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Touchstones of belief: a rich legacy of Charms and Amulets in Scotland
Charmstones have the power to fascinate and to inspire when we see them in pictures or enshrined in glass cases; we may even have one sitting on the mantelpiece! We understand them as reflections of folk belief or part of a transcendental or even supernatural world. In Scotland, in common with most world communities, we have a rich legacy of charms and amulets existing in many forms throughout our history and guessed at in our prehistory. What does this mean while medicine was as much faith as understanding? Or how can we better understand Saint Columba when he picked up his miraculous stone from the bed of the River Ness? Was this charismatic figure of our earliest history ‘saint’ or ‘seer’? This is the material culture of a supposed ‘otherworld’, offering daily protection from disease and death and tangible evidence of how people faced a pandemic. As the stuff of museum displays, charms and amulets become disassociated from their lifescapes context and, more importantly, from language and belief systems that are still part of our daily experience.
Professor Hugh Cheape has devised and teaches a postgraduate programme, MSc Cultar Dùthchasach agus Eachdraidh na Gàidhealtachd (‘Material Culture and Gàidhealtachd History’), at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture. He holds a Research Chair in the University of the Highlands and Islands. The MSc has grown out of his curatorial and ethnological work during a career in the National Museums of Scotland. He has published widely in the subject fields of ethnology and musicology, including studies in Scottish agricultural history, vernacular architecture, piping, tartans and dye analysis, pottery, charms and amulets and talismanic belief.