Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crystal Balls

Anglo Saxon Crystal Ball at Maidstone Museum. - Explore Heritage

"These crystal balls were found in ladies graves in Kent and lay between the thighs. They were most likely suspended at the front of the clothing. Crystal balls have been found on the Continent too, but where found in Kent they seem to be mainly found in unusually rich graves and accompanied by silver spoons, perforated in the bowl. The crystal itself is made from quartz and there are many theories as to their uses.
This particular piece was found at Bifrons Cemetery, Patrixbourne, Kent, in grave number 42. Bifrons Cemetery dates to around AD 475-575 and was excavated by TB Godfrey-Fausset in 1867. Around 100 graves were discovered and further graves appear to have been opened but not recorded.
Accession Number: KAS 314

Today is about exploring quartz crystal balls, am I seeing them as 'scrying' devices, a crystal  ball gazing into the future a bit like Rose Lee the gypsy who plies her trade on Whitby pier, no not quite. But they have been there in past history.  As curative amulets in Roman times, Pliny said that they were used more for their ice like properties, used for cooling hands and also for cauterizing.  LS has just mentioned a 1200 year old painting which has a Japanese lady of the court holding one for a similar purpose.
They came with the Anglo-Saxon people to Kent, and belonged to the rich and noble families, hanging from the chatelaine round the female waist, excavated, they lie between the legs of the skeleton.  They are a Frankish importation and are often found next to a spoon which would seem to be used as sieve.  Either for the wine that in the halls would be poured out by the women for the menfolk, the holes stopping any herbs, etc getting through or for divination maybe such as  water poured over the crystal ball, both of course are just conjectures.
Anglo-Saxon sieving spoon

As England went through the Conversion period from paganism to Christianity, the crystal became part of the narrative of the Church, so that we find  Alfred's Jewel also made of crystal set in gold.  By this stage crystal became a symbol of the Virgin Mary and of the Immaculate Conception (because it can act as a catalyst to light passing through).
It was also a symbol of rainbows, the rainbow that shines after the storm such as that experienced in the Great Flood and Noah in the bible and god's promise after the flood.. The rational explanation of this way of seeing the properties of these stones, is of course the 'pictures' we see in stones, two examples of stones here....
This is a clear polished crystal of LS, you can almost see a water world.

This is my moonstone, which has a very Chinese landscape image in its depths, the photo is not too good though.
  1. Description of Moonstone;
  2. Moonstone is composed of two feldspar species, orthoclase and albite. The two species are intermingled. Then, as the newly formed mineral cools, the intergrowth of orthoclase and albite separates into stacked, alternating layers.
  3. Compared to crystal balls that divine our future, such a geological explanation can seem boring, but of course the properties of all stones are fascinating, and after all when you do geophysics with the machines of today, the machine is reacting to what goes on under the soil.


  1. I just adore that serving spoon. I have a brooch with a moonstone in it - they are so beautiful.

  2. Opal used to be my favourite stone, shot with different colours, and I always choose garnet for rings, but I think moonstones has an edge to both of these stones.

  3. Fascinating post. I have never read of these grave goods (but then we didn't do a great deal about the Saxons). I do have a book called the Anglo Saxon way of Death, so I shall go and check it out . . .

  4. ust had a new book through the post it is the BM's Anglo-Saxon Art by Phillip Webster, beautifully illustrated but a dense read as far as the text is concerned...