Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Metaphysical Properties of June Birthstones

[Different colors of pearls, one of the birthstones of June.]


Who comes with summer to this earth,
And owes to June her hour of birth,
With ring of agate on her hand
Can health, wealth, and long life command.”

~”June”, from a 19th century birthstone poem~

What is a birthstone? Where do the listings originate?

A birthstone is a gem associated with each month, believed to bring good luck to those born during it. The 18th century jeweler Jean Henri Prosper Pouget believed the custom originated in 16th century Germany, while the 20th century mineralogist George Kunz suggested 18th century Poland instead. Because the historical evidence is so limited, both origins are speculative. Both authors theorize the birthstones were first modeled on lists of gemstones in the Bible, said to symbolize specific zodiac signs, religious figures, and virtues by later authors.

The modern birthstones originate in 1912, after the National Association of Jewelers met to standardize the list, which varied greatly between older sources. Subsequently alternate stones have been added, as they became available in the market.

What are the June birthstones?

Pearl and moonstone are the modern birthstones for June, alexandrite was added in 1952. Older sources list agate and emerald instead. Each stone is thought to symbolically represent something about the month. Both pearl and moonstone are associated with the Moon, which rules the zodiac sign Cancer (~June 21st - July 22nd), while alexandrite, agate, and emerald are all associated with Mercury, which rules the zodiac sign Gemini (~May 20th – June 20th).

Pearl: A pearl is an organic object produced by certain molluscs, most notably the oyster. They form to protect the animal from injury or a foreign body, wrapping it in layers of the minerals calcite and aragonite and the protein conchiolin. Natural pearls are a rare occurrence and were once the most precious jewelry material available, known as the “queen of gems”. In the early 1900's techniques were developed in Japan to produce cultured pearls, which made them available to the greater public.

Because of their white color, biological purpose, and layers, pearls represent purification, spiritual protection, and the overcoming of obstacles. Since they come from the ocean and are round like the Moon, they are lunar symbols, connected to the emotions, romance, and traits culturally associated with the feminine like intuition. Pearls are also said to have a calming effect, just like they help the oyster with an irritant, or are used to reveal and pacify the root of a personal wound.

Moonstone: The name moonstone comes from the1st century CE Roman naturalist Pliny, who described a mineral named selenitis (Latin, stone of the Moon”), said to change its appearance based upon the phase of the Moon. Today the term refers to stones that display a certain optical effect, a sheen that moves across their surface, rather than a particular mineral. Those with a blue or white flash are orthoclase or albite feldspars, or an intergrowth of both, while those with a rainbow flash are a variety of labradorite instead, with a colorless background. The shimmer is produced by light reflecting off and between the layers of the mineral.

As the name suggests, moonstone is connected to the Moon, taking much of its metaphysical properties from its symbolism. It is used to support personal growth during changes, safe travel, especially over water or at night traditionally, and romance. Because the Moon symbolizes women in many cultures, it represents all things feminine, from the Divine Feminine, fertility and menstruation, to traits culturally associated with the gender, like emotion, intuition, and creativity. Finally minerals with optical effects are associated with contemplative states of being, like inspiration, meditation, and devotion.

Alexandrite: Alexandrite is a rare color changing variety of the mineral chrysoberyl. Known as the “emerald by day, ruby by night”, it appears green to greenish blue in sunlight and red to pinkish purple in candle light. It also displays pleochroism, appearing to be a different color when seen at different angles, in the same light. It was first discovered in Russia in the early 19th century. Originally called diaphanite (Greek “two” and “unseen, appearance”), it was later renamed in honor of Czar Alexander II. Its optical effects are due to trace amounts of chromium replacing some of the aluminum in its crystal structure.

Because of its color changing ability in natural or artificial light, alexandrite is associated with balancing the material and spiritual, psychic gifts, and altered states of consciousness like dreams, meditation, and shamanic journeys. Both green stones and those with multiple colors were historically ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication, the mental realm, and everyday life. In contemporary metaphysical sources, Alexandrite's red to purple and green to greenish blue coloring suggests it integrates the physical world, spirituality, feeling, and thinking. It also symbolizes good luck, abundance, and balanced relationships.

Agate: Agate is a banded variety of chalcedony, a form of quartz that grows in masses rather than points. Chalcedony is the mother of many gemstones, given different names depending on its appearance: onyx is black or black white chalcedony, carnelian is red, chrysoprase is green, etc. The different colors are caused by inclusions of other minerals. Some forms of agate are more porous and may be dyed.

Throughout antiquity agate was engraved to make amulets and seals. When pressed into wax or clay, their images made documents official and protected goods by proving ownership. Seals were important symbols of authority, so agate came to represent victory, public favor, and protection. Because of its hardness and resistance to most acids, agate is used to make mortars and pestles for medicine, so it also came to symbolize healing, longevity, and fortitude. Historically stones with multiple colors were ruled by Mercury, which further associated agate with business, mental clarity, and spiritual defense.

Emerald: Emerald is a rare green variety of the mineral beryl, colored by trace inclusions of the metal chromium. Some sources also include stones colored by vanadium. Beryl colored green by iron is more common, but has a much less vibrant color, and is known as “green beryl” instead. Like chalcedony, beryl is the mother of many gemstones, given different names depending on its appearance: aquamarine is blue beryl, heliodor is yellow, morganite is pink, etc.

Traditionally green and blue gemstones represented the life giving qualities of water and its role in plant growth. Therefore emerald symbolizes abundance, well being, and the transmutation of negativity, since it was once believed to be an antidote to poisons. In antiquity it was sacred to Venus and other love goddesses, connecting it to romance, fidelity, and balancing partnerships. Finally both emerald and beryl have historical associations with spiritual and physical sight, used to create both gazing spheres for divination and eye glasses, before advances in glass lenses.

Copyright C. L. Matthews, 2012

[Image Source: Wikipedia Commons]