Legends of Ancient Stones With Magical Powers

about ancient legends and superstitions of magical stones and mystical jewels which bestow powers to the wearer, from many cultures and localities, including Arabia, Spain, Persia, and even Florida

The Arabian author, Ibn Al-Beithar (b. ca. 1197 A.D.), describes a stone called in Arabic hajer al-kelb, or "dog-stone." These stones had such attraction for dogs of a certain breed that when cast before them they would snap them up, bite them, and hold them in their jaws. The magicians saw in this a proof that the stones would produce enmity and ill-will among men. Having selected seven such stones they marked them with the names of any persons between whom they wished to stir up strife. The seven stones were then thrown one by one before a dog of the requisite species, and, after he had bitten them, two were chosen and were placed in water of which the persons who were to be set at variance were sure to drink. We are assured that the experiment had the desired evil result.

In ancient times there was found in the river Meander a stone satirically named sophron, "temperate." If it were placed upon the breast of any one, he immediately became enraged and killed one of his parents; however, after having appeased the Mother of the Gods, he was cured of his temporary madness.

A most singular stone is described by Thomas de Cantimpre under the name of "piropholos." This substance, according to Konrad von Megenberg's version, was taken from the heart of a man who had been poisoned, "because the heart of such a man cannot be burned in fire." If the heart were kept for nine years in fire this wonderful stone was produced. It gave protection from lightning, but its principal virtue was to guard the wearer from sudden death; indeed, we are told that a man could not die so long as he held this stone in his hand. However, it did not preserve him from disease, but only prolonged his life. The stone was said to be of a light and bright red color.

After enumerating all the well-known precious stones, Volmar, in his "Steinbuch," proceeds to relate that there is one which produces blindness, another that enables the wearer to understand the language of birds, still another that saves people from drowning, and, finally, one of such sovereign power that it brings back the dead to life. However, we are told that because of the miraculous virtues of these stones God hides them so well that no man can obtain them. About a century earlier Saint Hildegard of Bingen wrote that "just as a poisonous herb placed on a man's skin will produce ulceration," by an analogous though contrary effect "certain precious stones will, if placed on the skin, confer health and sanity by their virtue."

Persian records tell of a "royal stone" found in the head of the ouren bad, a kind of eagle; this preserved the wearer from the attacks of venomous reptiles. If a deadly poison had been administered to a person, he would be immediately cured by taking one drachm's weight of the stone. It thus appears that its virtues were those of the far-famed bezoar. Persia evidently had good store of "wonder-workers" of this kind, for the Persian romance entitled "Hatim Tai and the Benevolent Lady," written about the beginning of the eighteenth century, recites the marvellous virtue of a stone called the Shah-muhra. If this were fastened on the arm the wearer became endowed with miraculous vision and all the gold and precious stones beneath the earth's surface were revealed to him.

For ten centuries or more, countless thousands, although feeling assured of spiritual immortality, were none the less eager to have eternal youth and vigor and the power to peer into the future. Hence Ponce de Leon's quest for the "Fountain of Youth" in our Florida. But in addition to this, there has ever been an intense desire to find something by means of which gold could be made out of the baser metals, for youth and vigor, if coupled with poverty, are only half-blessings. The search for the "Philosopher's Stone" appears to have been a more or less aimless pursuit of this end; but there can be no doubt that this search led to the discovery of many new substances and reactions, and helped to lay the foundation of our modern chemistry. Whether the conscious aim of the alchemist was the discovery of an actual stone, or merely the discovery of some process for turning a valueless substance into one of great value, is not clearly ascertainable from the purposely vague and obscure treatises on alchemy.

The "Philosopher's Stone," the fond dream of so many who delved into nature's mysteries in the past, does not seem so improbable to-day as it did twenty years ago. The recent discovery of the element radium, which is produced from the element uranium, and the story of the strange and protean changes of radium into helium, neon and argon, according to the environment in which it is placed, have given the death-blow to the old idea of the immutability of the elements. Still, while we have been allowed this peep into the storehouse of nature's secrets, and are growing to believe that in eons of time the various different elements may have been evolved, successively, from one another, the power to provoke this change at will and in a brief space of time is as yet withheld from us, and may never be given to us, just as little as the power to send messages to the distant spheres, whose bulk, density and composition we can estimate with a considerable degree of accuracy.

Numerous specimens still exist of what is alleged to be artificial gold made by the alchemists of a past age. Of all these the most striking is a large medallion, bearing in relief the heads of Emperor Leopold and his ancestors of the House of Hapsburg. It is related that on the name day of the emperor in 1677, this medallion, originally of silver and weighing 7250 grains, was transmuted into gold by Wenzel Seiler, a noted alchemist of that time. This wonder was performed in full view of the emperor and his courtiers, by dipping the medallion in a solution. As there are four notches on the edge, it has been conjectured that these were made to secure material for testing the quality of the transformed metal. However, the simple test of specific gravity shows that the metal cannot be gold, for according to Bauer's calculation made in 1883, the medallion has a specific gravity of 12.67, between that of silver (10.5) and that of gold (19.27). This might indicate that in some unexplained way the alchemist had succeeded in precipitating a coating of gold upon the face of the object. It seems probable that the deception was soon discovered, for Seiler, who had been knighted on September 16, 1676, was exiled by order of Emperor Leopold, not long after the date on which the supposed transmutation is said to have taken place.

An exceedingly rare medal, and one of great interest to students of alchemy, was struck in 1647 by order of Emperor Ferdinand III from gold produced in his presence by Johann Peter Hofmann, a master of the alchemical art. A specimen of this medal is in the Imperial Cabinet of Coins in Vienna. On the obverse, around two shields, one bearing eight fleurs-de-lis and the other the figure of a lion, are two hermetic inscriptions: LILIA CUM NIVEO COPULANTUR FULVA LEONE (yellow lilies lie down with the snow-white lion), and SIC LEO MANSUESCET SIC LILIA FULVA VIRESCENT (thus will the lion be tamed and thus will the yellow lilies flourish). Around a crown surmounting the two shields appear the initial letters I. P. H. V. N. F., indicating Latin words the sense of which is "Johannes Petrus Hofmann a Nurembergian subject made it," and also the letters T G V L, intended to signify tintur gutt v. libram, or "five drops of the tincture [transmuted] a pound." The reverse has Latin words denoting that iron was the base of this tincture, the symbols use for lead, tin, copper, mercury, silver and gold being each accompanied by a cryptic declaration that Mars (iron) had controlled the respective metal.

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