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The Myth and Lore of Emeralds: May's Birthstone

Mar 28, 2008
"Emeralds are very a green stone, because to speak of its greenness, it makes the air green," writes the fourteenth century scholar, Chevalier Jean de Mandeville, which explains the remarkable fact that monkey wrench gang ecologists and Wall Street tycoons have all been mystified by emeralds.

Yet before visiting your local jeweler, take the advice of the Roman magician, Damigeron who, driving his chariot under the influence of Egyptians, wrote that, "to know the power of emeralds given by God, it should be carved like a scarab beetle with Isis on its belly before being consecrated and mounted on your brooch." (Kuntz p. 97)

Emeralds obviously have been enchanting human beings for thousands of years. They were sold in the markets of Babylon in 4000 BC. The Aztecs named emerald the stone of sacred Quetzalcoatl. They called it the Stone of Judgement. Aristotle wrote that emerald held power to give one presence during businesses speeches and provide victory in trial. He also links the gem to improved vision.

The theme of vision repeats over the eons with several writers. Emeralds are part the gem family which is called, beryl, which is heavily associated with clear sight. The word, in Latin, for a magnifying glass is 'beryllus'. Eyeglasses, in German, are 'brille'. In England during the 16th century, windows were known as 'berills' and mirrors, as 'berral-glas'. (Kuntz p. 49)

The Roman elder and historian, Pliny, wrote that emerald comforts the eyes from weariness and lassitude. Of all the stones, "this is the only one that feeds the sight without satiating it." (Kuntz p. 95) The soft green color of the gem comforts the eyes.

Beryl was used in the middle ages as a precursor to the modern day Ouija board. The gem was held above a water bowl by a thread. Questions were asked and the answers were granted by letters written upon the surface of water.

Clear sight leads to clear judgment, and this is reflected in the structure of emeralds. Emeralds have a hexagon crystalline structure. Two triangles are brought together to form a new shape that is more stable in its general nature. The number six is represents Solomon's Seal - a way of mediating and coming to resolution and balance after indecision.

In a poem by the 12th century Bishop of Rennes, Marbod, echoed classic writers, stating that the gemstone, "promotes candor, sharpens wits, confers dignity, imparts discretion and renders the wearer agreeable and amiable." (Kuntz p. 97)

Another theme that comes up consistently with emerald ties directly to its color. Egyptians called emeralds the "lover's stone." Egyptians believed that the gem could bring fertility and rebirth. The gem, connected to the planet Venus, was held to be a gauge to love, turning deeper and richer when love was strong, and waning with the fall of romance.

One story relating to the romance of emeralds tells of Bela, King of Hungary who gave an emerald to his queen. (Kuntz p. 99) It broke in three during the kings travels, suggesting that the lady had unlaced her bodice for another gentlemen. This story also points to another more practical element of love and emeralds: both can be brittle. Fissures are often hard to detect. Especially when those fissures are filled with oil to help hide them.

Many jewelers will not set emeralds simply because the stone can crack. Though considered by many people even more dramatic than diamonds, couples are reluctant to choose them as an engagement gem because of their reputation for being soft, though they have a respectable Mohs' hardness of between from seven and a half to eight.

A discussion of emeralds would not be possible without reference to the lore of Arthurian stories and fairy tales. Does not the good wizard Merlin wear an emerald ring to protect himself and his dominion against the dark sorcerers and magicians? Emeralds were deeply loved by the Druids, and even now, the romantically inclined Irish, which included about 99% of them. Emerald green reminds them of the verdant beauty of their home country.

What may we learn from all this lore of emeralds? Emeralds seem to convey to the wearer a particular type of alignment that is different from the rest of the gems in the beryl family. Emeralds embody a crystalline representation of vitality, fertility, and beauty of the magical power of the verdant earth itself.

It is also a gem that writers consistently report brings clarity from a particular perspective. The color green represents the plant world, summertime, high noon. What is manifest, what is made of the earth is what emerald can help us to see - offering, perhaps, a pure and crystalline insight not only into matters of love, but also into the world of commerce and business.

As for myself, meet me on a unicorn in the emerald forest.

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 emeralds 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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