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The Myth and Lore of Sapphire: September's Birthstone

Mar 28, 2008
An old Vedic story describes the demon god, Vela, ripped apart by demigods. Vela's body tumbled down to the earth. When he hit his skin shattered into yellow sapphires that scattered like mystic seeds throughout the Himalayas.

Vela's eyes became shards of divine energy, the seeds of blue sapphires. These tumbled to Sri Lanka and other areas of Southeast Asia - areas even today where sapphires are mined.

Vela is an ancient figure from the Vedas, the holy Sanskrit writings of the early Hindus. The label of "demon" is anthropocentric. Vela is the cathartic, primordial, untamed forces, the creative destructive elementals that formed the body of the earth. This power could not be contained all in one place and therefore had to be shattered.

We as humans can relate to the power of the cosmos in small pieces, which is represented by such sapphires. Even from a scientific, geologic view point: the geologic pressure and unique chemical conditions it takes over the eons to create the sapphire is both primordial and miraculous.

This lore of Vela's body, eyes and skin, provides thematic ground for the lore of sapphire. The notion of "seeing" or the "seer" with clear sight is tied to our own journey, but to move forward is difficult when one's sight is wounded.

Sapphires, formed from the eyes of Vela, have been used as an "eyestone" to treat eye disease throughout the centuries. Egyptian physicians created an eye wash with sapphire, copper oxide and boric acid. Medieval texts also refer to sapphire as an elixir for the eyes particularly when dissolved in milk. It could removed sand or dust that were in the eye if held above the eye and warmed. (Kuntz p. 192)

The original energy, starlight made into matter, demonic yet healing, is contained within a sapphire was applied to skin diseases. By virtue of their powerful magnetism, sapphires were believed to heal boils and draw away the poison when rubbed against the skin.

The fourteenth century scholar, Chevalier Jean de Mandeville, described how sapphire is, "marvelously good at removing all the bumps inside the body." (Kuntz p. 194)

Sapphire was also considered an antidote for poisoning, as long as you chose the right gem. Wolfgang Gabelchover, a medieval writer, suspended a sapphire over a spider, swinging it like a pendulum. If the spider died then the stone was a good antidote. This theme was picked up by other writers who thought it a cure for venom. It became a favorite for the practices of necromancers who used it to understand even obscure oracles. (Kuntz p. 104)

The Latin term for sapphire is, 'sapphirus'; in Hebrew, it is 'sappir'. Ancient texts refer to sapphire as a blue stone, which means that its characteristics were at times confused with lapis lazuli. Given the technology during the time of Moses, and the hardness of sapphires, it is unlikely that the Ten Commandments were carved on a sapphire, unless of course, God did it.

The gem has a history of being revered in the Catholic Church. Sapphire is listed as the second foundation stone in Revelations XXI: "Its color is similar to that of a clear sky; struck by the rays of the sun, it sends forth, burning, a flash of lightening, signifying the hope by which we are carried off to heaven."

The gem is associated with the apostle, St. Paul by the eleventh century bishop, Andreas of Caesarea. Pope Innocent II had his bishops wear sapphire rings. Mandeville called sapphire a "sainted stone" that "elevates the thoughts to the celestial realm." (Kuntz p. 194)

Isaiah 54:11: "I will lay thy foundation with sapphires."

Blue is a color associated with divine law, order and structure. Consider who is wearing blue uniforms even today. The Vedic word for sapphire, sanipraya, translates to, "dear to the planet Saturn." Saturn, in mythological texts, is associated with structure, foundations, agriculture, patience, time, history, the teacher and archetype of the old man.

Sapphires representing eyes of the deity, might suggest that the gem helps us to see clearly. To be at one with the proper order of manifest life is a precondition that must be met if we are to understand our true direction.

If we become toxic it is surely because we do not have clear vision. Poison can also come from curses, the "evil eye" which confuses or distorts our way. Clarity, to be pure, connects one to the blue heavens above, the spheres of light in the celestial realms. A divine state of grace is the greatest possible healing. Sapphire seems to contain the purity and magnetism to assist one on the journey.

The Vela myth also suggests that the gem might be used as a type of shield to protect oneself from harm. Skin of the demon is hard and protective, just like sapphires. Damigeron, an Arab who wrote the earliest Middle Ages treatise on gemstones, wrote that sapphires were worn by kings as a protection from harm.
Corundum, which is the family of gems from which sapphires come from, has a hardness scale of nine out of ten. Crystalline corundum is rare, but in its less pure forms it is common. The frying pans in my kitchen are coated with it.

Consider, finally, the hexagonal crystalline structure of sapphire. Its nature is associated with the number six. Two triangles are brought together to form a new shape that represents our physical existence on earth.

Harmony and community are also associated with the number six: the shape of the bee hive. According to tradition, the number six is represents Solomon's Seal - a way of mediating and coming to resolution and balance after indecision.

To review the myth and lore of sapphire one easily understands why it is that this gem has been desired for thousands of years. To hold a sapphire in one's hand and listen to its message might be a kind of healing, through vision, helping one find truth in the journey toward the Kingdom.

References: Most of the historical content, myth and lore referenced in this article came from two books, both of which are in print and available on line:

George Frederick Kunz, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, New York; Dover Publications, Inc. 1913, 1971 edition.

Bruce Knuth, Gems In Myth, Legends And Lore; Parachute, Colorado, Jewelers Press, 2007.
About the Author
Marc Choyt is President of Reflective Images, a designer jewelry company, that sells sapphires and ethically sourced jewelry at www.artisanweddingrings.com. His company produces eco-friendly, conflict free diamond jewelry. Marc also authors www.fairjewelry.org supporting green, fair trade, socially responsible jewelry practices.
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