There is a variety of different information available on zodiac and birthstones. This is natural as the beliefs related to stones emerge from different cultural contexts. It is known that the gems were highly valued by many old cultures, such as Greeks, Incas, Egyptians, Romans, Persians, Tibetans, and Indians. Sources indicate that the systems of zodiac and birthstones go all the way back to the Babylonians. These ancient people were attuned to the influence of the stars and planets, and incorporated their centuries-long stories of stones with scientific knowledge. Therefore, the history of gems also includes the astrological aspect. For instance, talisman was a desirable magical stone thought to embody magical powers derived from the heavens. The Indian and Babylonian systems of linking planets with their corresponding gems became the basis for the modern zodiac system.
Through history, this fascination with stones brought about the creation of several different zodiac stone systems, all slightly different in their focus. For instance, Tibetan system was inclined towards the mystical aspects of gems, Ayurvedic birthstones from India had stronger associations with healing and medicine, and zodiac birthstone system (related to 12 signs of zodiac) believed in planetary influences.
The western zodiac and birthstone beliefs are connected to biblical sources. The first high priest Aaron of Jerusalem, who lived in 1200 B.C., was the first high priest to wear the breastplate adorned with 12 stones. The stones were mounted in gold, and embedded according to the way prescribed by the Book of Exodus in the Bible. Each gem was given a name of the twelve tribes of Israel. In addition, there is a connection to the twelve months of the year, and twelve signs of Zodiac.
The most well known medieval lapidary (a book of stones) – De Lapidibus – was composed in c.1090 by Marbod of Rennes. This is a very comprehensive book giving detailed accounts in verse of the various qualities of sixty gems and minerals. It is clear that Marbod is a big believer in stone power. For instance, he indicates that gems can also be used to frighten off demons and create enchantments. The author also listed the medicinal qualities of many stones including diamond, topaz, sapphire or lapis lazuli, and coral. In his book Marbod writes of the wonderful characteristics of emerald or smargardus to increase wealth, coral to protect against lightning or tempests, and the power of diamonds to drive away nightmares and cure insanity. Hmm…all of these stones would be quite handy, wouldn't they?
However, the Christian Church did not like any hocus-pocus, and condemned anything with a hint of magic. The church was very selective about using the sources of the classical period. For example, it tried to ban the magical talisman, on the other hand encouraging the study of medicinal properties of stones. During the 13th century Christian thinkers tried to root out any pagan material, and began to compose their own symbolic lapidaries based on the stones in the Bible. This resulted in numerous lapidaries focusing on the twelve stones of Aaron's breastplate or on the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem in the Apocalypse.
It was not until the 18th century in Poland, that there is any documentation of people wearing zodiac and birthstones. During earlier periods the gems were mostly valued for their healing and medicinal properties. Also, at first there was no formal classification of gemstones, and gems were assigned to zodiac signs based on their color. The color was believed to be something that draws out the power associated with a certain stone.
Eventually poems were developed naming the stones for each month according to the Gregorian calendar. This became the basis for the traditional birthstone system used by most English-speaking societies. In 1912, in an effort to standardize birthstones, the American National Association of Jewelers officially adopted a list were more stones were added to some months.
And to make it all even more interesting, there are also corresponding gemstones assigned to planets, chakras, elements, and for each week day.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Welcome! :) My name is Monika. I am interested in crystals, different cultures, and good stories. As a linguist I have always been fascinated with semiotics and symbols, and how people of different cultures interpret them.