People have been drawn to the beauty of crystals and gemstones for thousands of years. Captivated by their ability to refract light, and the combination of transparency and darkness in a single stone, many different cultures throughout the ages have believed them to possess life changing and healing magical powers.
One compelling reason for our enduring fascination with crystals is their physical embodiment of opposing properties. They are the essence of contradiction. Crystals can be both dark and transparent. You can see through them – or can you? They refract light but can also radiate it from within. The word ‘crystal’ comes from the Greek krystallos and means literally ‘coldness drawn together’, or ice. But some crystals manifest the deep reds and oranges of fire.
Crystals and gemstones have played a role in all major religions, and they are mentioned in both the Bible and the Koran, as well as many other sacred texts. But the first historical references to the use of crystals came from the ancient Sumerians, who included crystals in their magic formulae. The ancient Egyptians used them primarily for protection and the maintenance of physical and mental health, but also for jewellery, adornments, and cosmetics and in their burial rituals.
The ancient Greeks attributed many properties to crystals and gave us several of the names we still use today. Amethyst (meaning ‘not drunken’!) was used as an amulet both to prevent inebriation and calm hangovers, while ‘hematite’ derives from the Greek word for blood. Ancient Greek soldiers would reputedly rub hematite over their bodies before battle to make themselves invulnerable, and Greek sailors wore a variety of amulets to keep them safe at sea.
The tradition of green stones being lucky continues to this day, with roots in ancient China, Mexico and, more recently, New Zealand. The Maoris wore jade pendants to represent their ancestors’ spirits, which were passed down the generations through the male line.
Today, in the 21st century, our passion for the beauty and meaning of crystals is undimmed and gemstones continue to hold great meaning.