The belief that cities or towns may be protected from the incursions of noxious animals, birds, or insects, by an image or figure representing one of these creatures, is of great antiquity. This seems to be on the principle of the homoeopathic doctrine, "Like cures like." A homely illustration of the same idea is afforded by the shrewd farmer who hangs up a dead crow in his cornfield to protect the crops. On the other hand, the eccentric French writer, Antoine Mizauld, recommended the following as an effective charm for attracting a large number of crows to one spot: As soon as the constellation of the Virgin rises above the horizon, the figure of a half crow is to be painted on a piece of cloth, while these words are repeated: "Let no crow in all this district move away without coming to this image, in whatever spot it may be buried." The piece of cloth, with its magical figure, is then interred and the charm is complete.
Apollonius of Tyana in Cappadocia, the philosopher and pretended magician of the first century, is said to have freed Antioch from scorpions and flies by means of the brazen image of a scorpion. The French bishop, Gregory of Tours, mentions an ancient popular belief that no serpents or dormice were to be seen in Paris. In his time, however, or toward the close of the sixth century, while workmen were removing the mud which covered one of the arches of the Bridge of Paris, they found imbedded therein two brazen images of a serpent and dormouse, which were taken away; and thenceforth, he says, the city was infested by prodigious numbers of dormice and snakes. In Jean Baptiste Thiers's treatise on Superstitions (Paris, 1679), we find allusion to a serpent of brass at Constantinople, which long served as a talisman to bar the entrance of living serpents. But when the city was captured by Mahomet II. in 1453, that monarch broke the teeth of the image by the force of an arrow-shot; and immediately a legion of serpents attacked the inhabitants, but without doing them any harm, for the teeth of all were broken. In the reign of Charlemagne it was customary in Piedmont to use a formula for blessing holy water with which to drive away noxious animals from the crops, and with such success that not a single mole could be found in the whole town of Aosta, nor within three thousand paces beyond its boundaries.
Mr. Andrew Lang, in his volume entitled "Custom and Myth," says that, in a church of a certain old Saxon town, the verger is wont to exhibit to visitors a silver mouse dedicated to Our Lady; explaining that the town was infested with mice until this now precious relic was presented by some ladies as a propitiatory offering, whereupon the creatures disappeared at once.
According to the ancient Doctrine of Signatures, the therapeutic virtues of plants were indicated by certain peculiarities of their external appearance. Thus Dracontium, or great dragon, a plant which has a fancied resemblance to this mythical monster, was thought to be a preservative against serpents; and the scorpion-grass (Myosotis), whose flower-spike was not unlike a scorpion's tail, was deemed an antidote to the stings of noxious insects.
Indeed, the old herbalists of England claimed by the sole use of herbs, not only to cure all fleshly ills, but to drive away or keep at a distance wolves, leopards, and all venomous wild beasts.
In Tibet, according to L. Austine Waddell, M. B., ferocious mastiffs are permitted to roam at large in the night, a source of terror to wayfarers, who therefore carry about charms consisting of "the picture of a dog muzzled and fettered by a chain, terminated by the mystic and all-powerful thunderbolt sceptre," while along the dog's body are written certain Sanskrit magical sentences.