Mineral Guide > Gems > Superstitions Regarding Gems

Superstitions Regarding Gems

From the earliest times and among all peoples there seem to have been sentiments and superstitions connected with gems. Not only was the power of driving away evil spirits and producing all sorts of "luck" long attributed to them, but as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century reputable physicians were accustomed to mix fragments of them in their medicines and to use them as charms. To this day amber is kept in stock by druggists in Paris for use in filling prescriptions. The Chinese still use powdered pearls, coral, and other gems in medicine, and various Indian tribes of North America ascribe great medicinal value to one gem or another. In the writings of Greek and Roman writers are found many statements indicating belief in the medicinal and other virtues of gems. It was in the Middle Ages, however, that these opinions seem to have been most widely and firmly held, so far as it is possible to learn of them through history.

The following passage from Marbodus, a writer of the latter part of the eleventh century, is a good example of some of the virtues attributed to gems in that time :

" The chalcedony, if blest and tied round the neck, cures lunatics. Moreover, he that wears it will never be drowned or tempest-tossed. It also makes the wearer beautiful, faithful, strong, and successful in all things. One ought to engrave upon it Mars armed, and a virgin robed, wrapped in a vestment, and holding a laurel branch ; with a perpetual blessing.

"Aristotle, in his book on gems, says that an emerald hung from the neck, or worn on the finger, protects against danger of the falling sickness. We therefore commend noblemen, that it be hanged about the necks of their children that they fall not into this complaint. The emerald is approved in all kinds of divination; in every business if worn it increases its owner's importance, both in presence and in speech.

" A sard, of the weight of twenty grains of barley, if hung round the neck or worn on the finger, the wearer shall not have terrible or disagreeable dreams, and shall have no fear of incantations or of witchcraft.

" The beryl is a large and transparent stone. Engrave upon it a lobster, and under its legs a raven, and put under the gem a vervain leaf, inclosed in a little plate of gold; it being consecrated and worn, makes the wearer conqueror of all bad things, and gives protection against all diseases of the eyes. And if you put this stone in water, and give this water to one to drink, it cures stoppage of the breath and hiccups, and dispels pains of the liver. It is useful to be worn, and he that hath this gem upon him shall be victorious in battle over all his foes. It is found in India, like unto the emerald, but of a paler cast.

" The sard is good to be worn, and makes the person beloved by women; engrave upon it a vine and ivy twining round it.
"The casteis (callais turquois) is good for liberty, for he that hath consecrated it, and duly performed all things necessary to be done in it, shall obtain liberty. It is fitting to perfect the stone when you have got it, in this manner: Engrave upon it a beetle, then a man standing under it; afterwards let it be bored through its length and set on a gold fibula (swivel) ; then being blest and set in an adorned and prepared place, it will show forth the glory which God hath given it."

Some of the other traditional virtues of gems ascribed chiefly in the Middle Ages, but many doubtless of earlier origin, are as follows:

A,-ate was believed to have the power of averting storms, counteracting poison, and stemming the flow of blood. A black agate with white veins was considered a potent talisman against every danger, and to have the power of rendering the wearer invisible.
Amber worn in beads about the neck or wrist was regarded a cure for sore throat and ague, and a preventive of insanity, asthma, dropsy, toothache, and deafness.

The blood-stone prevented death from bleeding.

The cat's-eye warned its wearer of danger, storms, and troubles, and was a charm against witchcraft. It was also a cure for croup when applied locally.

Precious coral prevented blight, caterpillars, storms, and locusts, and was a charm against lightning, whirlwind, shipwreck, and fire. Taken internally it was a cure for indigestion.

The diamond was a talisman against danger, and gave hardiness, fortitude, and manhood to its owner.

The emerald gave immortality, won the favor of rulers and pacification of enemies. If its wearer was unmarried it rendered him invisible.

The garnet was a preventive of fever and dropsy, and
rendered its wearer agreeable, powerful, and victorious.

The hyacinth gave second sight, promoted sleep, and
preserved from thunderstorms and pestilences.

Iolite foretold storms by changing hue.

Jasper had the power of stopping overflowing blood, or
water, and was a preventive of poison. Jet induced fertility.

Moonstone was believed to contain an image of the moon, which grew clear upon days and occasions fortunate to its owner, and dim with the reverse. It was thought to wax and wane with the moon and was a cure for epilepsy.

The onyx exposed its wearer to lawsuits, bad dreams, and demons. If a sard were worn with it, however, these evil influences were counteracted. It symbolized and insured conjugal felicity.

The opal faded upon the insincere, deceitful, and impure; but when worn by the innocent united the special virtues of all gems.

The pearl insured entrance to Heaven; but this privilege might be lost by carelessness of life.

Quartz if burned averted storms, and powdered and mixed with water cured serpents' bites.

The ruby preserved its owner's house or vineyard from lightning, tempest, and worms if the former were touched by it. It was also a disinfectant and preventive of infectious diseases. Bruised in water it relieved weakness of the eyes, and cured liver complaints.
The sapphire was a preventive of despair and fire; a curative of madness and boils.

The topaz was good for burns, and if thrown into boiling water deprived it of its heat. It prevented melancholy and cured hemorrhages. Its internal brilliancy was believed to follow the phases of the moon.

Tourmaline when heated was capable of charming away pain, such as toothache, headache, etc.

A turquois grew pale if its owner became sick, and lost its color at death until placed upon a princess's finger. It prevented injury in case of a fall. Held suspended in a glass it told the hour by strokes against the sides. It was a cheerer of the soul and insured prosperity.

Such opinions regarding the virtues of gems were not confined to the lower classes but were held generally. There is little doubt that rulers were accustomed to carry their gems to the battle-field with them for the sake of the protection they might give, for Charles the Bold lost his gems, among which is said to have been the Florentine diamond, at the battle-field of Nancy in this way, and there are other instances indicating that the practice of carrying gems for this purpose was common.