Many people know their birthstone and their astrological sign, but few actually understand the significance of the relationship between gemstones and the cosmos. This pairing is not a modern one either, with centuries of cultures the world over finding associations between gemstones and what they saw in the sky.
Kuntz (1913) informs us that for many centuries, many cultures the world over believed that the stars and the planets were thought to have an unusual relationship with gemstones:
The influence over human fortunes ascribed by astrology to the heavenly bodies is conceived to be strengthened by wearing the gem appropriate to certain planets or signs, for a subtle emanation has passed into the stone and radiates from it.
Gemstones were associated with astrology because they were thought to retain the astral influences of the planets and stars much longer than any other substance. In the early 17th century, Wilhelmus Eo wrote (Kuntz 1913):
“Metals and precious stones usually lie with their first seeds deep down in the earth and require continuous moisture and a mild heat. This they obtain through a reflection of the sun and the other stars in the manifold movement of the heavens…therefore also the metals and precious stones are nearest related to the planets and the stars, since these influence them most potently and produce their peculiar qualities, for they are enduring and unchangeable and show therein their concordance [with the stars and planets].”
Evidently, the Greek philosopher and teacher, Apollonius of Tyana extolled the secret “virtues” of gemstones and changed his rings daily based on the laws of astrology. According to Philostratus Jarchus, he was able to extend his lifetime by at least 20 years by aligning gemstones with the appropriate planets.
In the Greek and Roman periods, signet rings were frequently engraved with astrological symbols. The wearing of the appropriate zodiacal gemstone was believed to strengthen the influence of the natal sign and to provide a medium for the transmission of stellar influences. Emeralds were also associated with Mars, the god of war; Venus, the goddess of love; and Mercury, the god of trade, commerce, sleep and dreams.
The belief that each month of the year was associated with a specific natal birthstone can also be traced to the writings of Josephus and St. Jerome, who wrote in the 1st and 5th centuries respectively. Both of these authors indicated that there was a connection between the 12 stones of the High Priest’s breastplate, the 12 months of the year, and the 12 zodiacal signs. Some researchers believe that initially all twelve stones were acquired by an individual and worn in the proper month or zodiacal period.
“If born in Cancer’s sign, they say, Your life will joyful be always, If you take with you on your way, An emerald.”
According to Kuntz (1917):
“Besides the zodiacal, or natal rings, there were also made in medieval times a number of planetary rings, the metal supposed to be especially under the guardianship of the Sun, Moon, or five planets known to the ancient world, being in each case chosen as the material for the ring of the special planet. These rings were frequently set with the precious stone assigned to the planet, and thus a series was obtained of seven rings, each of a different metal and set with a different stone. The sun-ring was of gold with diamond or sapphire; the silver moon-ring bore a rock crystal or a moonstone; the ring of Mars was of iron set with an emerald; for Mercury, the ring was of quicksilver and bore a piece of magnetic iron; Jupiter’s was of tin, the setting being a carnelian…”
In India, the practice of Jyotisha requires complicated calculations to ascertain the positions of the stars and planets with reference to an individual’s horoscope, the days of the week, and hours of the day. Emerald is associated with the planet Mercury in the practice of Jyotisha, which is also called Hindu astrology, Indian astrology, Vedic astrology, and Sidereal astrology.
If Mercury is well-placed in an individual’s horoscope, the effect of emerald is thought to be positive, leading one to be happy, fortunate, rational, highly respected, and wise. If Mercury is ill-placed in an individual’s horoscope, the effect of an emerald could be negative, leading one to lack vitality and concentration, be prone to deception, or suffer from speech and hearing impediments. It is not recommended that Mercury gems such as emerald be worn with pearl or moonstone except in a navaratna.
To be most effective, a natal gemstone must be at least two carats to have an effect on an individual’s destiny. According to some sources, mercury astral talismans should first be worn on Wednesday two hours after sunrise after reciting the following the mantra nine times: “Aum bum budhaya namah.”
There is a wealth of differing opinion on the nature of the “true” birthstones. Some of the disagreement stems from historical confusion about the true nature of emerald, and other differences relate to the various astrological systems employed by different cultures. In most cases, natal stones or birthstones have not been considered as important to mankind as the inherent medicinal or healing qualities of gemstones.
Nevertheless, according to the widely used American National Association of Jewelers list (1912), emerald is the birthstone of all who are born in the month of May. It is also the mystical birthstone for January and the planetary stone for Taurus. In Arabic, Hindu, Polish, and Russian cultures, it was also the birthstone for May. In Hebrew, Italian, and Roman cultures, however, it was the birthstone for June. It is the talismanic stone for Gemini, and the astrological birthstone for Cancer and Taurus. Emerald is associated with spring and symbolizes beauty and renewal. Emerald is associated with Friday, but it is the talismanic gem for Monday.
As we will see in the next section Indian Gemology, much of this knowledge has found its way into different cultures in very interesting ways.