George Elliot once said about gemstones that ‘Their colours speak, say what words fail of’; for the pretty jewels carry with them a treasure trove of tales. Read some fascinating yet forgotten chronicles of various gemstones.
- The legendary connections of the Lapis Lazuli
The legendary blue-coloured opaque mineral stone Lapis Lazuli has the history of being associated with not only royalty, but even in awakening the inner consciousness of the soul. Prestigious doesn’t even begin to describe the Lapis Lazuli’s 6,000 year-long, illustrious history. According to the Exodus 24, when the God of Israel invited Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 other Jewish elders up to Mt. Sinai, he stood on a bright blue pavement ‘made of lapis lazuli’. The true nature of the Hebrew term for the stone ‘Sapir’ actually translates to the lapis lazuli, a common mineral traded during the biblical times.
The stone’s famed presence is also seen in ancient Egypt as a beauty addition. The captivating kohl-lined eyes on King Tut’s famous golden mask stemmed from richly inlaid Lapis Lazuli. Even Queen Cleopatra is said to have embellished her beautiful eyes with the powdered version of the blue stone.
- Rubies and Invulnerability
Donning armours to protect oneself from sustaining wounds in the battle isn’t unheard of, but inserting stones in the flesh to become invulnerable is certainly something new. Burmese soldiers are said to have inserted rubies into their flesh, believing that by doing so, they couldn’t be wounded by guns, spears or swords.
Gorgeous beyond measure and exuding passion, rubies are said to bring pride, courage and self-confidence to the wearer. In the ruby-rich country of Burma (now Myanmar), the lush-red stones are also thought to bestow the wearer with invulnerability. However, to achieve that, the wearer must insert the ruby in their flesh for it to become a part of their body, rather than simply wear it as jewellery. It might have seemingly worked, for it was the most reckless and daring of these strange X-Men soldiers of sorts who fought and lived, unscathed. Whether it was the conferring of invulnerability or additional self-confidence, it seems that the power of the rubies did work.
- The Dragon Pearl lore
It is hard to imagine that the soft-coloured, lustrous pearl has a backstory steeped in mighty dragon lore. An old Chinese legend chronicles how a dragon’s pearl manifested itself to protect and watch over the Schezuan province of China.
It all began when a poor boy named Nie Lang, who lived with his mother in the Chinese Schezuan province, found a dragon’s pearl in the dry grass during an era of great drought. When they preserved the pearl in a rice jar overnight, they found it to be full of rice next morning. After their fortunes changed, they put the Dragon’s pearl to good use to help their friends and family. When a greedy man tried to steal it, the boy swallowed the pearl and transformed into a dragon. As the heavens opened up and the drought ended, his mother cried from the overflowing River Min’s banks, even as the dragon disappeared into its depths. Ever since, the dragon became the guardian of the province and the River Min, with the river banks forevermore being known as ‘Looking at the Mother Banks’.
- Labradorite and the Aurora Borealis
Imagine if someone told you that the beautiful Northern Lights (the Aurora Borealis) had been trapped within a well-known mineral stone once upon a time! Well, according to some Inuit legends, at least.
In the year 1770, Moravian missionaries came upon a beautiful stone off the coast of Labrador in Newfoundland, Canada and christened it Labradorite. However, the origins of the mystical multiple-hued stone are steeped in mythical and fascinating Inuit legends. According to the story, the Northern Lights are said to have fallen from the sky and were trapped within stones along the Canadian coast. They remained so until a brave Inuit warrior came upon them, realizing that the lights were trying to escape their stony prison. He shattered the rocks with his spear, releasing most of them. However, some of the lights remained behind, forming the stone we know as Labradorite.
The next time you chance upon the Aurora Borealis or a beautiful Labradorite stone, you’ll have a nameless, brave Inuit Warrior to thank.
- The Gemstones Armour
The expression ‘Women in shining armour’ is apt for the four daughters Anastasia, Olga, Maria and Tatiana of Russia’s last tsar Nicholas II, for when they were assassinated, bullets ricocheted off their ‘gemstones’ armours’.
The messy massacre occurred in 1918 when Russia was in turmoil under the lofty leadership of Tsar Nicholas II and was performing badly in the World War. When rebels organized a coup d’état and the tsar abdicated in March 1917, the royal family were taken prisoners in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. On the fateful night in July 1918, the family, fully dressed, was taken to the basement to be executed by a firing squad. While Nicholas died instantly, the four sisters survived the first hail of bullets. It was later revealed that the women had around 1.3 kg of jewels and gemstones sewn carefully into their undergarments, presumably anticipating such a thing to happen. Caught unawares, the assassins went ahead to shoot the girls at close range in the head, killing them finally.
Had they had a way to escape, the gemstone armours would have been the heroes of the story, allowing four innocent girls to escape from the clutches of a certain death.
- Alexander the Great and Chrysoprase
Alexander the Great was on an unbelievable winning streak in battles for more than a decade when his luck was literally eaten out of his hands – by a snake.
According to legends, the unstoppable great king and conqueror owed his war victories to an apple-green Chrysoprase, a gift from his mother Olympias, which he wore on his girdle whenever he went into battle. One day on his way back from India, he stopped to bathe in the waters of the Euphrates and kept his girdle aside. A snake, drawn by the alluring lustre of the stone, sprang from the grass and made off with his prized possession. Alexander the Great never won a battle after that and died at the early age of 32.
If it hadn’t been for the snake, the history of Macedonia could have been a lot different than the way we know it now.
- Urals and the Silver Hoof
An important oral lore of miners and prospectors of the Ural community of Russia narrates a sparkling tale of gemstones which literally ends with the moral of ‘No pain, no gain’.
Known popularly as the ‘Silver Hoof’, the story tells the tale of a young orphan girl Daryonka, who’s been adopted by an old hunter Kokovanya, and her cat Muryonka. One night when Kokovanya is away, a goat (in some cases a deer) with a gleaming silver hoof on its right leg arrives and plays with Daryonka, stomping all over the house. Whenever the animal stomps its hoof, coloured sparks produced sapphires, diamonds and rubies, covering the entire floor of the hut. When Kokovanya arrives the next morning and starts picking up the gems, the goat runs away with Muryonka riding on its back. Daryonka and Kokovanya never see the goat or the cat again.
The significance of this story is important to the Ural miners, who see the gems as a reward, but which come at a cost.
- Onyx and the fingernail
What if someone told you that a particular gemstone you were wearing was actually once someone’s body part? According to lore, the Onyx stones are actually considered to be the ‘divine’ fingernails of the goddess Venus!
Onyx borrows its name from the Greek word ‘Onux’ (‘fingernail). Legends speak that once when the goddess of love Venus was sleeping, her mischievous son Cupid cut off her fingernails with an arrowhead. When the clippings fell onto the sand, the Fates (three daughters of Zeus in the Greek mythology) transformed them into stones, believing that no part of the immortal and divine Venus should ever be destroyed.
The next time you see an Onyx, you know you’re in the presence of something eternal!
- The Pounamu and the petrified woman
Deep in the heart of South Island New Zealand lies an ancient verdure heartland called the Te Wahipounamu (‘place of the Greenstone’) which is culturally, historically and emotionally significant to the Maori. It is the source of the pounamu (greenstone or jade), a culturally important, invaluable raw material to the Maori which is fashioned as tools, jewellery and souvenirs across the land today. However, is it possible that the green stone pounamu is possibly the embodiment of a certain lady frozen thousands of years ago?
According to the most famous forms of the legends, a warrior by the name of Poutini who abducted a beautiful woman by the name of Waitaki at Tuhua, thus incurring the wrath of her husband Tamaahua. As Poutini fled from Tuhua, he travelled to the Coromandel Peninsula, Lake Taupo, finally crossing over to South Island at D’Urville Island, and finally coming to the bed of the Arahura River in Westland, South Island. In the Ngai Tahu variant of the story, when Poutini saw Tamaahua closing in on them, he decided that if he couldn’t have Waitaki, then no one could. He ultimately petrified Waitaki into his essence, the mother lode of pounamu.
Most of the pounamu stories are oral maps of the places as to where one can find the stone, which is important to the Maori even today.
- The Emerald Parrot and stock futures
The Incans are said to have worshipped the legendary ostrich egg-sized ‘Emerald Parrot’ by bringing of thousands of smaller emeralds as gifts, thus ending up creating a treasure trove of sorts. By the time the first rapacious conquistadors came upon this treasure hoard, the Emerald Parrot had been whisked away. Nevertheless, ships full of ill-gotten treasure began making their way into Spain. When Spanish royalty began squandering the wealth away before the treasure-filled ships could reach Spain, it created a problem of cash flow. Thus, the ‘Juro’ was born – the world’s first interest paying government bond in exchange for upfront monies that Spain was sure would never end. Essentially, they were betting on the incoming treasure hoard, and incredibly ended up creating the world’s first stock futures.
It is hard to imagine that a certain mythical verdant stone lost to modern civilization was the launch pad of the entire modern financing system.