Friday, June 29, 2012

Planetary Gemstones of Mercury



[A drop of liquid mercury on cinnabar.]

PLANETARY GEMSTONE OF MERCURY

Although mostly forgotten today, there are ancient connections between astrology and the mineral kingdom. The 20th century lists of birthstones echo a much older belief that each planet and zodiac sign had stones associated with it, used to counter balance difficult astrological aspects or maximize beneficial ones. Confusingly these listings vary but do follow a simple rule: each material has a symbolic connection with the planet and therefore can serve as a vehicle for its energy.

THE IMMORTAL POISON

As the name suggests, the metal traditionally associated with Mercury is mercury. It is the only common metal liquid at room temperature. Also known as quicksilver, from the Latin argentum vivum (“living silver”), because it moves on its own like a living creature. It is gunmetal gray, heavy, and uniquely drawn to itself, rolling into little drops. Its chemical symbol Hg comes from its Latin name hydragyrum (“water silver”).

Mercury has a strong attraction to sulfur. The native metal is rare, since it usually combines with sulfur to form the compound cinnabar (HgS), sometimes known as “dragon's blood”.  (Also the name of a fragrant red resin, produced from several tree species.  There can be confusion in historical sources if the plant or the mineral is being referenced.)  Cinnabar is red, powdered to produce the pigment vermillion, a symbol of life giving blood. The mineral's combination of sulfur (hot, solar) and mercury (cold, lunar) represents the union of male and female energies in many spiritual traditions.

Mercury is toxic. It is included here for its symbolism, not actual use. Its dangers were known historically but the mineral's unique physical properties paradoxically associated it with transmutation, healing, and immortality. Cinnabar is generally safe, since the mercury is chemically locked up with sulfur, but can become dangerous if heated, ground, or ingested. Handle with care, washing your hands after.

The name “cinnabar” also refers to Chinese cinnabar lacquerware. Lacquer is combined with a pigment and applied layer after layer, to produce a durable and beautiful object. The red color came from cinnabar, other pigments are used today. It may also be a resin imitation instead, with no safety concerns, especially in jewelry.

Hematite is a popular energetic substitute for mercury since it resembles it when polished.
  1. Mercury
  2. Mercury compounds like cinnabar.

Many of the qualities associated with Uranus today, the unexpected, innovative, and esoteric, like the study of astrology, were once attributes of Mercury. Historically man made materials like glass, and blended substances, especially alloys like bronze (copper plus tin) were ruled by the planet. The metal mercury produces alloys with other metals very easily, called amalgams.

During the 18th century, many new metals were discovered, the most familiar being platinum, aluminum, and titanium. Platinum occurs naturally, but usually alloyed with other metals. The Spanish first encountered it in the Americas and named it platina (Spanish, “little silver”), thinking it was an inferior form of silver. Scientists determined it was a new metal in the mid 1700's. Aluminum and titanium do not occur freely in nature, requiring human effort to be produced. Interestingly, liquid mercury damages aluminum, causing the normally resistant metal to corrode. In contemporary astrology, these new metals are associated with the innovative planets Mercury and Uranus.

  1. Man made materials, like glass, and metal alloys: brass, bronze, etc.
  2. Metals discovered after the Renaissance: platinum, aluminum, titanium, etc.

THE CHILDREN OF MERCURY

Not only do the planets correspond to certain areas of life, each is traditionally associated with specific animals, plants, and minerals. For example, the 16th century German writer Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa lists the following materials under the rulership of Mercury:

Amongst metals, quicksilver (mercury), tin, and the silver marcasite (arsenopyrite); amongst stones, the emerald, achates (agate), red marble, topaz (may refer to any clear yellow stone but also peridot/olivine) and those which are of divers colors, and various figures naturally, and those that are artificial, as glass, and those which have a color mixed with yellow and green.”

(The notes in parentheses are mine. It can be difficult to correctly identify stones in historic texts. Names drift over time and minerals recognized today as different species were unknowingly seen as one gemstone, named by their color. For example, topaz once meant peridot and spinel was seen as a variety of ruby.)

  1. Silvery gray minerals: mercury, tin, and “silver marcasite” (arsenopyrite). Although planetary metals became standard by the Middle Ages, older alternatives do exist, which list tin or iron as Mercury's metal.
  2. Yellow and green gemstones: emerald and topaz. During this period, “topaz” referred to any transparent yellow stone, like yellow corundum or citrine. At one time, it meant peridot/olivine instead, especially with a yellowish tint.
  3. Stones with diverse colors and various figures: agate, because of its range of colors and patterns.
  4. Trade goods, since the Roman god Mercury was a patron of merchants: red marble, a luxury in antiquity. The 11th century Persian scientist Al-Biruni includes,“all coins struck with name and number such as dinars, dirhams and coppers”.
  5. Talismanic Minerals: He also lists “amber... turquoise, coral, tree-coral”. Amber, turquoise and coral are traditionally protective stones, used to dispel the “evil eye”. Another trait associated with Hermes and Mercury.
GREEN WISDOM

There is a long tradition of using gems in India to counter balance problems with both the natal chart and transiting planets. Large, flawless stones, usually set in specific metals are prescribed. Each planet has a primary gemstone, if one of sufficient size can not be found or is too expensive, then an alternative in a similar color is used. The primary stone of Budha (the planet Mercury, not the historical teacher Buddha) is emerald and its secondary substitutes are also transparent and green: verdelite (green tourmaline), tsavorite (green grossular garnet), and peridot. Some lists also include precious jade, although it is translucent, not transparent.


The legendary figure Hermes Trismegistus, who combines traits of the Greek God Mercury and the Egyptian god Thoth, is also associated with emeralds. Many spiritual texts were attributed to him in late antiquity. The rediscovery and translation of some of them during the 15th century revolutionized Renaissance thought. At the time, he was believed to be an actual historical figure, presenting the wisdom of ancient Egypt. The most well known text is the brief Tabula Smaradina (Latin, “emerald tablet”), mythically first discovered on a tablet of green stone. (Although usually translated as emerald, the word smaragdus could refer to several precious green stones at the time.)
  1. Emerald.
  2. Other transparent or translucent green gemstones: verdelite (green tourmaline), tsavorite (green grossular garnet), peridot, jade.

MODERN SOURCES

Astrological texts rely mostly on gemstones known in antiquity. Many new minerals have been discovered, others have become readily available, and familiar ones have turned out to be more than one species. Many other minerals now have correspondences with Mercury:

  1. Mercury is associated with the Throat Chakra today. Both the planet and chakra represent communication, thought, and personal interactions. Many contemporary sources depict it and its stones as blue or light blue: kyanite, aquamarine, chrysocolla, etc.
  2. The planet also has associations with divination, dreams, and esoteric knowledge, all qualities given to the Third Eye today. Many contemporary sources depict it and its stones as blue, dark blue, or purple: lapis lazuli, sodalite, iolite, etc.
  3. Minerals associated with memory, thought, and perception. Fossils like petrified wood, amber, and jet are used for memory, because they share a link to the past. Colorless minerals (like quartz, clear calcite, and topaz), those that have a metallic sheen (like hematite, pyrite, and chalcopyrite), or those yellow in color (like tiger's eye, citrine, and golden imperial topaz) are all associated with the mind in modern stone books.
For an introduction to the metaphysical properties of minerals, known historically as the "hidden virtues of gemstones”, see:


© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source: Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Venus Turns Direct (6/27/12)

 [Aphrodite riding a swan, from a 5th century BCE drinking cup.]
VENUS TURNS DIRECT
Venus turns direct today (6/27), ending her six week retrograde period. However, her influence is far from over.  Although facing the right way, it now sits motionless.  Planets are potent when still.  It appears to station around 12 days (~6/21 to 7/3).  When turning direct, they build up pressure to move things ruled by the planet forward, like one on one relationships, money and material goods, ethics and mentors.  This intensity decreases as the planet corrects not only its direction but also its speed.  Venusian themes may continue until after it crosses the degree where it first turned backwards, around July 31st.
Venus is stationing direct at 7 degrees Gemini, for ~12 days.  Those with planets or points in the early mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces) are the most likely influenced.
For more information on Venus Retrograde, see:
Venus Retrograde (5/15/12 - 6/27/12)
For gemstones to harmonize the influence of Venus, see:

Gemstone Cures for Venus
© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source: Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons]

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guru Purnima (07/03/12), Asalha Puja (07/03/12 or 08/02/12)

 [18th century painting, depicting Vishnu resting between the periodic destruction and creation of the universe.]

FULL MOON OF THE TEACHER

“My Lord is the Lord of the universe, my Guru is the teacher of the universe, and my Self is the Self of everything.”
~Guru Stotram~

July 3rd, 2012 is the Hindu holiday Guru Purnima. It takes place on the full moon in Asadha, the Indian month equivalent to July/August. The date is different each year since it is a lunar holiday. Guru means “teacher” in Sanskrit, purnima means “full moon”. On Guru Purnima people pay their respects to their gurus, both living and dead.  Not only spiritual teachers are honored but other sources of lineage based knowledge, like art, music, and dance instructors.

The Sun enters Cancer in the sidereal zodiac during Asadha (July/August), a month later than the Western tropical zodiac. While the West associates Cancer with heat, it signifies rain for many parts of the world. After a hot dry early summer, the monsoon season begins in India in July. Like the annual flooding of the Nile, which happens around the same time, the cool rain renews the fertility of the land.

Travel can be difficult, especially historically. Ascetics who spend the rest of the year wandering, temporarily go on rainy season retreats. This period is called Chaturmas in Sanskrit, meaning “four months” (July-October). Being in one place allows students to visit their teachers, to receive teachings and blessings before travel gets complicated. In return people often give gifts, traditionally to support them materially during the retreats. Not all teachers wander but the holiday of Guru Purnima originates from this custom. The four month retreats are also observed in Jainism, a faith rooted in non-violence. By not traveling monks avoid accidently killing the increased number of insects, animals, and plants.  

THE NIGHT OF THE GODS

The monsoons bring life giving rain but also storm damage, venomous snakes, driven from their homes by rising water, and disease.  Since the outer world is disturbed, it is a period for inner work.  Chaturmas is sometimes described as “Hindu Lent”, since many lay practitioners fast, give up a favorite food, or take religious vows.  Some people just observe Guru Purnima, others the entire Chaturmas. It technically begins on the eleventh day of the waxing cycle, ~4 days before the Guru Purnima full moon (June 30th this year).

In Hindu mythology, every year is a day to God.  The four month Chaturmas symbolizes the night and the gods themselves are believed to rest.  Ceremonies like weddings are postponed, since they are less active.  For example, Vishnu goes into yoganidra ("deep meditation, conscious sleep"), floating upon the back of a huge serpent.  He is usually depicted resting like this after the periodic destruction of the universe.  Vishnu begins to dream and a lotus rises from his navel, bearing the god Brahma, who starts recreating the cosmos.  The yearly monsoon season is like creation in miniature, new growth rising from a chaotic wet mixture.  
  
TURNING OF THE WHEEL

“Arranging his upper robe over one shoulder, he [Brahma, the Hindu creator god] knelt down with his right knee on the ground, saluted the Blessed One [Buddha] with his hands before his heart, and said to him: "Lord, let the Blessed One teach the Dhamma [the teachings of Buddhism]! Let the One-Well-Gone teach the Dhamma! There are beings but with a little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma."
~Ayacana Sutta~

The Buddhist holiday Asalha Puja usually falls on the same day as the Hindu Guru Purnima.  Confusingly, two different dates are listed this year.  Periodically lunar calendars need to add an extra day or month to keep them aligned with the solar one.  The Thai calendar has an extra month this year.  So there are different dates for Asalha Puja, depending on the country. 

Asalha is the Pali name for the lunar month, puja means “to honor, worship”. Before he became enlightened Siddhartha Gautama was an extreme ascetic, using methods like starvation to develop spiritually. He had five yogi companions, who abandoned him as a failure when he chose more moderate practices. After he reached enlightenment the Buddha struggled to put his insights into words, fearing they would only confuse others.

He left Bodhgaya to find his former companions, believing they might understand him. He found them meditating in a deer park near Varanasi. They rejected him at first but after listening to his teachings, their leader Kondanna also reached enlightenment. He became the first member of the Sangha, the monastic order of Buddhism. 

When Siddhartha Gautama was born, his father assembled eight Brahmin astrologers to examine his natal chart. Kondanna was one of them. He predicted that Buddha would become enlightened and became an ascetic himself based on that hope, the other seven predicted he would either become a great king or a religious leader.  This first sermon is called the Turning of the Wheel and represents the birth of both the Buddha Dharma and the Sangha. The Asalha Puja holiday commemorates them.

The day after Asalha Puja begins the Theravadan Buddhist observation of the rainy retreats. They are known as Vassa, from the Pali word vasso, meaning “rain”. They last for three months. The first was observed in the deer park in Varanasi, where Buddha gave his first teachings. Later kings and wealthy patrons offered the Sangha places like groves and royal parks, some of which would later develop into monasteries.

Today monks observe Vassa by not leaving the grounds of their home temples unless necessary. It is a time to deepen spiritual practice through meditation, study, and the support of community. Like Hindu Chaturmas they are sometimes call “Buddhist Lent”, since lay people can observe them by fasting, give up a favorite food, or taking religious vows.

Since other parts of Asia do not experience the monsoons, not all branches of Buddhism observe the rainy retreats. However most do have a summer retreat, believing Buddha gave his first discourse mid-summer. For example, Chokor Duchen, the Tibetan holiday that commemorates the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, is in July this year.

© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source: Public domain, Wikipedia Commons]

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Astrological Body: Part One: The Planets and the Chakras


[The classic planetary rulers.]

THE HOUSES OF THE PLANETS

As with anything associated with them, different sources have contrary correspondences for the chakras, zodiac signs, and planets. The most elegant version adapts the classical model of sign rulership, first described by the Greek author Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE. Traditionally every planet rules two zodiac signs, except for the Sun and Moon, which rule one each. These were known historically as the planetary domiciles, “the houses of the planets”, since the sign and planet have a similar nature.

In the Northern Hemisphere, summer solstice has the most heat and daylight, so the zodiac signs near it were given to the two brightest celestial objects, the Sun and Moon. Because both planet and sign are traditionally “masculine”, the Sun rules Leo. The Moon rules Cancer, because both are “feminine”. The other planets were then assigned two signs each, further down the zodiac wheel, in the descending order of their orbital speeds. Because winter solstice has the most cold and darkness, the zodiac signs near it were given to Saturn, the slowest moving of the classical planets.

The ruling planets of the zodiac signs:

Planet:
Zodiac:
Sun
Leo
Moon
Cancer
Mercury
Virgo and Gemini
Venus
Libra and Taurus
Mars
Scorpio and Aries
Jupiter
Sagittarius and Pisces
Saturn
Capricorn and Aquarius

There was a belief in antiquity that the planets held these positions at the moment of creation. If not literally, at least as an ideal model to explain planetary rulership. This mythical chart was called the thema mundi (Greek, “horoscope of the world”). The Sun was in Leo and the Moon was in Cancer. Mercury was in Virgo, Venus was in Libra, Mars was in Scorpio, Jupiter was in Sagittarius, and Saturn was in Capricorn.


[The classical rulers as the origin of the planetary chakra correspondences.]

THE INNER SKY 

"Marvel not if we say that these are within thee, but understand that thou thyself art another world in little, and hast within thee the sun and the moon, and also the stars ."
~Origen, 3rd century CE Egyptian, Christian theologian~

Many chakra systems derive their astrological correspondences from these planetary rulerships. According to Hindu texts, energy flows through the subtle body along channels called nadi (Sanskrit, “movement, river, conduit”). There are three main nadi: one along the spine and two that wrap around it. One side carries warm “masculine” energy, like the Sun, and the other cooling “feminine” energy, like the Moon. The center blends them but is rarely active. A vortex of energy called a chakra/cakra (Sanskrit, “wheel, circle, turning”) is produced where they intersect, traditionally depicted as a spoked wheel or lotus flower. Although their number and symbolic associations vary in sources, the most popular version uses seven chakras, five along the spine, one on the skull, and one above it.

The borders of Leo/Cancer and Aquarius/Capricorn represent the spine and skull, the top and bottom of the main nadi. The six pairs of zodiac signs represent the solar and lunar side channels, wrapping around it, and their planetary rulers, six of the seven main chakras.

The chakras, planets, and zodiac signs:

Chakra:
Planet:
Zodiac:
Crown Chakra:
- - -
- - -
Third Eye:
Sun
Leo
Third Eye:
Moon
Cancer
Throat Chakra:
Mercury
Virgo and Gemini
Heart Chakra:
Venus
Libra and Taurus
Third Chakra:
Mars
Scorpio and Aries
Second Chakra:
Jupiter
Sagittarius and Pisces
Root Chakra:
Saturn
Capricorn and Aquarius

The central nadi along the spine is associated with the lunar nodes. The North and South Node are two moving points opposite in space, created where the Moon's orbit crosses the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun in the sky. If a new or full moon occurs near one, an eclipse is produced. Unless consciously directed, energy rarely moves in the main channel. Like the nodes and eclipses, it represents a unique union of opposites: combining the hot/solar/”masculine” and cold/lunar/”feminine” energies of the side channels to produce kundalini. (Sanskrit, kuṇḍalinī, either from kunda “coiled, in a spiral” or kund, “to burn”.) A dormant spiritual force resting in the Root Chakra, coiled like a serpent. When awakened it travels up the spine like a ladder until it reaches the Crown Chakra, producing mystical union with God.

It is not unusual for lists of Indian correspondences to stop at the Third Eye, most elemental and sacred sound lists end there too. Although this popular model use seven chakras, it is traditionally called sat /shat chakra (Sanskrit, “six chakras”), because the Crown Chakra is so different than the others. As the symbol of divine union, it has few other attributes. The lower chakras are found within the body, it floats above the head. The others have three nadi, it only has one, the main channel that strands them all together. The two side channels stop at the Third Eye, representing the end of duality.

The chakras, elements, elemental sounds, planets, and zodiac signs:

Chakra:
Element/Sound:
Planet:
Zodiac:
Crown Chakra:
- - -
- - -
- - -
Third Eye:
Thought (Om)
Sun
Leo
Third Eye:
Thought (Om)
Moon
Cancer
Throat Chakra:
Akasha* (Ham)
Mercury
Virgo and Gemini
Heart Chakra:
Air (Yam)
Venus
Libra and Taurus
Third Chakra:
Fire (Ram)
Mars
Scorpio and Aries
Second Chakra:
Water (Vam)
Jupiter
Sagittarius and Pisces
Root Chakra:
Earth (Lam)
Saturn
Capricorn and Aquarius

* = akasha (Sanskrit, “space, vibration, aether”)

These chakra correspondences represent pairs of opposing qualities:

Light vs. Dark: In the Northern Hemisphere, Cancer is the sign of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and Capricorn the winter solstice, the longest night. The upper chakras correspond to increasing light and the lower chakras increasing darkness.

Fast vs. Slow: While the Sun and Moon rule Leo and Cancer, the other planets are assigned pairs of zodiac signs based on their orbital speed. After the luminaries for the Third Eye, the upper chakras correspond to faster moving planets and the lower chakras slower ones.

Light vs. Heavy: The elements are arranged heaviest to lightest. The upper chakras correspond to the most non-material and the lower chakras the most physical.

WHERE DOES PLUTO LIVE

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were not discovered until after the 18th century. Debate continues today in astrology what sign they rule or even if they have planetary rulership at all, since it upsets the symmetry of the classical model. Most contemporary astrologers believe Uranus rules Aquarius, Neptune rules Pisces, and Pluto rules Scorpio.

Hindu astrology does not work with the outer planets at all, so they have no traditional chakra correspondences. If we associate them with their modern rulerships, then Uranus would rule the Root Chakra with Saturn, Neptune would rule the Second Chakra with Jupiter, and Pluto would rule the Third Chakra with Mars. However, because these outer planets relate to transpersonal themes, many place them with the Crown Chakra.

© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source:
© 2012, C. L. Matthews]

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mineral vs. Rock vs. Gemstone vs. Crystal



[13th century crosier, a stylized staff used in Christianity, carved from rock crystal (clear quartz).]     

The words mineral, rock, stone, gem, gemstone, and crystal are often used interchangeably but each has specific meanings.

MINERAL

The word mineral comes from the Latin minerale (“obtained by mining”). In geology, a mineral is a naturally occurring solid substance. Each has a specific chemical composition, made of either one or more elements, arranged in a regular three dimensional pattern, producing a crystal structure.  Some minerals do not meet all three criteria, lacking a crystal structure, like liquid mercury.  They are called mineraloids instead.  This category may also includes materials produced by an organic process, like amber, jet, and pearl.

ROCK AND STONE

Rock and stone are often used interchangeably in American English but they have different meanings historically. Both words come from Old English. Rock meant something large, like a rock formation, and stone meant something smaller, often transformed by human hands, like a millstone, tombstone, or gemstone.  This distinction still remains in British English.

In geology, a rock is a material made up of two or more minerals. For example, pyrite is a mineral but lapis lazuli is a rock, a combination of golden pyrite, blue lazurite, and white calcite.

GEM AND GEMSTONE

The word gemstone comes from the Old English gimstan, combining the Latin gemma (“a precious stone, a leaf bud”) and the Old English stan (“a small rock, a stone shaped for a particular purpose”). Gemstones are valuable minerals and rocks that are rare, durable, and have distinctive color or clarity. However, lists of gemstones are very subjective, changing over time. Organic substances like amber, coral, and pearl may also be included. Diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire are historically called “precious gemstones” and others, “semi-precious”.  Amethyst was once considered precious until the vast deposits of Brazil lowered its monetary values.

CRYSTAL

The meaning of crystal has changed over time:

A: Quartz: The word crystal comes from the Greek krystallos (“ice, frost, crystal”). The ancient Greeks theorized that quartz was a petrified form of ice, since it was water clear, cool to the touch, and resembled an icicle. Its alternative name rock crystal reflects this etymology.

B: Colorless Glass: From antiquity to the late 19th century, quartz was a luxury item, often carved into vessels like pitchers, along with other semi-precious stones. Because these objects were so expensive, both labor intensive and wasteful of materials, imitations in glass developed. During the 15th century, Venetian glass makers produced an incredibly popular faux quartz called cristallo (Italian, “crystal glass”). Since then, high quality colorless glass has also been called crystal.

C: The Structure of Minerals: During the 17th and 18th century, the chemical patterns that produce minerals began to be studied scientifically. Because the geometric nature of quartz is clearly visible, they were named crystal structures, after it. In geology, a crystal is a substance with a regular shape, due to the repeating internal structure of its atoms.
  
© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source: Public domain, Wikipedia Commons]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Walk a Labyrinth this Summer Solstice (06/20/12)


WALKING WHEN THE SUN STANDS STILL

Go walk a labyrinth this summer solstice, June 20th, 2012.

A labyrinth is a patterned path, walked slowly to support contemplation, meditation, or prayer. Once you reach the center, you turn around and follow the same path back to the entrance.

Many traditions interpret labyrinths as solar symbols. The Hopi believe the seven circuit form represents Father Sun, with the cross it makes in the center, the four directions and seasons. Someone walking a labyrinth moves back and forth between two points, briefly pausing at them, the center and the entrance. This pattern mirrors the yearly path of the Sun. Depending on the season, it rises and sets at different points on the horizon, stopping twice to change direction. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it reaches its southernmost location on the winter solstice and its northernmost location on the summer solstice. Solstice comes from the Latin solstitium, meaning “Sun stands still”. The Sun’s position on the horizon changes slightly daily, except around a solstice, when it stays the same for three days.

Because they represent the Sun’s path, walking a labyrinth is a potent tool to harness its energy. The solstices and equinoxes are the yearly solar equivalent to the monthly Moon phases. Energy is temporarily heightened, making them opportunities for deep meditation, ceremony, or setting intentions. Summer solstice is the longest day of the year, for the Northern Hemisphere. Its energy is therefore similar to Full Moon, supporting manifestation, bringing things to fruition, and facing inner or outer darkness.

Certain periods are traditionally auspicious for spiritual work on it, like the turning points of the Sun (dawn, noon, and dusk) and the specific time of the solstice: 7:09 pm Eastern Time, (23:09 Universal Time). Like a major lunar phase, the energy is strong for three days (June 19th – June 21st) but strongest on the actual date (June 20th).

I helped create the labyrinth at Whatever Works Wellness Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Rather than follow a traditional pattern, the path winds through a small grove with statues, standing stones, and colorful prayer ribbons. It is open during regular business hours, Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, please call the store at (513) 791-9428, find us online www.whateverworkswellness.com, or at our pages on Facebook:

Whatever Works Wellness Center, White Willow School of Tai Chi
Whatever Works Wellness Center Labyrinth

For more information about the symbolism of the solstice, see:



For information about gemstones traditionally associated with the Sun, see:



To find a labyrinth in your area, check out this great Labyrinth Society resource:

http://labyrinthlocator.com/

© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source: © 2012, C. L. Matthews]

Symbolism of Summer Solstice (06/20/12)



WHEN THE SUN STANDS STILL

Now she is like the white tree rose that takes a blessing from the Sun: Summer has filled her veins with light and her heart is washed with noon.”
~C. Day Lewis~

June 20th, 2012 is the summer solstice this year, the longest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. It is more neutrally called the June solstice, since it is also winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. The exact date varies each year, some time between June 20th to June 22nd. Astrologically, the Sun enters the zodiac sign Cancer.

The yearly cycle of the Sun is similar to the monthly cycle of the Moon, summer solstice is equivalent to a full moon. The next three days (19th - 21st) can be harnessed spiritually to bring things to fruition or call on divine light for blessing, healing, and facing the dark. The first day of summer for half the planet, it is associated with abundance, fertility, and the sweetness of life.

The Sun has two important cycles, its daily and yearly movements:
  1. Every day, the Sun rises is the east, reaches its zenith in the south, sets in the west, and passes beneath us in the north.
  2. Every day, the Sun rises and sets at slightly different points on the horizon. The only time it stops wandering is around a solstice, when it appears to stay at the same location for three days, and then reverses its direction. The word solstice comes from the Latin solstitium meaning “Sun standing, Sun standing still”.
At the summer solstice (June), the Sun reaches its northernmost position, appearing to rise more to the northeast and set in the northwest. It then moves further south, rising due east and setting due west on the autumn equinox (September), and reaches its southernmost position on the winter solstice (December). It then turns north, to restart the cycle.

EVERY EXTREME CONTAINS THE SEED OF ITS OPPOSITE

The symbolism of the eight directions (E, S, W, N, NE, SE, SW, NW) originates in the Sun's daily and yearly positions. For example, in vastu vidya, the Indian art of arrangement, similar to Chinese feng shui, temples are aligned along a northeast to southwest axis. This represents the polarity of sunrise on the longest day of the year (summer solstice dawn = northeast) and sunset on the shortest (winter solstice dusk = southwest). The northeast is sacred to Shiva and represents amrita vela (“the nectar time”) or Brahma muhurta (“God's hour”), the period just before dawn when spiritual work is at its deepest. Likewise, some Peruvian shamanic traditions recognize a southeast to northwest axis, the equivalent in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed.

Because of the Sun's daily motion, the east is associated with increasing light, the south with the most light, the west with increasing darkness, and the north with the most darkness. Paradoxically, many traditional cultures associate the summer solstice with the north, because of its position on the horizon. For example, Chinese emperors offered at the square Altar of the Earth on summer solstice, in the northern part of the Forbidden City. Although summer was seen as yang (“the masculine”, light, day, fire), the site itself was associated with yin (“the feminine”, darkness, night, water). In Chinese yin-yang theory, every extreme contains the seed of its opposite. As the longest day of the year, every day after summer solstice increases in darkness, until we reach winter solstice and start the cycle over again.

Traditionally the Sun has three periods of increased spiritual power each day, represented by changes in location and/or appearance: sunrise, around noon when it reaches its zenith, and sunset. Most importantly on a solstice day, the time of the event itself: 7:09 PM Eastern (23:09 Universal Time). Any of these times can be worked with through intention, meditation, or ceremony to honor this day of most light.

For information about gemstones traditionally associated with the Sun, see:


© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source: © 2012, C. L. Matthews]

Planetary Gemstones of the Sun



[A ruby crystal, the red variety of the mineral corundum. Rubies are associated with the Sun in many cultures.]  

PLANETARY GEMSTONES OF THE SUN

Although mostly forgotten today, there are ancient connections between astrology and the mineral kingdom. The 20th century lists of birthstones echo a much older belief that each planet and zodiac sign had stones associated with it, used to counter balance difficult astrological aspects or maximize beneficial ones. Confusingly these listings vary but do follow a simple rule: each material has a symbolic connection with the planet and therefore can serve as a vehicle for its energy.

SWEAT OF THE SUN

For does not the sun acting upon the earth and within the earth form the metals? Is not gold merely the sun's beams condensed into a yellow solid?”
~Bernard Trevisan, 15th century Italian alchemist~

Both the Sun, and many spiritual beings associated with it, are historically associated with gold. According to the Inca, gold is the sweat of the Sun, and silver, the tears of the Moon. A brilliant, soft, yellow metal, its color resembles light itself. Some speculate that the Latin name for gold aurum, origin of its chemical symbol Au, is related to aurora (“sunrise, goddess of the dawn”). Iron rusts, copper tarnishes, but gold is “incorruptible”, practically indestructible, highly resistant to both corrosion and acids. As the source of life, the Sun is associated with God in many cultures; as the Sun's metal, gold came to represent the divine, immortality, and purity.

Shiny and similar in appearance to gold, especially its alloys brass and bronze, copper is also associated with the Sun, although generally associated with Venus in the West.

  1. Gold.
  2. Other golden metals, like copper and its alloys brass and bronze.

THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN

Not only do the planets correspond to certain areas of life, each is traditionally associated with specific animals, plants, and minerals. For example, the 17th century British astrologer William Lily lists the following materials under the rulership of the Sun:

Amongst the elements the Sun has domination over fire and clear shining flames; over metals, he rules gold. Stones include the hyacinth (refers to yellow zircon or other translucent yellow stones), chrysolite (refers to peridot, chrysoberyl, or other translucent greenish yellow stones), adamant (refers to hard minerals, especially diamond), carbuncle (refers to red garnet or other translucent red stones), the etites stone found in eagle's nests (“eagle stone”, a hollow geode that rattles, popular in antiquity for childbirth) the pantaure, if such a stone be the ruby (a legendary shining stone, that collected gems like a magnet attracts iron and protected people from fire).”

(The notes in italics are mine. It can be difficult to correctly identify stones in historic texts, since minerals recognized today as different species were commonly understood as one stone, named by their color. Spinel was often seen as a variety of ruby. Over time, some names also drifted to different stones. The name topaz once meant peridot.)

Other astrological texts also include: heliotrope (Greek “sun turner”, an alternative name for bloodstone, green chalcedony with red spots, mythically associated with sunlight), the “iris” (Greek, “rainbow”, quartz crystals used like a prism, to produce a rainbow from sunlight), and the “eye of the Sun” (unknown, likely a mineral displaying chatoyancy or asterism; inclusions produce a ray effect on its polished surface).

Reading the correspondences:
  1. Yellow minerals, like the color of the Sun: gold, hyacinth (“likely yellow zircon”) and chrysolite (“likely peridot/olivine or chrysoberyl”). Other sources include yellow topaz and chrysoprase (“a green to yellowish green variety of chalcedony”). Although many of these minerals range from yellow to yellowish green, the Greek chryso- root in their names translates as “golden in color”.
  2. Red minerals, like the color of the Sun: carbuncle (“likely red garnet”) and ruby.
  3. Sparkling minerals: diamond. The etites stone (“eagle stone, a rattling geode”) were also supposed to glitter.
  4. Minerals physically or mythically associated with light: quartz crystals, used as a prism to produce rainbows, and heliotrope (“bloodstone”), used in folklore to look at the Sun safely or change the color of its light. Chrysolite (“likely peridot/olivine or chrysoberyl”) was associated with sunlight and the carbuncle (“likely red garnet”) was believed to glow with its own light, like a hot coal.
  5. Minerals that display rays or eye like patterns: both shapes are cross culturally associated with the Sun. The text likely means the assorted minerals that display either a cat's eye (chrysoberyl, quartz, tourmaline, etc.) or star effect (corundum).
RUBIES RIPENED IN SUNLIGHT

And you, if you can't leave your country, you could go into yourself,
and become a ruby mine, open to the gifts of the sun.”
~Rumi~

There is a long tradition of using gems in India to counter balance problems with both the natal chart and transiting planets. Large, flawless stones, usually set in specific metals are prescribed. Each planet has a primary gemstone, if one of sufficient size can not be found or is too expensive, then an alternative in a similar color is used. The primary stone of Surya (the Sun) is ruby and its substitutes are also transparent and red: red garnet, red spinel, and rubellite (the red variety of tourmaline).

Early geology theorized that gemstones and metals gestated underground like babies, their parents being mother Earth and the planets. Many cultures believed that rubies ripened underground, under the influence of the Sun. Like the alchemical process of turning lead into gold, this transformation became a symbol of mystic union with God.
  1. Ruby and other transparent red gemstones: red garnet, red spinel, and rubellite (the red variety of tourmaline).
Astrological texts rely mostly on gemstones known in antiquity. Many new minerals have been discovered, others have become readily available, and familiar ones have turned out to be more than one species. Many other minerals now have associations with the Sun:
  1. Amber: Not technically a mineral but a fossilized tree resin, it has ancient associations with the Sun but usually ends up in listings of plants, not stones.
  2. Sunstone: A name given to several different minerals over time, now used for aventurine feldspar, a sparkling reddish mineral, related to moonstone.
  3. Citrine: The golden yellow variety of quartz.
  4. Yellow Tiger's Eye: A pseudomorph variety of quartz, typically golden brown in color. Major deposits were discovered in the 1800's. It is both yellow and displays chatoyancy, like other minerals historically associated with the Sun.
For an introduction to the properties of minerals, known historically as the "hidden virtues" of gemstones, see:

The Hidden Virtues of Gemstones


© 2012, C. L. Matthews
[Image Source: Public domain, Wikipedia Commons]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Hidden Virtues of Gemstones



LIKE THE NATURE OF STARS

There is no doubt that gemstones have something of the hidden virtues of the bodies that are above the vault of heaven... beyond the powers of the four basic elements of nature... some stones have something in them of the nature of stars.”
~Thomas Aquinas~

Working with minerals was once mainstream in the West, for hundreds of years. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, gemstones were not only luxury goods, they were medicines for healing. Texts called lapidaries (Latin, lapidarius, “on stones”) described both their mineralogy and meaning, derived from classical sources, gem related Biblical passages, and astrology.

Their metaphysical properties were called virtus occulta (Latin, “hidden, secret, concealed virtue”). Virtue in this context does not mean morality but rather efficacy, the capacity for something to produce an effect. Most things had virtus elemantaris (Latin, “natural, elemental, manifest virtue”), an obvious quality like one of the four elements: some are warming like fire, others cooling like water, some make things wet like air, others dry things out like earth. Only some things had hidden virtues (virtus occulta), the most common example being lodestone.

Lodestone is a natural magnet, a variety of the mineral magnetite, that attracts and repels iron. Its hidden virtue, an influence over iron, was “hidden” because it did not correspond to an elemental quality (hot/cold, wet/dry); it could be understood intellectually, but not perceived directly with the senses. Other mysterious phenomena, like the negative electric charge of amber, were also included among the hidden virtues. (Scientific models of magnetism and electricity would not develop until the late 16th century.) However, most hidden virtues were similar to the metaphysical properties attributed to minerals today. According to a medieval Arabic lapidary, attributed to King Solomon:

Some give favor in the sight of lords; some protect against fire; others make people beloved; others give wisdom; some render men invisible; others repel lightning; some baffle poisons; some protect and augment treasures; others cause that husbands should love their wives.

Because they did not have qualities like the four elements, many attributed the hidden virtues to celestial influences instead. Following classical models, the universe was divided into two realms: the celestial one, filled with the fifth element aether, and the ever changing terrestrial one, home of the other four elements. The planets and stars were eternal, consistent except their position; their light, heat, and invisible influences were responsible for changes in the material world. Their motion was ultimately attributed to God himself. While magic might rely on demons, the hidden virtue of gemstones was seen as completely natural, created by God, originating in the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars.

THE ORIGINS OF ASTROLOGICAL CORRESPONDENCES

God hath imprinted upon the Plants, Herbs, and Flowers, as it were in Hieroglyphicks, the very signature of their Vertues.”
~Robert Turner, 17th century astrological botanist~

Different animals, plants, and minerals were believed to have an affinity, correspondence, or rulership by a planet and/or zodiac sign. The terms vary by source. The 16th century German physician Paracelsus popularized the concept in herbalism, calling it the doctrine of signatures: a belief that many plants displayed signatum (Latin, “signature, mark, indication”), distinctive characteristics that indicated their healing uses. These signs were left by God, like wax impressions made by a seal, to reveal their virtues. The most common example was Saint John's wort, used to treat wounds; it appears to bleed when crushed, releasing a red oil, and has small holes in its leaves.

A material's astrological ruler was determined in a similar way:
  1. Each planet was associated with particular colors, shapes, and traits.
  2. Each planet was assigned certain parts of the body, things used to treat them were ruled by the corresponding planet.
  3. Like an element, each planet was associated with a combination of qualities (hot/cold, dry/wet).
Since Mars rules the blood, Saint John's wort could be a Martian plant, but is is traditionally Solar instead. It has yellow flowers with radiating stamens, blooms around summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and was used cross culturally to dispel darkness. The 16h century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper lists it as a “hot and dry” plant, the qualities also associated with the element fire and the Sun.

For information on Solar stones, see:


Gemstone Cures for the Sun

For information on Mercurial stones, see:

Planetary Gemstones of Mercury

For information on Venusian stones, see:

Gemstone Cures for Venus

© 2012, C. L. Matthews