An ancient observation on the occult virtues of iron was
made by Pliny the Elder (ca. 23–79 C.E.) in his Natural History
(as translated in 1601 by Philemon Holland).
‘‘As touching the use of Yron and steele in Physicke, it serveth
otherwise than for to launce, cut and dismember withal;
Iremonger, Lucille (d’Oyen) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
for take the knife or dagger, an make an ymaginerie circle two
or three times round with the point thereof upon a young child
or an elder bodie, and then goe round withall about the partie
as often, it is a singular preservative against all poysons, sorceries,
or enchantments. Also to take any yron naile out of the
coffin or sepulchre wherein man or woman lieth buried, and to
sticke the same fast to the lintle or side post of a dore, leading
either to the house or bed-chamber where any dooth lie who
is haunted with Spirits in the night, he or she shall be delivered
and secured from such phanasticall illusions. Moreover, it is
said, that if one be lightly pricked with the point of sword or
dagger, which hath been the death of a man, it is an excellent
remedy against the pains of sides or breast, which come with
sudden prickes or stitches.’’
In certain parts of Scotland and Ireland, there was a belief
in the potency of iron for warding off the attacks of fairies. An
iron poker, laid across a cradle, would, it was believed, keep
fairies away until the child was baptized. The Reverend John
G. Campbell in his Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of
Scotland (1900) relates how, when children, he and another boy
were believed to be protected from a fairy that had been seen
at a certain spot because one boy possessed a knife and the
other a nail.
Many other countries had folklore about iron as a religious
taboo or a charm against witchcraft and the supernatural. Iron
tools were prohibited in Greek and Hebrew temples in ancient
times. In Korea the body of the king was never to be touched
by iron. Roman priests were forbidden to shave with iron
blades. In India and China evil spirits were warded off by iron.
French, Roger. Science in the Early Roman Empire Pliny the
Elder, His Sources and His Influence. New York Barnes & Nobel,
Pliny the Elder. Natural History. New York Penguin, 1991.