Gemstone Cowgirl

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


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:, 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: I hope you'll check it out.

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,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember Granpa Spillman. An old man who seldom bathed and never shaved, he was the opposite of every grown-up man I and my older brother knew.

Granpa Spillman lived behind the garage two lots down and fronting the street below us. He lived in a surplus trailer; a dirty olive-drab teardrop. In that pre-welfare era of 1956, he was the watchman for the garage and the cars held for repair.

I was four and my brother nine when we met Granpa Spillman, as he commanded us to call him. He began to teach us about the stones. One was striated blue and white and another red, neither shiny, both matte. The striate stone was "...fer snakebite..." The red was Granpa's bloodstone -- "...mighty powerful...".

A third was a dirty, yellow quartz. Granpa Spillman wouldn't let us touch it. "It's fer seein' inter the next world, and young boys don't need be seeing' that yet."

Once Granpa Spillman began to teach us to stroke and pray to the stones to activate them, my mother took charge. "Stay away," she ordered.

Within half an hour she called my Dad. All I recall was her speaking softly on the phone and the only words I understood here "...a good Christian woman...".

Daddy came home later, unheard of during a working day. He reinforced Momma's edict with his business voice. I saw his truck later on the street below the vacant lot as he drove to Eddie's Garage.

Within a week Granpa Spillman was gone. My brother and I spent that summer looking for stones but all we foudn was that Texas caliche.

Maybe someday I'll learn to pray to the stones and glimpse that other side.

4:51 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Dear Al Barker:

Thanks so much for writing. What an exceptional story -- I think you were very lucky to have known Granpa Spillman and have him share his secrets with you. [Did this take place in Texas, and if so, which part?]

It's interesting that his work was seen as something that somehow was in conflict with the church, because that's basically what happened to stone lore in Europe. All of it --except for the medicinal uses of stones -- was considered sacrilege by the Catholic church and banned, so that the lapidaries which survived were for a kind of pharmacopaeia, cataloging the uses of gems in healing. Most of the beliefs in their protective and/or mystical qualities were junked.

I'm guessing that Granpa Spillman's blue and white striated stone was a chalcedony, and though I haven't found anything about it being used to counter or remedy snakebite, doesn't mean that Granpa Spillman couldn't use it that way.

Bloodstone [aka jasper and heliotrope], a green chalcedony flecked with bits of red, has been considered a heavy-duty magic stone for centuries. Like coral, it's been used to stop bleeding and has also been considered "a stone of courage." According to Scott Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Cyrstal, Gem, & Metal Magic, it was used in ancient Babylonia to "overcome enemies" and in ancient Egypt to "open doors, break bonds, and even cause stone walls to fall." Bruce J. Knuth's Gems in Myth, Legend, and Lore says that bloodstone was also believed to calm anger, make water boil, and "promote mental health," and bloodstone spheres were believed to "alleviate circulatory problems."

I wonder what happened to Granpa Spillman and I wonder what he glimpsed through that yellow quartz.

Thanks again for your note; what a fascinating one. Here's hoping that you do find a way to work with the stones so that they open to you and you can indeed use them to glimpse that other side.

With all best wishes,


1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up on the west side of Tarrant County, outside Fort Worth, Texas.

Granpa Spillman left to go live with his son who, a few years later (after Granpa's death) moved into the neghborhood and attempted a spectacular suicide that kept our small community buzzing for months.

Yes, the used of stones was and is vilified by the various churches as demonic or at least unchristian.

The use of stones and gemstones has been resurrected in recent years by the use of "crystals" but the interest and use seems to be abating in popular culture. So much of it is, I'm certain, "syncretist" as the old usages have slipped away from us.

TCU libraty has an excellent, old book that touches on the properties of gemstones in medieval culture. As I recall, a diamond ground to dust was a potent poisin. Quartz was a stone used for far-seeing. Others protected against lightning, others were natural antidotes for various poisins, etc.

I must remember to renew my subscription as a friend of the library.



9:03 AM  
Blogger E. said...

Hi, Al:

Glad you wrote back.

I just read Ron Rash's "One Foot in Eden," a novel which is set in South Carolina in the 1950s, and in it a pregnant woman is told to carry bloodstone in her left pocket for the duration of the pregnancy, presumably as a protection. Somehow this reference made me think of your note about Granpa Spillman, that use of stones as a kind of folk medicine.
Interesting what happened to him and his son.

And yes, ground diamonds were considered a poison -- if the grind was coarse enough, the victim literally bled to death from internal hemmorhaging. Catherine de Medici was famous for using diamond dust as a means of eliminating her enemies. [I keep waiting for Tony Soprano to try this.] Then again, the Hindus made a potion with the stone that was considered a kind of tonic that would strengthen "all bodily functions." It's possible that this sort of tonic involved soaking, rather than grinding up, the diamond.

Both garnet and coral are among those stones said to protect against lightning, with coral having the power to drive lightning away. Do you remember the title of this book in the library? If you do, would you let me know?

As for whether or not the recent interest in crystals and stones is abating, that's hard to say. Here, in Tucson, where we get the annual Internation Gem & Mineral Show, there's seems to be a general interest in rocks of all sorts. And during Gem Show, it's amazing just how many people from all over the world come to search out healing crystals and the like.

I agree that a lot of the old knowledge has been lost, but I'm seeing a lot of people who are working with crystals and minerals in very interesting ways. Most of them, btw, are pretty good on both the geology and mineralogy of any given rock. Me, I'm still a bit of skeptic but having now gotten a few jolts of information from the stones, I try to stay open to others' experiences and information. To me, all of it is fascinating ground that feeds the novels.

Thanks again for writing back. Sorry it took me so long to respond.

peace indeed,


8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book is (and I lift this information from the on-line TCU library catalogue) "The Curious Lore of Precious Stones", by George Frederick Kunz, being a description of their sentiments and folk lore, superstitions, symbolism, mysticiscm, use in medicine, protection, prevention, religion, and divination, crystal gazing, birthstones, lucky stones and talismans, astral, zodiacal and planetary...

Philadelphia, Londan, J. B. Lippincott Co., 1013.

As for my syncretist statement, I did not intend to offend. I suffer from a socio-medical condition characterized by the following:

Open mouth
Insert foot
Gnaw vigorously on the ankle.

What I remember is that five to six years ago crystals were everywhere. All sorts of people bought these as the latest new-age fad that ravaged teh nation. Now, there are very few crystals to be found except in new-age head shops. Crystals aren't in the malls any longer nor are these the subject of conversation in singles bars. Crystals are no longer the "pet rock" of the new-agers.

While I remain open to any experience I remain skeptical myself. I agree that the subject is fertile ground for your work.

Turquoise and coral are revered stones by the Southwestern U.S. indians as well as Tibetans. One of the four sacred mountains of the Hopi to the Navajo is the blue mountain symbolized by turquoise.

By syncretist I supose I mean that any reviced system is largely guesswork. I worked for three years in New Mexico with a Navajo man whose father was a medicine man. Frank told me that over 150 Navajo "songs" or rites, had been lost.

To try to resurrect these "songs" today would be syncretist as the loss of oral tradition in an oral society is pretty much permanent. The "songs" were the property of the medicine man (or woman) who knew them. These were his property and it took a hefty payment to learn these songs or rites.

Now, as to the properties of gemstones, I believe there are such. As a young boy I built a crystal radio using a piece of crystal or mica that operated without batteries that received high-powered or close-by radio stations. As to the medical or psychic efficacies of gemstones, I remain open-minded but suspicious.

It would have to be a large deposit of stone to be efficacious or operated upon by some external source to be discernible. Here I think of a high-voltage power line passing over a lode of some stone (and thereby giving myself a story idea).

So, I remain open to the concept.

10:15 AM  
Blogger E. said...

Kunz's "The Curious Lore of Precious Stones" is the book that originally got me into this whole obsession with the lore of stones. Dr. Kunz was really a remarkable figure -- geologogist,gemmologist, and a consultant to Tiffany's. The stone kunzite was named for him. In addition to "Curious Lore," which is probably his most famous book, he wrote "The Magic of Jewels and Charms" and "Gems and Precious Stones of North America."

And I wasn't at all offended by your use of "syncretist." I suppose I agree with you: that to revive any lost system involves a certain amount of guesswork.

What I'm seeing, though, in people who work with stones now is not an attempt to reproduce the systems of the past. Most of them are working from their own sensory and intuitive responses to the rock.

In my experience, stones are as individual as we are. And so while two pieces of quartz share the same minerological properties, they may have very different effects on the people who work with them. Some of this is the result of the person, and some the stone. I realize that's a very animistic approach but I'm an animist; it's simply the way I've always experienced the world.

So for the most part, this working with stones isn't empirical science, whereas it seems to me that what you're describing -- working with a mineral's pyro- or piezoelectric qualities -- is.

I don't know that actual interest in crystals and stones has died down--you certainly wouldn't think so if you walk around gem shows-- but I suspect the "trend" of crystals being healing stones has. And that may be a good thing, because trends tend to attract con artists as well as genuine seekers.

For me, I can only approach the subject by both retaining that bit of skepticism/discernment and simultaneously trying to remain open. I fully believe that there's a great deal in the stones that I haven't even begun to understand.

I've always liked that line from "Hamlet": "There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio..."



8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah well, I'm sorry it wasn't a new book that could help. I will, however, keep an eye out for your new book. The only bookstores in this area are Barnes and Nobles and Half-Price Books.

B&N ran all the independents out of town years ago and now the only independents I've seen listed in the phone directories are "adult bookstores". Half-Price was begun years ago in Austin by a bunch of old hippies like me but it sold to corporate ownership and no longer is a friendly neighborhood bookstore.

I understand what you're saying about being animistic. Sadly, a childhood of conservative Protestant up-bringing killed that part of me and it's difficult to recapture. Another 35 years of technical and business writing has almost killed off my creative writing ability. I'm having to re-learn that -- easier, I'm sure, than re-learning animistic intuition.

Good luck with your writing and if I run across anything new I'll put it here.



2:06 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Hi, Al:

Thanks for writing again, and I'm very glad you mentioned the Kunz book, because it's exactly the sort of thing that I want this blog to discuss. I'm hoping that eventually this will become a forum for exchanging all sorts of information and lore about gems and stones.

And George Frederick Kunz was a godfather of sorts to the whole field of gem lore. There were other writers of his time -- William T. Fernie and C.W. King among them -- who wrote about the topic, but it was Kunz who seemed to unearth so much of the lore and value it for its own intrinsic fascination -- as opposed to examining it for whether it could be proved or disproved by science.

As to having that intuitive side shut down, I don't want to say too much here, as it's the sort of thing I'd really rather have my characters explore. But I can tell you that you are not alone in this feeling; it's something I've spent a lot of time struggling with. Somehow along the way we get broken. It's either Sartre or Camus who has a wonderful quote about his whole life having been a journey to rediscover the great and beautiful images that first gained access to his heart. I think that for many of us, that journey is, on one level, our life's work.

As for what it is that gets shut down, I don't know if it should be defined as magic or intuitive knowledge or the imaginative realm, or a kind of divine light inside us. Perhaps its simply the part of the human spirit that seeks transcendence. But however you choose to describe it, what I'm finding is that it never wholly disappears, that it somehow remains inside, quite whole and in tact, just waiting for us to open the door to it. This is not to say that opening or even finding the door is always easy. But here are some things that have helped me: books, poetry, art, music, travel, dance, yoga, spending time in deserts, mountains, or by the sea, and sometimes just holding a rock that I was drawn to. Going toward that which delights. Okay, I don't want to get preachy. I'd better stop right there.

But please write in any time.

Best wishes,


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I am the author of Gems in Myth Legend and Lore. I appreciate your kind comments. If you would be so kind as to refer to me as Bruce G. Knuth rather than Bruce J. Knuth.
Thank you

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