Fossils in Pagan magick
It has always been a practice of witches to use in their craft things which were in some way striking or mysterious. In this way, they impressed the mind strongly with what they were trying to do.
Fossils were long considered very mysterious objects, appearing as they did to be some product of Nature changed to stone. For instance, the coiled fossils called ammonites were sometimes known as snakestones. They were believed to be a coiled snake turned to stone. In fact, they are the remains of a kind of giant, snail-like shellfish. But even when we know what fossils are, it is strange to hold in one’s hand what was once a living thing, millions of years ago.
A fossil credited with great magical properties is the shepherd’s crown, a kind of fossilized sea urchin. These are often almost a perfect heart-shape, with a five-pointed pattern on the top. A closely similar variety, but more high and rounded, is called fairy loaves.
These fossilized sea urchins have been found as grave goods in Neolithic burials; and they may be the magical ‘glane-stone’ of the Druids, as they certainly resemble the description given of this object by ancient writers.
Their magical connection is thus of great antiquity. Sussex cottagers used to put shepherds’ crowns on their window-sills, to protect the house from lightning, witchcraft and the Evil Eye. If a farm worker found one when he was digging or plowing, he would pick it up, spit on it, and throw it over his left shoulder. This was done to avert bad luck.
They were a prized possession, and my grandmother used to polish them regularly with black boot-polish! Why this was done is not clear; perhaps there was some idea behind it that magical objects should be given some regular service and attention, though it may have been simply part of the Victorian mania for polishing things.
Their presence over the fireplace, of course, was to protect the chimney, a possible way of entrance for evil influences.
Naughty children used to be threatened that ‘something bad would come down the chimney after them’.
Another fossil that was used as a protective amulet for the home is the witch stone.
This name is also sometimes applied to a flint with a hole in it; but the real Sussex witch stone is a small fossil in the perfect form of a bead-round, white, faintly glittering and with a hole through its middle. These fossils are also found in Yorkshire and other places.
They are actually a fossil sponge, the product of warm seas millions of years ago. Their correct name is Porosphaera g/obularis. People wore these round their necks for luck or hung them up in their homes by a piece of brightly-colored ribbon or thread.
The long, pointed fossils called belemnites are somewhat phallic in shape, and hence doubly magical, as anything that is a life symbol is also a luck-bringer. They are sometimes Known as ‘thunderstones’ or ‘thunderbolts’; perhaps from a confusion with meteorites. They are actually the fossilized internal shell of a cephalopod, some prehistoric ancestor of our squids and cuttle-fish. I have heard of a fossil of this kind being used as a charm to strengthen cattle. It was used with two perfectly round pebbles, to symbolize testicles. The three things had to be dipped into the water which was given to the cattle to drink.
Two substances long regarded as magical, jet and amber, are actually fossils, though not always recognized as such. Amber is fossilized resin and jet is fossilized wood. This is the reason why amber shows electrical properties on being rubbed.
Real jet will do the same and hence used to be known as ‘black amber’; though much of what is sold today as jet is not jet at all but fine black glass.
Amber and jet are two of the most time-honored bringers of luck, is often found as necklaces in prehistoric graves. Because of their electrical properties, they were regarded as having life in them; which in a sense they have, being semiprecious stones, which originated as living things. Jet was anciently worn as a protection against witchcraft, and to relieve melancholy and depression, and prevent nightmares.
It was sacred to Cybele, the Great Mother.
Amber was also worn as a protection against witchcraft and sorcery and was regarded as a safeguard for health and preventer of infection. This is the reason for its popularity as the mouth-piece of pipes and cigar or cigarette holders.