The Magic of Jewels and Charms
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
By George Fedrick Kunz
Snake Stones and Bezoars Page 223 - 240
preserve its efficacy as a talisman, the finder had to catch it in a linen cloth before it fell to the ground. Such
''serpent's eggs" were in high favor with the Romans, who believed they procured for the wearers success in all disputes and the protection of kings. So great was the faith reposed in their magical virtues that Claudius is said to
have condemned to death a Roman knight, one of the Vecontii, simply because he had an ovum anguinum concealed
in his bosom when he appeared in court during the trial of a lawsuit in which he was involved. In order to enhance the value of this amulet, the story was circulated that great dangers were incurred in securing it; for the snakes pursued
any one who seized the egg and he could only escape by fording a river, across which they could not swim.37 In later accounts of this amulet it is described as a ring, sometimes composed of a blue stone with an undulating streak or
stripe of yellow, thought to represent a snake.
Certain so-called floating-stones have been found in a branch of Mann Creek, a tributary of the Weiser River, which flows into the latter near its confluence with the Snake River in Idaho.38 These are hollow quartz globes, with a shell
so thin that the air in the cavity more than makes up for the specific gravity of the quartz. Some formation similar to
this may possibly have been intended by Pliny in his description of the ovum aguinum or serpent's egg of the Druids, which floated if thrown into a stream, although it is perhaps more probable that these "serpent's eggs" were shells of the sea-urchin, as they are figured by De Boot and other writers.
The snake-stone, legends regarding which are met with in so many different parts of the world, is known to the Lapps
of northern Europe, and strange to say, some of the
37 Plinii, "Naturalis Historia," lib. xxix, cap. 12.
38 Kunz, Dept. of Mining Statistics.
elements of Pliny's old recital touching the ''serpent's egg" come out in the account given of it by this primitive race,
in general so far removed from any notion of classical tradition. Anyone in search of this stone must resort, according
to the Lapps, to the pairing place of snakes, for here they throw the stone, which is small and white, back and forth
to one another; he must steal along quietly until he is quite near to the snakes and then snatch the stone as it flies through the air, and run away with it as fast as he can to the nearest piece of water. Should he reach the water before the snake does— for the reptile pursues him— he gains the ownership of the stone; if, however, the snake first
reaches the water, this is very dangerous for the man.
Hence he should carefully search out the nearest water before snatching the stone, and as the snake will not
immediately know what has become of it, and will hunt for it awhile before starting in pursuit of the thief, the latter
will have time to come first to the water.39
Tertullian writes that the wearing of stones taken from the head of a dragon or of a serpent was especially
reprehensible in the case of a Christian; for how could a Christian be said to "bruise the head" of the Old Serpent
(Gen. iii, 15) while wearing such a stone about his neck or on his head, and thus testifying to a kind of serpent
The Greek poem "Lithica," belonging to the fourth century B.C., also celebrates the virtues of a "snake-stone,"
which is to be pressed closely on the bitten spot; but besides this application, the drinking of undiluted wine in which
the stone ostrites had been pulverized, is reconunended. This shows that the therapeutic value of alcohol as a stimulant to
39 Johann Turi, "Muittalus samid birra; en bog om Lappernas liv."; text, and Danish trans, by Emilie Demnant, Kjobenhavn, 1911, p. 184 (p. 62 of text) .
40 Tertullianl, "Opera Omnia," Parisiis, 1879, vol. i, col. 1425, De cultu feminarum.
revive the nerve-centres, paralyzed by the animal poison, was recognized at this time. An unusually precise
description is given of the ostrites; it was round, hard, black and rough, and was marked by many wavy lines or veins. Some one of the many varieties of banded agate seems to answer best to this description.41
The legend that St. Patrick drove out all snakes from Ireland sometimes took the form that the saint had transformed them into stones. This belief is noted by Andrew Borde, physician and ecclesiastic, who, writing in 1542,
mentions some strange stones he had been shown on that island:
I have sene stones the whiche have had the forme and shape of a snake and other venimous wormes. And the people
of the countrie sajrth that such stones were wormes, and they were turned into stones by the power of God and the prayers of sayth Patrick. And English merchauntes of England do fetch of the erth of Irlonde to caste in their
garden's, to keepe out and to kyll venimous wormes."
The legendary serpent-stone is usually one taken from the reptile's head, but Welsh tradition tells of one extracted
from the tail of a serpent by the hero Peredur, and having the magic property that anyone holding it in one hand would
grasp a handful of gold in the other. This stone was generously bestowed upon Etlym by the finder, who only secured
it after vanquishing the serpent in a dangerous conflict.43
The Snake-stone (or "mad-stone"), in Arabic ha jar al- hayyat, is described by the Arab writer Kazwini, as being of
the size of a small nut. It was found in the heads of certain snakes. To cure the bite of a venomous creature the
41 "Lithica," lines 336 sqq.
42 The fyrste hoke of the introduction of Knowledge made by Andrew Borde of Psysycke Doctore. Ed. by Furnival, London, 1870, p. 121. Early English Text Soc, Extra Series No. X.
43 Wirt Sikes, "British Goblins: Welsh Polk-lore, Fairy Myths, Legends and Traditions," London, 1880, p. 366. 15
injured part was to be immersed in sour milk, or in hot water, and when the stone was thrown into the liquid it would immediately attract itself to the bitten part and draw out the poison.44 The homeopathic idea plays a considerable
role in the superstitions of the Arabs of northern Africa.
To cure the bite or sting of the scorpion, the creature is to be crushed over the wound it has inflicted. If anyone is
bitten by a dog, he should cut off some of the animal's hair and lay this on the bitten part; if, however, the dog was
mad, it must be killed, its body opened and the heart removed. This is then to be broiled and eaten by the person who has been bitten.45
Many beautiful glass beads of Roman, or perhaps of British fabrication, have been found in Great Britain and
Ireland. Upon some of these are bosses composed of white spirals, the body of the bead being blue, red, yellow, or
some other brilliant color. These have been called "holy snake beads." Probably most of them are merely
ornamental productions and were not intended to represent serpent- stones. The curious test of the genuineness of
an ovum anguinum mentioned by Pliny, namely, that even if set in gold, it would float up a stream against the current, indicates a very porous structure; perhaps some of these serpent's eggs were hollow, vitrified clay balls with wavy
lines on the surface.
De Boot, in his treatise on stones and gems,46 figures the ovum anguinum, and says that its form was either
hemispherical or lenticular. In his opinion the name ''serpent 's egg" was given to the stone because on its surface
44 Julius Ruska, "Das Steinbuch aus der Kosmographie des Muhammad ibn Mahmud al-Kazwlnl," Beilage to the Jahresberichte of the Oberrealschule, Heidelberg, 1895-96, p. 15.
45 Edmond Doutte, "Magie et Religion," Alger, 1909, p. 145; quoting Largeau, " La Sahara algfirienne," p. 80.
46 "Gemmarum et lapidum historia," Lug. Bat., 1636, pp. 347-349.
there appeared five ridges, starting from the base and tapering off toward the top. These bore a certain resemblance
to a serpent's or adder's tail. The stone was believed to protect the wearer from pestilential vapors and from poisons.
The so-called "snake-stones," many specimens of which have been found in British barrows, bear in the Scottish
Lowlands the designation "Adder Stanes." They are also sometimes called adder-beads or serpent-stones. For the
Welsh they were gleini na droedh and for the Irish glaine nan druidhe, the meaning being the same, "Druid's glass."
Many interesting examples were added to the collection of the Museum of Scotch Antiquaries, one of these being of
red glass, spotted with white; another of blue glass, streaked with yellow; other types were of pale green and blue
glass, some of these being ribbed while others again were of smooth and plain surface. That the glass
"snake-stones" were objects of considerable care and attention is indicated by the mending of a broken specimen shown by Lord Landes- borough at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries in 1850.
This broken bead had been repaired and strengthened by the application of a bronze hoop.47
The supposed snake-stones are also to be found among the Comishmen, who sometimes call these objects milprey
or "thousand worms," and they even lay claim to the power of forcing a snake to fabricate the "stone" by thrusting a
hazel-wand into the spirals of a sleeping reptile. In another version it is not a bead that is formed but a ring which
grows around a hazel-wand when a snake breathes on it. If water in which this ring has been dipped be given to a
human being or an animal that nas been bitten by a venomous creature,
47 Daniel Wilson, "The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland," Edinburgh, 1851, pp. 303, 304. Two specimens figured on p. 304.
all ill-effects of the bite will be warded off, the water acting as a powerful antidote to the poison.48
The belief that the snake-stone of Welsh legend— in reality either a fossil or a bead — was evolved from the venom
or saliva ejected by a concourse of hissing snakes, gave rise to a peculiar popular saying among the Welsh to the
effect that people who are whispering together mysteriously, and apparently gossiping, or perhaps hatching some mischief, are "blowing the gem."49
Many of the glass beads known as "snake-stones" or "Druid's glass" are perforated, and this is fancifully explained
as being the work of one of the group of snakes which forms the bead. This particular snake thrusts its tail through
the viscous mass before it has become hardened into a glass sphere. In various parts of Scotland such beads are treasured up by the peasants; according to the testimony of an English visitor of 1699, who reports that they were
hung on children's necks as protection from whooping-cough and other children's diseases, and were also valued as talismans productive of good fortune and protective against the onslaught of malevolent spirits^ To guard one of
these precious beads from the depredations of the dreaded fairies the peasant would keep it enclosed in an iron box, this metal being much feared by the fairies.50
A type of snake-stone used in Asia Minor is described as being of a pearly white hue, rounded on one side, and flat
on the other. Toward the edge of the flat side runs a fine, wavy, bluish line, the undulations of which are fancied to
figure a serpent. The victim of a snake-bite first had the spot rubbed with some kind of sirup; then the stone was
47 John Brand, "Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain," London, 1849, vol. iii, p. 371.
48 Wirt Sikes, "British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Myths, Legends and Traditions," London, 1880, p. 360.
49 J. G. Frazer, "Balder the Beautiful," London, 1913, vol. i, p. 16.
applied to the bitten spot, and it would adhere to the inflamed surface for eight days ; at the expiration of this time it would fall off. The bite would be entirely healed and would not be followed by ill effects of any kind.51
A novel theory in regard to the formation of a type of snake-stones is given by an old Chinese writer. This is that
snakes, before they begin to hibernate, swallow some yellow earth and retain this in the gullet until they come forth again in the springtime, when they cast it forth. By this time the earth has acquired the consistency of a stone, the surface remaining yellow, while the interior is black. If picked up during the second phase of the moon this concretion was thought to be a cure for children's convulsions, and for gravel, and was powdered and given in infusion. The
infusion could also be applied with advantage externally to envenomed swellings.52
An old manuscript found in a manor house in Essex, England, contains a translation, made in 1732 by an Oxford
student, E. Swinton, of some details on the snake-stone, taken from a work published in the same year at Bologna by
Mcolo Campitelli. After noting that these stones came from the province of Kwang-shi in China and from different
places in India, their appearance and qualities are described.
In color they were almost black, some having pale gray or ash-color spots. The test of the genuineness of such a
stone was to apply it to the lips; if not a spurious one, it would cling so closely to the membrane that considerable
force must be exerted to separate it therefrom. The usual directions are given for its employment in the cure of snake
bites, but its usefulness by no means ended here; its curative power was also exhibited in the case of '' Scrophulous Erup-
51 Arakel, " Livre d'histoire," chap, liii; in Collection d'historiens armeniena, French transl. by M. Brosset, St. Petersburg, 1874, vol. i, p. 545.
52 F. de Mely, " Les lapidaires de I'antiquite et du moyen age," vol. iy " Les lapidaires chinois," Paris, 1896, pp.
tions and Pestilential Bubos," and it could be used in the treatment of malignant tremors, venereal disorders, etc.
"Witli the manuscript was found a specimen snake-stone.
This was described as being a thin oval body, about an inch in length and three-quarters of an inch broad; the color
was gray with light streaks, and the surface was bright and polished. It was of the consistency of horn, and the writer
of the note in the "Lancet" believes that it was part of a stag's antler or some similar substance, from which the
animal matter had been removed by the action of heat; many of the Oriental snake-stones are of this type, but, as we have already seen, a great variety of more or less porous materials have been and are still used in this way in
different parts of the world. A practical experiment was made in 1867 by Dr. John Schrott, who excited six cobras to
bite a number of pariah dogs. Without delay the snake-stones were applied to the wounds, but they proved absolute
failures, death resulting as speedily as though nothing had been done.53
Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the great Oriental traveller of the seventeenth century, gives the following description of
the ''snake-stones'' found in India: 54
Finally, I will mention the snake-stone, whicli is about the size of a doubloon, some approximating to an oval form,
being thicker in the middle and tapering toward the edges. The Indians say that it forms on the head of certain
snakes, but I rather believe that the priests of these idolators make them think this, and that this stone is a
composition of certain drugs. However this may be, it has great virtue to draw out all the poison, when anyone has
been bitten by a venomous creature. If the part that has been bitten has not been punctured, an incision must be
made, so that the blood can flow out, and when the stone has been applied, it does not fall off until it
has absorbed all the poison which gathers about it. To clean it, woman's milk is used, or should this be lacking, cow's milk, and after ten or twelve
53 "Account of the Snake Stone," in Lancet, vol. 177, London, July-Dec 1909, p. 1478.
54 " Les six voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier," Pt. II, Paris, 1678 pp 410 411; Bk. 11, ch. xxiv.
hours steeping, the milk which has drawn out all the poison takes on the color of pus. Having dined one day with the Archbishop of Goa, he took me into his museum, where he had several curious objects. Among other things he
showed me one of these stones, and having told me of its properties, he assured me that but three days before he had seen them tested, and presented the stone to me. As he was traversing a marsh on the Island of Salsate, whereon
Goa is situated, to go to a country house, one of those who bore his palanquin, and who was almost entirely naked,
was bitten by a snake and was immediately cured by this stone. I have bought several of them, and they are sold only
by the brahmins, which makes me think the brahmins themselves make the stones. There are two methods of testing
whether the stone is good or the product of some deception. The first of these tests is to place it in one's mouth, for then, if it be good, it springs up and cleaves to the palate; the second test is to place it in a glass full of water; if it is
not sophisticated, the water begins to seethe, small bubbles rising from the stone at the bottom to the surface of the water.
Thevenot, a French traveller who visited India in 1666, about the time Tavernier was there, asserts that the famous
"Stones of the Cobra" were manufactured in the town of Diu, in Guzerat, and that they were made "of the ashes of burnt roots, mingled with a kind of Earth they have, and were again burnt with that Earth, which afterwards is made
up into a Paste, of which these Stones are formed." After describing the process employed for cleaning the stones
after they had been used, Thevenot adds that if not freed from the absorbed venom the stones would burst.55
Dr. J. Davy examined and analyzed some of these "stones," and found one of them to be a piece of bone partially calcined. When applied to the tongue or to any other moist surface it adhered firmly. Another, which lacked all
absorbent or adhesive power, was said to have saved the life of four men. It therefore appears that while some of the
"snake-stones" really possessed some possible curative virtues, others were esteemed only because of a
55 " The Travels of M. de Thevenot into the Levant," London 1686, Pt. Ill, p. 32; Bk. I, chap. 18.
belief in their magical properties. Kaempfer, writing in 1712, informs us that these stones should always be used in
pairs, and applied successively to the wound.56 The belief in the efficacy of such stones is still general in India, and
one of the varieties is supposed to be found in the head of the adjutant bird.57
Francisco Redi 58 describes the extraordinary healing power attributed to stones obtained from the heads of certain serpents, called by the Portuguese "cobras de capello," found throughout Hindostan and Farther India. These stones are claimed to be an infallible remedy for the bites and stings of all kinds of venomous reptiles or animals, and
likewise for wounds made by poisoned arrows, etc. He repeats the usual tales of their adhering powerfully when
applied to the bite or wound, and clinging to it like a cupping-glass until they had absorbed all the poison, when they would fall off spontaneously, leaving the man or animal sound and free. Then follows the account of steeping the
stones in milk to remove the poison, the milk assuming a color between yellow and green. These wonderful stones
and the narrations concerning them had been brought to Italy by Catholic missionaries, who seemed to have entire
faith in their powers; so that Redi says they offered to prove the accounts by any number of experiments, such as
would satisfy the most incredulous, and prove to medical men that Galen was correct when he wrote (Chapter XIV, Book I) that certain medicines attract poison as the magnet does iron. For this purpose a search for vipers, etc., was recommended; but, owing to the season being later and colder than usual, none could at that time be obtained, as
56 Davy, "An Analysis of the Snake-stone," Asiatic Researches, vol. xiii, p. 318; Kaempfer, "Amoen. Exit.," pp.
395-397; cited in Yule-Burnell, "A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Other Phrases," London 1886
pp. 643, 644.''
57 " Jungle Life in India," p. 83.
58 Redi, "Experimenta," Amstelodami, 1675, pp. 4-8.
not emerged from their winter quarters. An experiment was therefore substituted, after much consultation among the learned men of the Academy of Pisa, whereby oil of tobacco was introduced into the leg of a rooster. This was
regarded as one of the most fatal of such substances, and was administered by impregnating a thread with it to the
width of four fingers and drawing it through the punctured wound. One of the monks forthwith applied the stone, which
behaved in the regular manner described. The bird did not recover, but it survived eight hours, to the admiration of
the monks and other spectators of the experiment.
Redi states that he himself possessed some of these stones, as did also Vincent Sandrinus, one of the most learned herbalists of Pisa. Eedi describes them as "always lenticular in form, varying somewhat in size, but in general about
as large as a farthing, more or less. In color some are black, others white, others black, with an ashy hue on one side
or both," etc.
Up to the present time no one has apparently identified what Tavernier referred to in speaking of snake-stones.
It, however, occurred to the writer, after receiving a quantity of tabasheer from Dr. F. H. Mallet of the Geological
Survey of India, who obtained it at the bazaar of the Calcutta Fair in November of 1888, that many, if not most of the Hindu snake-stones must have been tabasheer. Tabasheer is a variety of opal that is found in the joints of certain species of bamboo in Hindostan, Burmah, and South America; it is originally a juice, which by evaporation changes
into a mucilaginous state, then becomes a solid substance. It ranges from translucent to opaque in color, and is either white or bluish-white by reflected light, and pale yellow or slight sherry red by transmitted light. Upon fracture it
breaks into irregular pieces like starch. As in Tavernier 's account of its clinging to the palate and causing
water to boil when immersed, it actually has the property of strongly adhering to the tongue, and when put into water
emits rapid streams of minute bubbles of air. It has a strong siliceous odor, but after absorbing an equal bulk of
water becomes transparent like a Colorado hydrophane described by the writer several years ago before the New
S'ork Academy of Sciences.
Although tabasheer is mentioned in nearly all the text-books, very little of it has reached the United States. It is
highly interesting, since we have here an organic product scarcely to be distinguished from a similar opal-like body
found by Mr. Arnold Hague in the geysers of the Yellowstone Park. Both tabasheer and the hydrophane were
probably what was called "Oculus Beli," "Oculus Mundi," and "Lapis mutabilis" by Thomas Nicol, Robert Boyle,
and other writers of the seventeenth century, and "Weltauge" by the Germans.
The great capacity of this substance for absorbing a fluid would undoubtedly render it as efficacious for the purpose
of absorbing poison as any other known stone, providing the wound were open enough ; and its internal use to-day as
a medicine is possibly also due to this property.
Tabasheer, as known among mineralogists, is a corruption of the word tabixir, a name which was used even in the
time of Avicenna, the Grand Vizier and body surgeon of the Sultan of Persia in the tenth century. It played a very
important part in medicine during the Middle Ages. As to its origin, Sir David Brewster 59 says that tabasheer is only
formed in diseased or injured bamboo joints or stalks.
Guibourt 60 differs from Brewster, inasmuch as he attributes the different rates of growth to the fact that when
59 Edinburgh Philos. Journal, No. 1, p. 147; Philos. Trans., cix, p. 283; and "The Natural History and Properties of Tabersheer," 1828; Edinburgh Journal viii, p. 288.
60 Jour, de Pharmacies, xxvii, pp. 81, 161, 252; and Phil. Mag., x, p. 229.
there is a superabundance of sap the tabasheer is formed from the residuum. More recently, Henry Cecil 61 says,
"In the onrush of tropical growth in the young shoot, nature, after flooring the knot, has poured in, as it were, sap and silica sufficient for a normal length and width of stem to the knot next above it. But by some check to the impulse, or
by irregularity of conditions, the portion of stem thus provided for is shorter or narrower than intended, and the
unused silica is left behind as a sediment, compacted by the drying residuum sap.''
This latter view is sustained by Dr. Ernst Huth, who discusses the name, history, origin, and reputed virtues of this substance with much fulness.62 In regard to its use in medicine during the Middle Ages, he quotes a remarkable list
of applications to the ills that flesh is heir to.
Here it is cited as a remedy for affections of the eyes, the chest, and of the stomach, for coughs, fevers, and biliary
complaints, and especially for melancholia arising from solitude, dread of the past, and fears for the future. Other
writers speak of its use in bilious fevers and dysentery, internal and external heat, and injuries and maladies.
The writer has examined a large number of so-called madstones, and they have all proved to be an aluminous shale
or other absorptive substance. But tabasheer possesses absorptive properties to a greater degree than any other of
the mineral substances examined, and it is strange that it has never been mentioned as being used as an antidote. It may be confidently recommended to the credence of any person who may desire to believe in a madstone.
The writer believes that Tavernier's snake-stones may all have been tabasheer, or again, while some of them were of
this substance, others may have been artificially compounded
61 Nature, xxxv, p. 437.
62 "Der Tabixir in seiner Bedeutung fur die Botanik, Mineralogie, und Physik"; X. Sammlung.
Naturwissenschaftlicher Vortrage, Berlin, 1887.
by the authorized dealers of the Brahmin caste. The instance he gives of the successful use of such a stone is not
altogether incredible, as, should one of the less active poisons be sucked out of a wound shortly after this were inflicted, a cure might well be effected. In view of the great difference
in the virulence of poisons and the varying degrees of the sensibility to toxic effects, it is not strange that the snake-stones should sometimes seem to give good results. Tavernier states that these stones were brought to India by Portuguese sol-
62 Tavernier, "Voyages en Turquie, en Perse, vol. ii, p. 392; liv. ii, chap. 24. et aux Indes," Paris, 1718,
diers returning from service in Mozambique.63 For successful use a pair of tHem were needed, so that, when applied
to a snake-bite, as soon as one became saturated with the venom the other could be immediately substituted. To
have them always at hand, those natives fortunate enough to own a pair of pedras de cobra carried them about in a
A curious traditional belief is current in some parts of India, notably in Ceylon, to the effect that the male cobra,
during the night, uses a certain luminous stone to lure its prey and to attract the female. This is probably the
chlorophane, a variety of fluorite, a substance which shines with a phosphorescent light in the darkness, and this
quality, quite mysterious in the eyes of the natives, may have induced them to associate the stone with the snake, the epitome of all subtlety and cunning. Serpent-stones were supposed to exist in both ancient and medieval times, and
the belief in their existence is widespread among many races of mankind.
A chlorophane is also found in the microlite localities of Amelia Court House, Virginia. The writer made a series of experiments and noted that some of these specimens emit a phosphorescent light at a low temperature. The material
occurs in Siberia, and Pallas describes a specimen from this locality. When subjected to the heat of the hand, it gave
out a white light , in boiling water a green light, and when placed on a burning coal a brilliant emerald-green light,
visible at a considerable distance. Similar phenomena have been observed by the writer, who has found that very
slight attrition, even the rubbing of one specimen against another in the dark, will produce phosphorescence.65
The real or supposed virtues of the "snake-stones" of Ceylon are detailed at considerable length by the great
64 Engelberti Kaempferi, "Amoenitatum exoticarum fasciculi V," Lemgovise, 1712, pp. 395, 396.
65 Kunz, "Gems and Precious Stones of North America," 2d ed., New York, 1892, p. 183.
Dutch naturalist, Rumphius. After noting the old tale that the "natural" snake-stones came from the cobra de capello
(Serpens pilosus), he proceeds to relate the information he had been able to gather regarding the "spurious" stones
of this type. These were fabricated by the Brahmins, the process being kept a profound secret; indeed, there were
those who asserted that the Brahmins themselves had lost the art, as this had been possessed by but a single family
which had died out, leaving the secret unrevealed. Rumphius describes these artificial stones as usually round and
flat, the size varying from that of a half -shilling piece to that of a two-shilling piece. Some were of lenticular form and
a few were oblong; all had a white spot in the middle. In making the application, the bitten spot was first pricked until
it bled, whereupon the stone was immediately laid on and allowed to remain until it dropped off of itself "just as a
leech would do."So intense was its absorbent activity that it would sometimes break, in which case a substitute had to be quickly applied. The saturated stone was placed in milk and the absorbed venom was thus drawn out, turning the milk blue.56
One of the tales of the Gesta Romanorum treats of a serpent-stone of singular medicinal virtue. According to the
story — which is, of course, a mere legend — a certain Theodosius, who "reigned in a Roman city," was a most
prudent ruler, but was afflicted with blindness. In his care for the welfare of his subjects he had decreed that when
anyone who desired justice rang the bell at the palace gate, a judge must forthwith appear and try his case. Now it
happened that a serpent had its nest near the bell-rope, and one day, while the reptile was absent, a toad took
possession of the nest. Returning and finding the nest occupied,
56 Rumphius, "D'Amboinsche Eariteitkamer," Amsterdam, 1741, pp. 303-305.
the serpent, — evidently a worthy descendant of the original serpent of Paradise, "more subtle than any beast of the
field,"— wound its tail about the bell-rope and pulled the bell. When the judge appeared, as in duty bound, he was
struck by this strajage spectacle, and reported it to the emperor, who told him to right the wrong which had been
done, directing him to expel and kill the toad. Not long after, the serpent made its way into the palace and entered the emperor's room, bearing in its mouth a small stone.
Proceeding to the emperor's couch, it crawled up, raised its head above the emperor's face and dropped the stone
upon his eyes. As soon as the stone touched the eyes, the emperor's sight was restored. The serpent disappeared and
was never seen again.67
A representative type of "madstone" is a concretionary calculus occasionally, but very rarely, found in the gullet of male deer. In form it bears a resemblance to a water-worn pebble and is usually of oblong shape, the largest
specimens being 3 inches in length and l 1/2 inches in width.
The chemical analysis of Dr. H. C. White showed that the chief component was tricalcic phosphate. His experiments
demonstrated that while such a concretion would absorb water to the amount of 5 per cent, of its own weight, the
quantity of blood or other fluid it was able to absorb only amounted to 2.3 per cent, of its weight. When immersed in
water, after having been placed on a wound caused by the bite of a venomous creature, the liquid absorbed was given
out so as to discolor the water, and the material exuded was found to be of toxic quality. However, experiments with animals that had been bitten by snakes or other reptiles, failed to show that the stone exercised any curative effect.
Dr. White states that he has in his possession a "mad-
67 " Die Gesta Romanorum," ed. Wilhelm Dick, Erlangen, 1890, p. 127.
stone" dating from 1654, but this is of a different type, being a porous sandstone.68
Even in South Africa snake-stones are known, but it appears that the few specimens reported had been brought
thither from the Dutch East Indies; one such stone had been handed down for generations in a Dutch settler's family. From their appearance some of these snake-stones were judged to be pieces of burnt hartshorn. A Boer farmer
owned an amulet of this kind that he would loan from time to time to neighbors who might have need of it. On one
occasion, when the daughter of an English hunter had been bitten by a snake, the father sent off a man on horseback
to borrow this snake-stone. Owing to the unavoidable delay, some hours elapsed before it could be applied to the
The girl recovered after its use but the wound did not heal satisfactorily, and this was attributed to the length of time
that had intervened between the attack of the snake and the use of the remedial stone.69
In December, 1887,70 the writer described a white opaque variety of hydrophane with a white, chalky or glazed
coating, which had recently been brought from a Colorado locality. The absorbent quality of this stone is quite
remarkable, and when water is allowed to drop on it, it first becomes very white and chalky, and then gradually
perfectly transparent. This property is developed so strikingly that the finder proposed the name ''Magic Stone" for
the mineral and suggested its use in rings, lockets, charms, etc., to conceal photographs, hair, and other objects,
which the wearer wishes to reveal only as caprice dictates.
67 Dr. H. C. White, " The Chemical and Physical Characters of the So-called 'Mad-Stones,' " British Association for
the Advancement of Science, 73d Report, Meeting of 1903 at Smithfield, London, 1904, p. 605.
68 "Lancet," vol. 164, Jan.-June, 1903, p. 343.
69 American Journal of Science, vol. xxxiv, Dec., 1887. See also Kunz,
70 "Gems and Precious Stones of North America," New York, 1892, p. 144.