Raven Stones, Turnip Patches, and Guardian Snakes

A cunning person protects the turnip patch from thieves:

After a new turnip patch was planted, ploughed, and fenced, the owner would summon a snake to guard it. If a thief would try to come into the patch, the guardian snake would attack. It would guard as long as the turnips were growing, until they were harvested. The snakes were summoned as follows: A stone obtained from a raven’s nest was put in the mouth and then one would blow in a whistle made from the thighbone of a frog, and coax:

Mato musta, kyy punanen, [Worm black, viper red]
Toukka tuonen tanhuvilta, [Maggot from the land of death]
Nosta pääsi, kuule kutsu, [Rise your head, hear the call]
Saavu tänne, luokki selekä! [Come here, shaft bow back!]

When the summoner then threw their hat on the ground and put the raven stone and frog whistle on it, the snake would appear under the hat.

SKVR VI2: 7579a. Recorded in Tervo in 1934. (Translated to English by the current author.)

Among stones in the Magic Objects collection of the National Museum in Finland, there are several so-called raven stones. These are externally similar to the snake’s court stones discussed in an earlier post, namely small, water-polished pebbles. According to folklore, raven stones were only found in the nest of a raven, and they could be used in healing, for example for toothache. More often, however, the folklore describes quite extraordinary effects of these stones. One popular theme is that if you put the raven stone in your mouth, you will become invisible. These kinds of beliefs seem more like fairy tales and fantasy than connected with actual physical objects, that one actually could put in the mouth and see what happens.

Image: Seven raven stones in a pouch.
Seven raven stones in a pouch. National Museum of Finland. Photo by S. Hukantaival. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Still, we do have raven stones in the museum collection. In one case concerning seven raven stones in a pouch, the catalogue tells that they had been passed down in the family for three or more generations. It also includes the popular theme that the raven would bring the stone from the Biblical Jordan River to heal or revive its young if they were harmed. However, it is not known if any of the raven stones in the museum have ever been used to summon a guardian snake to protect a turnip patch.

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