FLOWERS OF THE UNDERWORLDAdded: 09 June 2017
A variety of quartz known as chalcedony, the agate comes in many different colors including blue (blue lace agate), and with different patterns and shapes embedded within the stone (such as moss agate and dendritic agate, which has tiny tree designs within it). Some agates are constructed of concentric circles of differently colored pigments, and when these particular stones are cut and polished to show a black or brown inner circle surrounded by a band of white, they are regarded as a symbol of the eye and, like similar talismans, are believed to protect the wearer against the evil eye.
Agates are also believed to protect people and buildings from damage by storms and lightning. Any agate with a naturally formed hole in it is still nailed above the doorways of some rural dairies so that the cows’ milk will not be rendered sour by lightning. An added benefit is that this talisman will also stop witches kidnapping the cows and riding them during the night. Such a stone was also carried by sailors in order to keep them safe at sea and to prevent seasickness. In the same way that agate is believed to have a calming effect on tempests, storms, thunder, and lightning, it soothes human nature too, and an agate worn by (or in close proximity to) a sleeper will ensure a good nights’ sleep and peaceful dreams.
The association with the Sun is probably the most powerful symbolic link for amber, and it does indeed look like a trapped sunbeam, especially when the occlusions and faults within the stone catch the light. Many of the uses of the stone reflect this association; amber is said to cheer and revitalize. Amber was also believed to cure all manner of ailments, in particular hay fever, asthma, and other throat and respiratory infections. Because amber was once liquid, small insects can sometimes be found embedded in it and this is the most valuable type of amber as well as being the premise of the film Jurassic Park (where dinosaurs were bred from DNA taken from these insects). Like jet, amber burns easily, and it was for this reason that in Germany it was called Bernstein, meaning “burn stone.” The scent given off by burning amber was believed to drive away evil spirits.
Amethyst is used to describe lavender /purple quartz crystals, whose sublime color has lent deep meaning to this particular stone, the importance of which is underlined by its appearance as one of the twelve stones set into the breastplate of the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The name itself gives a clue as to its symbolic meaning and supposed efficacy. In Greek, amethystos means “non-intoxicating.” It was said that the stone, placed under the tongue or worn by the drinker, would enable him to consume as much alcohol as desired with no ill-effects, and goblets were made from amethyst for the same reason. Amethyst’s reputation as the stone of sobriety may be what still makes it a popular choice for bishops (it is sometimes called the bishops’ stone) or it may be the color: the high frequency hues of violet and purple are associated with the spiritual realms. It should be remembered that purple, as a dye, was a costly color to produce and so was reserved for those rich enough or illustrious enough to be able to afford it; yet here was a crystal of that valuable hue, created naturally. No surprise that it was regarded so highly and was seen as a natural symbol of authority.
The name aquamarine means “water of the sea,” and accurately describes this sea-blue translucent gemstone. Not surprisingly, the stone is sacred to many of the sea deities, and sailors believed that it would bring them a safe passage across the oceans and banish fear during stormy weather.
In the Kabbalah, the aquamarine is linked to the Great Mother, Binah, because of its associations with the sea and the water element. The aquamarine also has protective qualities.
This is the generic term given to “stones” that have been recovered from the insides of animals, held to have talismanic power commensurate with the creature from which they are recovered. One of the most efficacious uses of the bezoar stone also gives us its name. They are believed to dispel poisons, or at least to provide an antidote to them; pad-zahr, in Arabic, means “poison removing,” and in time this became “bezoar.” The bezoar was introduced to Europe by Arab physicians during the time of the Great Plague although it was also known to, and used by, the Chinese, the Malays, Peruvian Indians, and Indians. Bezoar stones were carved and set into knife handles, as a way to protect the knife’s owner from poisoning. The bezoar was also believed to confer the gifts of youth and vitality, could prevent asthma, and was used as a treatment for the kidneys and the bladder by being ground into a fine powder and made into an elixir.
The reason that Mecca is one of the foremost places of pilgrimage in the world today is because it is home to the black stone, or al Hajar ul Aswad, one of the most holy and sacred items in Islam. The provenance of this stone is unknown, although it is generally believed to be a meteorite. Others claim that it was given to Ishmael, the son of Abraham, by the angel Gabriel. The story goes that the angel that had failed to prevent the serpent from tempting Adam and Eve was trapped inside this stone, a zircon, that was turned black by the kisses of sinners. At the Day of Judgement the angel, released from this prison, would be able to bear witness to all those who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Despite the myths, the only thing certain about the black stone is its great age. Muslims circling the Ka’aba seven times during their ritual pilgrimage will attempt, if they can, to kiss the stone; if this proves impossible they will point at the stone each time they go around it instead. The black stone is regularly anointed with perfumed oil. The stone is of modest size, measuring approximately 30 cm in diameter. Legend has it that the stone was once pure white, but blackened as it absorbed the sins of mankind. The stone itself is now cracked, damage which may have occurred when it was stolen around AD 930. Others believe it was broken during a siege in AD 638. The stone is held together by a frame of silver which is oval in shape; the entire sacred object resembles a large unblinking eye.
BREASTPLATE OF THE HIGH PRIEST
This extraordinary artifact of the Ancient world has provided the original source for much of the importance of certain gemstones.
The first High Priest of Jerusalem was called Aaron, who lived in 1200 BC. Aaron was the first High Priest to wear the “breastplate of righteousness and prophecy,” also known as the Essen. The breastplate was connected with the mysterious objects Urim and Thummim, which were said to be the powers of judgement and prophecy. This breastplate had twelve stones, in gold mountings, embedded into it in a specific sequence that had been described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible. There has been some speculation as to the identity of some of the stones, as many centuries have elapsed since they were first described, and their names have changed. Set in four rows of three stones each, the gems are described as follows, from the first row working down:
Sardius (possible carnelian); topaz; carbuncle (possibly garnet)
Emerald; sapphire; diamond
Ligure (possibly jacinth); agate; amethyst
Beryl; onyx; jasper
Each gem was inscribed with the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and also bears a relationship to the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The breastplate itself was tied over the top of the robe-like garment of the High Priest.
A variety of chalcedony which has a specific orange-red opacity, the carnelian is among the many gems that used to be referred to as bloodstones, because of its color. Its name is said to come either from the karnel cherry, or from the Latin words for meat, carne, or heart, cor.
The carnelian has always been held to be a protective stone, and is sometimes referred to as the “blood of Isis,” again because of its color. As a carved talismanic object, it was placed at the throat of the mummy in order that the protection of the Goddess would be invoked in the journey through the Underworld. These amulets often had images and symbols-such as the eye, the lion, and the hand-carved into the carnelian. The carnelian which was carved with the symbol of the eye was an efficacious charm against the evil eye.
The Ancient Greeks believed that the carnelian could satisfy all the heart’s desires; this is similar to Muslim beliefs about the carnelian, which they called the Mecca stone, since it could make wishes come true. The symbolism of the carnelian as one of happiness and bonhomie means that, if placed under a sleeper’s pillow, it will bring happy dreams.
Any stone which has an occlusion within it that causes light to refract in the same way as in the eye of a cat can be given this title. The actual name given to the process is called chatoyancy. The true cat’s eye, however, is a stone called chrysoberyl, which is composed of thin fibers running in the same direction that reflect light in the manner described. Wherever the symbol of the eye appears in a naturally occurring stone or indeed elsewhere in nature, the object is seen to have protective qualities. The cat’s eye stone is no exception. The cat’s eye is also used as a charm to counter the effect of spells and sorcery, in particular the malice caused by the evil eye. In Arab regions, it was believed that wearing the stone could render the wearer invisible; something to do with the eye of the stone affecting the sight of the viewer, no doubt.
The yellow color of the citrine (a type of quartz) not only gives us the origin of its name but means that it has become symbolically associated with the Sun, warmth, and vitality. The stomach area also shares the same association with the yellow section of the spectrum, for example in the system of energy centers called chakras, and so the citrine is believed to be able to cure ailments related to this part of the body.
The chemical name for copper-cuprum-has the same root as the word for the island of Cyprus, where major deposits of the ore were once found. Cyprus was sacred to the Goddess Venus, and so copper was her metal and also the metal associated with the planet which bears her name.
Copper was well known to ancient man and has long been a source of protection against lightning, since copper rods act as conductors and will direct the electricity into the ground. As a result, copper was considered protection against other evil influences. In Egypt, mummies had a copper disc, engraved with magical signs and symbols, placed beneath their head. This disc was called a hypocephalus, and made use of the heat-retaining ability of the metal to keep the corpse warm. Even today the use of copper bracelets as an antidote to the aches and pains of rheumatism is widespread. People believe that this works because the skin absorbs minute copper deposits (turning the skin a tell-tale green). However efficacious these copper bracelets may be there is no definitive evidence as to how they work. Copper is also said to soothe insect stings when laid over the affected area.
The Greek word for diamond is adamas, meaning both “untamable” and “hard.” It gives us the word “adamant” or “adamantine,” which is also used as a term of reference to describe the brilliance of the stone. The diamond is the hardest of all minerals, and is used as a measure of the toughness of other stones.
One of the stones on the breastplate of the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem where it was said to shine brilliantly in the presence of truth and innocence, the diamond is not only tough, but extremely beautiful and relatively rare, qualities which make it one of the most costly precious gems. Traditionally it is the stone used in engagement rings as a symbol of betrothal, although the notion that an eager suitor should be obliged to spend a month’s salary on the ring for his future wife is nothing more than a cynical ruse, invented relatively recently by a leading diamond house to persuade people to spend their money.
The diamond, therefore, became a symbol of love and commitment, although its use in rings was originally as a protective talisman. Knights and warriors liked to set diamonds into their sword hilts and shields for this reason. But these diamonds did not sparkle in the way we recognize today; they remained as they had done when they came out of the ground. The diamond is so hard that it will easily score a mark on glass, and during the time of Queen Elizabeth I “scribbling rings” were all the rage. These were rings into which a diamond was set with the sharp point facing upwards. The stone was used to scribble messages on windows, usually little love letters or secret messages. Because of the fire which flashes within a well-cut and polished diamond, the stone is associated with thunder and lightning. In India it is even named Vajra, meaning lightning. Diamonds are believed to absorb both good and bad energy, and people who use gemstones for healing purposes need to be very careful not to upset the delicate balance of the stone. Some notorious diamonds-no doubt the object of much envy, greed, and sometimes even bloodshed-have curses attached to them and are believed to be “unlucky” in the hands of their owners.
One of the more notorious of these cursed gems is the Hope Diamond. The stone seems to have left a trail of ruined lives and devastation in its wake. The bad fortune surrounding the stone started when it was stolen from the forehead of the statue of the Goddess Sita in India, and some believe that the malice surrounding the stone is because the Goddess subsequently cursed anyone who touched it. The original thief was reputed to have been torn apart by wild dogs. The diamond passed through the hands of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, both of whom were beheaded. It was eventually purchased by a wealthy banker, Philip Hope, and then inherited by his nephew Thomas, who lost his entire fortune shortly thereafter. Next it was bought by Ambul Hamid, a Sultan of Turkey, who lost his title and was forced to sell the diamond. It was bought by Mrs Edward Maclean, wife of an American newspaper magnate. She lost both her fortune and her only son, who was killed in an accident.
One of the most precious of all stones, the emerald comes from the beryl family. A perfect emerald is difficult to find and is therefore extremely valuable, although even the flawed kinds are costly. Its importance as a beautiful and valuable mineral has been acknowledged since ancient times. One of the most famous emerald mines was in Upper Egypt and belonged to the Queen of Sheba. The mine itself was said to be guarded by evil spirits. These emeralds were accorded magical status, and were said to grow, flourish, or diminish according to the seasons, and to change in intensity with the phases of the Moon. This belief-that emeralds “ripened”-was also held by the Peruvians, who reputedly had a Temple of Esmerelda, which contained a massive stone, together with lots of smaller stones which were called her “daughters.” This temple has never been discovered. Thoth-also known as Hermes Trismegistus, Hermes, or Mercury, the God of writing, communication, and knowledge-wrote down the secrets of the Universe on a great emerald tablet, the Smaragdina Tablet. The emerald is therefore symbolic of arcane information, and carries with it the wisdom of the Ancients. Because it was dedicated to Mercury, the emerald was carried as a talisman by travelers to keep them safe on their journey. Emerald talismans were also used to exorcize demons. If given as a gift between lovers (for example as an engagement ring), the emerald would ensure a long and happy life. However, if either partner should be unfaithful, then the emerald would start to fade in its brilliance, so the stone represents truth.
Although the garnet can be transparent, green, yellow, orange, ultraviolet, brown, and black (although not blue), it is the red garnet which is the best known. Because it generally has a rich, dark color similar to that of veinous blood, the garnet has long been associated with this vital liquid, and is said to be efficacious in treating bleeding wounds, blood disease, and hemorrhages. The garnet was even believed to have been able to staunch bleeding wounds, and so was used as a protective talisman by soldiers from the Crusades onwards, set into sword hilts and shields.
The name “garnet” comes from pomegranate; indeed, the jewel does look similar to the sparkling seed of this fruit, and is similarly associated with the fertility of the womb. As well as being able to heal wounds, garnet is also believed to be able to inflict mortal wounds on the enemy. In 1892, when Indian and British troops were fighting one another in Kashmir, the enterprising Hunza tribesmen used spherical garnets as bullets interspersed with more regular ammunition. These jewels, used as weapons, caused many serious injuries or fatalities to the British forces.
Associations between gemstones and the signs of the Zodiac, the planets, the months of the year, days of the week, anniversaries and birthdays, chakras and more, tend to be something of a moveable feast, varying according to different writers and depending on individual spiritual beliefs. The stones attached to the months and the seasons, for example, differ according to the religion and country of origin of the authority that is consulted. In addition certain stones tend to go in and out of fashion. Adding to the confusion are the changes in the names of stones, as well as alterations to the calendar dates over the centuries that have meant that the traditional stone for one month sometimes spills over into the next.
The following charts give the most popular definitions of these correspondences. The links between planets and their metals are listed toward the end of this section under seven magical metals.
Gemstones and the planets
SUN: Amber, diamond, topaz
MOON: Moonstone, pearl
EARTH: Amber, jade, ammonite
MERCURY: Agate, opal, citrine
VENUS: Malachite, rose quartz, emerald
MARS: Hematite, ruby, spinel
JUPITER: Sapphire, lapis lazuli, turquoise
SATURN: Jet, onyx, coral
URANUS: Opal, amethyst
NEPTUNE: Aquamarine, coral, pearl
PLUTO: Diamond, jade, zircon
Gemstones and the Zodiac
ARIES: Diamond, bloodstone
TAURUS: Emerald, lapis lazuli
GEMINI: Agate, citrine
CANCER: Moonstone, pearl
LEO: Peridot, amber
VIRGO: Aquamarine, carnelian
LIBRA: Jacinth, amethyst
SCORPIO: Opal, sapphire
SAGITTARIUS: Turquoise, topaz
CAPRICORN: Onxy, garnet
AQUARIUS: Garnet, aquamarine
PISCES: Amethyst, bloodstone
According to the esotericist and prolific occult author Walter Richard Old (“Sepharial”), 1864-1929, who was the first President of the British Astrological Society, the stones that belong to the birthsigns vary slightly from those listed above. He has the ruby belonging to Cancer, the sardonyx to Leo, the sapphire to Virgo, the opal to Libra, the topaz to Scorpio, and the amethyst to Aquarius.
Gemstones and the months of the year
MARCH: Heliotrope, jasper
APRIL: Diamond, sapphire
MAY: Agate, emerald
JUNE: Emerald, pearl, agate
OCTOBER: Aquamarine, beryl
Gemstones and the chakras
Starting from the crown chakra and working down, the colors of the chakras have a strong bearing on the gems that are said to represent them. In this chart, the first gem listed is said to close the chakra, and the second one will open it.
7 CROWN CHAKRA or SAHASRARA: Amethyst, diamond
6 THIRD EYE CHAKRA or AJNA: Lapis lazuli, amethyst
5 THROAT CHAKRA or VISHUDDA: Aquamarine, blue topaz
4 HEART CHAKRA or ANA-HATA: Emerald, rose quartz
3 NAVAL CHAKRA or MANIPURA: Amber, citrine
2 SACRAL CHAKRA or SVAD-HISTHANA: Jade, ruby
1 ROOT CHAKRA or MULAD-HARA: Hematite, garnet
Gemstones and the elements
Air: Agate, citrine, lapis lazuli, opal, rose quartz, sapphire, turquoise
Fire: Amber, citrine, fire opal, garnet, heliotrope, ruby, spinel, topaz
Water: Amethyst, aquamarine, coral, lapis lazuli, moonstone, pearl, tourmaline, turquoise
Earth: Amber, ammonite, emerald, jade, jet, magnetite, malachite, onyx
Ether: Amethyst, diamond, opal, pearl, rock crystal, sapphire, tourmaline, zircon
Gold, considered to be one of the most precious and beautiful metals of all, is inextricably linked with the element of fire and with the Sun, which it represents both in appearance and in symbolism. In mythology, the passage of the Sun is often described as a golden chariot traversing the Heavens. Gold has the benefit of remaining unaffected by tarnishing or corrosion of any sort, and so is an emblem of immortality. Even if it is melted or liquefied by heat, gold retains its color and luster. It is surpassed by platinum in terms of actual monetary value, but retains the upper hand in terms of symbolic meaning because of its color and thousands of years of adoration.
Gold has always had magical powers ascribed to it, the Ancients believing that it was actually made from sunbeams buried underground. Egyptian mummies of the highest castes were encased in gold, denoting the immortality of the soul. Gold was one of the three gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Christ. And even today, gold is still the most popular metal for use as wedding rings, because it is seen to confer a long and happy life to the married couple.
Although gold is a symbol of purity because of its physical incorruptibility, paradoxically, gold has also taken on some extremely negative connotations. The striving for gold can cause corruption in men once greed for the precious metal takes hold; as an object of desire it can bring out the very worst in people. The story of King Midas is a case in point. Midas wished that everything he touched be turned to gold, and once Dionysus had granted him this wish, Midas soon realized it was a terrible curse. Unable to eat because his food turned to gold, unable to hug his daughter because she turned to gold, too, Midas eventually asked Dionysus to remove the curse, which he did by having the King wash his hands in the Pactolus River, which is now in modern-day Turkey. The myth not only explains the origin of the gold deposits in this river, but effectively proves the later Shakespearian idea that “all that glistens is not gold.”
Alchemists used gold to symbolize the soul, and the search for the Philosophers’ Stone also signified the conscious efforts made by them to purify the spirit, since the material stone could be created only in tandem with spiritual growth and development.
This is a stone that features a naturally made hole in it, and can be made of any mineral, although in Britain the flint hag stone is the most usual sort to find. Also known as witch stones, snake’s eggs, adder stones or holy stones, there are all manner of powers ascribed to these objects. In particular, they were believed to be able to protect cattle from witches who would take them out at night and ride them, leaving the farmer to discover the tell-tale signs of filthy, exhausted animals the next morning. The stones would have string or ribbon passed through the holes so that they could be hung above the doorway, where they would handily also stop milk from curdling; this belief was so strong that farmers in some parts of Europe, whilst milking their cows, would hold a hag stone in such a way that the milk poured through it.
Looking through the hole is said to enable another world to be viewed: the fairy world or the spirit world. Put simply, the solid part of the stone represents the material world, and the hole in the middle, the spirit world, the void, the “no thing.” It is for this reason that the wreath, the hoop-shaped floral tribute, is often used at funerals.
It may be one of the cheapest and most abundant of all metals, but iron has great relevance in both symbolism and the practical application of magic. Iron is one of the primary constituents of blood, and the metal and the liquid smell similar; therefore, iron has been perceived to be the “blood” or life force of the Earth itself. But it is not only the Earth which has high iron content, since early iron that was used by man originated largely from meteors. In Tibet, this “sky iron” is used for making the singing bowls, the vibrational frequency of which is believed to attract good spirits, and heal both body and soul.
Iron had the reputation of being repellant to witches, ghosts, and other malevolent entities. Numerous folktales have the supernatural creature being rendered powerless by being struck with iron. When iron appears in the form of the horseshoe, its power is increased because the horseshoe is a symbol of the protective Goddess, the crescent Moon, the chalice, or the yoni.
Jet is in fact wood that has rotted and been compressed over millions of years. At the end of this process it turns into a stone that is easily carved and, when polished, takes on a brilliant luster. Jet famously comes from Whitby, a little town on the north-east coast of Yorkshire, although this area is not the only source of the material.
Because of its color, jet has long been associated with death and mourning (its presence in burial chambers dating back 10,000 years testifies to this). It became very fashionable when Queen Victoria ordered great quantities of jet jewelry that she wore when she was in mourning for her deceased consort, Prince Albert. Victorian Britain was fascinated with death, and soon the demand for jet jewelry achieved staggering proportions. In 1870 the jet industry in Whitby alone employed 1500 people. However, the association of jet with death and funerals became so pronounced that the use of the stone was pretty much exhausted once the trend had passed, and the many other properties of the stone were largely forgotten about.
When jet is rubbed with a piece of cloth it becomes charged with static electricity (in the same way as other organically created stones, such as amber) and can pick up small pieces of tissue or lint; therefore jet was believed to attract good fortune. If the jet is rubbed very briskly, it sometimes gives off smoke, which had the power to drive away the demons that were as black as the jet itself. A jet cross nailed to a door would keep out evil spirits and jet talismans were carried to protect the owner from devilish forces.
The golden speck which are scattered throughout this beautiful blue stone like stars in a dark sky are in fact flecks of iron pyrites. The color of lapis is what makes it important, and it is ground into a fine powder in order to make the ultramarine pigment used in painting. The Ancient Egyptians called this stone sapphire, but from their descriptions we know that it was lapis lazuli to which they were referring.
Blue is a symbol of purity and chastity, and much of the symbolic meaning of lapis lazuli relates to its color. Although many of the stones examined in this section of the encyclopedia are symbolic of fertility and may somehow aid child-birth, the lapis is an exception in that it was used to cause miscarriage, and so was called the “stop stone.” An amulet of lapis lazuli was used for this purpose.
The lapis lazuli was sacred to the Egyptian Goddess of Truth, Ma’at. Since truth is about seeing things correctly, the stone was believed to be particularly potent in treating the eyes. A paste of ground lapis, milk, and mud from the Nile was used to create an ointment. In a nod to its association with the eye, there is also a New Age belief that the stone can help to open the third eye.
A weighty metal, it is no surprise that lead symbolizes heaviness and an oppresive burden. It is the attribute of Saturn, and both the planet and the God (who is often depicted as a grim-looking hunched old man carrying a scythe) share these somewhat morose qualities, from which the word “saturnine” is coined.
In alchemy, lead is described as the “base metal” which will hopefully be transmuted into gold. In order to do this, alchemists made great efforts to free themselves from the limitations of the material world as symbolized by this heavy metal.
Lodestone refers to a type of magnetite, although the stones have a slightly different crystalline structure one from another. Magnetite is relatively common but the lodestone is rare; in addition the lodestone needs to be electrically charged-by lightning for example-before it acquires the magnetic properties that have made it such an important mineral. The compass was invented because lodestone existed; if this discovery had not been made, then the course of world history would have been very different. The potential of the powers of the lodestone, which is attracted to the Earth’s magnetic field, was first spotted by the Chinese who adapted it to make the world’s first compass. From about AD 100 onward, there are references to a “south pointer,” most likely to have been a lodestone “spoon,” whose curved base would have allowed the stone to spin freely within an indented hollow.
Although exploited initially by the Chinese, the lodestone was also familiar to the Ancient Greeks. Pliny the Elder writes of a herdsman, Magnes, whose iron hob-nailed boots and the iron tip of his staff attracted pieces of lodestone. Many ancient people believed that stones had souls, and the ability of the lodestone to attract things to it and to cause things to move must have seemed magical indeed, as though the stone had a mind of its own. Accordingly, the stone was given water to drink and iron filings to eat. Although it was lightning which gave the lodestone its power, it also attracted lightning, so it was not to be carried or worn during a storm. Because the lodestone attracts things to it, it was associated with both attraction and retention; shop-keepers believed that it encouraged customers, for example, and prostitutes used it to attract clients. The temple of Konark, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in India, is reputed to have had such a huge and powerful lodestone mounted on the top of its Sun temple that it caused ship-wrecks because the vessels were both drawn toward the stone and because their compasses were affected by it. Rumor has it that the stone was removed by Muslim voyagers, with the result that the temple eventually fell down.
Mercury is a metal, a planet, and a God. Here we are dealing with the mineral aspect of mercury, although it’s sometimes hard to separate these three in terms of their symbolism. Mercury is one of only four metals which is liquid at room temperature; its name “quicksilver”-suggesting something that is difficult to handle, whimsical, and swift moving (indeed mercurial)-fittingly describes the metal in this state.
Mercury is not harmful when it is in insoluble form; however, as soon as it’s in soluble form-as in methyl mercury-it becomes extremely toxic. Lighthouse lanterns float in a circular vat of mercury, and the vapors used to make some lighthouse keepers go mad, although the cause was undiscovered for many years. Similarly, the phrase “mad as a hatter” derives from the insanity suffered by milliners as a result of the use of mercury nitrate as a solution that helped the felt fabric to matt together and so strengthen the material. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include hallucinations, tremors, and dementia.
The moonstone is aptly named. Its opalescent, milky semi-opacity really does have a moonlight-like quality. Some stones have a white spot inside them that reacts in a similar way to the occlusions in cat’s eye-type stones, in that it appears to move inside the stone. This was at one time believed to be a trapped moonbeam, and the stone used to be called the “astrion,” since it was believed to contain light from the stars, which it could collect if it was held up to the night sky.
The links between the Moon and the moonstone are further strengthened by the belief that the stone shares the same waxing and waning pattern as its celestial counterpart. Effectively, the moonstone is believed to help the owner to tap into the intuition and psychic powers which have long been considered qualities of the Moon.
The actual word onyx means “claw” or “nail” in Greek, and the story goes that the mischievous Cupid cut Venus’ nails one day while she was sleeping on the beach. Cupid left the fingernail shards scattered around the sand dunes, but the Fates, wanting to make sure that no scrap of the Goddess would be wasted, turned the fingernails into onyx stones.
Onyx comes in a wide range of colors, sometimes striated, sometimes plain. The reddish colored onyxes are called sardonyx, which was useful in Roman times for the carving of seals, since the wax never stuck to the stone. Onyx was used in magical rituals to conjure up demons, and it may well be this property that meant that the stone should never be worn at night lest the wearer suffer from nightmares. Hildegard of Bingen recommended that onyx be “soaked” in wine for up to thirty days; the resulting elixir would be used to touch the eyes in order to clear eyesight.
The iridescence of the opal is caused by the large amount of water retained by the silica from which the stone is made, sometimes constituting as much as ten per cent of its mass. This water content causes the opal to have a higher degree of sensitivity than any other gemstone, a quality which informs not only its physical characteristics but its symbolic meaning too.
Because of its ethereal beauty, the opal has always been a favored gem; its changing colors have also given the stone a distinct personal identity, as though it has a soul of its own. Changes in temperature can affect the opal; a sudden move from a hot room to a cold environment can even cause the stone to crack.
The reputation of the opal as being unlucky seems to be a belief held only by Western people. Sir Walter Scott’s book Anne of Geierstein may have contributed to this reputation. In the story, Anne is a baroness who wears a precious gem in her hair that is not actually ever named as an opal in the book but that carries its qualities. This stone acts as a perfect litmus for the baroness’s moods, flashing red when she is angry and sparkling when she is happy. The story becomes more sinister. Holy water is splashed onto the stone, which shatters; Anne faints, and is found turned to dust like the stone. The opal’s unfortunate reputation is not found anywhere else in the world. Its name comes from the Sanskrit upala, which simply means “precious stone.” In Greece and Rome, it was called the paederos, meaning “precious child,” and also opthalmus, meaning “eye.” Because the opal was associated with vision, this was extended to mean psychic vision and second sight.
Many opals originate in Australia, and when they were first discovered there Queen Victoria was understandably delighted, ordering a large amount of opal jewelry and restoring the gem to favor for a time, despite its reputation in the West.
The origin of the pearl, as an irritating piece of grit which manages to get inside the shell of a mollusk, is completely belied by its symbolism, the mythology surrounding it, and above all its beauty.
The name of the pearl derives from the Latin, pilula, meaning a ball. It shares the same origin as the word “pill.” If the diamond is the epitome of the masculine gemstone, then the pearl is equally prominent as a feminine symbol; its softness, its rarity, its gentle luster, and its origins in the sea ensure this is the case.
Pearls are sensitive objects, both physically and in a symbolic sense. They like an even temperature since their high water content makes them liable to cracking or even breaking. In the same way, pearls are responsive to changes in body temperature and to chemicals such as perfumes or hairsprays, and so a dull pearl is said to signify illness in its owner.
The most valuable pearls are those that have formed naturally, and-as with other gems-people have lost their lives trying to attain that elusive large, perfect pearl. But pearls can also be cultivated by the simple insertion of a piece of mother-of-pearl into the host mollusk. These pearls are gathered after three to four years.
The pearl, because of its whiteness and perfection, is a symbol of purity, and is dedicated to the Moon Goddess in all her forms. Because the Moon rules over lovers, pearl, ground into a fine powder, was used to make an aphrodisiac potion.
Like other green-colored stones, the peridot was referred to as an emerald in Ancient times, although it is actually a type of olivine. The name is believed to have originated either in the French word peritot, which means “unclear,” or from the Arabic, faridat, meaning “gem.” To add to the confusion, in Greek, peridona means “to give richness.” A stone that answers the description of the peridot appeared on the breastplate of the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, a mark of the esteem in which it was considered. Both the Ancient Egyptians and the Romans treasured the peridot, and it was often used as an amulet, with effigies and inscriptions carved on it. For example, a peridot featuring the image of a vulture would ensure that demons would give the wearer a wide berth. A peridot amulet with a torch depicted on it was believed to attract wealth to its owner. A necklace of peridots was said to dispel melancholy and make the wearer cheerful and optimistic. Wearing the beautiful green peridot was said to preserve the owner from jealousy; this is probably an instance of sympathetic magic, since green is traditionally the color of envy. As an amulet set in gold, the peridot prevented nightmares and gave the wearer a good night’s sleep.
The word “ruby” is synonymous with red; indeed, it comes from the Latin word rubens, which has the same meaning. A powerful and valuable precious gem, in India the ruby is called ratnaraj, meaning the “Lord of Precious Stones.” Hindus call their most precious and valuable rubies “Brahmins,” and these particular stones had to be protected from contact with inferior rubies in case of contamination. Further evidence of the stone as a symbol of royalty can be found in the title of the former kings of Burma, who were known as the “Lords of the Rubies.”
The color of the ruby plays a major part in its symbolic meaning. They are the color of vitality, the life-giving forces, and passion, and were considered to be so powerful that, if thrown into water, they would make the water boil. The light from the ruby was also said to shine through any cloth wrapped around it, and so it was impossible to hide. This idea of precious stones generating light rather than just reflecting or refracting it occurs time and time again in the writings of the Ancients, and a ruby was said to have been set on the roof of the Temple of the Holy Grail so that the Grail knights could be guided toward it in the dark.
The ruby was a symbol of protection, and if a landowner touched all four corners of his estate with a ruby then the land would be protected from lightning and storms, and harvests would be prolific. Similarly, wearing a ruby in such a way that it touched the skin would protect the wearer from ill health, particularly if the stone was placed on the left side of the body since the color of the ruby meant that it was instantly connected to the heart and the circulatory system.
The sea is full of salt, and so there is an inextricable link between the mineral, salt, and the element of water. However, salt is frequently produced by allowing sea water to evaporate on the ground, and so salt is also associated with the Earth; witness the popular saying “salt of the earth,” meaning that a person is good, grounded, and honest. The cuboid structure of salt is further reason for it to be a symbol of the earth element, as well as making it an emblem of protection. Salt has a practical use as a preservative of meat, fish, and other food-stuffs; it has therefore taken on the same symbolic significance-as seen in rites and rituals-to sanctify and protect holy or magical places. It is used for this reason from cathedral services to the Magic Circle. It is possible that this practice is a residue from a time when blood from sacrificial animals was used for this purpose, the blood being sprinkled with salt to soak it up.
Salt is also able to bring out flavors in any food to which it is added, and was considered to be so valuable a commodity that it was used as currency to pay people for their work; hence the word “salary” from the Latin, salarium.
Because salt is valuable in so many ways, spilling it is considered to be a bad omen. This is still counteracted by superstitious people, who make a cross in the salt then throw some of the salt over their left shoulder, supposedly into the eye of the Devil.
Alchemists say that salt-which represents the human body-is one of the three vital natural ingredients, called the three alchemical principles, and that it forms a trinity with sulfur and mercury.
The sapphire is made from carborudum, the same extremely hard material that goes to form the ruby.
Although the word “sapphire” is synonymous with blue, sapphires themselves can also be yellow, pink, orange, violet or even multi-colored. However, the most sought-after and valuable types of sapphire come in the traditional rich blue color.
Because all blue stones used to be known as sapphires, it is sometimes difficult to separate out the mythology that belongs to the sapphire as we know it today. Its blue color gives the sapphire a connection with the sky, the Gods, the world of spirit, and it was a favored stone of ecclesiastical ornament because of this symbolism. Added to this is the origin of the word “sapphire” as the biblical sappur, which was the name given to the material from which the throne of the Gods was made; presumably it refers to the blue of the Heavens. As is the case with many of the rarer and more valuable stones, sapphires are thought to be efficacious in medical use. A paste made from finely ground sapphires was meant to cure ulcers and boils when applied to the skin. It was also believed to be an efficacious antidote to poison, as well as being able to clarify the thoughts and aid a good night’s sleep. Along with other blue-colored stones, the sapphire was believed to be able to cure eye troubles.
SEVEN MAGICAL METALS
The first seven planets first recognized by our ancestors continue to have a huge influence on mankind. Other aspects of these links are explored elsewhere, but metals were among the many items that were mystically linked to these planets.
Each of these planets has its own metal. These seven magical metals are silver (the Moon), mercury (Mercury, the planet), copper (Venus), gold (the Sun), iron (Mars), tin (Jupiter), and lead (Saturn).
In the Dharmic religions, sacred artifacts (such as singing bowls and temple statuary) are made using a mixture of all seven metals.
As gold is to the Sun, silver is to the Moon. It is the archetypal female metal, imbued with connections to the Goddess in all her forms. The link is plain to see because the Moon appears silver. The superstition of turning a silver coin in the pocket at the sight of a new Moon is a throwback to this ancient connection.
In the same way that the Moon is a cosmic mirror illuminated by the light of the Sun, the mirror is a sheet of glass with a fine layer of silver applied to one side. Silver goblets were filled with water and used for scrying; water is also inextricably linked with silver and the Moon. Because evil spirits such as vampires have no reflection, silver gained a reputation for being able to repel and even destroy them; hence the use of silver bullets as the ultimate weapon against these blood-sucking demons.
As a precious metal, silver has been used for making coins since 700 BC, when it was used in the form of electrum. The term “sterling, ” referring to the monetary currency of the UK, comes from sterling silver; one Troy pound of this was the source of the original “pound sterling.”
Like the Moon, silver is associated with psychic powers and intuition, so the clairvoyant or crystal ball reader traditionally requests the client to “cross my palm with silver,” not purely as a payment, but to help the psychic powers flow.
Along with salt and mercury, sulfur forms the “holy trinity” of substances that are the three vital minerals of nature in alchemy. Indeed, sulfur is an essential ingredient in all living cells. Alchemists believe that sulfur represents the vitality or life-force of man. A bright yellow chemical, it’s likely that sulfur obtained its name from the Arabic word for yellow, sufra. Sulfur is sometimes referred to as “brimstone,” particularly in the Bible, where the “fire and brim-stone” of Hell unfortunately await non-believers and sinners.
One of the seven magical metals, tin is associated with the planet Jupiter. In alchemy, both tin and the planet share the same symbol. Tin does not corrode, and is classically mixed with copper to create the alloy, bronze. Tin has been used in this way since at least 3500 BC. The earliest tin mines were those in Cornwall and Devon in England. In fact, the British Isles were so famous for their tin production that the islands were referred to by the Greeks as the Kassiterides, meaning the “tin-producing” lands. Tin and the tin mines came to be associated with the fairy folk or little people that also proliferated in the area, especially those that were believed to live in the underground tunnels that contained the metal.
Although the topaz can be an amazing blue color, or even pink or red, it is best known as a golden yellow gemstone. The topaz itself is symbolic of something which is hard to find, and it is this quality that gives it its name.
All golden yellow transparent stones used to be called “chrysolite” in Ancient Greek, which means “golden stone.” The most beautiful chrysolites were to be found, so legend has it, on a place called Serpent Island. Whether this place was real or imaginary was at the time open to conjecture, and Pliny the Elder named this island Topazos, after the Greek word for conjecture-topazein. We now know that the island in question is the place the Crusaders called the Isle of St. John and which the Egyptians called Zebirget. The stone was dedicated to the Sun God, Ra, since its color and sparkle were reminiscent of the rays of the Sun. The inhabitants of this island were given an exclusive license to collect the precious golden stones, which were reputedly visible only in the dark.
The physical qualities of stones often inform their symbolic meaning. Because topaz cools down rapidly after being immersed in hot water, it is believed to have the power of calming frayed tempers and high passions, and of cooling fevers. The stone would be touched to the skin of plague victims in an attempt to cure their ulcers and blisters. The coolness of the stone was also acknowledged by the Indian sages. One of the more peculiar and inexplicable notions concerning the topaz, however, was the idea that it emitted a milky fluid which could be used to prevent rabies.
Tourmaline comes in a veritable rainbow of colors. It wends its way through the spectrum, starting with a transparent crystal, and then on to the palest pink, through to peach, yellow, blue, green, brown, red, and all the shades in between. An Egyptian legend held that the stone absorbed the colors from a rainbow on its way through the depths of the earth to the surface, and the stone was sacred to the Sun God, Ra. Because of its many hues the stone has a vast array of different names, too. Some tourmalines show colors layered through their core like a stick of rock, and the outer color of this tube-shaped crystal may be a completely different color to those on the inside. Tourmalines like this frequently have pale pink or yellow in the center, graduating to dark green on the outside. These are called “watermelon tourmalines.”
The tourmaline has electrical and magnetic properties that make it a useful stone in technical applications. Pliny the Elder wrote of a stone that he called lychnis, meaning “lamp,” which when heated (either by the Sun or by applying friction) could attract straw and other fibrous material. The Ancient Greeks used the tourmaline to help kindle their lamps, while Dutch colonists in Africa-one of the places where the stone can be found-used tourmaline crystals to draw ash from their meerschaum pipes. If the stone is electrically charged and then allowed to cool down, it will have a positive charge at one end and a negative charge at the other. This has made the stone symbolic of harmony and balance between opposing energies.
The very finest turquoise stones come from Iran, and so it is no coincidence that the name means “Turkish stone” (Iran used to be part of the Ottoman Empire). One of the qualities symbolized by the turquoise is that of sensitivity. This is because the stone can be affected by changes in the body temperature of the wearer, or by the chemicals in perfumes and sprays.
For the Aztecs, the turquoise was considered to be so sacred that no single person was allowed to own one; they all belonged to the Gods, and to the Gods alone. The stone was used to decorate the iconic death masks of these people.
When the Mayan empire was effectively destroyed by Cortez, the sacred nature of the turquoise was passed on to the Pueblo people. This “stone of the Gods” is also held in high esteem by Native American people. Although its use is now widespread and has become so popular that it has become a symbol of the people themselves, it was originally the preserve of the medicine man and the shaman, who were closest to the Gods and so had some jurisdiction over the stone.