Adder/Serpent’s Egg or ‘Druid’s Glass’, by Lewis Spence
MAGIC ARTS IN CELTIC BRITAIN Lewis Spence (1946), ©Aquarian Press 1970What has come to be regarded as another distinctive section of the Celtic magical tradition is associated with that mystic ornament which the Druids were wont to carry suspended from their necks as a mark of their office. The ‘Serpent’s Egg’ is a so-called oval ball of crystal, said to be produced by the foam of a number of serpents meeting in congress.
The elder Pliny, AD23-79, in writing of this amulet, tells that as the snakes twined together in a mass, they threw off these globes which were formed of their viscous slime. By their hissing the ball was cast into the air and if a Druid could catch it in a cloth before it fell, he might, if mounted upon a horse kept in readiness, succeed in making off with it. The snakes followed after him in venomous pursuit but, could he succeed in crossing a running stream before they made up with him, the prize would remain in his possession.
This magical amulet was known in Celtic tradition as the Glainnaider or Glain-nan-Druidhe, the Druid’s Glass. Pliny informs us that it was chiefly employed for counteracting incantations. He had himself seen a specimen. This act of the snakes, says Dr. Owen Pughe, was only performed at one season of the year—in summer—and on the occasion of a given moon.The Welsh bard Aneurin alludes to it in one of his minor poems as:
The quick-glancing ball,
The adder’s bright precious produce
The ejacultion of serpents
He who possessed it was certain to gain any lawsuit in which he might engage and would be ‘well-received by kings’. Algernon Herbert (1838) was of opinion that the ‘serpents were none other than the Druids themselves, and that the process of manufacture was one of simple glass-blowing’.
The Druids, says Davies in his Mythology and Rites of the British Druids, ‘are called Nadredd, adders, by the Welsh bards.’ He believed that they owed this title to ‘their regenerative system of transmigration’ which was symbolized by the serpent, which casts its skin and returns to a second youth. These ‘eggs’, he thought, were manufactured by the Druids when ‘they assembled at a stated time in the summer’ and he quotes Camden as saying that in many parts of Wales, Scotland and Cornwall, people retained superstitious ideas concerning the origin and virtues of these ‘eggs’, similar to those which Pliny recorded concerning them. This statement is interesting, as it reveals the continuance of a belief from Druidic times until those of recent popular memory.
Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, ©The Aquarian Press, London 1970