed part of the Spitzer Collection, until the sale of the latter in 1893.60
While many of the reports of the finding of immense masses of ambergris (in one the weight of the mass is given as three thousand pounds) may be classed as at least highly
59 "Les six voyages de Jean Baptists Tavernier," Pt. II, Paris, 1678, p. 470; liv. ii, chap. 24.
60 Williamson, "Catalogue of the Collection of Jewels and Precious Works of Art, the Property of J. Pierpont
Morgan," London, 1910, pp. 12-14.
improbable, still there is abundant unmistakable evidence that very large pieces have really occasionally been found.
In Eome and in the Santa Casa of Loreto costly and artistically shaped pieces of ambergris were to be seen, which
clearly indicated that the weight of the original unworked mass must have greatly exceeded that of the ornamental
object. There can be no doubt of the authenticity of the details regarding a great piece of ambergris weighing 182
pounds bought in the year 1693 from King Fidori by the Dutch East India Company for 11,000 rigsdalers or nearly
$12,000 at the current valuation of the coin of that time. In form it resembled a tortoise-shell, was 5 feet 8 inches
thick, and 2 feet 2 inches long. After being long kept in Amsterdam as a curiosity, and having been viewed there by thou- sands of persons, it was finally broken up and sold at auction.61 A lump extracted from a whale in the Windward
Islands weighed 130 pounds and was sold for $3500, or nearly $27 a pound.
The livers of certain animals provided concretions called haraczi by the Arabs; these were much used as remedies
for epilepsy. The Turkish butchers, when slaughtering animals, always examined the livers carefully so as to secure
these stones. As the Jews were said to suffer much from melancholia and epileptic disorders they valued the
liver-stones very highly.62
The use of fossils as talismans and for the cure of diseases was mainly due to their strange and various forms.
As color played the most important part in the case of precious stones, each color being looked upon as possessing a certain symbolic significance fitting the stone for some special use or uses, so in the case of fossils the form was
61 Caspar Neumann, "Disquisitio de ambra grysea" Dresden, 1736, pp. 80, 81.
62 Gimma, "Delia storia naturale delle gemme," Napoli, 1730, vol. i, p. 479.
the determining factor. Sometimes it was as the form of some creature held by the superstitious to be particularly
endowed with mysterious qualities beneficial to mankind, at other times the fossil form suggested some part of the
human body, and was therefore believed to afford protection to this part, or to cure any disease affecting it. This will
be made clearer by a brief notice of some of the principal fossils which were favored in ancient and medieval times,
either by popular superstition or by those who from interested motives made use of these superstitions for the
purpose of gain, although they may have only half believed in the real virtue of the objects they sold.
The remedial quality of fossils, which were believed to have been formed from
shells and marine animals deposited during the deluge, is ascribed by
Mentzel to the fact that they had been produced by the action of fire, and
hence had the same quality as though prepared and calcined by the
chemist's art. They were therefore believed to have great medicinal virtues
in the cure of diseases.63
The lapis Judaious64 is described as of oval form, in shape like an olive, and
sometimes provided with a stem at the upper part as though it had grown on
a tree. The stone was soft and friable and in color either white or grayish.
The "male" variety had several rows of equidistant spines, while the
"female" was quite smooth. The description and the figured
representations of the lapis Judaicus show that it was a form of pentremite
— that is, a form of crinoid. This fossil, which was said to come from Syria
and Palestine, was taken in solution as a remedy for calculus.
The larger, male
63 Christiani Mentzelii, "Lapis Bononensis," Bilefeldiae, 1675, p. 47.
64 Mercati, "Metallotheca Vaticana," Romae, 1719, p. 227.
stones, were regarded as the better for renal calculus and the smaller, female stones, for vesical calculus. Hence this
fossil was sometimes called tecolithos, from to dissolve, and stone.65 Pliny also states that this
name was applied to certain concretions found in sponges and supposed to possess similar virtues.66 Of the remedial use of this stone, or fossil, Galen states that when prescribed for vesical calculi, it was pulverized in a mortar, and the
powder being mixed with water, three glasses of the solution were given. He adds, however: " I must say that as far
as I have seen they have no effect, but they are efficient in the case of renal calculi." 67
No fossils were more prized than the so-called glossopetrae or "tongue-stones." Although these were really the
fossilized or petrified teeth of a species of shark, Pliny and
64 Plinii, " Historia Naturalis,'' lib. xxxvii, cap. 68.
65 Ibid., lib. xxxvi, cap. 35. See also Dioscorides V, 155 ; Etius II, 19.
67 Claudii Galeni, "Opera Omnia," ed. Kuhn, Lipsise, 1826, vol. xii, p. 199. De simplic. med., lib. vii, cap. 2.
his sources believed them to be meteorites, which "fell from the sky when the moon was waning." This was, indeed,
a prevalent fancy regarding all dart-shaped, pointed or sharpened fossils, or flints. Because of this celestial origin,
the glossopetrce were said to control the winds and even to affect the motions of the moon. At a later time the chief
source of supply for these petrified teeth was the island of Malta, and they were therefore sometimes called Ungues
Melitenses, or Maltese tongues; the Germans named them Steinzungen, or "stone-tongues." According to popular
belief these so-called Maltese tongues were petrified snakes ' tongues and they were brought into connection with
the miraculous adventure of St. Paul on the island of Malta, when he shook off a viper that had fastened on his hand, and sustained no injury from the bite (Acts, xxviii, 3-5). This was taken to signify that the poison had been
taken from all the snakes on the island.68
The material called "St. Paul's Earth," said to be derived from "St. Paul's Cave," in the island of Malta, was
reduced to a fine powder and made into tablets. These were stamped with the Maltese cross ; sometimes on the opposite side some other figure was impressed. As there was temptation to sell other material for the genuine, the purchaser was warned to be on his guard. The virtues of this powder — which was dissolved in wine or water — were numerous, and were the same as those ascribed to the "tongues" (glossopetrae) and to the "eyes"; for it was
believed to be an antidote for poisons, cured the bites of venomous creatures, and remedied many other ills. The
''eyes '' were set in rings so that the material touched the wearer's skin; the "tongues" were worn attached to the
arm or suspended from the neck.
Sometimes vessels were made from the earth. These were
68 Valentini, "Museum museorum, oder Vollstiindige Schau-Buhne," Frankfurt am Main, 1714, lib, i, cap. 24, § 2.
filled with wine or water, the liquid being allowed to stand until it had absorbed the virtues of the earth; it was then
taken as a potion with good effects. The "tongues" and "eyes" were often dipped in wine or water and were
supposed to transmit their curative powers to the liquid.69
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a strange belief was prevalent among the ignorant to the effect that the fossil
sharks-teeth, the ''tongue-stones,'' were the teeth of witches who sucked the blood of infants; these "vampires" were
called lamias in ancient times.''70 Probably the fact that a certain species of shark bore the name lamia gave rise to
this idea, which was therefore merely due to a confusion of names. Nevertheless we can easily understand that this
popular belief added to the repute of the glossopetrae, for the more dreaded the object the greater the power it was credited with possessing. In the seventeenth century De Laet (d. 1649), the Dutch naturalist and geographer,
received in Leyden certain glossopetrae sent him by a friend in Bordeaux, who wrote that they would cure any one suffering from soreness of the mouth, whether this were the result of having eaten impure food, or were produced by some derangement of the secretions. The "tongues" were to be dipped in spring water and would cause bubbles to
form therein; as soon as these disappeared, the water was to be used as a gargle, and the mouth was to be washed
with it two or three times. De Laet's friend assured him that this treatment would cure the disorder in twenty-four
A seventeenth-century amulet of a fossil shark's tooth, mounted in silver and found in an excavation at Salzburg,
Austria, was among the objects exhibited by the writer for the New York branch of the American Folk-Lore Society, in
69 Museum Wormianum/' Lug. Bat., 1655, pp. 7-9.
70 Aldrovaudl, "Museum metallieum," Bononite, 1648, lib. iv, cap. 10, p. 600.
71Museum Wormianum," Lug. Bat., 1655, p. 65.
the Department of Ethnology of the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, in 1893. They are frequently found at
Lake Constance but are from the ancient fossiliferous formations and not from the lake. They are often sold as amulets.
Fossils whose form suggested that of a more or less acutely pointed shaft, were thought to possess special powers, sometimes offensive as against enemies, and again defensive for the protection
of the wearer. Thus the belemnites,72 considered to represent the form of a dart,
when dissolved and taken as a potion, were said to prevent nightmare and to
guard against enchantments. They are often either ash-colored or whitish, and
sometimes reddish-black. All these varieties were frequently found during the
sixteenth century in Hildesheim, and in the marble grotto near the castle of
Marienburg, called the "Dwarf's Grotto." 73
The umbilicus marinus, a fossil shell, which in form bore a great likeness to the
human navel, was called "sea-bean" by sailors. Usually of a pale saffron hue,
some specimens have a reddish or blackish tinge. In the sixteenth century it was
believed to have astringent properties. We are also told that women used
it as one of the ingredients of a cosmetic for whitening the complexion.74
72 This is the fossilized horny part of the tail of an extinct cuttlefish, and
numerous specimens have been found in the marl of New Jersey as well as in
many other places.
73 Gesneri, "De figuris lapidum," Tiguri, 1565, fol. 89, verso, 90, recto.
74 Mercati, " Metallotheca Vaticana," Romse, 1719, pp. 13S-139. Figure
on p. 138.
Certain echinites (fossil sea-urchins) found on the Baltic coast are called by the
peasants Adlersteine and Krallensteine ("eagle-stones" and "claw-stones"),
since they believe that while the substance was soft eagles had seized them with
their talons, thus producing the peculiar forms and markings. Whoever had a
fossil of this description on his table while a thunder-storm was raging ran no risk
of being struck by lightning 75
Reich describes another variety of echinite, which was popularly known as a "toad-stone," the specimen he
figures having been given him by a certain Johannis Krauss.
In this appeared some large cavities, whose presence Reich found it very difficult to explain, until Krauss
informed him that they had been made by a former owner of the fossil who had scraped out a few grains of the substance each year for medicinal use. He was persuaded that his long life — he attained the age of eighty-- was entirely owing to his employment of this remedy.76
The trochites and entrochus, named Raderstein, or "wheel-stone," by the Germans, are other fossils to which
remedial or talismanic virtue was accorded in popular fancy.
These "wheel-stones," while detachable, fitted as closely together in the original formation as though they had
been skilfully adjusted by a clever artisan.77 De Laet states that
when immersed in oil they gave forth bubbles and moved about spontaneously. Still another of these fossils believed
to be amulets was the enastros, which De Boot terms the asteria vera, or genuine asteria, since it not merely showed
a star-shaped marking as did the fossil coral bearing the name
75 Andree, "Ethnographische Parallelen und Vergleiche," New Ser., Leipzig, 1889, p. 33.
76 Eeichii, " Medicina Universalis" [Vratislavise, 1691], p. 76. Sea Fig. 4, opp. p. 72.
77 De Boot, "Gemmarum et lapidum historia.'' ed. Toll, Lug. Bat., 1647, p. 410; lib. ii, cap. ccxxvii, and also De Laet,
"De gemmis et lapidibus," Lug. Bat., 1647, p. 138.
astroites, but was shaped like a five-pointed star. As with the trochites, chains of these little stars were found, closely
joined together but separable from one another. Some called them "star-seals," because the stellar imprint was 13
sharp and clearly defined as though the work of an engraver or gem-cutter 78 These fossils are types of encrinites.
The sections of the stem-like fossils called entrochus by the older writers have been named St. Cuthbert's beads in
later times, while the fossil called lapis Judaicus has borne the name of "stone-lily," because in form it resembles the
lily. Ages ago the stem and flower-like head united consti-
78 Ibid., p. 300; lib. ii, cap. cxlviii. ~
tuted a crinoid (a marine zoophyte). These aquatic creatures — half -plant and half -animal — usually twine their
roots about some shell in the depths of the waters, but sometimes they become detached and then, moving their
delicate tentacles, they creep along the bottom of the sea.
In olden times parts, or segments, of an animal were worn as a
protection against harm from that particular creature,
or else to endow the wearer with some of its real or fancied
qualities. In modern times this tendency finds expression in the
wearing of jewels of animal form, wherein precious stones are
grouped and arranged so as to constitute different parts of the
creature's body. Such jewels are often looked upon as "mascots."
A peculiar fossil was known to the Germans by the name of
Mutterstein, and is called hysterolithus in the Latin treatises of
Agricola, De Boot, etc., a word of Greek derivation signifying the
resemblance of the object to an organ of the body. These fossils are
formed from the contents of certain shells, and retain the shape of
the enclosing shell, which has broken away.
Some of these formations were called enorchi from a fancied
resemblance to another organ and were regarded as phallic
emblems, while others were thought to figure the heart, especially
large specimens being named hucar-
dites, or "ox-hearts." This name is already employed by Pliny.
The hysterolithus was used to cure various female diseases, and to the bucardites was accorded among other virtues that of increasing the wearer's courage.79 The hysterolithus is believed to be the same as the autoglyphus mentioned
by pseudo-Plutarch as having been found in the river Sagaris, in Asia Minor. Its peculiar shape was regarded as symbolizing Cybele, the mother of the gods, and the story ran that if one of the unfortunate male victims of Eastern jealousy should obtain a stone of this kind he
Types of Ombria (Fossil Sea Urchins). From Mercati's "Metallotheca Vaticana," Roms, 1719.
would become reconciled to his sad lot and would cease to regret his lost manhood.
If we were inclined to accord the title of precious stones to stones greatly esteemed for their talismanic virtues, a
high place in this category would be assigned to the salagrama-stone of the Hindus.80 Among the aboriginal
inhabitants of India this was regarded as a symbol of the female principle in nature, and of its representative the
goddess Prakrti, and in the later Hindu belief the stone was looked upon as the special emblem of the god Vishnu, the
"Preserver," the second personage of the Hindu Trimurti.
It is therefore ardently revered by those who are more espe-
79 Valentini, "Museum museorum, oder VollstSndige Schau-Buhne," Frankfurt am Main, 1714, vol. ii, p. 11.
80 See, in regard to this stone, Oppert, "Der Salftgrama-Stein," Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, XXXIV Jahrgang, Berlin, 1902, pp. 131-137.
cially devoted to the worship of Vishnu. These stones are fossil formations, either of ammonites or univalve mollusks
of a spiral order, and consist of a number of spirals sur- rounding a circular, central perforation. They are generally
the hardened filling of the shell itself, which has entirely weathered away. For the stone to be an effectual talisman,
the diameter of the perforation should not exceed one-eighth of the total diameter of the salagrama. The best specimens are said to be found in Nepal, on the upper course of the Gandaki, which flows into the Granges from the north, and is called the Salagrama Eiver, because the sacred stone is found in it.
There can be little doubt that we have here a substance similar to the fossils
described by Pliny and his successors under the names brontia, ombria,
ovum anguinum, and cornu ammonis, and it is most probable that in India, as in
Europe, these fossils were believed to have fallen from heaven, and were
associated with the thunder-bolt.
Hence they would be regarded by the Hindus as more especially sacred to
Vishnu, who was originally a divinity representing the various forms of light,
one of his manifestations being the lightning.
The salagramas must be carefully chosen, for not all of
them are luck-bringing, some being bearers of ill-fortune. A black salagrama
brings fame to the owner, and a red one, a crown; but one with an unduly large perforation would cause dissension
and strife in a family, one with irregularly formed spirals portends misfortune, and a brown one would bring to
pass the death of its owner's wife. Each faithful worshipper of Vishnu has one of these stones, but two may not be in
the same house. To give away a salagrama would
be equivalent to casting away every prospect of good- fortune. However, only one who belongs to the three highest
castes is entitled to become an owner of the sacred stone, in which the very spirit of Vishnu is supposed to dwell;
neither a Sudra nor a Pariah enjoys this privilege, which is also denied to women.
The salagrama is carefully wrapped in linen cloths, and must be often washed and perfumed. The water with which
it has been washed becomes a consecrated drink. The master of the house must adore the stone once each day,
either in the morning or in the evening. As the salagrama not only brings happiness in this world but also insures
felicity in the future world, it is held over the dying Hindu while water is allowed to trickle through the orifice. This
ceremony appears to have a certain analogy to the rite of extreme unction administered in the Catholic Church.
It is stated by Finn Magnusen that in Iceland, toward the beginning of the last century, he saw superstitious
peasants carefully guard small stones of peculiar appearance in pretty bags filled with fine flour. They treated these stones with great reverence and either wore them on their persons or placed them in their beds or other furniture.81
The fossils known as brontiae, ombriae and chelonites were all believed to be antidotes for poison and also to make
the wearer victorious over his enemies. Hence they were sometimes set in the pommels of swords. That these objects
were equally potent in peace, is shown by the fact that Danish peasant women placed them in their milk pails to ward
off the effects of any spell that might have been cast over the cow's milk by a malevolent witch.82
81 Magnusen, "Om en Steenring med Runenindakrift," Annaler for Nordisk Oldkyndighed, Copenhagen, 1838-1839,
82 Valentini, "Museum museorum, oder die vollstandige Schau-Bahne," Frankfurt am Main, 1714, vol. ii, p. 12.
David Reich notes the four kinds of astroites, or "victory stones," given by De Boot; the first, marked with small
stars; the second, with rose-like figures; the third, with wavy lines, like the convolutions of a worm; the fourth, with
obscure and indefinite markings. To these varieties Reich adds a fifth, the convex side of which was marked with
black crosses, while the other, flat side, showed larger crosses surrounded by circles; all these markings were so perfect that an artist could scarcely imitate them; this specimen he
had set, with other precious gems, in a silver cross, the flat side of the fossil, at the back of the cross, being covered
by a heart-shaped topaz.83 These were all specimens of fossil coral.
The saga of Dietrich of Bern relates of King Nidung that
83 Reieh, "Medicina universalis" [Vratislayiae, 1691], p. 75. See Fig. 3, opp. p. 72.
on the eve of a battle in which his forces were much inferior to those of the enemy, he was filled with despair to find
that he had left his "victory stone" in his castle, miles away from where he had pitched his tent. Overmastered by his
desire to regain possession of his stone at this critical time, Nidung offered a large sum of money and his daughter's
hand to anyone who would bring it to him before the battle began. The distance was so great and the time so short
that the task seemed utterly impossible, and a young esquire, Velint by name, was the only one willing to risk the
enterprise. He was favored in his quest by having a horse of wonderful strength and endurance, by whose help he
barely succeeded in making the long journey to the castle and returning in time. King Nidung, wearing his invincible
stone, was the victor in the battle, and he did not fail to carry out his rather rash promise.84
Amulets of fossil coral are freely used in Italy, especially in the province of Aquila, and are called "witch- stones"
(pietre stregonie). These are similar to one type of the ''asterias'' worn as amulets in ancient and medieval times.
Many of the Italian amulets are incised or engraved with Christian subjects, one figured by Bellucci bearing the head
of Christ on the obverse, and Christ on the cross on the reverse side; on others appears the image of the Virgin
Crystalline quartz will sometimes show a star either at base or apex, if cut en cabochon. This is due to the presence
of acicular crystals of rutile or to air spaces. Those specimens from Albany, Maine and other places present this
phenomenon, and Starolite and Astrolite or "star stone" has been suggested as an appropriate name for this variety.
84 Peringskiold, "Wilkina Saga eller historia om Konung Diedrich of Bern" Stockholmis, 1715, pp. 57, 58.
85 Bellucci, "II feticismo in Italia," Perugia, 1907, pp. 100-104.