Monday, December 28, 2015

The Cult of Birthstones by Melusine Draco

The fashion for using ‘birthstones’ as personal amulets appears to have its origins in the twelve gemstones from the breastplate of the Jewish High-Priest and “the gems contributed for the tabernacle by the Israelists in the wilderness”. There are two lists of twelve stones to be found in both the Old and New Testament but these do not correspond to the months of the year, or the zodiac, but to the twelve tribes of Israel, or the twelve mighty angels who guard the gates of Paradise. The following extract is given in Exodus (xxviii, 15-30) and quoted in The Curious Lore of Precious Stones — written by that distinguished mineralogist George Frederick Kunz (1856-1932) who, for more than 50 years was the gem expert for Tiffany’s in New York:

… And thou shalt set in its [the breastplate] settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be sardius [carnelian], a topaz, and a carbuncle; this shall be the first row.
And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire [lapis lazuli?] and a diamond [rock crystal or corundum?]
And the third row a ligure [amber or jacinth], an agate, and an amethyst.
And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be set in gold in their enclosings.

Islamic legend also represents the various heavens as composed of different precious stones, and in the Middle Ages, these ideas became interwoven with a host of astrological, alchemical, magical and medical superstitions. There is, however, a much earlier Egyptian representation of the breast-ornament worn by a High-Priest of Memphis (14th Dynasty), consisting of 12 small balls or crosses. “As it cannot be determined that these figures were cut from precious stones, the only definite connection with the Hebrew ornament is the number of the figures; this suggests but fails to prove, a common origin,” concluded George Frederick Kunz.

Many of the ‘classical’ lists cited as antecedents for natal or zodiacal stones will include diamonds — but this gem could not have been one of the original stones simply because astrology dates back thousands of years and the ancient lapidaries did not know how to cut a diamond.  It is possible that what was later mistaken for a diamond was more likely to have been rock crystal but this ‘humble’ stone would not have been considered valuable enough in later times. The ancient priesthood, however, would have known about the magical powers contained within the rock crystal, even if latter day magicians did not.

Or as Kunz observed, “A mysterious stone mentioned three times in the Old Testament, each signifies a material noted for its hardness and translated ‘diamond’, however, as it is almost certain that the Hebrews were not familiar with the ‘diamond’ it was most probably a variety of corundum …” Similarly, lapis lazuli was referred to as the ‘sapphire of the ancients’ and it may have been lapis rather than the rarer blue corundum that was in use at this time.
Birthstones are still used today as amulets to attract health, wealth and happiness and most people know their own birthstone but from the dozens of different compilations, which is the correct attribution for each month?

The cult of the birthstone and belief that each stone was endowed with its own peculiar virtue for those born in that month can be traced back to the writings of Josephus (1st century AD) and St Jerome (5th century). Despite these early references, the common usage of giving and wearing a birthstone seems to have originated much later in Poland sometime during the 18th century.  The belief in the special virtues of the stones was paramount, and it was long before the mystic bond between the stone of the month, and the person born in that month was realised.

Nevertheless, nearly every book on gemstones will assign different stones for each month and Kunz himself, gives eight different listings from ancient Hebrew to the present day as examples. The following are taken from two contemporary publications on the subject — and even here there are contradictions for the given stones against each month.

Gemstones of the Month (Spells, Charms, Talismans & Amulets, Pamela A Ball)
January: Garnet, Onyx, Jet, Chrysoprase
February: Amethyst, Jasper, Rock crystal
March: Aquamarine, Bloodstone
April: Ruby, Garnet, Sard
May: Emerald, Malachite, Amber, Carnelian
June: Topaz, Agate, Alexandrite, Fluorite
July: Moonstone, White agate
August: Cat’s eye, Carnelian, Jasper, Fire agate
September: Peridot, Olivine, Chrysolite, Citrine
October: Opal, Tourmaline, Beryl, Turquoise
November: Topaz, Lapis lazuli
December: Serpentine, Jacinth, Peridot

Gemstones of the Zodiac (Talismans, Charms & Amulets Robert W. Wood)
Aries 21 March — 20 April Red Jasper
Taurus 21 April — 21 May Rose Quartz
Gemini 22 May — 21 June Black Onyx
Cancer 22 June — 22 July Mother of Pearl
Leo 23 July — 23 August Tiger Eye
Virgo 24 August — 22 September Carnelian
Libra 23 September — 23 October Green Aventurine
Scorpio 24 October — 22 November Rhodonite
Sagittarius 23 November — 21 December Sodalite
Capricorn 22 December — 20 January Snowflake Obsidian
Aquarius 21 January — 19t February Blue Agate
Pisces 20 February — 20 March Amethyst

When looking for authenticity in terms of magical working there is an additional complication caused by historical calendar re-alignments and what is known as precession. Because of the tidal effects of the Sun and Moon, the Earth ‘wobbles’ like a spinning top, causing the direction of the Vernal Equinox to shift in the sky. The early calendar makers were unaware of this phenomenon and believed that in making the beginning of the year dependent on the Sun’s entry into the constellation of Aries, they were fixing it forever to the time of the Winter Solstice. At that ancient point in time, theoretically the gemstone representing Aries would have been that of the Winter Solstice, i.e. December.

As the centuries rolled by, the stars of Aries receded from the Winter Solstice, moving steadily through almost a quarter of the great ecliptic and by the 2nd century BC, the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox was not far from the same point where the Winter Solstice had been when the first calendar-makers had fixed the constellation in the heavens. The Vernal Equinox is now on the cusp of Pisces and Aries but over the full ‘wobble’ it will move through all the signs in the zodiac — at the moment the gemstone for Aries is represented by that of the Vernal Equinox, i.e. March.

There is also some evidence in favour of the theory that at the outset all twelve stones were acquired by the same person and worn in turn, each one during the respective month to which it was assigned, or during the ascendancy of its zodiacal sign. According to the German writer Bruckmann (1773 Abhandlung von Edelsteinen), “The stone of the month was believed to exercise its therapeutic (or magical) virtue to the fullest extent during that period. Perhaps the fact that this entailed a monthly change of ornaments may rather have been a recommendation of the usage than the reverse.”

When utilising gemstones as magical correspondences, however, it is vital that we use the ancient propensities for each stone … because it is what the ancients believed, that locks us into the universal subconsciousness so quintessential for successful magic. We are talking here of esoteric archetypes not the fake-lore and fantasy of modern crystal working.

The twelve stones of the High-Priest’s breastplate — sardius (carnelian), topaz, carbuncle; emerald, sapphire (lapis lazuli), diamond (corundum or rock crystal); ligure (amber or jacinth), agate, amethyst; beryl, onyx, and jasper — set in four rows of three to signify the seasons as suggested by Flavii Josephi; and again by Clemens Alexandrius in the 2nd century, give us a starting point. Even then, things are not that simple. The c1539 edition of Marbodus’s lapidary shows a figure of a High-Priest with the names and tribal attributions of the twelve stones, which differ slightly from the Greek Septuagint version from c250 BC as follows — and shows where the confusion over the inclusion of the sapphire may have arisen.

1.      Sardion (carnelian) — Odem
2.      Topazion (topaz) — Pitdah
3.      Smaragdus (carbuncle or emerald) — Bareketh
4.      Anthrax (carbuncle or emerald) — Nophek
5.      Sapphirus (lapis lazuli) — Sappir
6.      Iaspis (corundum) — Yahalom
7.      Ligurion (amber or jacinth — Lesham
8.      Achatâs (agate) — Shebo
9.      Amethystos (amethyst) — Ahlamah
10.  Chrysolithos (beryl or chalcedony) — Tarshish
11.  Beryllion (beryl or onyx) — Shoham
12.  Onychion (green jasper) — Yashpheh

The above does not claim to be the earliest, authentic list since there is still the suggestion that the Hebrew system may have been based on the earlier Egyptian version. Neither should we be dismissive of using an archaic Hebrew system as the foundation for our observances, for as any student of ritual magic will know, the Hebrew influence plays an important part in the development of the ‘Western’ system of the magical Qabalah and ritual magic.

Melusine Draco is the author of Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones published by Axis Mundi ISBN: 978 1 78099 137 5 186pp Price UK£11.99/US$19.95 : Kindle version available.

Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones

Mélusine Draco

Regardless of where we live in the world, some geological formations are better suited for magical or creative working than others, an idea that was mooted by Dion Fortune in her novel, The Goat-Foot God. … “Now the best place to get the kind of experiences you want is on chalk. If you think of it, all the earliest civilisation in these islands was on the chalk … Avebury’s on the chalk; and St Albans is on the chalk …”  Christopher Tilley in A Phenomenology of Landscape, however, gives a wider overview of the topographic features of the prehistoric landscape that attracted our distant ancestors’ attention: an affinity with the coast; mountain escarpments and spurs; the ridges, valleys and chalk downlands. Obviously, the most important aspect of each site being not what is seen above ground, but the geological formation beneath our feet.

There are, of course, many different types of rock that make up the Earth’s surface and each of them will have certain positive or negative magical/creative properties. As an example, we will look at what has been found to be the best and the worst when it comes to drawing from, or stifling magical/creative energy.

The Best: Slate is a widespread, metamorphic rock commonly found inter-layered with sedimentary strata and with rocks of volcanic origin. Once we understand that quartz is very abundant in slate and may form as much as 70% by weight of the rock, it is not difficult to see why this particular material generates so much Earth energy – quartz being one of the most powerful crystals on the planet. Magical, psychic and creative working on slate packs a very distinctive punch, especially if the slate layers are close to the surface.

The Worst: Clay - the name derives from Old English clæg meaning ‘sticky’ - is a widespread sedimentary rock with grains too small to be seen under any but the most powerful microscope, and may form in many different geological environments throughout the world. The most extensive layers are found in both deep and shallow marine deposits, in moraines (piles of debris) left behind by receding glaciers, and in zones of pre-existent rocks (especially granite) that have been altered by hydrothermal fluids.  Try walking through heavy clay and it immediately becomes apparent why Earth energy is often ‘blocked’ or sluggish. Magical working on clay involves a lot of energy-generating techniques by the practitioner, and unless there is a considerable amount of experience (and knowledge) to draw on, things may take a long time to come to fruition.

Here in the Glen of Aherlow, however, the mountains are Old Red Sandstone – a tough enduring rock formed during the ‘Caledonian Foldings’, the mountain-building period of the Earth’s long history.  The pressure caused the underlying softer Silurian rocks to fold into great ridges; and over millions of years the erosion dust compacted to form this magnificent range of Red Sandstone mountains. The Galtees are Ireland’s highest inland mountain range, a high ridge which rises up almost sheer from the surrounding plain.  Two major Ice Age periods have affected the area, and the rounded summits of the Galtees are due to the higher parts being above the ice. This freeze-thaw action on the higher peaks gradually wore them away to form the stony, scree covered summits we see today. This glacial action also formed cirques (or corries) on the higher slopes – amphitheatres or hollows, which are now five gloomy lakes.

Despite being easily weathered, sandstone has been used by builders and sculptors for thousands of years, including the ancient ruins of Petra (Jordan), which has been described poetically as ‘a rose-red city half as old as time’. The disadvantages of sandstone are out-weighted by its natural beauty and the ease with which it can be shaped and carve into outstanding works of art such as the famous bust of Queen, Nefertiti that has survived more or less intact since it was carved during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty.

And as the author observed in Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones and The Hollow Tree: A beginner’s guide to the Tarot and Qabalah, because sandstone is highly susceptible to weathering and decomposition, and ultimately crumbling to dust, we can safely assign it to the Element of Earth. Or more precisely, the ‘Earthy part of Earth’ symbolised by the Princess of Disks in the Tarot, who represents the ‘element of the brink of Transfiguration’. She has been depicted with her sceptre descending into the Earth where the point becomes a diamond, and her shield denoting the ‘twin spiral forces of Creation in perfect equilibrium’.

Which might go a long way in explaining why, in the five years we have lived in the Glen, I’ve managed to complete ten books in quick succession, several of which had been lying dormant for several years.  The energies of the Glen are ‘dark’ – not in any negative sense – but because the primitive history of the place is unchanged and unchanging.  And if, like me, you are someone who is attuned to primitive energies, then the magical/creative urges will be stimulated with a vengeance when living in such a magnificent location.   The mountains are never the same on consecutive days: the summits are either capped with snow, radiating in the mellow tones of sunset, shimmering in a soft blue haze, cloaked by low-lying clouds and soft rain, or (on rare occasions) crystal clear images of a hot summer day when sheep are seen as tiny pin-pricks of white against the green.  And when the river is in high-flood, the Glen turns into a vast lake, just as it was before people came to inhabit this part of Ireland.

The area also has a wealth of prehistoric monuments, the earliest of which, is a passage-tomb at Shrough, on the Slievenamuck Ridge (immediately behind our cottage), and south of Tipperary Town, which dates to Neolithic times (c.4000–2400BC); with many prehistoric monuments, such as standing stones, surviving in upland areas on the slopes of the Knockmealdown and the Galtee mountain ranges. In the western part of the county, around Emly (where we lived before moving to the Glen) and Lattin, there is a dense concentration of barrows, earth-built burial monuments from the Bronze and Iron Ages (c.2400BC–AD400).

In legendary terms, the Fort of the Three Pillars, located, like most Irish passage tombs is on a hilltop site, near Galbally on Duntryleague Hill - the westerly end of Slievenamuck Ridge. This great megalith is said to be the grave of Olill Olum, one of the early Kings of Munster. The name Duntryleague is derived from Dún-Trí-Liag, meaning the ‘fort of three pillar stones’, and Diarmuid and Gráinne are also said to have rested there in their flight from the angry Fionn MacCumhaill.  A path through the forest leads to this amazing burial ground where one enormous rock slab rests across a number of upright stones.

But before you respond that this ‘creative stimulus’ is merely wishful thinking on the part of the writer, I would have to add that I experienced similar literary outpourings when living in my homeland of Wales, near the Preseli Mountains.  These hills are also dotted with prehistoric remains, including evidence of Neolithic settlement, and in 1923 the bluestone from the hills was identified with that used to build the inner circle of Stonehenge. Archaeologists have since pinpointed the precise place from where the bluestones were removed in about 2500BC - a small crag-edged enclosure at one of the highest points of the 1,008ft high Carn Menyn mountain. The stones were then moved 240 miles to the famous site at Salisbury Plain. This discovery came a year after scientists proved that the remains of a ‘band of brothers’ found near Stonehenge were Welshmen who transported the stones. The skeletons were found by workmen laying a pipe on Boscombe Down and chemical analysis of their teeth revealed they were brought up in South West Wales. Experts believed the family accompanied the stones on their epic journey from the Preseli Hills to Salisbury Plain.
By contrast, the time between living in Wales and Ireland, was spent in the flat, reclaimed lands of Suffolk and rural Leicestershire, and produced hardly anything at all of a creative nature.  To get any form of inspiration it was necessary to take the dog for a long walk to a spot that proved itself to be particularly strong on magical/creative energies, and that was the granite outcrop at Markfield (Charwood Forest in Leicestershire) that rises up from the Midlands clay plain. These rocks are more closely comparable with those of many parts of Wales and represent some of the oldest known anywhere in England.  

On the western side of this central plain, the magical Malvern Hills are also unlike any other outcrop in England and Wales, and may represent a slice of pre-Cambrian base-rock, which is only found at the surface in north-west Scotland.  Weekends spent in the Malverns also produced a surge of creative energy that quickly diminished after returning home on the plain.  The Suffolk sojourn produced absolutely nothing at all, to the point of atrophy.

·         Once you have located what appears be a suitable site, try to pinpoint your own personal energy spot by using a pendulum that contains an element of quartz. Dowse the site thoroughly and calculate where the energy is the strongest from the pendulum’s reaction.

·         If a location seems unsuitable for magical or inspirational working, then a short journey might make all the difference. For example: the short distance between the clay plain levels at Charnwood, and the granite outcrop was only a daily dog’s walk away from each other.

The surrounding landscape does influence the way magical and creative workings come to fruition, and also the amount of effort needed to be put into the ritual or writing project to bring about the desired effect. By understanding what lies beneath our feet will enhance our magical and creative ability, especially if we can learn to plug-in to the natural energy of the place.

Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones by Melusine Draco is published by Axis Mundi Books ISBN: 978-1-78099-137-5  £11.99 : 186pp

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A new lease of life for the MD blog ...

As from 1st January 2016 I will be using the blog to post longer, regular feature articles on Craft magic that are too long to fit comfortably on the Facebook page - including extracts from my books and articles by other members of Coven of the Scales.  We also have related pages for Traditional Witchcraft, Temple of Khem, Grumpy Old Pagans and Coven of the Sales - USA, so plenty of Old Craft stuff to inform, instruct and amuse.