FolkloreGem LoreMythology

Attributes and Legends of Birthstones

Birthstones are the specific stones associated with the month a person is born. The concept is relatively old, but there is not an ‘official’ list, unlike there is for the zodiac. The ones I’ve chosen here come from the list provided by Oliver Farrington’s 1903 Gems and Gem Minerals, though other lists exist.

According to tradition, the specific stones are related to the stones embedded in the breastplate of the High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple. This seems to first appear in the works of the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus and disseminated from there. Kunz, in Curious Lore of Precious Stones, states that “it is unquestionably based on the list in Revelation, which in its turn goes back to the twelve stones of the high priest’s breastplate.”(317)

These 12 stones have several myths and legends associated with them, not necessarily because they are birthstones but because humans really like shiny things, and we’ve just sort of always given them mystical associations. The association with a month relates to the potency of the attributes during that month. Kunz notes the stone of the month was believed to exercise its therapeutic or talismanic virtue to the fullest extent at that period.”(308)

Table of Contents

1. January – Garnet

GarnetCrystalUSGOV

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Garnets were regarded as protective gems, said to prevent fevers and dropsy and make the wearer agreeable, powerful, and victorious. (Farrington, 59) Overall their attributes were similar to rubies but somewhat less. Kunz, in Curious Lore of Precious Gems, notes that red or reddish stones, such as the ruby, spinel, garnet, carnelian, bloodstone, etc. These were thought to be sovereign remedies for hemorrhages of all kinds, as well as for all inflammatory diseases; they were also believed to exercise a calming influence and remove anger and discord. The red hue of these stones was supposed to indicate their fitness for such use, upon the principle similia similibus curantur.” (370) This idea, the similia similibus curantur, shows up again and again in folklore in general and for gems in particular.

They were regarded as “emblematic of constancy, gave and preserved health, and reconciled differences between friends.”(Farrington, 131). They also warded off thunder and plague and increased riches and honors. (Farrington, 131) Additionally, a garnet “indicated the presence of poison by becoming dim, also personal danger and ill-health by changing colour; it was, moreover, considered to give vigilance to businessmen, and sportsmen and soldiers calmness in danger. (Thomas & Pavitt, 264)

2. February – Amethyst

Amethyst. Magaliesburg, South Africa

JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The amethyst was a protective gem overall and was said, especially in the middle ages, to provide protection in battle and prevent hailstones and locusts. It was also good for negotiations, especially with princes. Its most famous attribute, however, is its purported ability to cure drunkenness. Kunz gives a linguistic explanation for this as the very reason behind the gem’s name, saying that it “derived from μεθύω — “to be intoxicated,” and the privative α, the name thus signifying the “sobering” gem. It is not unlikely that a fancied resemblance between the prevailing hue of these stones and that of certain kinds of wine first gave rise to the name and the idea of the peculiar virtues of the amethyst.”(371)

Thomas and Pavitt in The Book of Talismans, Amulets, and Zodiacal Gems, note this meaning as well, saying, “From the earliest dawn of history the occult properties of this stone as an antidote to inebriety have been recognised, by all writers, the name originating from a Greek word meaning “without intoxication,” (273) This curative ability extends to other maladies, such as  “upon those over-excited by the love-passion. Lastly, it preserved soldiers from harm and gave them victory over their enemies, and was of great assistance to hunters in the capture of wild animals. The amethyst shared with many other stones the power to preserve the wearer from contagion.”(Kunz, 371)

3. March – Bloodstone

Bloodstone (2933052992)

Stephanie Clifford from Arlington, VA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the name might imply, a lot of the attributes associated with this stone revolve around blood, even its origins. It was said to originate from the blood of Jesus dripping onto green jasper. A common one is that it prevented death by bleeding. (Farrington, 58) and stopped bleeding either by touch or by wetting and holding the stone (Farrington, 153). Kunz also notes this, saying, “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.” (28)

It had several uses beyond blood; “in the Middle Ages, it was considered good for those engaged in husbandry and the breeding of cattle. Amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Bloodstone was worn to bring renown and the favour of the great; to inspire constancy and endurance and as a charm against the bites of scorpions and all venomous creatures. It was also a great favorite with their athletes, who wore it as a Talisman for success in the games”(Thomas & Pavitt, 139).

On a negative note, it was also believed that bloodstones “had the power to turn the sun itself a blood-red and to cause thunder, lightning, rain, and tempest. (Kunz, 60)

4. April – Diamond

Brillanten

Mario Sarto, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Diamonds are probably the most famous stone on this list, and their attributes are many and varied. Looked at as gems of the sun (Kunz, 29), the most well-known and, indeed, legendary attribute is its hardness. Farrington notes that “it was a tradition of the ancients that if a diamond were put on an anvil and struck with a hammer, both hammer and anvil would be shattered without injuring the diamond in the least.”(Farrington, 70)

Other attributes include being a talisman against danger and giving strength to its owner (Farrington, 58) though this is noted as being related to its overall hardness, with Kunz saying, “The virtues ascribed to this stone are almost all directly traceable either to its unconquerable hardness or to its transparency and purity. It was therefore thought to bring victory to the wearer, by endowing him with superior strength, fortitude, and courage.”(70) It was also believed to be an antidote to poisons and a preventative for mania.

5. May – Emerald

Beryl, quartz 5

Géry PARENT, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Legends about emeralds primarily revolve around their healing properties, particularly with the eyes. (Farrington, 101) An emerald in water was said to cure inflammation. It also gave immortality and let the owner win the favor of rulers and pacify enemies. (Farrington, 57) Emeralds blind snakes and change color to show infidelity. They were believed to originate from the “home of the griffin.” (Farrington, 102). Related to this ability, the emerald was believed to foreshow future events(Kunz, 76) as well as be “a revealer of truth, this stone was an enemy of all enchantments and conjurations” (Kunz, 77) or any variety of deceit” those whose hearts had been smitten by the shafts from Cupid’s bow found in this stone an invaluable auxiliary, for it revealed the truth or falsity of lover’s oaths. “(Kunz, 78)

6. June – Agate

2006-10-30BuchstützeAchat03

Wildfeuer, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Agate was mostly curative and protective; its wearer was guarded against all dangers, was enabled to vanquish all terrestrial obstacles, and was endowed with a bold heart;(Kunz, 51). It was thought to prevent storms, counter poison, and stem the blood flow. A special type of agate, black with white veins, was considered especially potent, able to protect from all dangers and make the wearer invisible. (Farrington, 58) It also makes the wearer eloquent and gracious (Farrington, 159).

As a talisman, its uses were mainly medicinal, and “the wearing of agate ornaments was even believed to be a cure for insomnia and was thought to ensure pleasant dreams”(Kunz, 52). The Greeks and Romans wore them to “avert sickness, regarding them, particularly as an antidote to the bite of an Asp” (Thomas & Pavitt, 167)

Like the emerald and the opal, it was a revealer of truth, and “nothing evil could remain in the presence of this gem which discovered falsehood and treachery by changing colour and turning pale, and when powerless to avert misfortune would fall from its setting, giving rise to the belief that the falling of this gem is a bad omen.”(Tomas & Pavitt, 181)

7. July – Ruby

Corundum-215333

Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ruby is strongly associated with fire, more so than the other red gems. There was a belief that “If cast into the water the ruby communicated its heat to the liquid, causing it to boil. “(Kunz, 107) It was also protective,  guarding owners’ houses against lightning, storms, and worms(Farrington, 58)and turned dark when the owner was in danger. It protected the mind as well and “removed evil thoughts, controlled amorous desires, dissipated pestilential vapors, and reconciled disputes.”(Kunz, 107) Its power was so great that the “fortunate owner of a brilliant ruby is assured that he will live in peace and concord with all men, that neither his land nor his rank will be taken from him, and that he will be preserved from all perils.” (Kunz, 103)

8. August – Sardonyx

Manifattura italiana, piatto in sardonica, 1590-1600 ca.

Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This gem doesn’t have quite as much lore as some of the others, but what we get is something that is overall medicinal. Sardonyx was supposed to give “eloquence to the wearer and cure epilepsy.”(Farrington, 156) as well as save wearers from infectious complaints and the bites of venomous creatures (Thomas & Pavitt, 193) It steadied the mind as well. When worn as a necklace, it would give self-control, attract friends, ensure conjugal happiness, and aid success in legal matters. Also, Camillus Leonardus says, it puts a restraint upon those inclined to dissipation and makes a man agreeable as a companion.” (Thomas & Pavitt, 193)

9. September- Sapphire

Sapphire (gem gravel mine, Ratnapura area, Sri Lanka) 1 (34857678855)

James St. John, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sapphire was strongly associated with spirits and considered a favorite of necromancers because it  “enabled them to hear and to understand the obscurest oracles. ” (Kunz, 105, 115) but paradoxically was “regarded as especially appropriate for use in ecclesiastical rings.” (Kunz, 371) Despite this, it was also protective and was said to bring divine favor to the wearer (Kunz, 105) and, like other blue gems, was “supposed to counteract the wiles of the spirits of darkness and procure the aid and favor of the spirits of light and wisdom.” (Kunz, 370) This was especially true in the Middle Ages when the lore states that “discovered Fraud and Treachery, protected from Poison, Plague, Fever, and Skin Diseases, and had great power in resisting black magic and ill-wishing.”(Thomas & Pavitt, 155)

10. October – Opal

Opal Welo - Welo, Afar Province, Etiopia, Afryka.

Lech Darski, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The opal is an interesting one, having both positive and negative attributes. Though it was regarded by ancient Greeks as giving the wearer foresight, it was also regarded as bringing bad luck if this was misused (Thomas & Pavitt, 219). Thomas & Pavitt stress that, though it is sometimes regarded as unlucky, this is not necessarily true, saying “they are not, in reality, more unlucky than other stones, though being a Libra gem and essentially a pledge of friendship, they are not fortunate for anyone having Venus afflicted in their horoscope.”(219)

Beyond these attributes, the Romans said that it warned against danger (Farrington, 164) and it was supposed to fade “upon the contact with the insincere, deceitful, and impure; but when worn by the innocent, it united the special virtues of all gems. (Farrington, 59)

11. November- Topaz

117kgTopazFromBrazil NaturhistorischesMuseum Nov14-10

Captmondo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most attributes ascribed to the topaz are psychological rather than physical. According to Kunz, “ancients believed that it calmed the passions and prevented bad dreams”(122), and “it preserved from sensuality, calmed anger and frenzy, strengthened the intellect, brightened the wit, gave joyousness and contentment, and drove away broodings and apprehensions.” (Thomas & Pavitt, 244)

12. December – Turquoise

Turquoise.pebble.700pix

Adrian Pingstone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Moreso than most other gems, turquoise is connected to the owner’s health. If the owner became sick, the stone turned pale and lost color if they died. The only way to return the luster was to put it onto a princess’ finger (Farrington, 59).

Its most notable attribute was the protection of the owner from falls, especially from horses (Kunz, 109), but it was also said to become damp or change color to warn about poisons(Thomas & Pavit, 158) as well as “was believed to appease hatred, relieve and prevent headaches”(Thomas & Pavitt, 159) There’s a caveat, however. In some lore, turquoise had to be given to have any of these attributes, not purchased. (Thomas & Pavitt, 159)

Bibliography

Farrington, Oliver C. (Oliver Cummings), Gems and gem minerals, Chicago : A. W. Mumford, 1903

Kunz, George, Curious Lore of Precious Stones. J.B. Lippincott Co. 1913

Pavitt, William Thomas; Pavitt, Kate, The Book of Talismans, Amulets, and Zodiacal Gems, London : Rider, 1914

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