Gemstone Cowgirl

the lore of gems and stones * life in the sonora * and having your first novel out there

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Quick disclaimer: I'm not a cowgirl. I'm a writer and an editor, and though I live in Tucson, the only creatures I've herded are cats. [My record is three at once.] But I've had a lifelong interest in gems, stones, and their lore, especially the way they turn up in myths and folktales. All of this fed my first fantasy novel, A Rumor of Gems, which Tor published in June 2005. So I'm currently writing the sequel, and I'd like this blog to be a place to discuss stones and the beliefs connected with them--everything from Vedic and Egyptian lore to shamanic and current metaphysical beliefs. I welcome any lore or stone stories that readers are willing to share. For an idea of the sort of research I've been immersed in, check out the essay on Gemlore that I wrote for the Endicott Studio for Mythic arts: www.endicott-studio.com, where you can find it under Spring Journal 2005. And there's lots of information on the book, sources of inspiration, and the stones themselves on my website: ellensteiber.com. I hope you'll check it out.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

My First Reading and Suiseki

Well, I survived my first real reading. I'd read parts of short stories before in group readings, but this was the first time it was just me and my novel. The reading was very kindly hosted by Tucson's east side Barnes & Noble. They set up a table in the front of the store for me, with lots of my books nicely arranged, facing about a dozen chairs.

W.E. Reinka -- writer, ex-book tour escort, and friend--gave me what turned out to be my pre-reading mantra: "Just remember, you're among friends." And fortunately that turned out to be true. About half the seats were filled with friends, the other half with people who just stopped by. There was no mike but it was small space, and I'm pretty sure everyone was able to hear the two sections from A Rumor of Gems that I read. I also read the last paragraph from my essay on The Lore of Stones [see www.endicott-studio.com ], because that's as close as I've come to figuring out the roots of this fascination/obsession with rocks and gems.

Thomas Harlan and his wife, Suzanne, and son Nathan were among those who showed, and Thomas, having published 5 novels, was a wonderfully calming influence. When I admitted that in the reading I had to slightly change the text, he assured me that nearly everyone does because there are just some things that don't work as well aloud as they do on the page. He also assured me that nearly every writer has a signing where no one shows up, so if it happens, not to take it personally. Being an introvert, I'll probably approach any sort of public performance with a bit of trepidation but this first one took a lot of the fear out of it.

I think we might have only sold 5 books as a result of the reading -- this is definitely not Harry Potter-- but the B&N staff were fine with that, telling me the point of the reading was to get me and the book known and out there, so I hope that's what it did. To all who stopped by, and to B&N staff who are supporting the book, you have my gratitude. There was one especially lovely moment. The reading was over, I was packing up to leave, when a friend I hadn't seen for years -- the collage artist David Adix--showed up with a friend of his. So David is now the third person whom I haven't been touch with in ages, who's turned up again thanks to the book. It's one of those gifts of having your work out there that no one tells you about.

Another friend this week told me about suiseki, and when she described it, I couldn't believe it was the first time I'd heard the term--partly because it's a stone-centered art and partly because in the past I've done a lot of research on traditional Japanese culture. Suiseki is, according to www.suiseki.com, "the study and enjoyment of naturally formed stones as objects of beauty." The word suiskei is composed of sui, which means water, and seki, which means stone. Suiseki are often displayed at bonsai shows because like bonsai, they are a world in microcasm.

For years now I've been collecting rocks that probably don't look like much to anyone else, but I look them and see mountain ranges and islands and desert canyons cut by water. To my delight, when I began reading about suiseki I discovered that there was an entire poetic language to catalog rocks of this sort. Among the Scenic Landscape Stones, are Mountain Stones that include Single and Tripple-Peak stones, Rugged Mountain stones, and Mesa Stones. There are also Waterfall and Plateau stones, Shore and Reef stones, and Slope and Cave stones. Additionally, suiseki classifies stones by color and surface pattern, among them Flower-, Leaf-, Snake-, Sun-, Star-, and Lightning-patterned stones.

I, of course, have an amateur's approach to suiseki. I don't have my stones displayed on the customized wooden stands, and I'd have to put a good deal of study into the matter before I could attempt to catalog any of my finds. And it's entirely possible that someone who actually practices the formal art of suiseki would find my collection laughable. Since I have no desire to exhibit my rocks, that's really not a problem. Most of my suiseki pieces consist of common granite, basalt, gneiss, feldspar, or sandstone, and the wonderful thing is that almost all are rocks picked up during walks on the beach or in the desert; many I found lying on on the side of the road. These are not objects which are either expensive or particularly hard to find. It's beauty that's all around us and only needs be recognized.

Okay, back to my deadlines.

Cheers,

E.







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Friday, August 05, 2005

The Seeing Stone . . . or Rock Crystal

I promised stone lore, so here goes. I'll try not to repeat too much of what already appears on my website and in the essay on Gem Lore on the Endicott Studio site. One of the things I want to do with this web journal is find new pieces of lore to share.

Quartz seems a good stone to begin with, partly because it's one of this planet's most abundant minerals. According to Bruce J. Knuth, it's "found in nearly every exposed rock on the earth's surface." There's an almost democratic quality in quartz, which I love. While diamonds and sapphires and the "precious" gems are often accessible only to those with a disposable income or an inheritance, nearly anyone can have a piece of quartz grace their life. Although there are many different types of quartz -- including rose quartz, smoky quartz, and amethyst -- for simplicity's sake, this entry will deal only with transparent colorless quartz, aka rock crystal.

Because quartz is so ubiquitous, nearly every culture has had some sort of belief about it. It's been thought to be petrified ice or solidified primordial light. The ancient Mexicans believed that souls were contained inside rock crystal and their shamans could send the soul of the crystal out into the world for healing or other purposes. In China and Japan it was associated with victory. The ancient Egyptians [5th Dynasty, Old Kingdom] gave their statues quartz eyeballs, to both "gaze into eternity" and in burial sites, "to guide the soul on its way to the land of the dead." [Sylvie Raulet, Rock Crystal Treasures]

Quartz has also been said to "contain the history of the world." In Rock Crystal Treasures, Raulet mentions the Perrault fairy tale, "Gracieuse et Percinet" (a variant of the Psyche and Eros story) in which the princess Gracieuse becomes lost in a dark forest, collapses, calling out to Prince Percinet, "Have you forsaken me, too?" She then catches sight of a palace "made entirely of crystal, sparkling like the sun. She is shown into this enchanting palace and led into a great hall, which has walls made of rock crystal. She discovers that the story of her entire life, down to the very least of her daily deeds, is engraved on the walls of the hall. In the fairy tale the hall acts symbolically as a receptacle for all the images in the subconscious, transfiguring individual destinies to represent the history of the world." (pp. 24-25)

While I'm not sure I agree with leap to Gracieuse's life story representing the history of the world, there are many beliefs about crystal containing history, and visions of past, present, and future -- a medium for clairvoyance. Crystal gazing balls are one of the most common examples of this. And in contemporary metaphysical belief there are crystals known as record keepers, which can be recognized by the perfect triangles etched on one or more facets, which are said to contain "wisdom consciously stored by other beings." Crystals have also been used as doors into other realms and as a means of contacting other beings -- a kind of psychic radio bringing in messages from other dimensions.

Shamans all over the world have incorporated crystals in their ceremonies. According to Raulet, in Borneo shamans used them to communicate with a person's soul; in Melanasia they were diagnostic tools, used to identify the cause of illness. According to Mark Bahti's, Spirit in the Stone, Native American shamans in the southwest also used them to locate missing objects or an enemy's trail, and in the Tiwa pueblo Isleta, crystals were believed to "invoke the power of the moon." Many cultures, including tribes in Queensland, Australia, used quartz crystals as "rain stones" in rain-making ceremonies. And the folklorist Maria Leach writes, "In early British folk-belief quartz pebbles were called star-stones and were constantly sought for their curative properties."

Contemporary metaphyscial beliefs recommend quartz crystals for meditation and healing work, with the stone often being an aid to moving blocked or negative energy. The metaphysical guides distinguish between different shapes of the crystals and their faceting, with specific types of crystals being suited for specific types of healing.

So going back to the rock itself: There is something quite amazing in holding a piece of perfectly clear stone, as if what you're holding are the qualities of light and clarity somehow made solid. It seems completely natural to me that humans have connected clear quartz with visions and clairvoyance. Rock crystal almost invites you to gaze into it and allow it to reveal a vision of its own.

Raulet's book was written in collaboration with the French jeweler Alain Boucheron, and it's the extraordinary Boucheron crystal collection that provides many of the photgraphed pieces in the book. It was just recently that I noticed the preface to the book, written by Boucheron, which is one of the most beautiful tributes to the mineral that I've seen:

"Some zones of rock crystal are so immaculate and completely transparent that the eye sees straight through them and seemingly on toward infinity. Others are 'occupied,' enclosing frost or fine filaments of mist whose undulations catch the eye. A rock crystal represents at once both turbulence and limpidity, and its dual, even ambiguous nature is the very essence of the mineral's magic. It conjures up all that is finite and yet never ending, instantaneous, though eternal; both heat and cold, immobile yet changeable. This explains why George Sand said that it represented the limit between 'the Visible and the Invisible.' It hovers between the dream and reality . . . "

Okay, that's it for now. More to come soon. Please let me know if you have questions, a stone you're particularly curious about, or gem lore you'd like to share.

Good night,

E.