When one actually reflects on the scope and magnitude of the gemstones available in the world, it is little wonder that ancient people found it impossible to conceive that nature created all of these “wonders” alone. That is why in the past, people who admired gems came up with theories to explain where these amazing stones came from. The following are a few of these remarkable “explanations” from past cultures.
Many ancient people, convinced that the radiance and color of gemstones were beyond the common workings of nature, gave sole credit to the gods. Amethyst for example, supposedly arose when the wine god (Bacchus) poured the juice from grapes on a maiden who had been crystallized by a curse. More fascinating still, was the belief held by the early Hindus who thought that gems grew like plants and ripened with the seasons. All the stones were thought to begin colorless and then grow, energized by the sun, until they reached maturity and perfection of color. Ruby was considered fully ripened while gems of other colors or lighter shades of red had obviously been mined too early. There is also evidence from ancient writers that held the belief that various stones could reproduce sexually. In the eleventh century, the French bishop Marbode observed and stated that diamonds “grow together male and female and feed with the morning dew. They conceive and engender and make little ones that multiply and grow every year”. Scholars in Roman times looked for geologic processes that might have created gems but were perplexed by the geometric formation and intricacies of the gem crystals. One scholar, Pliny Elder, claimed that a six-sided beryl could not have formed in nature and attributed the perfect facets to Indian carvers. The Arabs concluded that Opals fell from heaven in flashes of lightning that gave them their marvelous colors and others believed that crystal quartz was actually ice that had been petrified in the intense cold of mountainous areas. Although we have discounted these colorful myths and fables in favor of the proven scientific explanation of a gems origin in nature, we can not dismiss the overwhelming perception that nature is a wondrous creator and embrace the feeling of awe.
Birthstones…the tradition is as ancient as the gems themselves. The idea of birthstones evolved from ancient astrology when it was commonplace to assign stones to planets. This probably began in ancient Mesopotamia with the Chaldeans of Babylonia, they were excellent astronomers and astrologers who worshiped the planets and believed that they controlled the fates of people and nations. They also paired certain gemstones to certain planets. Further steps toward the birthstone notion came in Biblical times. The Book of Exodus reports God’s instructions for making the High Priests vestments set with twelve gems in a breastplate, for the twelve tribes of Israel. In the first century AD, the historian Flavius Josephus traced the connection between the stones in this vestment to the months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac.(Source:GIA)
Written by Wendy Adeler Hall
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