Precious Stones & Alabaster: Gifts of Advice for Christian Women Starting College

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It was asserted to be the work of Hermes Trismegistus, the name given by the Greeks to the Egyptian god Thoth. Here we have a specimen of the species of magic known as litteromancy, or divination by means of the letters of the alphabet, since a stone, a bird, a plant, and a fish, each beginning with the same letter and signifying the four elements, are given for each of the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet.

These four objects were to be grouped together to form a talisman, the bird being usually engraved on the stone, while a portion of the fish and of the plant was placed in the bezel of the ring in which the stone was to be set. This unique production is in the form of a letter addressed to Diodorus, Bishop of Tyre, and it is peculiarly valuable as the 17 first of a long series of attempts to elucidate the question as to the identity of the twelve stones.

The special virtues of each stone are also given, and this treatise may be regarded as the prototype of all the Christian writings on the symbolism of stones. The Latin text has never been printed, but the book was translated into German by Konrad von Megenberg about Strange to say, the translator did not know the name of the writer and supposed when he began to translate the book that it was by Albertus Magnus. The renowned medieval philosopher and theologian, Albertus Magnus , for a short time Bishop of Ratisbon, and who later taught theology in the University of Paris and had the great St.

Thomas Aquinas for a pupil, was not altogether free from the superstitious notions of his time, traces of which appear in certain of his numerous writings. Indeed, even to the present day they may still be met with in out-of-the-way parts of rural France. Among literary deceptions one of the boldest was that practised in the early part of the seventeenth century by Ludovico Dolce. THE use of precious stones in early times as amulets and talismans is shown in many ancient records, and several scholars have assumed that the belief in the magic efficacy of stones gave rise to their use as objects of personal adornment.

It is, of course, very difficult either to prove or to disprove such a theory, for, even in the case of the oldest texts, we must bear in mind that they do not in the least represent primitive conditions, and that many thousands of years must have elapsed before a people could attain the grade of civilization necessary for the production of even the simplest literature.


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For this reason, certain investigators have preferred to seek for a solution of this problem in the customs and habits of the so-called uncivilized peoples of our own time; but we must not forget that conditions which seem to us very rudimentary are, nevertheless, the result of a long process of development. Even if this development was arrested many centuries or millenniums ago, it must have required a very considerable period of time to evolve such usages and conventions as are found even among the lowest races.

Indeed, many uncivilized peoples have very complicated rules and observances, testifying to considerable thought and reflection. Fetichism in all its forms depends upon an imperfect conception of what constitutes life and conscious being, so that will and thought are attributed to inanimate 20 objects. We can observe this in the case of animals and very young children, who regard any moving object as endowed with life.

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In the case of stones, however, it seems probable that those supposed to be the abode of spirits, good or evil, were selected because their natural form suggested that of some animal or of some portion of the human body. On the other hand, the wearing of what we call precious stones is more likely to have been due to the attraction exercised by bright colors upon the eye of the beholder and to the desire to display some distinguishing mark that would command attention and admiration for the wearer.


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This tendency runs through the higher animal kingdom, and its workings have served as a foundation for the theory of natural selection. It seems likely that we have here the true explanation of the motive for the gathering, preserving, and wearing of precious stones. Since these objects are motionless, they can scarcely have impressed the mind of primitive man with the idea that they were alive; they were not imposing by their mass, as were large stones, and their crystalline form scarcely figured any known living shape.

Hence their chief, we may even say their only attraction was their color and brilliancy. What effect these qualities had upon the visual sense of primitive man may be safely inferred from the effect such objects produce upon infants.

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The baby has no fear in regard to a small and brilliantly colored object which is shown to it, but will eagerly put out its hand to seize, hold, and gaze upon a bright-colored stone. As the object is quite passive and easily handled, there is nothing to suggest any lurking power to harm, and therefore there is nothing to interfere with the pleasurable sensation aroused in the optic nerve by the play of color.

Unquestionably, when these objects had once been worn, there was a disposition to attribute certain happenings to their influence and power, and in this way there arose a belief in their efficacy, and, finally, the conviction that they were the abodes of powerful spirits. Indeed, even to-day, we can see the power of superstitious belief in the case of the opal, which some timid people still fear to wear, although until three or four centuries ago this stone was thought to combine all the virtues of the various colored gems, the hues of which are united in its sparkling light.

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A proof that bright and colored objects were attractive in themselves, and were first gathered up and preserved by primitive man for this reason alone, may be found in the fact that certain birds, notable the Chlamydera of Australia, related to our ravens, after constructing for themselves pretty arbors, strew the floors with variegated pebbles, so arranged as to suggest a mosaic pavement. At the entrance of the arbors are heaped up pieces of bone, shells, feathers, and stones, which have often been brought from a considerable distance, this 22 giving evidence that the birds have not selected these objects at random.

It is strange that the attraction exercised upon the sense of sight by anything brilliant and colored, which is at the same time easily portable and can be handled or worn, should be overlooked by those who are disposed to assert that all ornaments of this kind were originally selected and preserved solely or principally because of their supposed talismanic qualities. The theory that colored and brilliant stones were first collected by men because of their beauty rather than because of their talismanic virtues, is corroborated by the statement made that seals select with considerable care the stones they swallow, and observers on the fishing grounds have noted this and believe that pebbles of chalcedony and serpentine found there have been brought by the seals.

The old etymology given by Varro B. It has been remarked that in the earliest Stone Age there is no trace of either idols or images; the art of this period being entirely profane.

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In the later Stone Age, however, entirely different ideas seem to have gained the ascendancy, for a majority of the objects of plastic art so far discovered have a religious significance. This has evidently proceeded from the conception that every image of a living object absorbs something of the essence of the object itself, and this conception, while a primitive one, still presupposes a certain degree of development. This rule applies more especially to amulets, which were therefore fashioned as beautifully as primitive art permitted, that they might become fitting abodes for the benevolent spirits believed to animate them and render them efficacious.

This is a stone bearing naturally a rude resemblance to the human form. For the Middle Ages and even down to the seventeenth century, the talismanic virtues of precious stones were believed in by high and low, by princes and peas 24 ants, by the learned as well as by the ignorant. The doctrine of sympathy and antipathy found expression in the belief that the very substance of certain stones was liable to modification by the condition of health or even by the thoughts of the wearer. In case of sickness or approaching death the lustre of the stones was dimmed, or else their bright colors were darkened, and unfaithfulness or perjury produced similar phenomena.

Concerning the turquoise, the prosaic explanation can be offered that this stone is affected to a certain extent by the secretions of the skin; but popular superstition saw the same phenomena in the ruby, the diamond, and other stones not possessing the sensitiveness of the turquoise. Hence the true explanation is to be found in the prevailing idea that an occult sympathy existed between stone and wearer.

A Persian legend of the origin of diamonds and precious stones shows that in the East these beautiful objects were looked upon as the source of much sin and sorrow. We are told that when God created the world he made no useless things, such as gold, silver, precious 25 stones, and diamonds; but Satan, who is always eager to bring evil among men, kept a close watch to spy out the appetites and passions of the human mind.


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  8. To his great satisfaction he noted that Eve passionately loved the many-colored flowers that decked the Garden of Eden; he therefore undertook to imitate their brightness and color out of earth, and in this way were produced colored precious stones and diamonds. These in after time so strongly appealed to the greed and covetousness of mankind that they have been the cause of much crime and wretchedness.

    Precious Stones & Alabaster

    The present age could afford us nearly as many examples of faith in talismans and amulets as any epoch in the past, if people were willing to confess their real beliefs. However, they are half-ashamed of their fondness for such objects, and fail to see that, back of all the folly and superstition that may find expression in this way, there is a deeper meaning in these talismans than we at first perceive. We may be disposed to smile when we are told that many of the soldiers in the Austro-Prussian War of carried amulets of some kind upon their persons, and that the great Marshal Canrobert trusted to the protection of an amulet in the Crimean campaign.

    Of course the Russian army, during the Russo-Japanese War, was amply provided with amulets, religious medals or pictures to which a special virtue had been given by a priestly blessing. The tendency to give a substantial visible form to an abstract idea is so deeply rooted in humanity that it must be looked upon as responding to a human necessity.

    It is only very rarely that purely intellectual conceptions can satisfy us; they must be given some external, palpable and visible form to exert their greater influences. Although it may bear a certain superficial likeness to fetichism, this use of signs and symbols is something entirely and radically different, for the idea is never lost sight of, it is only strengthened and vivified by the contemplation of the symbol. Hence, while we know quite well that the symbol is nothing in itself, we know just as well that it has a real power in its relation to the idea it typifies, and we can no more be indifferent to its injury or destruction than we could be indifferent to the injury or destruction of a cherished memento of one whom we have loved and lost.

    What super-subtle sense is it that enables some women to endow their gems with a certain individuality, and leads them to feel that these cold, inanimate objects partake of human emotion? A French writer, Mme. She continues:. How sad I should feel if precious stones did not love to rest upon me! A very beautiful and curious object was found in the Australian opal-fields in This is a reptilean skeleton resembling a small serpent that has become opalized by natural processes.

    As an amulet it certainly is sui generis , and in ancient times would have been valued at an immense sum, for the figure of a serpent was a favorite symbol of medical science; even to-day there is little doubt that this strange object will be eagerly sought for by collectors, and will appeal more especially to all who are interested in occult science, and to all who appreciate the poetic and perhaps mystic significance of form, sign, and symbol.

    It is impossible to over-estimate the effect of color in determining the supposed influence of gems upon the fortunes or health of the wearers. Rare and costly as they were, they were supposed to possess mystic and occult powers and were thought to be the abode of spirits, sometimes benevolent and sometimes malevolent, but always endowed with the power to influence human destinies for weal or woe.

    Coupled with this was the instinctive appreciation of the essential qualities of certain rays of light, and modern science, far from doing away with these ideas, has rather seemed to find a good reason for them. We all know the therapeutic value of the ultra-violet rays, and when the unin 28 structed mind saw therein the embodiment of purity and chastity, it perhaps realized this health-giving and beneficent function.

    In the same way the idea of passion was associated with the red and radiant ruby, another concept the relative truth of which has been demonstrated by spectrum analysis, since the red rays are heat-giving and vivifying. But this was not the only source of these primitive ideas in regard to color; the therapeutic effect was often sought and found in some fancied analogy between the color of the gem and the character of the malady or infirmity to be cured. Following out this train of thought, the red stones were endowed with the power of checking the flow of blood; especially the so-called bloodstone was prescribed for this use, and it was supposed that by its mere touch it could stop the most violent hemorrhages.

    Green was regarded as the color most beneficial for the sight, and to the emerald and other green stones was ascribed great curative power in this respect. Here, however, the simple influence of the color was later combined with its symbolical significance. In heathen mythology this showed itself in the ascription of the emerald to Venus, as the exponent of the reproductive energies of nature, while in the Christian conception these stones became typical of the resurrection, of the birth into a new and purer life.

    Nowhere can we find a better illustration of the transforming effect of distinct and diametrically opposite concepts upon the impressions made by natural objects. The pure and colorless and yet brilliant stones, such as the diamond and all other white stones, were naturally 29 brought into connection with the moon, although the diamond, because of its superior qualities and exceptional brilliance and value, was frequently looked upon as the gem of the sun.

    All gems associated with the moon partook of its enigmatic character. Illuminating the witching hour of the night, when malevolent and treacherous spirits were supposed to hold sway, the moon was sometimes regarded as baleful, as may be seen in the idea that associated lunacy with exposure to the bright rays of the moon; at other times it was supposed to have the power to conjure these evil influences and to drive off the powers of darkness.

    The symbolical significance of the colors of precious stones is treated at considerable length by Giacinto Gimma, 13 who has gathered together a great quantity of material on the subject. Yellow worn by a man denoted secrecy, and was appropriate for the silent lover; worn by a woman it indicated generosity.