In the hectic, modern world, there is comfort in learning simpler solutions, deeper roots, and more knowledge of ancient ways. The past can bring people tools to calm, heal, and reveal their best selves. Because of this, it’s important to know more about the historic path that crystals and healing stones have traveled in order to reap maximum benefits from them today.
The history of crystals and stones, from the ancient to the modern, is outlined below.
History of Crystals and Stones
The most valuable members of the mineral kingdom today are the precious gems used in the finest jewelry. However, there was a time in history when the value of gems was based less on market value and more on perceived healing powers.
Ancient Egyptians left art and artifacts as records of their belief in and use of crystals and healing stones for protection and to ensure health. They used chrysolite (which could be translated as peridot or topaz) to drive out evil spirits and soothe the sufferers of night terrors.
In their tombs, it is common to see amethyst, carnelian, emerald, and lapis lazuli placed on the body or carved into sarcophagi over the third eye to help guide the deceased to the afterlife.1
The Egyptians used a prominent and unique style of eye paint referred to as kohl, an Arabic word. Lower eyelids were painted black with ground galena (a component of lead). Upper lids were painted green with ground malachite. This use of cosmetics was thought to provide protection from disease, insects, and damage from the sun’s rays.
In early Japanese culture, quartz crystal spheres were used as they sometimes are today, to foresee the future. They revered quartz because legend told that it was formed from the breath of a white dragon and was a symbol of perfection.
While highly valued in many areas of the world, it was in ancient China that jade was held in the highest honor. At first, it was prized for color and durability and used in tools. Historians have dated jade carvings as far back as the Neolithic period (3,500–2,000 BCE).
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It became known as the “stone of China” and “the imperial gem.” It was believed to bring serenity, peace of mind, and to protect infants. Some emperors believed that it could make them immortal. In fact, the mythical Queen Hsi Wang Mu supposedly drank a mixture of pounded jade and herbs and is reported to have lived to be several thousand years old.
The Han ruler Liu Sheng who ruled from 156–140 BCE was buried in a suit formed of thousands of pieces of jade wired together with gold.2
Healing stones and gems were an important part of Ayurvedic history. Jyotish is the Vedic astrological system, which used to include Ayurveda. Jyotish astrologers healed physical, mental, and spiritual conditions according to the patient’s astrological chart. Each planet was related to stone based partly on color. The stones were thought to filter out or counteract the effects of the planets and were consequently worn on the body for protection.
Ayurveda also used gem tinctures where gemstones were soaked for varying periods of time. Hard gems like diamonds or sapphires were soaked for a month. Softer stones like pearls or coral were soaked for less time. Tinctures were also made from the ashes of burnt stones and gems. It’s important to note, however, that despite these ancient practices, not all stones or gems can survive being soaked, nor are many crystals and stones safe for ingestion.3
Ancient Europe and North America
Monumental stones also play a role in healing and mysticism. Stones arranged in a circle from ancient times are found all over the world. A well-known example is Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, constructed between 3,000 and 2,000 BCE.
There is no clear record left from the people of these times, but archeological evidence suggests it might have been a place of healing, burial, ceremony, or astronomy.
Some native people in North America use a medicine wheel, sometimes built of stones. The medicine wheel is a sort of map of life that is used to maintain health and obtain healing. These ancient structures or traditions have varied meanings and perceived uses. All involve a precise geometric arrangement or connection to the sun or other planets.
The first book written about crystals and healing stones is credited to Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle. The book, Peri Lithon (“Of Stones”), served as a reference of the healing power of gems and was likely written around 315 BCE.
In 77 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote Historia Naturalis. This is a series of books about the knowledge of humans of his time. The last book was dedicated to precious stones and served as a resource in medieval times. For instance, the Greeks recommended rubbing magnetic lodestone on the skin to draw out any pain. This is also likely the first mention of using magnets in healing.
In the fourth to sixth centuries AD, Christian treatises on precious stones began to be written. There is much in the Bible about precious stones, especially in Exodus and Revelations. There are clear mentions of the stones in the breastplate of the high priest of Israel, in the wealth of the king of Tyre, and as part of the foundations of the new Jerusalem. Biblical translators interpreted the names of the stones based on the information of their times. This resulted in confusion as to what the actual stones were.
St. Epiphanius (314–420 AD) wrote about the 12 stones in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:17-21). The author studied references in ancient texts, describing the therapeutic strengths of the stones as is done in the Bible, yet still manages to denounce any magic powers. As long as the powers of the stones were attributed to God, all was well. However, stories about the powers of the stones themselves were considered lies of charlatans and occultists.
In medieval times, an important treatise on stones was written by Marbod, Bishop of Rennes from 1067 to 1081. In this work, sixty stones were described as having magical powers. Marbod described the diamond as being able to resolve insanity and nighttime visions of ghosts. He writes that the diamond should be mounted in gold and worn on the left arm.
While so much healing power being attributed to herbs in the middle ages, even clergy still honored the potential of stones. St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) wrote that the stone hyacinth, likely an orange garnet or zircon, should be used in exorcism rituals. One was to rub the stone in the sign of the cross on a loaf of bread, and the possessed one would eat the bread to be released from the demon.
Through the ages, crystals and healing stones were used widely in healing, prophecy, and as ornamentation. Their wide appeal continues today. These simple symbols of a different world bring connection and grounding to many in today’s high-tech universe.
Allow these crystals and healing stones into your world, in whatever way seems right to you. Their unique beauty, longevity, and powerful history will add interest and perhaps surprising energy to your world.
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