Throughout history many gemstones, including emeralds, have been thought to possess powerful protective properties. An apotrope is an amulet or talisman that protects the owner by warding off evil. Ancient apotropic tradition has influenced our modern ideas about birthstones, religion, and our beliefs in the healing powers of gemstones and New Age Metaphysics.
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a small distinction between an amulet and a talisman. An amulet is a charm that is worn to prevent harm and promote health and wellbeing. Emerald amulets have been worn as rings, bracelets, and necklaces for at least six millennia.
Among other “virtues,” emerald amulets have been thought to prevent demonic possession, calm storms at sea, strengthen love, promote intelligence, and confer the ability to foretell the future. To be the most effective, emerald amulets are supposed to rest against the skin.
The ancient Egyptians believed that precious gemstones, including emerald, contained powerful genies that had been turned into stone. They used beads of emerald, carnelian, agate, lapis lazuli, and amethyst in necklaces to protect the wearer from all manner of evil. The indigenous Indians of the New World valued emeralds for their ability to boost fertility. The inhabitants of South Seas islands believed that beryl could be used to control the weather–bringing rain to friends and drought to foes.
One of the key gemological treatises from the Middle Ages was written by the Bishop Marbodus of Rennes (1035-1123). Marbodus borrowed heavily from ancient sources including Pliny and Theophrastus. Like them, he believed that gemstones, including beryl, possessed inherent “virtues” that could benefit the wearer if treated as an amulet (as in King, 1860):
Cut with six facets shines the Beryl bright, Else a pale dullness clouds its native light; The most admired display a softened beam, Like tranquil seas or olive’s oily gleam. This potent gem, found in far India’s mines, With mutual love the wedded couple binds.
The Chinese prized an amulet that consisted of an emerald, a ruby, a diamond, a pearl and a piece of coral—each representing a different deity—which were wrapped together in a paper that bore the names of the deities, the moon, and the 27 constellations or houses of the moon. The amulet was hung at the entrance of the home to protect those who resided there.
For centuries, emeralds were thought to change color if their owner was threatened by peril or surrounded by falsehood. In the 16th century, the famous mineralogist and physician, Anselmus Boetius de Boodt, authored one of the most influential mineralogy texts ever written–the “Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia.” In this major opus, de Boodt described about 600 minerals. He also provided information on their properties, imitations, and occult applications. According to de Boodt, “[emerald] discovers false witnesses by suffering alteration when meeting with such persons.”
Of all the amulets, the Navaratna (sometimes called a Naoratna) is probably the most famous—and they are still worn today. For centuries, Hindu astrologers have looked to the stars to advise their clients on what stones–or combinations of stones–were best for them. The Navaratna, which means “nine gems,” is an amulet set with a single emerald, ruby, diamond, pearl, blue sapphire, topaz (or yellow sapphire), cat’s eye, coral, and zircon (or hessonite).
Each of these gems is associated with a celestial planet or deity and emerald is associated with the planet Mercury. All of the gems are said influence the destiny of the wearer in either a positive or negative way. In the past, no Maharaja was without a Navaratna or an astrologer to advise him on how to employ his gems for maximum personal benefit.
The word talisman is derived from the Arabic “tilsamen,” and it refers to a magical image. A talisman is a special charm that is created when an image is engraved on the surface of a “sympathetic” stone—i.e., a stone with “virtues” that bolster the power the image or engraving. Not only was great care was taken to match the proper stone with the appropriate symbol, but the images themselves were carved at times and dates determined to be the most auspicious. In some cases, magical herbs were also placed under gemstones when they were mounted.
The first emerald talismans originated in ancient Egypt when emeralds were carved into good luck charms such as scarabs. According to Budge (1965), the carved emerald scarab also included an image of Isis and it was invested with power at a sacred rite called the “Ceremony of the Beetle.” In Greek and Roman times, signet rings were engraved with astrological symbols. Fernie (1907) quotes the Magick of Kiram, King of Persia and of Harpocration (1685):
“Engrave thereupon the Bird Harpe; and under its feet a Sea Lamprey; and wear the Stone against disturbance, and dreams, and stupidity. It causes Rest to Lunaticks, and to them that are troubled with the Cholick; and it is better if the Fat of the Sea-Lamprey be put underneath; for such is Divine.”
According to Ragiel’s Book of Wings (Kuntz, 1913), “a frog engraved on a beryl, will have the power to reconcile enemies and produce friendship where there was discord.”
More recently, emeralds have been engraved with portraits, floral patterns, and religious inscriptions. A famous talismanic emerald, called The Mogul, was drilled on four sides so that it could be sewn onto the sleeve or turban of the last great Mogul emperor Aurangzeb.
Much of these beliefs have transferred into the traits that we associate with Astrology & Birthstones. We explore that next!