| Gem lore is endless. Every culture has its
own beliefs about specific stones, and those beliefs are often tied to that
culture's history, geography, and spiritual practices. When I began writing
A Rumor of Gems, I tried to use only those beliefs that seemed traditional
and definitive or ones that I found confirmed in more than one source. It
was a well-meaning but absurd approach, because the more you delve into
the stones, the more lore you uncover, and the more contrasting and even
conflicting beliefs you find. There was no single definitive power, symbolism,
or quality for any type of stone.
of the traditional gem lore that has survived was passed down through
treatises on precious stones called lapidaries. According to Maria Leach's
Standard Dictionary of Folklore, "Belief in the supernatural
properties of precious stones goes back beyond recorded history. An early
cuneiform tablet gives a list of stones facilitating conception and birth
and inducing love and hate. These ideas of the ancients were woven into
the astrological cosmos of the Babylonians, but the early Greek lapidaries
were essentially medicinal. . . . The early Christian church opposed magic
and condemned engraved talismans, but tolerated the use of medicinal amulets,
and developed a symbolism of its own based on the gems of Exodus
and the Apocalypse. . .
"Because they were part of the science of the [Middle Ages], rather
than magic, [lapidaries] were accepted as fact . . . It was not until
the later part of the seventeenth century that some of the more incredible
virtues of gems were seriously questioned by the authorities. Even then
there was no uniformity of opinion, and what one physician discarded as
untenable, another vouched for in good faith from his own experience."
To add to the confusion, when you consult early stone lore — i.e.,
the works of Pliny the Elder or biblical or even medieval mentions of
gems — there's great debate over which stones the writers were really
referring to. For example, it’s now believed that "sapphire"
is the English translation of the biblical "sapur," but what
"sapur" actually referred to was not sapphire but lapis lazuli.
Though the word emerald derives from the Latin "smaragdus,"
Pliny's "smaragdus" was not the word for emeralds but a term
that encompassed many green stones. Interestingly, though, one possible
origin for the word topaz is Topazios, an island in the Red Sea, which
in Pliny's time was famous for its peridot mines, and there's wide speculation
that straight through the eleventh century topaz, peridot, and citrine
were all referred to as topaz. In the fourteenth century the word carbuncle
was used to refer to garnets, rubies, and what might have been watermelon
There's another limitation you run up against when working with traditional
lore, which is that often it only deals with the most commonly known precious
and semiprecious gems. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, topaz, emeralds, pearls,
turquoise, carnelian, jade, amethyst, garnet, lapis lazuli, coral, agate,
jasper, amber, quartz, and even malachite, are all stones with substantial,
multicultural bodies of lore. But it's hard to find beliefs about minerals
like labradorite, kyanite, or rhyolite in the older sources; for those
you have to go to contemporary writers, and then you're dealing with contemporary
metaphysics which, though often drawing on ancient systems of belief,
is another sort of language altogether.
I began writing about stones my approach was to research them and then
find a way to use whichever bit of information intrigued me, but as writers
work on books, their books work on them, and my fiction was working on
me. I found that if I wrote about a stone, it helped to be able to hold
it. Although this wasn't possible in the case of diamonds and the expensive
jewels, I have a number of semiprecious gems and crystals (plus lots of
"ordinary" rocks) on hand, and holding them led to working with
them, trying to sense what might be inside them as my characters do. This
process is still new to me. Quite honestly, sometimes I pick up a stone
and don't feel a thing. But other times — whether through the senses,
intuition, or imagination — the rocks and crystals have given me
inspiration and information, hinted at what they hold inside them.
There came a point when I realized there was no one truth about any given
stone, and that I was, in fact, free to write whatever I wanted about
them. This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped researching — gem
lore, mythology, and mineralogy continue to fascinate me — or that
I’m not careful about the qualities I ascribe to the stones in the
novels. But I’ve come to believe that stones are as individual and
unique as we are, and a great deal of what anyone perceives in a stone
— beyond its geologic origins and specific mineralogical properties
— is intuitive rather than definitive, and specific to the stone
So for what it's worth and in no particular order, here are some of the
stones I touched on in A Rumor of Gems and a preview of the qualities
I chose to write about. [For more on the lore of stones, please see my
article on Gem
Years ago in New York, I was given a moonstone by a friend who told me
it was the stone of tenderness. Being a feldspar, moonstone is a fairly
soft stone [hardness of 6 on Moh's scale], and it has a gentle translucent
sheen. Some legends say it was formed out of the rays of the moon. Others
claim you can see the future in a moonstone during a waning moon. Still
others say it’s a propitious stone for lovers with the power to
make the wearer faithful. My favorite bit of lore about the moonstone,
though, comes from India’s astrologers, who say it is the stone
used to befriend the moon. In Rumor moonstone is used primarily
as a stone that opens the heart, though there’s also a scene where
Alasdair uses it to scry the future.
Hematite [iron oxide]
An opaque mineral with a metallic luster, often black or silvery though
having a blood-red streak and showing blood-red when cut in thin slices.
Hematite has long been connected to Mars, the red god of war; it was believed
that when warriors rubbed their bodies with hematite, they became invulnerable.
While personally I don't think of any stone as "good" or "bad,"
for purposes of the story I depicted hematites as stones that engendered
Apple-green and slightly fluorescent; a merry stone, a gift in times of
joy. Historically, both the Greeks and Romans used it in their seals and
signets. Like opal and chrysoberyl, it was said to have the power to confer
invisibility on the one who wore it; in fact, there's speculation that
in older texts the word chrysoprase was used when chrysoberyl was meant.
One of the odder beliefs about chrysoprase, which I have not used, is
that a thief about to be hanged or beheaded could escape if he held a
bit of chrysoprase in his mouth.
Cat’s-eye Chrysoberyl [aka
A translucent, yellowish, cloudy stone with a chatoyant sheen and a hardness
of 8.5 on Moh's scale. In Rumor, Alasdair gives the boy Michael
a stone to keep with him, and I needed a mineral that was physically quite
hard, as in the scene it's repeatedly thrown against cinderblock walls.
Because it was a gift from Alasdair, it also had to be a protective stone,
so I combined and extrapolated from a number of beliefs: In Arabic tradition,
it’s believed that the chrysoberyl could make the wearer invisible
in battle. According to Melody, the stone has a stabilizing influence,
opening one to a sense of self worth and allowing forgiveness.
Tourmaline is a complex gemstone found in a tremendous range of colors
that includes green, blue, yellow, pink, red, black and the watermelon
variety, which is both pink and green. Its pyroelectric quality —
if rubbed or heated, it will develop a static charge that attracts lightweight
particles to its surface — was probably the source of its name.
According to Barbara Walker's The Book of Sacred Stones, the Sinhalese
word turamali, meant both "colored stone" and "attractor
of ashes." Like quartz, it also has a piezoelectric effect, and becomes
electrically charged when bent or stressed in certain directions. Walker's
book states that tourmaline was recognized as a gem in Europe in 1703
when Dutch traders brought it back from the East, but Christopher Cavey's
Gems and Jewels: Fact and Fable states that tourmalines have "only
been identified as a separate gem species for the last two hundred years.
The stones originally found in Brazil in the sixteenth century were mistaken
for emerald, and it was not until the eighteenth century that this error
Black Tourmaline [aka schorl]
The story needed a stone that would protect against dark magic. At the
time I had a beautiful, glossy chunk of schorl on my desk, and as I began
to write the confrontation with the shape-shifter Sangeet, black tourmaline
was what came to mind. Later, I looked it up in contemporary metaphysical
guides (both Melody's Love Is in the Earth and Judy Hall's The
Crystal Bible), and found that indeed, it has been used to protect
against black magic and negative energy.
Tourmaline has been used by both African and Australian shamans, and according
to Melody, "in rituals performed in ancient eastern Indian culture,
the tourmaline was used to provide direction toward that which was 'good';
it was also recognized as a 'teller' stone, providing insight during times
of struggle and 'telling' who and/or what is causing trouble." I
couldn't resist the idea of tourmaline being a "teller stone"
and so had Alasdair give one to Lucinda.
Mineralogical kin to turquoise; often apple-green, though what materializes
for Alasdair is a deep-green bead, based on a necklace I once saw. According
to Melody, faustite "allows for deeper communication with plant and
animal life." I took this one step further, using the faustite in
the novel to facilitate a kind of human-to-animal telepathy.
Another feldspar which, though translucent, often has a multicolored sheen.
When I pictured the labradorite bridge in Arcato, I was picturing the
stones in a particular grey-blue labradorite necklace I'd seen, but I
also have a gorgeous chunk in my office (see bottom photo HERE)
that has a range of satiny blues and golds in it. As for the power I ascribed
to labradorite in the novel, I'm not quite sure where I got that one.
Like jasper, agate, chrysoprase, and carnelian, chalcedony is a cryptocrystalline
quartz, meaning that its crystalline structure is so fine that you can't
actually see distinct particles under a microscope — or put another
way, though it's a quartz, it never appears as a crystal. Historically,
chalcedony was sacred to Diana, and connected to victory in arguments
and battles, which is one reason it was used so frequently in cameos depicting
military leaders. According to Melody, it’s also been used "to
provide a pathway for receiving thought transmission." I drew on
and combined these beliefs, using chalcedony twice in Rumors, where
it not only carries the victory gene, as it were, but opens pathways where
A relatively soft stone [5.5 – 6.5 on Moh's scale] According to
Bruce G. Knuth, the word opal was originally derived from the Sanksrit
upala, which means precious stone. The ancient Romans called
it cupid paederos, "child beautiful as love," regarding
it as a "symbol of hope and purity." In Arab lore "opals
are the remnants of lightning strikes to the ground, and the flashes in
the stone are captured lightning." It wasn't until the nineteenth
century that the opal became known as a gem of ill omen and was connected
with assorted misfortunes of European royalty.
In Rumors, I drew primarily on the opal's reputation as a thief's
stone, with the power to simultaneously strengthen one's sight and make
the wearer invisible. [As far as I can tell, this dates back to the Greek
story of Gyges (related in Plato's Republic) who found a ring that
made him invisible and thus allowed him to steal both queen and crown.]
Since completing the novel, I wound up with a small black opal of my own
and keep finding myself transfixed by the thing. I'm not yet sure of how,
but opals will definitely play a larger role in the sequel.
The only gemstone composed of one pure element, carbon, whose molecules
are bonded with perfect symmetry in every direction. This perfect atomic
structure is what makes it the hardest natural substance on the planet
[a 10 on Moh's scale], as well as an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.
It also, as Geshe Michael Roach writes in The Diamond Cutter, "has
the highest degree of refraction of any naturally occurring substance
in the universe." The diamond's physical properties of clarity and
hardness have given rise to it being a symbol of power, strength, innocence
and incorruptibility, longevity, constancy, and good fortune. Of course,
there are also the famously cursed diamonds, like the Hope, as well as
an old Persian belief that the diamond was a source of sin and sorrow,
which is not so unreasonable, considering how much blood has been shed
in the mining, selling, and acquiring of the stone.
When I was writing Rumor I became intrigued by a branch of diamond
lore that claims the gem drives away madness and protects against ghosts,
chimeras, enchantments and sorcery. And I was drawn to a photograph of
the Javeri diamond pictured in Christopher Cavey's book. [Please see Sources
and the Annotated Bibliography.] That
was the stone I imagined when Lucinda was given the diamond in Kama's
A yellow quartz, traditionally known as a merchant's stone. One acquaintance,
who does a lot of work with stones, recommended keeping citrine with your
loose change, as a way of engendering savings.
The bright green variety of beryl. Emeralds are the gem of spring and
rebirth, a protection at sea, an antidote to certain poisons. Of course,
they've also been connected with jealousy, and it's said that some emeralds
can be used to call on the dark angels and spirits. Bruce G. Knuth, citing
Forbes' Oriental Memoirs, relates an Indian tale about emeralds
originating from fireflies in moonlight. That captured my imagination,
and emeralds from fireflies found their way into Rumor.
Technically not a stone at all but fossilized resin, however only the
pearl predates its use as a gem. Amber beads have been found in prehistoric
sites, and amber is believed to have been traded before 2000 B.C. According
to Maria Leach, "In Greek legend, amber was a concretion of tears
shed at the death of Meleager by his sisters. In Scandanavian mythology,
it was the tears shed by Freya when Odin wandered out into the world.
To the Chinese it was the soul of the tiger transformed into the mineral
after death." Amber only appears briefly in Rumor, where I
drew on the belief that a goblet made of amber will not only detect but
burn away any poison it contains.
As Bruce G. Knuth explains, garnet "is not a single mineral but a
group of minerals that share a nearly identical atomic structure. The
stones in the group are chemically different complex silicates; each chemical
variation results in a distinctly different mineral. They vary in hardness,
color, and transparency." The garnet group includes — but is
not limited to — almandine (red with violet tint), green andradite
and uvarovite, pyrope (red with brown tint), and hessonite (a cinnamon
to yellow grossular garnet).
Like most red and pink stones, garnets have been connected with the heart,
passion, and blood. A wide-ranging array of powers was ascribed to garnet.
It was one of many stones thought to be an antidote to poison if taken
internally or worn as a poultice. According to Knuth, "If worn, it
would dissipate sadness, control incontinence, avert evil thoughts and
dreams, exhilarate the soul, and foretell misfortunes." Believed
to contain a flare of lightning inside it, garnet was also believed to
keep one safe from lightning strikes, which is the bit that I fastened
onto and used in Rumors.
Of all the minerals, only pyrite, diamonds, and garnets manifest in
rhombic dodecahedrons, which are part of the cubic system, which of all
the crystal systems has the highest order of symmetry. [P.G. Read's Dictionary
of Gemmology explains that "Crystals can be grouped into seven
basic crystal systems . . . defined in terms of imaginary lines of reference
called crystal axes and by their elements of symmetry."] When I started
working on Rumors one of my sisters gave me a small basket of stones,
and in it was a very small unpolished garnet, a perfect dodecahedron crystal.
I've been fascinated by the tiny stone's natural perfect faceting and
by its color — so dark a red it's nearly opaque and yet if you hold
it up to the light, something flickers in its depths.
A felsite, in the feldspar family, rhyolite contains both feldspar and
quartz but is softer than quartz, easier to carve, originally part of
a volcanic flow. I first became intrigued by rhyolite when I visited Chiricahua
National Monument, which is filled with rhyolite spires and columns. The
tourist literature they give you refers to it as either "forests
of stones" or "a wonderland of rocks." To me it looked
more like a community of beings. However you choose to describe it, it's
a phenomenally beautiful and moving terrain, where the rocks — the
result of volcanic eruptions and millennia of erosion — seem sculpted.
Quite a while after visiting the Chiricahaus, I bought a little chunk
of rhyolite in a local rock shop, this one looking as if it had swirls
of chocolate moving through it. I spent a long time looking at that rock
before realizing that rhyolite was what Vita's house in the Source Place
was made of. I also, irrationally, kept thinking, "This stone has
movement in it." And from that — and Melody's description of
it as "a stone of resolution"— came the idea that rhyolite
contained movement in its essence and could be a tonic for moving through
difficulties; a stone that won’t allow you to stay in place where
you’re stuck, a stone that urges one toward change and resolution
and offers its own energy and strength to aid that.
A transparent crystal with strong dichroism, revealing different colors
— often brownish-red and green — when viewed from different
directions. According to Melody, andalusite can be used to enhance memory,
reflecting different facets of what we’ve known, which is how Vita
uses it in the Source Place.
Topaz, which has a Moh's hardness of 8, exists in a variety of colors,
including many shades of yellow and gold, a silvery blue, and pink. The
early lapidaries cite topaz as a stone capable of cooling boiling water,
curing eye disease and gall, dispelling night terrors, lessening anger
and lechery, and being able to cure cowardice. Having a similar protective
intent but rather different m.o. from amber, it was said to become invisible
in the presence of poison. It was also said to be a protection against
untimely death. According to Bruce G. Knuth, as an amulet topaz was used
to "drive away sadness, strengthen the intellect, and grant courage.
All these powers were said to increase and decrease with the phases of
the moon and be even more powerful if used in moonlight. . . . The topaz
is also considered precious by African bushmen; it is used in ceremonies
for healing and contacting spirits."
Among the many powers attributed to topaz was the stone's ability to
create its own light. St. Hildegarde claimed that she read prayers in
a darkened chapel by the light emanating from a topaz. And in a 1907 compendium
of mineral lore, The Occult and Curative Powers of Precious Stones,
William T. Fernie, M.D. wrote: "[The topaz] possesses a gift of inner
radiance which can dispel darkness . . . Formerly, it was eagerly looked
for by mariners, when they had no daylight, or moon, to direct their course."
I was charmed by this idea of topaz's inner radiance, and so Vita wears
both golden and light blue topaz, which are indeed radiant.
Quartz [aka rock crystal]
Quartz, whose chemical composition is silicon dioxide [Moh's hardness
of 7], is one of the most abundant minerals on the planet. As Bruce G. Knuth writes: "[It is] found in nearly every exposed rock on the
earth's surface. It is a compound of the two most common elements in the
earth's crust, silica and oxygen." The ancients, however, believed
it was formed of petrified ice, and Australian and Oceanian shamans considered
it "a stone of light" broken off from the celestial throne.
There are, of course, many varieties of quartz including amethyst, citrine,
rose and smoky quartz.
Because of its abundance and beauty, nearly every ancient culture revered
quartz, and it has been used by many peoples in shamanic and religious
ceremonies. Knuth states that pieces of quartz were found in the 8,000-year-old
Egyptian Temple of Hathor, and quotes the Greek priest Onomacritis, founder
of the Hellenic mysteries, as giving the following advice in the fifth
century B.C. "Who so goes into the temple with this in his hand may
be quite sure of having his prayer granted, as the gods cannot withstand
its power." It has been used to contain spirits, summon both fire
and rain, divine the future and as a protection from danger, a medium
for clairvoyance, and a conduit to other realms.
In Rumors, I drew on a number of the beliefs about quartz, including
a beautiful Vedic belief that says, "if you offer a libation to the
dead while wearing white quartz, then you give the dead the gift of happiness.”
I also incorporated a shamanic belief, found in Mircea Eliade's Shamanism,
about quartz containing an animal spirit. Currently, I have a beautiful
smoky quartz crystal on my desk (see detail photo at the top of this page)
which I am sure will find its way into the second book.
Though the ancient Egyptians considered the amethyst a stone of the intellect
and wisdom, the Greek word for it amethustos, which means "not drunken"
has long associated the mineral with the belief that wearing it is a protection
against intoxication. It's also been considered a calming influence, a
good stone for clarity, and a protection from sorcerers and thieves.
In E. A. Wallis Budge's Amulets and Talismans, I found the mention
of a hexagonal amethyst crystal, engraved with the image of bear, which
since Renaissance times was considered a powerful protection. And so I
absolutely had to give one to Alasdair and find out exactly what this
ancient amulet might do.
Vita has large smooth cabochon of red carnelian, a symbol inscribed on
its surface. A red stone, carnelian was linked to blood and so to energy
and power. Most of the lore I drew on for the carnelian came out of ancient
Egypt where it was believed that carnelian was connect to Seth, the volatile
god of desert and storms who murdered his brother Osiris. Embodying opposites,
carnelian can still the qualities Seth is known for: envy, hatred and
rage. It's also been said to deflect psychic attacks.