The Strange Imatra Stones

There are seven strange limestone formations among the magic objects in the National Museum of Finland. Two of these are called “Imatra stones” (Imatrankivi) in the catalogue. Imatra stones are chalk coagulates that were formed in clay deposits of the River Vuoksi area during the melting phase of the Ice Age. They are often curiously shaped, smooth surfaced, and formed of darker and lighter layers. The name comes from the Imatra Rapids in the River Vuoksi.

This strange-shaped Imatra stone is from the collections of the Biological Museum in Turku. Photo: The Museum Centre of Turku. CC BY-ND 4.0.

The seven stones in the magic objects collection are either quite round or oval-shaped. One of them is pear-shaped. Two of the stones are formed into spindle whorls. Since the appearance of spindle whorls did not change significantly trough time, it is not possible to assess whether they had been used in textile production recently or perhaps as long ago as in the Iron Age. The catalogue reveals that one of them has been used to heal boils on the skin by pressing them with the object. The use of the other one is not specified in the catalogue beyond that it has been used in magic. Two of the seven stones are called “snake’s court stones” in the catalogue. As mentioned in this blog, it was believed that snakes would pass such a stone from mouth to mouth in their court meetings in the spring.

The Imatra stones in the magic objects collection of the National Museum are mostly similar to this stone in the Biological Museum in Turku. Photo: The Museum Centre of Turku. CC BY-ND 4.0.

One of the stones is called a cunning person’s stone (tietäjänkivi) in the catalogue. This stone has come to the collection in 1903 together with some other objects collected from different places in North Ostrobothnia. The collector has provided the same information about the use of all these objects: “If someone had a sore foot, eye, or other body part due to sorcery or contagion the cunning person places the magic objects into a wooden bowl, adds water from a spring or river and washes the sore with the water (the magic objects are kept in the water during washing). Then the water is taken where the cunning person advises or they will take it there themselves.”

It seems that the curious Imatra stones were useful as magic objects, but perhaps not always as their own category. Sometimes they could be snake’s court stones, sometimes cunning person’s stones, and perhaps sometimes other powerful objects. Moreover, for the time being, it is unclear whether the name Imatra stone is given by geologists or if it is an old name for these fascinating stones.

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