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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains

By Lynda McDaniel

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Fairy Crosses

In spite of the legends and superstitions that surround fairy crosses (also known as fairy stones and fairy tears), these unique, cross-shaped stones do have a scientific explanation. Found in rocks that have been subjected to great heat and pressure, fairy stones are composed of staurolite, a combination of silica, iron, and aluminum. Together, these minerals often crystallize in twin form and appear on the stones in a crosslike structure.

Staurolite stones (from the Greek word Stauros, meaning "cross") are most commonly shaped like St. Andrew's and Roman crosses. For many years, people have used fairy stones as good luck charms, believing that they protect the wearer against witchcraft, sickness, accidents, and disaster. It is claimed that three U.S. presidents carried fairy stones as talismans.

The Cherokee are particularly fond of these stones. One Cherokee legend explains that fairy crosses are the fallen tears of the Yunwi Tsunsdi, or Little People, tiny, fairylike spirits known for their shy, timid nature and their ability to find lost people. According to the legend, the Little People were gathered near the town of Brasstown for a day of singing and dancing when a foreign messenger arrived with news of the Crucifixion. The horrible story made the Little People weep, and their tears fell to the earth as small crosses. Their hearts were so filled with sorrow that they did not notice the tiny crosses on the ground when they left. An excellent collection of fairy crosses is on display at the Cherokee County Historical Museum in Murphy, phone (704) 837-6792.

In addition to the Brasstown area, staurolite stones have been discovered throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Fairy Stone State Park (Route 2, Box 723, Stuart, VA 24171-9588, phone 540-930-2424) in Stuart, Virginia, claims to be the best place for fairy cross hunting, and rangers provide free informational handouts on the unique history of the stones. Despite how frequently they appear in this region, fairy stones remain largely uncommon throughout most of the world.

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