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By Lois E. Springer
( Article orginally published October 1960 )
Through the ages, countless magical powers have been attributed to bells. Church bells in France were once rung to ward off lightning.
In the chapel of St. Fillans in Scotland, there is said to be a very ancient oblong bell. In days gone by it was usually kept on a gravestone in the churchyard and used in the technique of curing "mad" people.
The sufferer was first dipped in a pool, rites were performed over him, he then was bound with ropes, and left in the chapel over night. Next morning, the moment the bell was placed on the sufferer's head, lo! his wits returned.
It is also said that many centuries ago if you wanted to prove a man guilty of a crime, all you had to do was to put a bell in his hands. If he was guilty, the bell began a murmur of sounds.
The Arthurian romance of Tristan and Isolde refers to the magic possession of a fairy dog wearing a bell whose tinkle banished all worry. Early day shepherds tied bells to their sheep and thought that through the sound the wooly crea>ures grew fat.
To the people of the Middle Ages, especially, the supernatural world was very real and close. Mystical powers were attributed to countless objects, including bells. Even long after the medieval era, the Church itself condoned the use of bells to frighten away evil spirits. Typical of this belief was the "passing bell" rung for the dead to keep evil spirits from molesting the body.
The collecting of bells once used as amulets or charms is an absorbing hobby. It leads one into the field of superstitious lore to be found among people ~of almost every land.
English horse brasses with a single small bell swinging in the opening were once used as protectors to ward off sinister influences. From the Isle of Capri come charming silver good luck bells with a four-leaf clover design on them and the inscription La Campanella della Fortuna San Michele.
These small silver bells were much prized by fliers of 'World War II who were sent to Capri to rest from the hazards of their missions. According to the old jingle, the four leaf clover is a very fitting decoration for these little good luck bells:
"One leaf is for fame,
Bells made in the likeness of miniature figures are often used as talismans and are sold in their native land on festival days. The Japanese are fond of clay Ma-yoke-Suzu or anti-demoniac bells in the likeness of a lion's head. Though grotesque, the workmanship and glazing on these is attractive.
But perhaps the most curious of Japanese charm bells is found in the chubby little likeness of Daruma with his hands clasped over his head. The original of the Daruma charm bells was the famous Buddhist priest, Dharma of the 6th century, founder of Zen Buddhism.
Tradition says he sat so many years in meditation on The Truth of Life that his legs grew into his body. As a result he came to be represented with only his face showing above a pouchy cloak covering his grotesqueness. In some localities Japanese folk still follow the New Year's custom of buying Daruma charm bells to insure good health and good fortune.
All manner of bells have long been used to protect children the world over. Early baby rattles were sometimes designed with talismans traditionally supposed to bring protection.
Because coral has won this attribute, 17th and 18th century silver baby rattles were often decorated with coral. Blue glass beads also carry this same protective charm, supposedly, and were used to decorate Early American baby bells.
Legend goes so far as to claim that the blue beads were considered a special protection against witches prone to rob and cast harm over Colonial cradles. In Africa, children of many tribes still wear a chain of blue beads with a brass bell dangling from it.
Primitive life everywhere is an endless ritual of appeasement. For in primitive cultures it is believed that evil spirits are capricious, and it is therefore difficult to know when harm will strike.
Consequently, bells and other crude good luck charms are worn as a part of their daily dress by natives in the jungles of Africa, Malaya, South America, and elsewhere.
Two crude types of bells once faithfully worn to ward off evil are occasionally seen in bell collections. One is the "evil eye" bell from Malaya. The other is the Bagobo bell from the Philippines.
Believing in the superstitious adage that "like repels like," Malayan natives fashion crotals of varying proportions, always with two bulging dots representing the "Evil Eye." These bulging eyes have the power to frighten off the real Evil Eye from the one wearing the crotal.
Perhaps the most interesting and also the most rare of all primitive magic bells are those worn by the pagan Bagobo men of the Philippines. Our illustration shows a handsome carved knife, its fine brass case inlaid with beadwork and fringed with bells fashioned by these tribesmen. They are made by the cireperdue method, no two bells being alike.
Knives like this are a customary part of the Bagobo tribesman's costume, hanging from his belt whereever he goes. The bells are as highly valued as the knife itself for their rattle wards off all .harmful endeavors on the part of malicious spirits.