Curious Lore of Precious Stones - notes, part 1
Updated: Aug 19, 2021
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones was originally published in 1913, making it one of the more recent items I'll be talking about on this site. The author, George Frederick Kunz, was a mineralogist who studied his field well enough to become the vice president of Tiffany & Co at only 23 years old. He even had a stone named after him: kunzite, so our man knew what he was writing about. He even married a woman named Opal!
As interesting as the author himself was, let's get to the book in question.
Nothing here is meant to replace professional medical or psychological advice.
I would also like to add a disclaimer regarding certain language that may be considered offensive by today's standards. This book is from the early 1900s and written by an American man who appears to be of European descent. I'll do my best to avoid any uncomfortable language, but it's possible that some excerpts taken from the book might be out-dated.
I will have a separate post listing many of the stones mentioned in the book and their attributes. This post is for general notes.
Any words taken straight from the text will be in italics.
Superstitions and Their Sources
The books opens suggesting that it's possible gems started being worn not as decorative accessories, but as talismans. During the Renaissance, gemstones were still regarded as having special properties, but people wanted to figure out why. The author suggests that it could be something we have yet to discover (there are many invisible forces in the world that we only just found out about) or that it could be purely psychological. It's only brought up to explain why the belief in magic is still around to this day.
Gemstones are attributed with anthropomorphic qualities. From the text:
But we are told that not only are precious stones endowed with life, they also are subject to disease, old age, and death; “they even take offence if an injury be done to them, and become rough and pale.”
The author offers an explanation for scrying, specifically using a crystal ball to predict the future. ...those who gaze for a long time and without interruption on a crystal or glass ball, on an opal, a moonstone, a sapphire, or a cat’s-eye, may become partially hypnotized or even fall into a profound sleep. The condition induced, whether it be that of semi-trance, of hypnotism, or simply due to the imaginative workings of the brain, is believed to give an insight into the future. This hypnotic effect is probably caused by some gleam or point of light in the stone, attracting and fixing the beholder’s gaze.
In the above excerpt, I've added bold text to the specific stones mentioned for scrying. Each of the listed stones have specific qualities that, as the author states, cause light to reflect in interesting ways. If you ever would like to try crystal scrying, it's possibly easier with a gem having this particular quality.
On the Use of Precious and Semi-precious Stones as Talismans and Amulets
Ancient peoples may have started wearing precious stones as a decoration or as religious/magical objects. It's hard to truly say. Many non-human animals value gems for their beauty, if nothing else. The book specifically mentions chlamydera (a bird related to ravens) and seals as being animals that seem to be selective about the stones they keep around.
Well into the 1600s, people of many backgrounds and classes believed in the power of gemstones. (Even today, many people do. If you're reading this, you might be one of them!)
It was believed that these stones' physical properties could change depending on the health and mental/emotional wellness of the wearer. From the book: In case of sickness or approaching death the lustre of the stones was dimmed, or else their bright colors were darkened, and unfaithfulness or perjury produced similar phenomena.
One passage that I find especially interesting mentions that Satan created gemstones to tempt Eve. I've never seen or heard anything about this outside of this book, but the idea is intriguing. We are told that when God created the world he made no useless things, such as gold, silver, precious stones, and diamonds; but Satan, who is always eager to bring evil among men, kept a close watch to spy out the appetites and passions of the human mind. To his great satisfaction he noted that Eve passionately loved the many-colored flowers that decked the Garden of Eden; he therefore undertook to imitate their brightness and color out of earth, and in this way were produced colored precious stones and diamonds.
Here is another religion's take on gods and gems:
A curious Babylonian mythological text represents the solar deity Ninib, the son of Bel, as determining the fate of various stones by pronouncing a blessing or a curse upon them. For instance, the dolomite was blessed and declared to be fit material for the statues of kings, while a substance called the elu stone was cursed, proclaimed to be unfit for working, and doomed to disintegration. Alabaster was favored by the god, but chalcedony aroused his anger and was condemned.
Ninib didn't like chalcedony, but a Greek text listed it in an amulet with carbuncle. This amulet was thought to protect sailors from drowning. Another amulet, of aquamarine beryl, banished fear.
A Chinese amulet consisted of a diamond, a ruby, an emerald, a pearl, and coral. This amulet was believed to protect the wearer with the power of the gods and lengthen their life.
Jewish proponents of gemstones believed that they were more powerful when out of sight, obscuring them inside hollow canes. They were like concealed weapons, and it was said that, as a father might give such an amulet to a son, so God had given the Law to Israel for its protection.
Certain gemstones were associated with certain names. Here is the list from the book.
On the Talismanic Use of Special Stones
This is the section of the book that talks about specific stones and their virtues. I highly recommend checking this section if you want details about a particular gemstone, but I will be making a list of my own with notes from the book.
On the Use of Engraved and Carved Gems as Talismans
Many people believed that the shapes gems were carved into made a real difference. The Egyptians carved many stones into scarabs, a symbol of everlasting life. Ancient Babylonians carved images into cylinders, which were carried on their necks similarly to a talisman. The Romans would carve their gods and astrological signs into gems, often carnelian, onyx, and emerald.
The symbols carved into the stone should have the same effect as the stone itself to be the most potent, and if carved during the correct hour of the correct day, even better.
Here are some symbols and their meanings.
- Dragon in ruby: joy and health
- Falcon in topaz: good will of kings
- Lion in garnet: protection and honor
- Frog in beryl: reconciliation of friendship
- Bat in bloodstone: power over demons
- Swallow in celonite (possibly an alternate spelling of selenite?): peace
One that I found especially interesting is this description: A curious amulet to avert the spell of the Evil Eye is an engraved sard showing
an eye in the centre, around which are grouped the attributes of the divinities
presiding over the days of the week. Sunday, the dies Solis, is represented by a
lion; Monday, the dies Lunæ, by a stag; Tuesday, the dies Martis, by a scorpion;
Wednesday, the dies Mercurii, by a dog; Thursday, the dies Jovis, by a
thunderbolt; Friday, the dies Veneris, by a snake; and Saturday, the dies Saturni,
by an owl. In this way the wearer was protected at all times from the evil
I recommend reading over this section, as there's much more than what I've noted here.
Okay, that about wraps up part one of these notes. There are 11 sections in the book, so these notes will be split into several parts. I hope you all enjoyed this!