Editor’s Note: The Rockhound Review is a space where guest contributors can weigh in on topics stirring within the rock, gem and mineral community or share their insights (serious and lighthearted) about a specific topic. The views shared here are those of the guest contributors.
This is part 1 of a two-part series. Enjoy part two>>>
By Mark Maller
In the pre-scientific era, people around the world believed many unusual things about
minerals and gems. Strange superstitions were very common, largely because of the authority of ancient writings, and the lack of accurate observations and chemical knowledge limited the real knowledge of minerals. Alchemists believed until the early 19th century that lead could be transformed into gold.
It is easy to laugh at these ideas but without any scientific knowledge, anything could be believed, no matter how nonsensical it sounds to us.
Diamonds, which have always been treasured, were the source of some strange beliefs. The Hindus thought that flawed specimens were unlucky and ancient Greek lore held they were the tears of the gods. Through the early Renaissance, some people thought that light colored diamonds were female, the dark ones male, and will grow when they are watered, and are capable of reproducing themselves. (The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 1912) Wishful thinking!
In ancient Greece, the idea was that the celestial energy in the parent stone changes the surrounding air to water, or something similar, then condenses and hardens the diamond. (Smithsonian, Gem.) In the Talmud, diamonds shine if the accused is innocent and does not if he or she is guilty.
According to an Orphic myth, no harm will come from the Evil Eye to whoever wears the diamond. The gem will also enable the gods to grant kings and queens their wishes.
Here are other odd myths.
Pearls might also reproduce. Borneo fishermen preserved every ninth pearl they found in a bottle with two grains of rice in order to get them to reproduce little pearls.
Malachite, a green copper ore, allegedly has powers for children to keep away evil spirits and protect against falling, and snake bites. It was likely the first mineral mined, as early as 4000 B.C., then was fused with fire to create copper– the oldest metal developed by humans, possibly discovered when malachite dropped into a fire.
Jade was the “stone of the flank”. Native American Indians used it to treat kidney disease, and this is the origin of the term nephrite.
According to one legend, if equal parts of jade, rice and dew water are mixed in a pot until it boils, then it will help strengthen muscles, harden the bones and calm the mind. (Please do not try this at home!)
Rubies may preserve one’s health and control amorous desires, and in ancient times, some believed that they were petrified drops of dragon blood.
Yellow sapphire may energize relationships and strengthen the will, and in 1390 it was
believed that sapphires helped treat eye conditions.
Chrysoberyl (cat’s eye variety) relieves headaches and improves night vision, as if the cat’s perception transferred to the gem.
Hematite formed where soldiers spilled their blood on battlefields. If this was true, then rockhounds would be digging through Gettysburg constantly to find this red and grey iron ore.
More gem and mineral superstitions will be covered in my next column along with reasons why they were credible and accepted.