The Crystal Balls of Clan Campbell

campbell1-300x296A number of Highland families are in possession of crystal balls which are said to all share certain magical abilities such as the unexplicable cure of humans and animals, as well as ensuring the safe return of men from war or travel. Suprisingly enough, Clan Campbell seem to hold quite a number of them.

None of the crystal balls are especially big, with the largest said to be, at most, around 5 centimetres in diameter. They can be found on their own, or set in metal; with a couple used as the centrepiece in silver brooches.

However, where the crystals actually came from is still somewhat of a mystery. It has been suggested that the crystals date back to as far as the late Iron Age; originating in China where the obtained their magical powers. But some were taken by the Church to be used for Christian purposes and incorporated in reliquaries.

Many examples of these crystal balls, around twenty, have been found in graves in England, with the majority said to date from the Anglo-Saxon period. Three or four have also been found in Ireland, along with other examples in France, Denmark, and Germany.

How they ended up clustered in the West Highlands is strange enough, but so many in the hands of the Campbells is even more puzzling. Some like to think that one of the most plausible explanations of them arriving in Britain is from the Crusades; with many soldiers out in the Middle East it would have been easy enough for them to bring them home. However, if this was the case then it certainly doesn’t fit in with the crystals in England dating to the Anglo-Saxon period, prior to the start of the Crusades, and when Sir Steven Runciman, the great authority on the Crusades, was asked whether he had come across anything of this kind, his answer was a firm and decided ‘no’.

However, it is in fact said that the Breadalbane stone was brought back from Rhodes around the end of the Crusades period by Sir Colin Campbell  (or Cailean Mór Caimbeul) who is one of the earliest attested members of the Clan Campbell.

Here are some examples of the ones that are affiliated with the Campbells.

A’ Clach Bhuidhe of the Campbells of Glenlyon is said to be round or oval in shape, and is set in silver. It is said to bring home safely from war or travel those who drank from a glass with the stone in it, though apparently it has to be dipped in water by the Laird before it becomes effective. Legend has it that a tailor didn’t take the precaution and was the only man of the Glenlyon contingent to fall at Culloden.

The Charmstone of the Campbells of Ballochyle is in possession of the National Museum of Scotland. It is a large crystal used to cure cattle and people of any ailments.

A Charmstone, this one belonging to John Campbell, the Ledaig Bard, is also said to cure ill cattle, however, if someone touches the stone with the index finger of their right hand, then the stone immediately loses its powers.

The Lochnell Charmstone is a small and rather cloudy crystal sphere which can be seen on display at Inveraray Castle.

The Breadalbane charmstone claimed to cure ills, protect its devotees and bring them home safely. This particular stone didn’t seem to work for an unfortunate local young man who went off to fight in the First World War. On the eve of his departure, the soldier from the 6th Black Watch went to the castle to pay his respects to Lord Breadalbane who inturn brought out the charmstone. Following ancient custom, he dipped the crystal in a glass of water from which the he and the local both drank from to ensure his safe return, but it did not work, and the soldier died.

It is this stone that is believed to have been brought back from Rhodes by Sir Colin Campbell.

Charmstone of the Campbells of Inverliever was mentioned in 1610 in a bond of manrent stating ‘ane precious stone’ in possession of Ronald Campbell of Barrichbeyan, but belonging to Angus Campbell of Inverliever. It is thought to be the crystall ball now in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. At nearly 4 centimetres in diameter, it was sold by Campbell of Craignish – descendant of Barrichbeyan – in 1855.

It may never be known exactly where some of these crystal balls came from, or even how many ended up in the possession of the Campbells, but what is for certain, they do have some interesting superstitions attached.

Taken and adapted from ‘A History of Clan Campbell, Volume 1′ by Alastair Campbell of Airds


About Amanda Moffet

I run with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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