A List of Stones and Their Powers

Many stones were historically believed to posess magical powers which could bless or curse the wearer. Here is a large list of these stones, believed to posess powers.

The Epistides, a red glittering stone, when fastened over the heart with magical bands, and on repeating certain verses for the occasion, kept a man safe from every misfortune. It drove away locusts and mischievous birds, blighting winds and storms. The Exebonos, a white stone, being bruised and drank, cured insanity. The Eumetis, the colour of flint, when put under the head of a sleeping person, rendered him prophetic. The Emere, of a grassy colour, was by the Assyrians consecrated to their gods, and was a "superstitious" gem. The Elopsides, when hung about the neck, cured headache.

Filaterius, a stone of the colour of the chrysolite, dispersed terrors and melancholic passions, rendered the bearer complaisant and comforted the spirits. A red Fongites, if carried in the hand, removed all ailments of the body and assuaged anger.

The Granati, of a dark red, or reddish violet, cheered the heart, and protected the wearer from pestilential diseases. The Galactides, known under different names by magicians, was declared by them to render magical writings to be heard, and ghosts called up to return answers to questions. It also possessed the far more valuable qualities of burying quarrels and mischief in oblivion, and re-uniting in love those who had been at variance. If held in the mouth, it would let the owner know what opinions were formed of him by others. A test of its genuineness was to smear one's body with honey, and then expose it to the flies; if the stone was true, the flies and bees kept off.

The Gargates, which Solinus affirms were found in large quantities in our country, on being heated with rubbing, would drive away devils with the smoke, dissolve spells and enchantments, and helped the dropsical. They healed the bites of serpents when mixed with the marrow of a stag, and fastened loose teeth. The Gasidana, a stone of a swan colour, was said to have the power of generating within itself on being shaken. The Glosopetra, a stone like the human tongue, was believed to fall from heaven in the wane of the moon, and, according to the magicians, excited lunar motions.

The Hamonis, a stone of a gold colour, was numbered among the most sacred gems, and had the shape of a ram's horn. It was found in Ethiopia. If a man holding this stone placed himself in an attitude of contemplation, his mind became divinely inspired.

A stone called Demonius was a preservative against agues, and rendered the wearer invisible. The Diadochus, described like the beryl in colour, disturbed devils, and if thrown into water with a charm repeated, it showed various images of devils, and gave answers to those who questioned it; being held in the mouth, any spirit from the "vasty deep" might be summoned. It was only deprived of its virtues on touching a dead body.

The Heliotrope (Sun-turner), called by necromancers the Babylonian gem, if inscribed with certain characters, would enable its owner to foretell future events, and if rubbed over with the juice of the herb of its own name, it rendered the wearer invisible.It secured safety and long life; poisons submitted to it; and it was supposed to collect clouds and raise tempests. In the Middle Ages, the heliotropes which contained many red spots were highly valued, from a belief that the blood of Christ was diffused through the stone.

In a "Booke of the Thinges that are brought from the West Indies" (published in 1574, translated from the Spanish in 1580), we read:--" They doo bring from the New Spain a stone of great virtue, called the Stone of the Blood. The Bloodstone is a kind of jasper of divers colours, somewhat dark, full of sprinkles like to blood, being of colour red, of the which stones the Indians dooth make certayne Hartes, both great and small. The use thereof both there and here is for all fluxe of blood, and of wounds. The stone must be wet in cold water, and the sick man must take him in his right hand, and from time to time wet him in cold water. In this sort the Indians doe use them. And as touching the Indians, they have it for certain, that touching the same stone in some part where the blood runneth, that it doth restrain, and in this they have great trust, for that the effect hath been seen."

The Jacinth possessed extraordinary properties, driving away fever and dropsy, clearing the sight, expelling noxious fancies, restraining luxury, rendering the wearer victorious, powerful, and agreeable; if set in gold, these virtues were greatly increased. The Kynocetus had power to cast out devils. The Lignite conferred prophetic powers, and was a preservative against witches.

The Moonstone, popularized in a work of fiction by Wilkie Collins was, as its name implies, an object of special veneration from its supposed lunar attraction. It is one of the prettiest, though most common of precious stones in Ceylon. Pliny describes it as shining with a yellow lustre from a colourless ground, and containing an image of the moon, "Which, if the story be ture," he observes, "daily waxes or wanes according to the state of that luminary." Marbodus, Bishop of Rennes, in the eleventh century, who wrote a treatise on the miraculous virtues of precious stones, describes similarly this stone, and terms it "sacred."

Coral beads were worn in India as amulets; the Romans tied little branches round their children's necks to keep off the evil eye. Orpheus, the gempoet of the Greeks, attributes wonderful powers to coral, the gift of Minerva; it baffled witchcraft, counteracted poisons, protected from tempests and from robbers, and mixed in powder with seed-corn (rather an expensive agricultural agent) secured growing crops from thunder-storms, blight, caterpillars, and locusts--in fact, it was a true farmer's friend.

Amber, which was prettily defined to be the tears of the Electrides dropped on the death of their brother, Phaethon, was also worn by children as an amulet, and by adults as a charm against insanity; worn round the neck it cured the ague.

The Shah of Persia wears around his neck a cube of amber reported to have fallen from heaven in the time of Mahomet, and which has the property of rendering him invulnerable. Ground up with honey and rose oil it was a specific against deafness, and mixed with Attic honey prevented dimness of sight. Tacitus describes the amber-gatherers as a sacred nation worshipping the mother of the gods, Hertha.

The learned professor of Copenhagen, Olaus Worm, alludes to the popular notions and superstitions current respecting amber. By his account it would seem to have been received as a panacea, sovereign for asthma, dropsy, toothache, and a multitude of diseases. Bartholomaeus Glanvilla, in his work, "De Proprietatibus Rerum," who seems to regard amber as a kind of jet, describes it as driving away adders, and contrary to friends.

Chalcedony hung about the neck dispersed melancholy; if a person carried one perforated, with the hair of an ass run through it, he would overcome all contentions, and be preserved from tempests and sinister events.

Crystal hung about the neck of sleepers, kept off bad dreams and dissolved spells of witchcraft. The Chrysoprasus gave assiduity in good works, banished covetousness, and made the heart glad. The Chrysolite expelled phantoms, and, what was more service-able, rid people of their follies; bound round with gold and carried in the left hand, it dispersed night hags. The Citrini (yellow corundum) protected the wearer from dangers in travelling, secured him from pestilential vapours, and gave him favour with princes.

The Onyx was believed in the Middle Ages to expose its owner to the assaults of demons, ugly dreams by night, and, worse than these, law-suits by day; a Sard worn with it, however, was said to counteract these mischievous influences. Great virtues were ascribed to the Opal by our ancestors, of which superstition Sir Walter Scott availed himself in the episode of the Baroness Hermione of Arnheim, in "Anne of Geierstein," when the opal worn by the lady on which a drop of holy water had rested shot out a brilliant spark like a falling light, and then became lightless and colourless as a common pebble. Marbodus tells us that the opal conferred the gift of invisibility on the wearer. Opalus was supposed to be only another form of ophthalmius, "eye-stone," whence sprang these notions of its virtue. So far was the opal from being considered unlucky in the Middle Ages, that it was believed to possess united the special virtue of every gem with whose distinctive colour it was emblazoned. Petrus Arlensis (temp. Henry IV.) says, "The various colours in the opal tend greatly to the delectation of the sight."

If a Russian of either sex or of any rank, should happen to see an opal among goods submitted for purchase, he or she will buy nothing that day, for the opal is, in the judgment of the subjects of the Czar, the embodiment of the "evil eye." It is probable the same superstition will be found in other countries.

The Jasper was a charmer of scorpions and spiders, and was used as a talisman by the Roman athlete. The Granatus (an imperfect kind of ruby) Burton tells us in his "Anatomy of Melancholy," "if hung about the neck, or taken in drink, much resisteth sorrow and recreates the heart." The same qualities were ascribed to the hyacinth and topaz.

The crystal has been the most popular of all oracles. The favourite stone was a Beryl. The custom was to consecrate or "charge" them, as the modern term is, for which purpose set forms were used. Scot, in his "Discovery of Witchcraft," gives that for St. Helen, whose name was to be written on the crystal with olive oil, under a cross marked in the same manner, while the operator was turned eastward. A child, born in wedlock, and perfectly innocent, was then to take the crystal in his hands, and the operator, kneeling behind him, was to repeat a prayer to St. Helen, that whatsoever he wished might become evident in that stone. In fine, the saint herself would appear in the crystal in an angelic form, and answer any question put to her. This charm was directed to be tried just at sunrising, and in fine clear weather.

"A Berill" (says Aubrey, in his "Miscellanies") "is a kind of crystal that has a weak tincture of red. In this magicians see visions. There are certain formulas of prayer to be used before they make the inspection, which they term a 'call.' James Harrington (author of 'Oceana') told me that the Earl of Denbigh, then ambassador at Venice, did tell him that one did show him three several times in a glass things past and to come. When Sir Marmaduke Langdale was in Italy, he went to one of these magi, who did show him a glass, where he saw himself kneeling before a crucifix. He was then a Protestant; afterwards he became a Roman Catholic."

The celebrated crystal of that prince of magical quackery, Dr. Dee, is still preserved in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. The infatuation of seeing things in a beryl was very popular in the reign of James I., and is alluded to by Shakspeare.

Among the MSS. belonging to John Guthrie, Esq., of Guthry, Scotland, is a tiny duodecimo volume, in a parchment cover, and in writing of the seventeenth century, filled with prayers and conjurations for revealing of secrets and exorcising evil spirits. There are many diagrams and drawings of figures to be used in these processes, some of them with reference to lunar and stellar observations. Among much curious matter we find, "An Experiment to be seene in a Christall Stone.--Take a Christall stone or glasse, most clear, without a craise, and wrape about it a pece of harte's lether, saying, 'In the name of the Holy Trinity, and of the hey (sic) Deity. Amen.' Then holde the cristalle in the beam when the O is most bright, at the hottest of the day, and say these con(jurations) subscribed, and by and by you shall sie the spirite peradventer, appeiring himselfe; then say to him--'I con(jure) thee, spirit, by the vertue of all things aforesayd, that thou deperte out of this christall, and bring with thee thy fellowes in any honest and decente forme apparelled, some in blew and some in yealowe.'

"For som tyme he commeth alone, hiding his head, sometime in a cloke, some tyme in a gowne; then commande him or them, if you worke for thefte, to goe out of the cristall, and that they come againe, bringing or representing the forme or shape of the thefe or theves and things stolne, or which shall be stolne--et fiat--and he will bringe with him the theves, and will shewe them with his finger, and their names, if thou wilt; also thou maiest aske and be certified of Treasure hid under the ground, how thou maiest have it, when it was laid there; and so you may be certified of parents, frindes, or enemyes being far or neare distant, or what other thing you will require."

The Ruby, bruised in water, relieved infirmities of the eyes, and helped disordered livers: if the four corners of a house, garden, or vineyard, were touched with it, they would be preserved from lightning, tempests, and worms: it also dispersed infectious air: when worn, it was impossible to conceal it, as its lustre would show itself beneath the thickest clothes.

Powdered Agate, mixed with water, counteracted the poison of serpents. This stone was in great request among the Romans for its medicinal and talismanic properties. Pliny quotes the magii as teaching in Persia that storms could be averted by burning agates. The tree-agate of the ancients, or the light green, mottled with yellow, jasper of our time, was supposed to insure fertile crops if tied around the ploughman's arm or the horns of the oxen that ploughed the field. Galen says that the green jasper benefits the chest, if tied upon it. The virtues of the agate descended to the days of Queen Elizabeth, who received from no less an eminent personage than Archbishop Parker, the present of one, with an inscription on parchment detailing its miraculous properties. In the reign of James VI. of Scotland (I622) we find enumerated among the valuables left by George, Earl Marischal, "ane jaspe stane for steming of bluid." The belief in the medicinable virtues of stones was not uncommon at this period.

The Amethyst was in great requisition among the Greek and Roman topers, from a belief that it had the power of preventing intoxication, made them vigilant and expert in business, expelled poison, gave victory to soldiers, and secured an easy capture of wild beasts and birds. The Peruvians believed that if the names of the sun and moon were engraved upon it, and it was hung round the neck with the hair of a baboon or the feathers of a swallow, it was a charm against witchcraft. The Sapphire had the useful virtues ascribed to it of healing boils, restoring impaired sight, extinguishing fires, and mending the manners of its wearer. The Emerald was also a strengthener of the eyes, and the ancients were never tired of looking at their rings when garnished with this jewel. A similar property was said to be possessed by the Turquoise, which was also a cheerer of the soul, and diverted the consequences of any fall that might happen to the wearer. Mediaeval writers ascribe other wonderful virtues to the turquoise, a list of which is given by De Boot: it grew paler as its owner sickened, lost its colour entirely at his death, but recovered it when placed upon the finger of a new and healthy possessor; suspended by a string within a glass, it told the hour by the exact number of strokes against the sides. "Whoever," says Van Helmont, "wears a turquoise, so that it or its gold setting touches the skin, 'vel non, perinde est,' may fall from any height; and the stone attracts to itself the whole force of the blow, so that it cracks, and the person is safe."

The Marquis of Villena had a fool, who, on being asked by a knight what were the properties of a turquoise, replied, "Why, if you have a turquoise about you, and should fall from the top of a tower and be dashed to pieces, the stone would not break!"

The author of the Orphic poem on stones mentions one in the possession of Helenus, which not only uttered oracular responses, but was perceived to breathe (ver. 339 et seq.). Photius (coll. 242, p. I062, from the Life of Isidorus by Damascius) mentions another in the possession of a certain Eusebius.

Precious stones gave a miraculous power of adopting a small or a large stature at will. Such is ascribed to King Laurin in the "Little Garden of Roses":--

The Romans regarded the Diamond with superstitious reverence: fastened on the left arm so as to touch the skin, all nocturnal fears were said to be prevented. Pliny tells us that it baffles poison, keeps off insanity, and dispels vain fears. It could only be broken by steeping it in goat's milk. "The diamond," observes Ben Mansur, alluding to its electric properties, "has an affinity for gold, small particles of which fly towards it. It is also wonderfully sought after by ants, which crowd over it, as though they would swallow it up." The diamond was considered to possess the power of counteracting poison, and this belief, current through ages, continued to a comparatively late period.

A diamond ring was given to Mary, Queen of Scots, by Ruthven, as a talisman against danger. After the assassination of Rizzio, the Queen asked Ruthven what kindness there was between him and Moray (her natural brother), for the latter had told her Ruthven was a sorcerer, and endeavoured to persuade her to punish him for his diabolic acts. Ruthven, on being thus questioned, admitted that the ring had no more virtue than another ring.

"Remember you not," said the Queen, "that it had a virtue in it to keep me from poison?"

"Liketh your Grace, I said so much," answered Ruthven, "that the ring had that virtue, but I take that evil opinion out of your head.

On the other idea, a superstitious belief prevailed that the diamond itself was the most dangerous of poisons. Benvenuto Cellini, in his strange "Memoirs," relates how his life was preserved by the roguery of an apothecary, who, being employed to pulverize a diamond with the intention of poisoning him, and intended to be mixed in a salad, substituted in its place a piece of beryl, as cheaper. The diamond is also enumerated among the poisons administered to Sir Thomas Overbury, when a prisoner in the Tower. In the inventory of Queen Mary's jewels at Fotheringay Castle, two precious stones are mentioned--"one medicinable and against poison," the other "medicinable for the collicke."

Sir John Mandeville has some singular notions on diamonds, partly, however, derived from Pliny. He says:--"They grow together, male and female, and are nourished by the dew of heaven; and they engender commonly, and bring forth small children that multiply and grow all the year. I have oftentimes tried the experiment, that if a man keep them with a little of the rock, and wet them with May-dew often, they shall grow every year, and the small will grow great, for right as the fine pearl congeals and grows great by the dew of heaven, right so doth the true diamond; and right as the pearl of its own nature takes roundness, so the diamond, by virtue of God, takes squareness. And a man should carry the diamond on his left side, for it is of greater virtue than on the right side; for the strength of their growing is toward the north, that is the left side of the world; and the left part of the man is, when he turns his face towards the east. And if you wish to know the virtues of the diamond (as men may find in the 'Lapidary,' with which many men are not acquainted) I shall tell you as they beyond the sea say and affirm, from whom all science and philosophy comes. He who carries the diamond upon him, it gives him hardiness and manhood, and it keeps the limbs of his body whole. It gives him victory over his enemies, in court and in war, if his cause is just; and it keeps him that bears it in good wit; and it keeps him from strife and riot; from sorrows and enchantments; and from phantasies and illusions of wicked spirits. And if any cursed witch or enchanter would bewitch him that bears the diamond, all that sorrow and mischance shall fall to the offender, through virtue of that stone, and also no wild beast dare assail the man who bears it on him. Also, the diamond should be given freely, without coveting and without buying, and then it is of a greater virtue; and it makes a man stronger and firmer against his enemies; and heals him that is a lunatic, and those whom the fiend pursues or torments. And if venom or poison be brought in presence of the diamond, anon it begins to grow moist and sweat. Nevertheless, it happens often that the good diamond loses its virtue by sin, and for incontinence of him who bears it; and then it is needful to make it recover its virtue again, or else it is of little value."

With regard to the indestructibility of the diamond, Ben Mansur tells us that one laid upon an anvil, instead of breaking, is drawn into the anvil, so that the only plan of reducing it is to wrap it in lead, "which is fabulous," says Leonardus, "for I have seen many broke with a blow of the hammer." Boethius de Boot, speaking of precious stones as "the abode of angels," states that the diamond is not only proof against fire, but actually improves by exposure to its action for several days!

In ages succeeding those of the Greek and Roman philosophers, superstitious notions regarding precious stones were current. Chemical science was wanting to explain in its simple and natural way many perplexities and uncertainties. We find St. Jerome gravely writing that the sapphire conciliates to its wearer the condescension of princes, quells his enemies, disperses sorcery, sets free the captive, and even assuages the wrath of God Himself! This was no transient fancy or superstition of an individual writer, rather it formed part of a system handed on from age to age with undiminished vitality, as may be seen from reading the work on precious stones by Bishop Marboeuf, of Rennes, in the eleventh century, when he versified their talismanic efficacy. Among whole

pages of similarly astounding nonsense, he gravely asserts that the heliotrope endows its bearer with the gift of prophecy, and is an immunity from poison, besides, with requisite ceremonies, rendering him invisible.

The mysterious virtues ascribed to precious stones are mentioned in the annals of Richard I., who, in 1191, took the island of Cyprus, and is said to have found the castle filled with rich furniture of gold and silver--"Necnon lapidibus pretiosus, et plurimum virtutem habentibus."

Camillus Leonardus, whom I have several times quoted, a physician of Pisaro, in Italy, wrote "The Mirror of Stones" (1502), dedicated to Caesar Borgia, his patron, and treating upon the virtues of jewels, remarks: "Whatever can be thought of as beneficial to mankind may be confirmed to them by the virtue of stones. Yet this is to be noted that in precious stones there is sometimes one virtue, sometimes two, sometimes three, and sometimes many, and that these virtues are not caused by the beauty of the stone, since some of them are most unsightly, and yet have a great virtue, and sometimes the most beautiful have none at all, and, therefore, we may safely conclude, with the most famous doctors, that there are virtues in stones, as well as in other things, but how this is effected is variously controverted."

In the alliterative poem of Richard of Maidstone on the deposition of King Richard the Second (preserved among the Digby Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.), we find the virtues of precious stones thus described. The monarch was--

"Crouned with a croune, that Kyng under hevene

Might not a better have boute as I trowe;

So ffull was it ffilled with vertuous stones,

With perlis of prise to punnysshe the wrongis,

With rubies rede the right for to deme,

With gemmes and juellis joyned to-gedir,

And pees amonge the peple ffor peyne of thi lawis,

It was ffull goodeliche y-grave with gold al aboute;

The braunchis above boren grett chanre;

With diamauntis derne y-dountid of all

That wroute ony wrake within or withoute;

With lewte and love y-loke to thi peeris,

And sapheris swete that soughte all wrongis,

Y-poudride wyth pete ther it be oughte,

And traylid with trouthe, and trefle al aboute,

Ffor ony cristen Kynge a croune well y-makyd."

A marvellous curative power was supposed to exist in a diamond belonging to the Rajah of Matara in the Island of Borneo, the Malays believing that the drinking water in which it had been placed would remove every disease. So greatly was it esteemed that the Governor of Batavia offered the Rajah an enormous sum of money for it, besides two ships of war, fully equipped; but this was refused, not only from the faith in its healing properties, but it was also believed that the safety of the dynasty depended upon its safe custody. In this latter respect the famous Koh-i-noor, in the possession of Queen Victoria, is regarded in a similar manner by the natives of India, who consider its transfer to denote the downfall of their former rulers.

Even in the seventeenth century, a writer, in some respects ingenuous, thus expatiates on the wonderful efficacy of certain precious stones: "No one will attribute these faculties to jewels as natural to them, but only to the spirits to whom God hath permitted and committed the exercise of such faculties. Perhaps the substance of the jewels, in consequence of their beauty, their lustre and their dignity, are considered suitable for the dwelling and receptacle of good spirits, and thus when marvellous effects are operated by precious stones, such are not to be attributed to their natural qualities, but to the spirits."


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