Holy Stones of the East and the West

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Holy Stones of the East and the West  (1891) 
From Popular Science Monthly Volume 40, December 1891 Popular Miscellany


Holy Stones of the East and the West.—A curious paper was read by Mr. Charles G. Leland at the International Congress of Orientalists concerning the salagrama stone of India and the salagrana of the Toscana Romana, as a curious link connecting the East and West. The Indian salagrama is a kind of ammonite, the size of an orange, and having a hole in it. According to the legend, Vishnu the Preserver, when pursued by the Destroyer, was changed by Maya into the stone, through the hole of which the Destroyer as a worm wound his way. The Italian salagrana is a stalagmite, which is believed by the people, on account of its resemblance to the little mounds thrown up by earthworms, to be such a mound petrified. They carry it in a red bag, along with certain magical herbs, and pronounce over it an incantation to the effect that the irregularities and cavities in it have the property of bewildering the evil eye and depriving it of its power. The author was informed by believers in such things that anything like grains, irregular and confused surfaces, interlaced serpents, or intricate works, blunted the evil eye. Interlaced cords are sold in Florence as charms. Even the convolvulus is grown in gardens against the evil eye. In the Norse mythology, Odin as a worm bored his head through a stone in order to get at "the mead of poetry." Hence all stones with holes in them are known as Odin stones, also as "holy stones," and are much used at the North as amulets. Hung at the head of the bed, they are supposed to drive away nightmare. Possibly there is a connection with the salagrana here. So interlacings in decoration may be originally designed to avert the evil eye and bad luck. A recent traveler in Persia was told that the patterns on carpets in that country were made intricate so that the evil eye might be bewildered. In the salagrana of Italy the number of grains or protuberances must be counted one by one before the witch can do evil. In the Arabian Nights the ghoul Amina must eat her rice grain by grain; and in South Carolina the negroes protect a person who is bedridden or nightmared by strewing rice round his bed, which the witch, when she comes, must count grain by grain before she can touch her victim.