The Magical Tools of the Druid

In addition to their prodigious abilities of speech, the druids employed a number of magical tools, amulets, and charms. The wand or staff, an everpresent instrument of the magician, is recorded in numerous accounts of the druids. The most unusual of these is the Craebh Ciuil (“Silver Branch”), which was reportedly a delicate wand in the shape of a branch, hung with musical bells. The silver wand seems to have been an emblem of office for the bards; sometimes branches of bronze or gold are mentioned as well.

In mythological stories, the branch is invariably connected to the Otherworld and has the power to put its hearers in a trance sleep. The branch seems to have been connected with the sea god Manannan originally, but in later tales, it is often granted to heroes by Otherworld goddesses. Silver Branch makes an appearance at the beginning of the account of the Voyage of Bran, who sets out to find the Otherworld after hearing the beautiful music of one of its trees in a dream. In another tale, King Cormac mac Airt returns from the Otherworld with such a branch, which was able to lull the people of his court to sleep with its music.

The druids also employed numerous amulets and talismans, as attested to by archaeological finds and the accounts of observers. These included charms made of various woods and plants, and small metal emblems such as the wheel emblem of Taranis. Stone amulets, called “adder stones,” were fossil ammonites that resembled sleeping serpents; these were carried to ward off illness, especially maladies of the eye.

The Greeks and Romans were especially interested in a druid amulet called the serpent's egg, a glass or crystal stone that was believed to have been vomited up by snakes. The serpent's egg was believed to be a powerful talisman, especially efficacious in legal matters. The amulet was so popular that the Romans outlawed it, and one account tells of a Roman soldier who was executed for wearing such a concealed amulet to court.

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