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Causes of superstitions in regards to Gems

Category: Articles | Posted by: March 19, 2015

Natural History of Pliny
IntroductionThe influence of GEMSOrigin of the Sources: Arabian trailChristian trailMedieval Opinion & Origin of the custom | The attempts to prove | Conclusion


Man is apt to endow many subjects with supernatural power. This custom was known during the centuries, particularly in regard to prehistoric men. Thus, gemstones have been always a subject of great attention. But what were the main causes, able to intrigue a man in such degree in regards to precious and semi precious stones? Let’s figure it out!

The influence of GEMS

Gems were known to the Incas and Aztecs, to the Pharaohs and Moguls, on the east and west. Ancient astrologers, alchemists and magi claimed that each gem is unique and is possessed with the power to predetermine the destiny, thanks to its nature origin, zodiacal influence and various virtues.

Furthermore, there were many convictions in the capability of gems to affect on one’s nativity, thus particular gemstone, could serve as a mascot, natal or zodiacal gemstone. Many researchers, thereby, can’t determine a real cause of origin the custom of wearing gemstones and, therefore, they can’t realize, could it be the idea to adorn oneself or the idea of talismanic usage.

Origin of the Sources

Arabian trail

The evidences concerning certain gemstones were found in the sources of VII, VIII and IX centuries, principally belonging to Asia Minor. The treatises were written chiefly in Syriac language, but later were translated to Arabic. However, later, these sources have been dated to XIII century. Nonetheless, there are the proofs, that these sources have been based on much older Chaldean original.

However, beyond all doubt, all these Arabic writers borrowed this information from the Indian sources.

Christian trail

Ancient Medicine
Christian “science of gems” developed in parallel with the world of Asia Minor.

Pliny stated very curious facts in regards of gemstones. His “Natural History” contains many of the evidences in regards of magical virtues of the gems, especially in the last two books about mineralogy.

Isidore of Seville have transmitted the ideas of Pliny and Gaius Julius Solinus and have adapted them to the Christian world in VII and subsequent centuries.

Marbodius of Rennes wrote his treatise about gemstones in XI century, however, Dr. Kunz mentioned that he borrowed a half of it from Damigeron (Evax) and partly from the works of Pliny.

Thanks to regular rewriting and borrowing of the information the final result always very distinguished from the original.

Hermes Trismegistus (or Egyptian god Thoth) bestowed to people the science called “litteromancy,” that helped to structure all the subjects and objects according to the letters of the Greek alphabet, as known from the Alexandrian school. Thus, the objects starting with the same letter have symbolized 4 elements, and being combined — a mascot.

Epiphanius of Salamis went even further, comparing each of 12 gems with 12 breastplates of the high priests. By the way, it were those 12 gems, that subsequently served a prototype of modern Birthstones, known to us.

Medieval Opinion or the origin of custom

Anselmus De Boodt Book

In the Middle Ages, the magical influence of gems has been established beyond doubt, but later, in the Renaissance period, when the science came to the fore, many researchers attempted to determine the origin of traditional beliefs.

It probably seems to be strange for us, but no one doubt in these times in the magical influence of gems, however the scientists attempted to find even if pseudo-scientific explanation of this phenomena. When, during the debates, some indirect evidences have been provided, it has been established, to considering any of peculiar feature of gems as a miracle.

Paracelsus, well known alchemist of XVI century, has endowed certain gems with talismanic power, moreover, he “invented” a name for this magical spirit and called it “Azoth.”

Anselmus de Boodt stated concerning the power of certain gemstones in 1609, that aroused an interest in intellectual circles of these times. He was a court physician of Rudolph II, therefore, his opinion couldn’t be ridiculed. Moreover, he described the medicinal power of some gems in his book.

Later, Thomas Nicols has listed all the magical properties of gemstones in his book “Lapidary or the history of Pretious Stones,” written in 1652. In his book “Faithful Lapidary,” dated 1659, he mentioned that all these gems, being a product of nature “can produce none other but natural effects, such as are all the ordinary effects of gems.” George F. Kunz stated that this opinion illustrates the prevailing opinion in regards to the virtues of gems.

Kunz also have noticed, that if you’ll gaze on a crystal of Ruby, Sapphire, Moonstone or Opal, you would definitely find some “magic spirit” inside it. However, it is worth noting that Kunz, thereby, deprives the subject of its romance.

XIX Century: the attempts to prove

Friederike Hauffe

In XIX century many attempts have been taken to illustrate the magical influence of gems.

One such curious (and quite serious) experiment has been conducted with so called “Seeress of Prevorst.” She was a daughter of Prevorster huntsman and was born in 1801, but yet in 1825 the “possessed by the devil” symptom has been determined for her. Her name was Friederike Hauffe.

Friederike didn’t respond to any crystals of porphyry, granite, or flint, placed in her hand, however, she has reacted to the crystals of Sapphire and fluorspar in turn, that relaxed her body, and produced a sour taste in her mouth.

Thus, the researchers concluded that the first specimens depressed her vital energy, but the second ones, in turn, stimulated the muscles and made her feel, that she could fly.

Diamond and other colorless gemstones possessed similar positive influence on her, arousing Friederike from a twilight sleep and awaken her from the trance.

Similar experiments were applied to her with Hematite, Spinel, Ruby and other gems, and all of them were finished with curious results.


There are numerous Medieval treatises, ancient sources in both hemispheres on opposite sides of the oceans, that describe us the unusual virtues of precious and semi precious stones. However, we have to draw conclusions, basing on common sense.

My savvy is hinting me, that all these sources contain at least a grain of truth, however, I can’t even suggest, which “remedies” have been indeed used by our ancestors during the Middle Ages and, furthermore, earlier. For instance, I can remember the case with the crystals of Tourmaline, that could attract small objects. This fact has shocked entire scientists society of that time, but today we know such usual phenomena as magnetism (including an animal magnetism, furthermore).

Thus, I myself sincerely believe in the great history of gems, the property, that no one will dispute. Nonetheless, I always thought that nothing in the world appears groundlessly, hence if we managed to find too many evidences elucidated such curious aspect as “magical and healing properties of gemstones,” that means that we have to admit the existence of “certain particularities” of these objects of nature and, therefore, to allow everyone to interpret this subject in one’s own fashion.

To prepare this article, I’ve used the books of George F. Kunz. His books could be found here.

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