What is a madstone?

March 14, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Alternative Medicine

Madstones are certain objects popularly believed to have the power of “sucking” poison from wounds made by mad dogs and venomous snakes. They are supposed to be especially efficacious in preventing hydrophobia or rabies. Belief in the magical properties of madstones was formerly almost universal in America. Abraham Lincoln believed in madstones and when his son Robert was bitten by a dog he took the boy to Terre Haute, Indiana, to have a madstone applied to the wound. He had faith in mad­stones, he told a friend, because he “found the people in the neighborhood of these stones fully impressed with the belief in their virtues from actual experiment.”

A magic stone, suggesting the madstone, figures in The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott. In Americanisms: The English of the New World (1872) Schele de Vere wrote: “Madstone is the name of a round stone of the size of an egg, of dark color, preserved by some families in the South, to which the power is ascribed of curing persons bitten by mad dogs or venomous serpents. It is placed upon the wound, from which it draws much matter, and this process being repeated frequently, extracts the venom—by faith.” The treatment sometimes consists of alternately soaking the madstone in sweet milk and applying it to the wound after it has been cut slightly. If the madstone sticks tight to the wound, it is said, it will draw out the poison; if it will not adhere to the wound it is presumed that no poison is present. A genuine madstone, according to one belief, will turn milk black.

The United States Department of Agriculture refers to madstones as mythical stones and says their alleged virtues have no scientific foundation, unless it is merely psychological effect. The bezoar stone, a biliary calculus from the gall bladder of an animal, is a common form of madstone. It is usually composed of substances that have about the same relation to animals that gallstones have to human beings. Another form is composed of halloysite, which absorbs moisture with avidity and adheres to a moist surface until nearly saturated. Such a porous, spongy stone will actually absorb some blood and consequently some of the poison if it is pressed upon a newly made wound.

Those who believe in the madstone test it for genuineness by placing it against the roof of the mouth. If it adheres it is genuine, they say; if it drops, it is a fake. A pebble of carbonate of lime found in the stomach of a deer was once sent to the National Museum in Washington as a genuine madstone. On another occasion two hair balls from a buffalo’s stomach were presented with the statement that one of them had been “successfully used in two cases of dog bite.” The same institution was offered a madstone of proven efficiency for the sum of a thousand dollars. It proved to be merely a polished seed of the Kentucky coffee tree.

In The Golden Bough Sir James G. Frazier, referring to imitative magic, wrote: “The Greeks believed in a stone which cured snake-bites, and hence was named the snake-stone; to test its efficiency you had only to grind the stone to powder and sprinkle the powder on the wound.” The American Indians used snakestones as one of their most important remedies. In the United States snakestones often consist of charred bones. The real value of such charms lies in the confidence with which the possessor is inspired. Their danger lies in using them to the exclusion of scientific methods of protection.

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