Monday, October 1, 2012

Where Do the Metaphysical Properties of Minerals Come From?

[Many of amethyst's metaphysical properties are derived from its etymology, the origin of its name.] 

Where do the metaphysical properties of minerals come from?

Sources typically list the metaphysical properties of a mineral without explaining their origin. Knowing how to reverse engineer them is a useful skill, especially when looking for a specific need not listed.

How were they discovered historically?

Gemstones were once popular medicinal, spiritual, and symbolic tools in the West. People thought their metaphysical properties, known historically as virtues, powers, or true meanings, were encoded by God in their shape, color, or physical qualities like electromagnetism. This concept was known as the doctrine of signatures during the 16th century, especially in herbalism. The 17th century herbalist Robert Turner wrote:

God hath imprinted upon the Plants, Herbs, and Flowers, as it were in Hieroglyphicks [hieroglyphs], the very Signature [“mark, sign”] of their Vertues [virtues, ie “properties”].”

The ability to read hieroglyphs was lost from late antiquity until the early 19th century. During the Renaissance scholars thought each image was a symbol instead, used by Egyptian priests to conceal spiritual knowledge. The natural world was interpreted the same way. God had produced two important texts, the Bible and the book of nature. While the printing press made the Bible available to all, the wisdom in nature needed to be deciphered.

A: Resemblance: Because of ideas like the doctrine of signatures and the book of nature, metaphysical properties were often derived from resemblance. For example, the red color of minerals like carnelian, bloodstone, and ground hematite associated them with blood.

B: Astrology: The stars and planets were believed to transmit a spiritual force, giving gemstones their properties by infusing them with energy. Specific minerals were associated with each planet, taking on their qualities. For example, copper and green to blue gemstones were associated with Venus and used for abundance, love, and fertility. They healed parts of the body ruled by it.

C: The Bible: The Bible has two lists of precious stones: the breastplate of the High Priest in the Book of Exodus and the building materials of New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation. Stones were associated with individual Jewish tribes and Christian apostles. For example, aquamarine was given the traits of Saint Thomas like public speaking, learning, and safe travel over water.

D: Etymology: Metaphysical properties often came from a mineral's name, including its trade names and equivalents in other languages. For example, amethyst comes from the Greek amethystos, “not intoxicating”. Cups carved from it were believed to prevent drunkenness in antiquity. The Hebrew name for amethyst is achlamah, from the root chalam, meaning “to sleep, dream”, “to be young, healthy, strong”, or “to recover”. Amethyst's associations with sobriety, dreams, and healing all come from its etymology, the origin of its name.

How are they discovered today?

Metaphysical properties are still determined using methods like resemblance, astrology, and etymology. Traditional Biblical meanings are rarely encountered. New techniques also exist, like finding meaning in the chemistry, shape, and color of a mineral.

F: Religion, Mythology, Folklore: Sacred texts, mythology, or gem folklore may be used as references. For example, Shiva lingas are sacred to the Hindu deity Shiva, who represents beneficial destruction. Their metaphysical properties of purification, healing, and spiritual development come from Hindu beliefs.

G: Chemical Composition: Metaphysical properties may be derived from the mineral's role in the human body, medicine, and industry. For example, fluorite comes from the Latin fluor, meaning “to flow”. It is used as a flux in smelting, to remove impurities in melted metals. Its associations with purification and restoring the flow of thoughts, feelings, and energy are derived from its industrial use. Because fluorite is related to fluoride, books often recommended it for healing the teeth.

H: Crystal Shape: Spiritual energy is believed to follow the crystal structure of a mineral. For example, “Herkimer Diamonds”, a variety of quartz from Herkimer County, New York, are associated with attunement, helping individuals acclimatize to new places, people, or states of consciousness. “Herkimer Diamonds” typically have points at both ends. Their metaphysical properties are derived from this double termination, suggesting a balance between two things.

I: Modern Chakra Colors: Most metaphysical properties have a surprisingly simple origin. They are qualities of the chakra that correspond to the mineral in color. The theory of the chakras comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. Spiritual energy flows through the subtle body along channels called nadi (Sanskrit, nāḍi,“flow, river, conduit”). The body has three main nadi, one in the spinal column and two that wrap around it. A crossroad of energy called a chakra (Sanskrit, cakra, “wheel, circle, turning”) is produced where they intersect, traditionally depicted as a spoked wheel or lotus flower.

Texts describing the chakras were first translated into English in the early 20th century. Since then their exact number, location, and associations have varied between sources. A rainbow colored version has become fairly standard in the metaphysical community, with some variation:

Crown Chakra = White or purple.
Third Eye = Dark blue or purple.
Throat Chakra = Light or dark blue.
Heart Chakra = Green or green and pink.
Navel Chakra = Yellow
Second Chakra = Orange
Root Chakra – Red or black.

While the positions are traditional, the color scheme is contemporary. It only comes from the late 1960's/early 1970's in the writings of Christopher Hills. However almost all contemporary stone books are based on it. Minerals are given the qualities of their correspondingly colored chakra and they are believed to heal body parts near it. For example, kunzite is the pink variety of the mineral spodumene. It is used for love, emotional healing, and stress relief, all traits of the heart chakra.

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


  1. That was extremely informative. This was a part of gemstoneology that I know little about. Thank you very much.

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