dimanche 30 septembre 2012

Amber : Talismanic, Amuletic and Folk Medicine

Since time immemorial, amber has been worn as an amulet in the Baltic as well as the Mediterranean cultures. The people of these cultures believed amber was especially beneficial for protecting infants from the croup when worn as a necklace in the form of an amulet. As a charm, amber was believed to ward of fits, dysentery and nervous afflictions. As early as Pliny’s time, farmers wives in areas where the “water had properties that would harm the throat”, or was deficient in iodine, wore raw amber beads around their necks as a remedy against swellings (goiter).

raw baltic amber butterscotch beads

The lore attributing guardian values to amber has lasted into the 20th century. During the late 1960s, for example, an authority announced the virtues of wearing amber beads around the throat to protect it from diseases. It was believed that the strong electrical properties of amber resulted in an electrical band forming around the throat and bringing into existence a protective power. Even today, in many of the peasant areas of the Baltic, amber earrings and necklaces are worn when one has a headache or a throat ailment.

Amber is thought to possess other unusual curative powers. In ancient times, amber was powdered and mixed with honey and oil-of-roses for curing ear troubles. When mixed with honey from Attica, it was a cure for dimming eyesight. The powder was taken internally as a remedy of diseases of the stomach, whereas the amber oil was prescribed for internal administrations of asthma and whooping cough. Simply holding a ball of amber in the hands not only kept one cool during the hottest days of summer, but would reduce the temperature of a person from fever.

yellow lemon amber nugget

Many prescriptions were written which included amber along with other gemstones. An old meteria medica lists 200 medicinal stones. A dose suggested for heart disease contained white amber, red coral, crab’s eyes, powdered hartshorn, pearls and black crab’s claws. Such a mixture was the prized Oriental Bezoar, prescribed for different ailments.

Amber was also used externally as a fumigation to cure other ailments, including tonsillitis, catarrh, or running nose and eyes. It was thought that the smell of burned amber helped women in labor. In the Orient, amber fumigation was accomplished by throwing powdered amber on a hot brick. The fumes would strengthen the individual and give him courage from the soul of the tiger, a beast second in importance only to the dragon in Chinese mythology. “Syrup of amber”, a mixture of liquid acid-of-amber and opium, was also used in China as a sedative, anodyne and antispasmodic drug. Powdered amber and oil-of-amber were prescribed as powerful diuretics.

powdered Baltic amber

A piece of amber placed on the nose was thought to stop excessive bleeding. It is perhaps this belief in the special blood-stilling or coagulating properties of amber that explains the use of an amber handle on the ritual Jewish circumcision knife of the 18th century. During the early 1900’s, as medical practices advanced, vessels made of compressed amber were used during blood transfusion. The amber, being a poor conductor of heat, kept a more constant blood temperature for a longer period of time that did glass or stone vessels, and thus the blood was kept from coagulating.

The persistent belief that amber not only prevented infections, but acted as a charm against them, was the reason amber retained its popularity into the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially in the smoking articles industry. Its employment as a mouthpiece for cigars, cigarettes and pipes was originally talismanic. Amber was used in the Middle East for the mouthpieces of hookahs with their many hoses because of the gemstone’s supposed germicidal effect. 

Butz-Choquin Brumaire pipe in amber

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