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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/178

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174
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

Scotland comes also the custom of passing young chicks through the orbits of a horse's skull to keep the hawks from catching them. The perforated monoliths of Great Britain and northern Europe are known generally as 'Odin Stones,' probably because, according to the Norse mythology, Odin in the shape of a worm bored his head through a stone to get at the 'mead of poetry'; and babies have been drawn through them from ancient times to cure them of various ailments. These monoliths, as well as the small perforated 'Odin' stones still used as amulets in the same countries, are closely related to the salagrama, or holy stone, common, curiously enough, to Italy and India. In Italy the salagrama is a stalagmite which is believed, on account of its resemblance to the mounds thrown up by earthworms, to be such a mound petrified. The people carry it in a bag with some magical herbs, and repeat over it an incantation which recites that its cavities and irregularities are potent to bewilder the evil eye. The Indian salagrama is a kind of ammonite about as large as an orange and having a hole through it. A legend relates that Vishnu, the Preserver, when pursued by the Destroyer, was changed by Maya into the stone, through which as a worm the Destroyer bored his way. It is believed that the evil eye is blunted by the perforation and by the irregularities of the stone's surface.

The survival in the midst of a high civilization of these Carolina practises, allied as they are to practises and beliefs of almost primitive times, affords a pertinent illustration of the manner in which magical arts cling to life. We have seen how heathen charms and incantations not only failed to disappear before the coming of Christianity, but even gained a new lease of life by hastening to enlist themselves under its banner. It is the same way with superstitions in general. Adapting themselves from age to age to the changed conditions which surround them, here receding and there advancing, dying out only to reappear under changed and scarcely recognizable forms, they yield almost imperceptibly to the advance of sound learning and common sense. Their retreat, however, has been more rapid since science has begun to shed her rays into the dark places where such things hide themselves; and in proportion as this great light becomes more generally diffused magic in medicine, as in all other departments of human thought, will fade and finally disappear.