Thunderstone (folklore)

Last updated

A thunderstone is a flint tool or fossil turned up by farmer's plow that was thought to have fallen from the sky. They were often thought to be thunderbolts.[ citation needed ] It was not until travelers returned from far-away places where these implements were in use among primitive cultures that the origins of these objects became known. Even then, these travelers' tales received little popular credence. [1]

Contents

Thunderstone folklore

Axe heads found at a 2700 BC Neolithic manufacture site in Switzerland, arranged in the various stages of production from left to right. HMB Steinaxtmanufaktur Vinelz Jungsteinzeit 2700 BC.jpg
Axe heads found at a 2700 BC Neolithic manufacture site in Switzerland, arranged in the various stages of production from left to right.

In Scandinavia thunderstones were frequently worshiped as family gods who kept off spells and witchcraft. Beer was poured over them as an offering and they were sometimes anointed with butter. In Switzerland the owner of a thunderstone whirls it, on the end of a thong, three times round his head, and throws it at the door of his dwelling at the approach of a storm to prevent lightning from striking the house. In Italy they are hung around children's necks to protect them from illness and to ward off the Evil eye. In Roman times they were sewn inside dog-collars along with a little piece of coral to keep the dogs from going mad. In Sweden they offer protection from elves. In the French Alps they protect sheep, while elsewhere in France they are thought to ease childbirth. In Burma they are used as a cure and preventative for appendicitis. In Japan they cure boils and ulcers. In Malay and Sumatra they are used to sharpen the kris, are considered very lucky objects, and are credited with being touchstones for gold. Among the Slavs they cure warts on man and beast, and during Passion Week they have the property to reveal hidden treasure. [1]

Further examples of thunderstone folklore

Picture of two Lower Paleolithic bifaces Bifaz de Atapuerca (TG10).jpg
Picture of two Lower Paleolithic bifaces

In the British Isles some idea of their original use is retained, and they are often referred to variously as elf arrows, elf bolts, elf darts, or fairy arrows, and are said to have been shot by elves or fairies at a person or animal to bewitch them. On the other hand, they are thought, for the most part, to protect the possessor from these little people. The presence of flint instruments found in British cinerary urns of the Roman Era is explained by two theories: 1) they were used by the mourners to lacerate themselves; 2) flints (like all fire-producing stones) are potent magic for preventing the return of the dead. In Ireland flint stones are soaked in water to make a medicine which is good for man or beast. Mounted in silver they are worn as protection against elf-shot, i.e. elf- or fairy-inflicted disease.

In North Carolina and Alabama there is a belief that flint stones placed in the fire will keep hawks from molesting the chickens, a belief which probably stems from the European idea that elf arrows protect domestic animals. In Brazil, flint is used as a divining stone for gold, treasure and water. [1]

During the Middle Ages many of these well-wrought stones were venerated as weapons, which during the "war in heaven" had been used in driving forth Satan and his hosts. Hence, in the 11th century the Byzantine emperor sent to the Holy Roman emperor a "heaven axe"; and in the 12th century a Bishop of Rennes asserted the value of thunderstones as a divinely appointed means of securing success in battle, safety on the sea, security against thunder, and immunity from unpleasant dreams.

Even as late as the 17th century, a French ambassador brought a stone hatchet, which still exists in the museum at Nancy, as a present to the Prince-Bishop of Verdun, and claimed that it had healing properties. [2]

Native American thunderstone folklore

The flint was an object of veneration by most American Indian tribes. According to the Pawnee Origin myth, stone weapons and implements were given to man by the Morning Star. Among the K'iche' people of Guatemala, there is a myth that a flint fell from the sky and broke into 1600 pieces, each of which became a god. Tohil, the God who gave them fire, is still represented as flint. This myth provides a parallel to the almost universal belief in the thunderstone, and reminds us that Jupiter (mythology) was once worshipped in the form of a flint stone. The Cherokee shaman invokes a flint when he is about to scarify a patient prior to applying his medicine. Among the Pueblos we have the Flint Societies which, in most tribes, were primarily concerned with weather and witchcraft, but sometimes had to do with war and medicine. [1]

Fossil echinoids as thunderstones

In many parts of southern England until the middle of the nineteenth century, another name commonly used for fossil Echinoids was 'thunderstone'. This was a name that in all likelihood formed part of another folk tradition that was almost certainly brought to Britain by Danish and Anglo-Saxon invaders more than 1500 years ago.

In 1677 Dr. Robert Plot, the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, published his classic book The Natural History of Oxfordshire. Plot recorded that in Oxfordshire what we now call fossil echinoids were called thunderstones, as they were thought to have descended from the heavens during a thunderstorm. The St. Peter's Church in Linkenholt, England, was built in 1871 near the location of the old St. Peter's, which had stood for nearly 700 years. The 1871 version of the church included fossil echinoids built into the walls surrounding the windows, a style adopted from the original. This implies that Thunderstone folklore was retained for at least 700 years in England, and had its roots in pagan folklore. [2]

Decline of thunderstone mythology

Boucher de Perthes Boucher de Perthes.jpg
Boucher de Perthes

Andrew Dickson White described the discovery of the true origin of thunderstones as a "line of observation and thought ... fatal to the theological view". In the last years of the sixteenth century Michael Mercati tried to prove that the "thunder-stones" were weapons or implements of early races of men; but for some reason his book was not published until the following century, when other thinkers had begun to take up the same idea.

In 1723 Antoine Laurent de Jussieu addressed the French Academy on "The Origin and Uses of Thunder-stones". He showed that recent travellers from various parts of the world had brought a number of weapons and other implements of stone to France, and that they were essentially similar to what in Europe had been known as "thunderstones". A year later this fact was firmly embedded in the minds of French scientists by the Jesuit Joseph-Francois Lafitau, who published a work showing the similarity between the customs of aborigines then existing in other lands and those of the early inhabitants of Europe. So began, in these works of Jussieu and Lafitau, the science of ethnology.

It was only after the French Revolution of 1830, more than a century later, that the political climate in Europe was free enough of religious sentiment for archaeological discoveries to be dispassionately investigated and the conclusion reached that human existence spanned a much greater period of time than any Christian theologian had dreamt of. [3]

Boucher de Perthes

In 1847, a man previously unknown to the world at large, Boucher de Perthes, published in Paris the first volume of work on Celtic and Antediluvian Antiquities, and in this he showed engravings of typical flint implements and weapons, of which he had discovered thousands upon thousands in the high drift beds near Abbeville, in northern France. So far as France was concerned, he was met at first by what he calls "a conspiracy of silence", and then by a contemptuous opposition among orthodox scientists, led by Elie de Beaumont.

In 1863 the thunderstone myth was further discredited by Charles Lyell in his book Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man . Lyell had previously opposed the new ideas about human antiquity, and his changing sides gave further force to the scientific evidence. [3]

See also

Related Research Articles

Elf supernatural being in Germanic mythology and folklore

An elf is a type of humanlike supernatural being in Germanic mythology and folklore. In medieval Germanic-speaking cultures, elves seem generally to have been thought of as beings with magical powers and supernatural beauty, ambivalent towards everyday people and capable of either helping or hindering them. However, the details of these beliefs have varied considerably over time and space, and have flourished in both pre-Christian and Christian cultures.

Giant being of human appearance, sometimes of prodigious size and strength, common in folklore

In folklore, giants are beings of human appearance, but are at times prodigious in size and strength or bear an otherwise notable appearance. The word giant, first attested in 1297, was derived from the Gigantes of Greek mythology.

Fairy mythical being or legendary creature in european folklore

A fairy is a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural, or preternatural.

Ukko God of the sky, weather, harvest and thunder in Finnish mythology

Ukko, or Äijä or Äijö, parallel to Uku in Estonian mythology, is the god of the sky, weather, harvest and thunder in Finnish mythology. Ukkonen, the Finnish word for thunder is the diminutive form of the name Ukko. Some researchers believe that Ilmarinen, another Finnic sky god, is the origin of Ukko, while some others believe that Ukko's original name was Baltic Perkele. Ukko is held the most significant god of Finnish mythology, although it is disputed by scholars whether this is accountable to later Christian influence. In the folk poems and prayers he is also given the epithet Ylijumala, probably in reference to his status as the most highly regarded god and on the other hand his traditional domain in the heavens. Other names for Ukko include Pitkänen, Isäinen, Isoinen. Although portrayed active in myth, Ukko makes all his appearances in legend solely by natural phenomena when appealed to. According to Martti Haavio, the name Ukko was sometimes used as a common noun or generalised epithet for multiple deities instead of denoting a specific god.

Thunderbolt symbolic representation of lightning

A thunderbolt or lightning bolt is a symbolic representation of lightning when accompanied by a loud thunderclap. In Indo-European mythology, the thunderbolt was identified with the 'Sky Father'; this association is also found in later Hellenic representations of Zeus and Vedic descriptions of the vajra wielded by the god Indra. It may have been a symbol of cosmic order, as expressed in the fragment from Heraclitus describing "the Thunderbolt that steers the course of all things".

Changeling creature in folklore

A changeling, also historically referred to as an auf or oaf, is a human-like creature found in folklore and folk religion throughout Europe. A changeling was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies. The theme of the swapped child is common in medieval literature and reflects concern over infants thought to be afflicted with unexplained diseases, disorders, or developmental disabilities.

Michele Mercati Italian polyhistor

Michele Mercati was a physician who was superintendent of the Vatican Botanical Garden under Popes Pius V, Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, and Clement VIII. He was one of the first scholars to recognise prehistoric stone tools as human-made rather than natural or mythologically created thunderstones.

Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes French archaeologist

Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes, sometimes referred to as Boucher de Perthes, was a French archaeologist and antiquary notable for his discovery, in about 1830, of flint tools in the gravels of the Somme valley.

A sprite is a supernatural entity. They are often depicted as fairy-like creatures or as an ethereal entity.

Perkūnas deity

Perkūnas was the common Baltic god of thunder, second most important deity in the Baltic pantheon after Dievas. In both Lithuanian and Latvian mythology, he is documented as the god of sky, thunder, lightning, storms, rain, fire, war, law, order, fertility, mountains, and oak trees.

Estonian mythology is a complex of myths belonging to the Estonian folk heritage and literary mythology. Information about the pre-Christian and medieval Estonian mythology is scattered in historical chronicles, travellers' accounts and in ecclesiastical registers. Systematic recordings of Estonian folklore started in the 19th century. Pre-Christian Estonian deities included a sky-god known as Jumal or Taevataat in Estonian, corresponding to Jumala in Finnish, and Jumo in Mari.

Elf-arrow

Elf-arrows or, in English folklore, pixie arrows, were arrowheads of flint used in hunting and war by the Pre-Indo-Europeans of the British Isles and of Europe generally, as they still are among native people elsewhere. Elf-arrows derived their name from the folklore belief that the arrows fell from the sky, and were used by the elves to kill cattle and inflict elfshot on human beings.

Folklore of the Low Countries folklore of Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg

Folklore of the Low Countries, often just referred to as Dutch folklore, includes the epics, legends, fairy tales and oral traditions of the people of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. Traditionally this folklore is written or spoken in Dutch.

The mythology of the modern-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg has its roots in the mythologies of pre-Christian cultures, predating the region's Christianization under the influence of the Franks in the Early Middle Ages. At the time of the Roman Empire and in the Early Middle Ages, some of the resident peoples of the Low Countries' included:

Joseph-François Lafitau French missionary, ethnologist, naturalist

Joseph-François Lafitau was a French Jesuit missionary, ethnologist, and naturalist who worked in Canada. He is best known for his use of the comparative method in the field of scientific anthropology, the discovery of ginseng, and his writings on the Iroquois. Lafitau was the first of the Jesuit missionaries in Canada to have a scientific point of view. Francis Parkman praises Lafitau, stating, "none of the old writers are so satisfactory as Lafitau."

Elfshot or elf-shot is a medical condition described in Anglo-Saxon medical texts, notably Wið færstice, and believed to be caused by invisible elves shooting invisible arrows at a person or animal, causing sudden shooting pains localised to a particular area of the body. Modern diagnoses might include rheumatism, arthritis, muscle stitches or cramps. Similar concepts existed in other northern European cultures.

In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, Elves are one of the races that inhabit a fictional Earth, often called Middle-earth, and set in the remote past. Unlike Men and Dwarves, Elves are immortal. They appear in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings, but their complex history is described more fully in The Silmarillion.

Perun Slavic god

In Slavic mythology, Perun is the highest god of the pantheon and the god of sky, thunder, lightning, storms, rain, law, war, fertility and oak trees. His other attributes were fire, mountains, wind, iris, eagle, firmament, horses and carts, weapons, and war. He was first associated with weapons made of stone and later with those of metal.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 Leach, Maria. ""Flint"." Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. 3rd ed. New York, New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1972. Print.
  2. 1 2 McNanamara, Kenneth. (2007). Shepards' crowns, fairy loaves and thunderstones: the mythology of fossil echinoids in England. Myth and Geology, (273), 289–293.
  3. 1 2 White, Andrew D. A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. New York: George Braziller, 1955. 266–283