Someone asked on one of my Facebook pages how crystals got their names and how the properties were discovered. I spent four challenging years trying to find an answer to this question. Here’s just a small sample of why it’s so difficult to give a definitive reply to anything other than the names of very recently discovered stones:
Most modern crystal names are historical and go way back into time, before time began sometimes, often being translations from another language, although there is much confusion (see for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_breastplate on the stones that were allegedly in the Jewish Breastplate of the High Priest.)
Some origins seem really clear, but are they? Selenite for instance, the ‘stone of the moon’ appears to be named based on Selene, the Greek goddesses of the moon. But Selenite is mentioned – although often translated as gypsum – in the old Mesopotamian texts that predate the written history of stones in Greece. (The old stonebooks from there are sadly lost although there is evidence that they existed as they are mentioned in ‘younger’ texts.)
In the ancient Middle East worship of the moon god was the earliest religion for which there is archaeological and written evidence. That god was called Nanna, Asimbabbar or Suen. A name that in Sumeria, Babylon and Akkadia became ‘Sin’ – which is why the Semitic religions speak of committing a sin, in their eyes worshipping a false god. Could it become Selenite? The gods were most definitely invoked during stone workings and the names could have been conflated.
But we certainly have evidence for the properties of Selenite in the texts of the ancient Middle East. It was then, as now, used as a stone of purification and protection. Many of the stones we use today have an equally long history.
We know that, sometimes, stones were named for how they look. Bloodstone is a prime example. The deep green stone with spots of vibrant red looks like it has been spattered with blood. It is sometimes called Heliotrope from the Green Helios ‘the sun’ and trope ‘turning’. In the Greek Lithica the stone was created when the god Uranus was castrated by his son Saturn in a palace revolution. As it poured out, his blood was dried by the sun into a stone that was said to cure impotence. The ancient principle of ‘like cures like’. It too is mentioned in the Mesopotamian texts. It historically treats blood conditions and purifies the kidneys. But there is a much later legend that it got its name Bloodstone from the spots on a stone created when Christ’s blood fell on it at the foot of the cross. The ancient stone myths are many and varied.
All the stones I’ve tracked across the centuries keep their properties, even though they may change their name, wherever they are found. They pass from Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek knowledge into Arabia and back again into Europe. They come from ancient India and China along the ancient trade routes, from the Americas too. For a very long time they were, along with herbs, the only medicine available and clearly they worked or they would have been abandoned.
‘New’ stones names and properties are much easier to explain. The people who ‘find’ them name them for themselves or the effect they have. I felt honoured when John van Rees of Exquisite Crystals named a new Jasper ‘Judy’s Jasper.’ But crystal worker Jeni Powell and I had named the stone he sent me to test ‘Eye of the Storm’ after the properties we discovered when meditating and working with it. It literally feels like standing in the eye of a hurricane. My crystal groups agree – you can see one working with it on my dvd Crystal Practicalities. I much prefer that name!
Here’s just a few of the ancient names in case you’re reading old lapidaries yourself:
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