The bewitching month of Halloween is upon us, a time when people relish the strange and macabre and delight in tales of ghosts and witches. Such tales are often entwined with folklore passed down among generations along with the amulets or keepsakes that fuel them. For this month’s object we take a look at an amulet known as a lucky stone or witch stone.
H. S. Toms, local archaeologist and curator of Brighton Museum (1897-1939), carried out an abundance of research on the folklore surrounding such stones, which have a naturally formed hole.
Herald 13 August 1927
He went to great lengths to record the custom of the stones in Sussex. They were hung by doors to protect against witches and evil fairies and worn around the neck to worship the god of Luck. It was believed the stones were effective at protecting against harm when placed either indoors or in the garden.
Toms examined previous discoveries of the tradition of the stones at a Roman Villa in Havant to determine an origin of the custom in antiquity. He was intrigued as to why the practise still continued in the 1920s.
Brightonians were known to suspend the stones outside the door of cottages in Brighton or outside houses in Patcham and Southwick. Upon encountering a lucky stone on the Downs, some believed that spitting through the hole before casting it over their left shoulder would bring them luck.
W. Jacobs was a friend of Toms who shared his enthusiasm for the folklore of the lucky stones. The two would often share their findings. Among Toms’ archive is a note from Jacobs on his own investigations of the custom.
“In the garden hanging round a post are a dozen or more of holed stones each about the size of a dinner plate.
Mr Smith’s daughter who was explaining the business to me showed me a “lucky stone” which she had found herself in 1913 and which had been hanging over the staircase in the house since that date to “prevent any unlucky happenings on the stairs.”
Miss Smith offered me a lucky stone which I accepted and herewith hand on to you.
(signed) W. Jacobs.
Toms’ folklore collection is full of interviews, photographs and specimens all illustrating similar tales and belief in the power of the lucky stones. It seems some people have spent years trying to protect themselves from the menace that is embraced during this Halloween season.
Krystyna Pickering, Collections Knowledge