French soil is rich and diverse because of the variety of landscapes the country provides. Sea, sand, extinct volcanos and green mountains flourish along forests, arid countys and rocky plains. Snow, ice, sun and rain molded the geological aspects of the territory and shaped the land we know today. Gemstones and semi-precious crystals are abundant, but before even starting to consider dwelling in those, there also exist a few rocks, pebbles and stones that various countryside witchcraft practices recognized and used long ago. Here follow a few of them.
It is said that underground currents and flows merge to form a great serpent.This serpent sometimes arises, unearthed, where lie sacred wells and springs, thus giving them great healing virtues. The serpent dug caves for fairies to dwell in (we French people believe fairies to reside in grottos : many regions have their own « Grotte des Fées »); then for Men to live and inhabit. Its head is stud with bright shining gemstones, its body set with marvelous crystals with vibrant colors and powerful properties. The serpent is a mythical guardian, and the first, primitive and primal Genius Loci.
Stones store the virtues of the spirit inhabiting the land they dwell on.
Menhirs and dolmens still draw people today, weither for pilgrimage or individual quests. They were considered gatekeepers of the underworld. They are mostly known for the healing rituals and other transfer medicine they convey. Other uses include fecundity rites where women would come to rub their genitals on the most phallic parts (the Pierre Piquée, Aubière, Puy-de-Dôme).
Wobbly stones were used to baptize children : one would leave the newborn child at the basis, then shake the stone to gift them with strength, happiness and protection. Some say stones were able to move on their own accord, adding an extra blessing to the rite.
Known as hagstones in the Bristish Isles, French people name them « pierres trouées », « pierres à cupules », « pierres à empreintes ». These are stones naturally pierced with a hole by water (mostly rain and saltwater). They are powerful healing allies (fever, afflictions from the eyes, sterility, skin disease, etc). With stones large enough, placing the body part in need directly inside the hole - the head, a limb, a finger, was said to cure anything form intellectual deficiency to sprains and warts.
These stones are said to bear the marks of spiritual beings such as angels, demons, mythical heroes, giants (Gargantua) or saints.
This witch comes from the Alpine regions, where one is able to dig up their own quartz in the mountains or drag the rivers to discover large pieces of quartz with diverse inclusions (sometimes even finding gold, if the Dame Blanche - White Lady - don’t catch you first). Once, in Marseille, I managed to unearth big chunks and nuggets of smoky quartz the size of my palm while hiking on an inlet. It is said quartz comes from the old glaciers around : these are pieces of ice so ancient it doesn’t melt anymore.
When I was a child, I also spent hours looking around for small, shiny white stones : they were said to be « pierres de lune » (proper moon stones) that cracked and felt directly on Earth for us to find if we were lucky enough. I was thrilled to own myself a very small part of the Moon and treasured my discoveries.
One of the most popular stone is the well-known « pierre à venin » (venom stone) - either granite, quartz or variolite, sometimes schist or limestone. These are small black stones with green stains. They come from various fossils, prehistoric tools or natural stones and are also called « pierres-serpent » (snake stones) or sometimes « pierres de salamandre » (salamander stone). One would need to polish them on sheep skins before using them. They were said to be body parts belonging to old big reptiles, snakes and other venomous beings long gone - for example, urchin fossils were known as « œuf de serpent » (snake egg). Some village practitioners also claim to find them in viper nests, or in places where snakes would fight - thus making the stone a stone made from the snake’s slime. The snake would dribble and roll the stone with its body when fighting, giving it its round, spherical shape.
One would keep their stones in jute bags or store them in terra cotta (clay) containers.
Uses : Great for snake bites, bug stings and skin diseases. Leave the pierre à venin in water for anywhere between half an hour to a full day, then drink half of it and pour the remaining water on the affected body part to cure the disease away. They were also hung on beasts (cattle, dogs, cats…) to protect them.
The « pierre de crapaud » (toad stone) is named after its shape and color making it look like a toad. Some say you could find it inside the toad’s head, some say it is the toad brain. Used just like the pierre à venin, but dry, by rubbing the stone on the needing area.
The « pierre des yeux » (eyes stone) is a stone found in swallows nests. It can cure any eye disease.
The « pierre du sang » (blood stone) is a red-colored pebble used to stop haemorrhagies and other blood problems by direct application.
The « pierre de la Croix » (Cross stone) is a flat gray pebble where you can see a white pattern evoking the Cross. These were especially popular in Bretagne and Auvergne, and were known as powerful talismans. They protect their bearer from the evil eye, nocturnal fears, spellcraft, and can also cure one from haemmorhages, diarrhea and rabies.
The « pierre des femmes » (women stones) are limonite nodules known to help women in labour, quickening the delivery, but interestingly enough they were also used, if combined with the right sacred plants, in abortive rites andpreparations.
Other stones also include the « pierre de la tête » (head stone, used against migraines - often quartz pebbles); « pierre de la peste » (plague stone, a black pebble); « pierre des dents » (teeth stone) or « pierre des cauchemars » (nightmare stone, holed silex hung on the bedroom doors or put under the bed to prevent bad dreams).
(Appreciatively sourced from BERTON H., Sorcellerie en Auvergne, Éditions De Borée, 2003)