Exploring the history and lore of gemstones
Gemstones, with their gorgeous iridescence and a wide array of colours, have fascinated civilizations for thousands of years. Sparkling gemstones were often worn in jewellery by ancient cultures all around the world. Since antiquity, both men and women were great lovers of gemstone jewellery and adorned themselves with a profusion of charms and amulets.
Certain gemstones held specific meaning and often signified wealth and a person’s societal status. Many cultures and religions strongly believed that gemstones offered protection from the forces of evil. With gemstones holding such deep and symbolic meaning, it was also thought that they held an array of health benefits. This belief in the power of gemstones persists to this day.
Gemstones worn by Pharaohs and Royalty of Ancient Egypt
Gemstones in ancient Egypt were treasured for their beauty and power against death. Gemstones that were set in jewellery held both religious and symbolic significance. Egyptians specifically crafted jewellery inlaid with gemstones to buried with the owner of these precious items upon their death. This is because the Egyptians believed that they would be afforded the opportunity to enjoy their finery in the afterlife. One of the most well-known examples of this is the Mask of Tutankhamun. This 18 and 22-carat gold mask contains inlays of glass and gemstones such as Lapis Lazuli, which had long been used for sacred amulets across Egypt.
Egyptians held a particular affection for softer gemstones such as Carnelian, Jasper, Lapis Lazuli, Rose Quartz, and Turquoise.
The History of Carnelian
One of the earliest records of the carnelian gemstone being used dates to the Neolithic era where they were found fashioned into beads. More recent records date back to 4,500 years ago when Egyptian and Summerian craftsmen made jewellery set with this gemstone. The name Carnelian, meaning fleshy, is derived from the Latin word carneus, and is a reference to the reddish-brown colours of the semi-precious stone.
Ancient Romans and Greeks valued the stone, which they used for intaglios and as a part of signet rings.
Mystique and Myths of Carnelian
Carnelian is mentioned in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and was placed in tombs as “magic armour” for life after death. Ancient Egyptians adorned themselves with carnelian as a source of renewal and vitality and it was believed to bring good luck while driving away evil. Carnelian was also used by those who were timid or thought to have weak voices to strengthen their courage and give them the ability to speak boldly.
Healing Powers of Carnelian
Carnelian is considered by many to be a gemstone of passion and allegedly boosts fertility and stimulates sexuality. Carnelian is also believed to treat physical ailments such as lower back problems, rheumatism, arthritis, neuralgia, and depression. It regulates the kidneys and accelerates healing in bones and ligaments. This gemstone also improves vitamin and mineral absorption and ensures good blood supply to organs and tissues.
The History of Jasper
A favorite among ancient cultures, jasper has been used for over 10,000 years in everything from jewellery to weapons. Polished jasper is referenced throughout Latin literature; its name can be traced back to Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Assyrian, and Greek. Kambaba Jasper, also known as Stromalite (fossilized blue or green algae), is over 4 billion years old. This makes it older than dinosaurs and among the oldest fossils in the world.
Mystique and Myths of Jasper
Like carnelian, the jasper gemstone held significant meaning in one’s death and burial. Jasper was revered by many civilizations as a powerful stone of protection in both the physical and spiritual realms. Ancient Egyptians associated this stone with the blood of the goddess Isis, who played a role in one’s journey to the underworld after death. Funerary charms were often crafted from Jasper and given to the deceased to grant them protection. Jasper was also used as a talisman of protection by warriors.
Healing Powers of Jasper
Because the Egyptians associated jasper with the goddess Mother Isis, it was also considered to be a fertility stone. Throughout history, jasper has been used to drive away evil and protect the wearer from snake and spider bites. Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans highly valued jasper, believing it would ease the pain of childbirth if tied to the woman’s thigh.
Lapis Lazuli Gemstones
The History of Lapis Lazuli
Lapis lazuli is mentioned in one of the oldest poems now known to us, the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was traded along ancient routes as far back as the 7th Millenium BCE. As with other blue gemstones like sapphire and turquoise, lapis lazuli was treasured for its vivid colour. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, Lapis lazuli was used as an ultramarine pigment. This pigment was extremely expensive (the second most expensive pigment after gold) and usually reserved for clothing in religious paintings.
Mystique and Ancient Myths of Lapis Lazuli
Lapis Lazuli, heavily associated with royalty and deities, was often used to create and embellish statuettes of divine and sacred gods. This stone takes a beautiful polish so is often carved to create decorative objects. Due to the rich, celestial nature of its colour, ancient Egyptians believed lapis lazuli to be the symbol of truth and that it came from the heavens to provide mankind with protection in the afterlife.
Healing Powers of Lapis Lazuli
Lapis Lazuli was believed to heal circulatory disorders in ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. Today, many believe it boosts the immune system, purifies blood, lowers blood pressure, cooling and soothing areas of inflammation. It alleviates insomnia and vertigo and overcomes depression.
Rose Quartz Gemstones
The History of Rose Quartz
Rose quartz was used in jewellery by the ancient Assyrians and the Greeks, and the ancient Egyptians valued this gemstone in the use of talismans to prevent aging. Egyptians also used this gemstone in cosmetics, believing it held special powers in preserving youth and beauty. Today you’ll still find many rose quartz gemstone facial rollers or guasha sets on the market.
Mystique and Ancient Myths of Rose Quartz
Greek and Roman legends were the first to associate the rose quartz with love. Still known as a romance stone, rose quartz is used to soothe a broken heart and to attract new love.
When placed on a bedside table, many believe rose quartz has the power to bring peace and serenity into not only your home and body but your love relationships. As a result, it’s often gifted to those going through painful breakups or heartaches.
Healing Powers of Rose Quartz
Because rose quartz so strongly symbolizes love, many of its healing qualities revolve around these themes. It’s worn around the neck in a pendant to promote self-love and help heal painful or traumatic experiences because it soothes agitated emotions. This softly hued gemstone is thought to invite loving energy into the relationship one has with self and others.
The History of Turquoise
Turquoise, another highly desirable blue gemstone, has been used in jewellery and to make ornaments for over 6000 years. One of its earliest uses was in royal burials by the Ancient Egyptians. Persian turquoise, fine turquoise in smooth shades of “robin’s egg blue” and “sky blue”, remains the most favoured colour and was traded all through Europe and Asia. Native Americans revered turquoise and used it as a means of exchange in their own trade, which helped this gemstone spread throughout South America.
Mystique and Myths of Turquoise
Native Americans not only traded with turquoise but Shamans, associating this stone with the sky, relied on this gemstone as a conduit between earth and heaven. Believing that turquoise would increase accuracy, Native Americans would also decorate their bows or firearms with turquoise. Turquoise was worn by Greek maidens to demonstrate their purity, while in Russia, this gemstone was symbolic of love and incorporated into wedding rings.
Healing Powers of Turquoise
Turquoise has often been cherished and worn as a stone of protection by many different cultures throughout history. With strong associations with tranquility and wisdom, turquoise is used to lift depleted spirits and ward off negative emotions. Turquoise is used during meditation due to its calming properties and is believed to offer protection and increase overall serenity.
Gemstones across Greece and the Roman Empire
Trade along the Silk Road brought many gems straight to the powerful Greek and Roman Empires. Jewels traded along this route included precious diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, as well as semi-precious gems from the Middle East, Egypt, and North Africa.
The History of Sapphire
Often lapis lazuli and blue sapphires would be incorrectly identified and the word sapphire comes from the Greek “sappheiros” which most likely refers back to lapis lazuli. Sapphires present in several different colours, but blue sapphires have remained one of the most popular precious gemstones throughout history. During the Victorian Ages, sapphires were a popular choice for engagement rings and the love for these precious gemstones was ignited once more by Princess Diana’s famous blue sapphire engagement ring.
Mystique and Myths of Sapphire
Sapphires in folklore have a rich symbolism. Ancient Persians believed that earth was supported by a pedestal of sapphire; the reflection of which coloured the sky. Belief in the power of the sapphire was strong that it was a favorite among royalty as a stone of protection from enemies. It was also believed that if an evil person wore a sapphire, the stone would not shine. The royalty in areas such as ancient Greece and Rome believed that blue sapphires protected their owners from harm and jealousy.
Healing Powers of Sapphire
Sapphire is said to be an antidote to poison. Spiritualists also believe this gemstone restores balance within the body, aligning the physical, mental and spiritual planes. Sapphire is often associated with wisdom, peace of mind, and inviting serenity.
The History of Emerald
Along with rubies, diamonds and sapphires, Emerald is part of the four recognised precious gemstones. Emerald was one of the most coveted gemstones in ancient history, and Pliny the Elder of Rome aptly described this gorgeous stone in his Natural History with the following words, “nothing greens greener”. It’s thought that emerald has been mined and worked as early as 2000 BC in Upper Egypt. In the era of Alexander the Great, Greek miners worked the mines of Egypt and these mines later yielded their gems to Cleopatra, who had a passion for this gemstone and had it worked into many of her adornments in a what was probably a grand display of her power and wealth.
Mystique and Ancient Myths of Emerald
Called the “Jewel of Kings”, some rabbinic legends claim that emerald was one of four precious gemstones given to King Solomon by God; these stones gave King Solomon the power to rule over all creation.
Emerald was considered a gemstone for memory and wit. It was called “the revealer of truths” and was said to grant its owner the ability to see into the future, see the truth through illusions, spells, and even the falsity of a lover’s promise. Emerald gemstones were believed by some to prevent possession.
Healing Powers of Emerald
When administered internally, emerald was reputed to have many medicinal benefits. It was used by past physicians to cure dysentery and infection and as an antidote for poison. Because the luscious colour of emerald is believed to soothe eye tension, many gem cutters kept this gemstone on their workbench and would rest their eyes upon it to prevent strain after many hours of work.
The History of Ruby
The “King of Gems”, the ruby gemstone is identical in every way to sapphire except in colour, and is one of the rarest and most expensive gemstones. The most valuable rubies form in marble, which has low iron content and helps produce the most vibrantly coloured rubies, and have been mined in Myanmar, Himalayas and northern Vietnam. One of the oldest known ruby mines is in Burmese and records show this blood-red gemstone was traded along the North Silk Road of China, around 200 BC.
Mystique and Ancient Myths of Ruby
Held in high esteem in India and Asia especially, rubies weren’t only set into sacred objects and jewellery, but were also set into the foundations of a building in order to secure good fortune over the building. Ruby is the gemstone of protection and was even used by ancient warriors as a means of immortality when going into battle. Perhaps because of its rarity, this blood-coloured gemstone symbolises wealth, energy, royalty, and power.
Healing Powers of Ruby
Ruby, a gemstone quite appropriately symbolising the colour of passion, is believed to be a enhance warmth and compassion between couples and allows its owner to experience all forms of love. It also attracts happiness and joy, detoxifies the blood, and provides protection from negative energy.
The History of Amethyst
While in abundance today, Amethyst was once as rare as rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. These gemstones, with beautiful red to blue hues, have been set in religious and royal jewels for centuries. It was once included in the cardinal, gemstones considered more precious and valued than others, but lost much of its value when large deposits were found in Brazil. Amethyst was worked into religious amulets by the Egyptians and has been found in Egyptian tombs dating as far back as 3000 BC.
Mystique and Ancient Myths of Amethyst
Amethyst has a history rich with myths and legends. In Greek the word “amethystos” may be translated to “not” and “intoxicated” and the Greeks believed that amethyst prevented drunkenness entirely, so much so that they carved wine goblets from these gemstones. A French poet named Remy Belleau invented a myth based on this Greek belief. In one variation of the story, Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest and wine, tried to kill a young woman named Amethysta in a fit of rage against mortals. Amethysta was saved from death by the goddess Diana, who transformed into clear quartz. Dionysus, later overcome with remorse, wept his tears of wine over Amethysta’s statue, staining it purple and thus creating the gemstone amethyst.
Healing Powers of Amethyst
The healing properties of amethyst include dissolving negativity and enhancing spirituality and contentment. This makes it a popular choice for those using crystals in gemstone therapy. On a physical level, amethyst is used to boost the immune system, cure insomnia, and help those struggling with addictions.
The History of Pearls
Pearls are the world’s oldest gem and have been revered long before our written history. The “Queen of Gems” may have been discovered by bands of humans foraging along seashores and so the discovery of pearls can’t be attributed to a specific person or culture. A fragment of pearl jewellery was discovered which dates back to 420 BC, belonging to a Persian princess, and thanks to this discovery we know pearls have been used as adornment over many millennia. Chinese royalty received pearls as gifts as early as 2300 BC, in the 1st century, Julius Caesar passed a law prohibiting anyone outside the ruling classes from wearing pearls, and in Rome, they were considered a powerful status symbol.
Mystique and Myths surrounding Pearls
Because they are considered ancient gems, there are countless myths surrounding pearls. The flaming pearl is said to invite healthy introspection in Buddhism and Taoism and has been used by Shamans throughout history as a channel for relaxation. In Ancient Persia it was believed that pearls were formed when the heavens thrust rainbows into the earth’s surface, and in Asia, they were strongly associated with the mythical dragons who invite enlightenment and spiritual energy. Pearls are used to bring equilibrium and calming energy to their owners, opening pathways to joy and positivity.
Healing Powers of Pearls
Pearl powder was used by the Ancient Egyptians in cosmetics as a powerful beauty tonic and in Ancient Asia, they were used by royalty to prevent the formation of melanin which causes dark skin. Today, in many Asian cultures, pearls are used for a wide variety of ailments including wrinkle prevention, fevers, and indigestion. Pearls are considered a superfood and are rich in magnesium, amino acids, and calcium. As a result, it’s believed pearls support healthy skin, bones, and teeth. In Ayurvedic medicine, pearls are used as an antidote to poisons.