Saturday, April 30, 2022

Z is for the Zircon and the Idol (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Zircon is a gemstone also known as zirconium silicate. It comes in various colors, from colorless through blue all the way to brown. The yellow, orange, and red variants are called jacinth or hyacinth.

The King's Idol and His Daughter
14th century Arab legend from Spain

This is a story within a story. According to the 14th century manuscript, Dulcarnain (Alexander the Great?) comes across a great idol on an island, and asks to know the story of who created it. An old man tells him the tale of The King's Idol and His Daughter:

A great and powerful king has a thousand concubines, but only one child: a daughter. When she is born, astrologers all agree that she will give birth to a son who will become a great hero. The king constructs a fortress and locks his daughter - Omr - inside, giving her all she could wish for, except freedom. When she grows up, the girl looks out the window, falls in love with the vizier's son Xams, and finds a way to sleep with him. From their union, a child is born in secret. The princess puts a jacinth stone around his neck and a gold band on his ankle, puts him in a wooden coffin, and sets him out on the sea, praying to God to take care of the baby.
The baby is guided by the winds to an island inhabited by animals only. A gazelle finds a child and gives him milk. He grows up among the animals, observing their behavior, and when he grows up, he learns to make tools and hunt. He soon becomes the leader and judge of the animals.
Meanwhile, the kind is looking for his precious jacinth stone, and can't find it anywhere (he kills six thousand people who can't present it to him). When his vizier dies, Xams ascends to the position. The king sees a dream of Xams' son taking over his throne, and in a fury exiles the young man in a ship alone. The winds take the ship to the same island. Father and son meet and get to know each other. Eventually they are picked up by a ship and taken to the kingdom of the princess' father. The king recognizes the scene from his dream, including the precious jacinth around the boy's neck - and the princess claims the young man as her child. The sos ascends to the throne, and becomes a wise and powerful ruler.

Sources: Read the story (in Spanish) here. Read more about it here.

This is it, people! Another year of the A to Z Challenge completed!
Did you enjoy the ride? 
Which one was your favorite story?
See you on Monday for Reflections!

Friday, April 29, 2022

Y is for Yellow Diamonds (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


I have already written about diamonds earlier in the challenge. Yellow diamonds gain their color from nitrogen being trapped in their crystal structure. They are the most common among the colored diamonds.

The death of the demon Bala
Myth from India

This myth is from the Garuda Purana, a Hindu religious text written in Sanskrit. Manuscripts originate from the 9th-10th century CE, but the myths themselves are likely much, much older.
This story takes place at a time when there was a fierce battle raging between the gods and various demons. The most fearsome duel ensued between the god Indra, and the demon Bala. Bala's body was radiant and no weapon could pierce it; at his laughter, pearls fell from his mouth. Seeing that he could not kill him, Indra praised him, and asked for a boon. Bala agreed to grant a wish for the gods - and they asked him to sacrifice himself. Bala gave his life willingly as a sacrificial offering. Indra struck him with a thunderbolt, shattering Bala's body into pieces - and because of the merit earned by voluntary sacrifice, various parts of the body, falling to the ground, became gemstones. 
Bala's eyes turned turned into sapphires, ears and blood into rubies, bone marrow and nose into emeralds, tongue into corals, teeth into pearls. His semen produced silver, his urine turned into copper, from his sweat came brass, his nails gold, his blood mercury, his marrow crystals. The gods fought over the gems, and as they flew in the air with their chariots, many gems scattered, landing in places where they are still mined today. Bala's grieving widow, Prabhavati, transformed into a river, uniting her body with her husband's, and polishing the gems that came from him.
The text says that yellow diamonds, coming from Bala's body, were especially reserved for kings. They were also sacred to Indra, for doing the original sacrifice.

Sources: The death of Bala here, more lore about diamonds in the Garuda Purana here. Find another text here.

If you could pick a colored diamond, what color would you go for?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

X is for Fairy Crosses (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Staurolite (lit. cross-stone) is a type of mineral that often crystallizes twinned, forming a natural cross shape. These crystals are often found in Georgia and Virginia, and generally well known in Appalachia.

"Fairy crosses"
Cherokee legend

There are legends among the Cherokee that claim that they knew about Jesus Christ before the first white people landed on their continent. One of these stories claim that the news arrived through the Aniyvwi Tsunsdi, the Little People (often translated as "fairies"). They gathered one day for a day of dancing and celebrations, when one of them arrived late, bringing the news from far away that Jesus had been crucified. At the news the Little People wept in sorrow, and their tears transformed into the small cross-shaped crystals one can still find on the ground today. They are believed to bring good luck, and ward off evil.

Sources: Read about the legend here, here, here, or here.

Have you ever found a natural fairy cross?
Or another stone of peculiar shape?

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

W is for the Weise Stone (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Der Weise (originally Die Waise, the orphan) was a famous gemstone set in the Holy Roman Emperors' crown. Some sources (like the Grimm Wörterbuch) claim it was probably a milky white opal. White opals are quite magical looking gems anyway. It was lost sometime in the 14th century, and its alleged place is taken up by a large sapphire in the crown (see top of the left plate in the picture above). Reading the story below, I wondered if the sapphire was the original gem, since the legend resembles other stories about Sri Lanka and its gemstones.

The legend of Duke Ernst
12th century German legend

This story begins with the young Duke Ernst losing his father when he's still a child. His mother, Adelheid, marries the Holy Roman Emperor Otto. The emperor treats the duke (now a grown lad) kindly, but then a jealous count fills his head with lies. The emperor, believing Ernst is trying to take his crown, starts a war against the young duke who holds out for six years but finally has to go into exile. He takes the cross along with a thousand of his knights, and journeys towards the Holy Land. In Constantinople they all board a ship, but a terrible storm takes them out to sea, and they only find land again after three months.
They first land on an island named Grippia, with a splendid city built from colorful marble. They don't find any people living there, so they help themselves to food and supplies. Duke Ernst and his best friend Count Wetzel return to the city in the afternoon to look around. They explore the palace, full of jewels and precious stones, take a bath in tubs that have hot-cold running water, sleep in the royal bed. In the evening they see from the window the people of the city finally returning: they are all finely dressed, but they are human from the neck down and cranes from the neck up. They have kidnapped a princess from India, and they are forcing her to marry the Grippian king (who has the head of a swan). The duke and the count want to attack the wedding but decide against it; instead, they wait to rescue the bride later. However, they are soon discovered, and the Grippians kill the hostage princess. Duke Ernst and Count Wetzel fight their way back to their ship with the help of their men, but lose five hundred knights to Grippian arrows in the process.
Sailing on from the island in a hurry, the travelers encounter the Lodestone (magnetic) Mountain next. It draws in the ship by its iron nails, and they crash and sink. The men swim ashore, but now they are stranded among the various treasures of all the other sunken ships - and no food. Most of them starve to death, until only Ernst, Wetzel, and five others are left. Every time someone dies, griffins fly in and take the corpse. Eventually Wetzel suggests the survivors should wrap themselves in hides, and let the griffins take them too. Him and Ernst go first. In the griffins' nest on the mainland they cut themselves out of the hides, and escape.
Coming down the mountain the survivors encounter a river that flows into a cave. Having no other way out, they make a raft and float inside the cave, which is lit up by precious gems. Duke Ernst reaches out and takes one - a stone of such exceptional, unique radiance that it is later named Lapis Orphanus, the Orphan Stone. It is set into the imperial crown (the writer of the legend notes this proves that the story is true).
After this the duke and his men have more adventures; they befriend a Cyclops king, and help him defeat his warlike neighbors the Flat Hoofs, the Big Ears, a flock of giant cranes that eat the tiny nation of the Prechami, and the Canaanite giants. He collects one of each and eventually (after six years) sails on to Enthiopia with his ragtag band, where he fights for the Christian king against an invasion from Egypt. Then he moves on to Egypt, then Jerusalem, where he gets news from Germany about the emperor discovering the truth and forgiving him. He travels to Rome (losing the Flat Hoof on the way), and then to Bavaria, arriving to the imperial court on Christmas Eve for a big family reunion. He makes peace with the emperor, gets his lands back, divides up his fantastic retinue, and apparently gifts the Orphan Stone to the ruler, who sets it in the imperial crown.

Sources: There is an entire book about the stone (see review here), and also an article here. You can read Duke Ernst's story in this book. By the way, this story sounds a whole lot like Sindbad's journeys.

What gems would you want to grab from a magical cave?

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

V is for Volcanic Glass Mountain (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Obsidian is natural volcanic glass, known for its black or dark grey color. Sometimes it comes with small white cristobalite inclusions - then it's called "snowflake obsidian." Due to the way it fractures it can be turned into extremely sharp objects, which made it a favorite material for arrowheads, knives, and other instruments from prehistoric times.

The theft of obsidian
Wintu myth

In this story (animal) people go hunting, with various degrees of success. Adder is the only hunter who kills a deer right away at every attempt: that is because Adder has an obsidian arrowhead. But he keeps it a secret. Whenever he shoots a deer, he runs to it first and retrieves the arrowhead before anyone else can see it.
The other hunters grow suspicious of Adder's success. They agree that the fastest among them - Hummingbird and Fox - should keep an eye out and try to uncover the secret. Finally a man named Puimeminbes manages to get to a deer first, steals the arrowhead, and runs up a mountain. Adder grows furious at the theft, and starts setting the whole world on fire.
Puimeminbes hands the arrowhead over to Ground Squirrel, telling him to run as far as he can. Despite the fact that the obsidian is growing bigger, heavier, and hotter, Ground Squirrel runs and runs and runs, listening to the fading cries of his helper Sandhill Crane. When the cries finally stop, Ground Squirrel drops his burden at a place called Glass Mountain (California), where obsidian can still be found today. From the hot obsidian, Ground Squirrel still carries a black mark on his back.

Sources: Find the story in this book.

Other stories: Obsidian plays an important role in other indigenous traditions as well. Theft of obsidian happens in an Achomawi creation myth. In Pomo mythology, Obsidian Man is Coyote's child (born from an obsidian arrowhead). In a Tlingit myth, Raven fells a dangerous obsidian tree. In Aztec mythology, there were several gods and goddesses who were manifestations of obsidian. 
In the Banks Islands of Vanuatu, a story tells about a creator who cuts the night with an obsidian knife to bring the dawn (more info here). There is a Polynesian legend about Maui seeking immortality, and being bitten by a goddess with obsidian teeth. On some versions, those teeth are not in her mouth... Obsidian also figures into Maori mythology (see here, here or here). Read more about obsidian mythology in general here.

Have you ever been to California? 
Do you own anything made of obsidian? 

Monday, April 25, 2022

U is for Uktena Stones (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Diamonds and quartz have already been discussed earlier in the challenge. Mica, the third mineral featuring into the Uktena legends, is a group of minerals known for their special structure that lets them split into flat plates or sheets.

The Uktena and its gem
Cherokee legend

According to Cherokee tradition, the Uktena was a giant serpent with deadly powers (and many descendants). It had a brilliant gem on its forehead called Ulstitlu that could blind anyone trying to attack the serpent. Even when sleeping, the Uktena could bring death to a person's whole family; even the scales it shed retained their dangerous power.
There is a legend that says that once a medicine man captured by the Cherokee offered to bring them the magic crystal from the Uktena's forehead. He spent a lot of time seeking the serpent. When he finally found it, he first prepared a shelter for himself, then shot the Uktena through the seventh spot on its back (where the heart is hidden). The dying Uktena spouted venom and poisonous blood, but the medicine man had his ring of fire and shelter ready. Once the serpent was dead, he called on the birds to clean the carcass - then climbed a tree and recovered the magic stone from where a raven had discarded it. Taken from the serpent the magic gem was now called Ulunsuti, and it had the power to bring good weather, success in hunting, and help its owner see the future.
(One drop of blood did hit the medicine man - so he had a small snake growing out of his head for the rest of his life.)
According to researchers, Ulunsuti stones owned by medicine men were most often quartz crystals (sometimes the rutilated kind), or other transparent stones. In Cherokee mound burials quartz crystals (Ulunsuti stones) and mica flakes (the Uktena's scales) were often included.

Sources: Read the story here. Read about mound burials here. Read about medicine men and their use of minerals here. Read about more accounts of the Uktena and its crystal here. Read about the Uktena's place in indigenous astronomy here.
There is also a belief recorded from the Delaware Nation that placing Uktena scales (mica) on a rock can help bring rain.

Would you chance a fight with a large serpent for a magic gem? 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

T is for Traces of Tourmaline (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Tourmaline is a very complex silicate mineral that comes in many colors - pink, red, yellow, green, blue, or even black. It crystallizes is long, slender prismatic columns, some of which can be more than one color - like the famous "watermelon tourmaline", which is green on the outside, and pink on the inside.

The Argonauts on the Island of Elba
Greek myth

The Argonautica is an ancient Greek myth of a group of heroes that set out on an epic journey to reclaim the Golden Fleece from faraway Colchis. Under the leadership of Jason, the ship Argo is filled with the most famous heroes of its day - including Heracles, Orpheus, Atalanta, Castor and Pollux, and many others. The most well-known iteration of the story is the epic written down by Apollonius of Rhodes in the 3rd century BCE.
In AR's version, the heroes take a very convoluted route on the way home from the Black Sea. They sail up the Danube, then cross to the Adriatic (the author thought they were connected), then sail up the Po and cross over to the Tyrrhenian Sea. At one point, they land on the island of Aethalia (Elba), and organize races on the beach. As the many heroes compete against each other in various sports, their sweat splatters on the beach, staining the rocks with dark, round spots that have been visible ever since.
The rocks on the beach below the Capo Bianco cliffs are white, stained with round, blue and black spots of tourmaline. Fun fact: the dark marks were associated with sweat stains because Greek athletes usually scraped dirt/sand and sweat off themselves with specific instruments (strigils) and flung them to the ground.

Sources: Read the text of the Argonautica here. The image below is from this article. Read a long reserch article on this myth in this book.

Other stories: Read a more recent legend from San Diego about tourmalines here.

Are you familiar with the myth of the Argonauts? 
Do you have a favorite part or character?

Friday, April 22, 2022

S is for Spitting Sapphires (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Sapphire is the blue variety of corundum, one of the most precious gems in the world. The blue color is due to titanium and iron. Contrary to popular belief, however, not all sapphires are blue. Yellow, purple, and pink sapphires also exist. (If a corundum doesn't reach a deep enough red hue to be called a ruby, it's called pink sapphire.)

The magic tree
Gujarati folktale from India

Four friends set out to seek their fortune. One night they sleep under a mango tree. Ramji, the one keeping watch, sees three mangos fall, and hears the tree declare what will happen to those who eat them: 
one will become king 
one will laugh sapphires and cry pearls
one will go to prison. 
Then he falls asleep, and his three friends, waking up, unwittingly eat the mangos for breakfast.
Soon they end up in a city seeking to elect a new king. As foretold by the tree, the man who ate one of the mangos is chosen. His friend laughs in joy, and a sapphire falls from his lips. He realizes he can laugh sapphires and cry pearls. His royal friend immediately declares him the first minister. The other two friends go on to seek their fortune; the minister gives them a handful of his pearl-tears for the road.
However, when the friends try to sell the pearls, people think they are thieves, and one of them is arrested. He goes to prison. The king and the minister refuse to help, pretending not to know him. The remaining friend, Ramji - the one who did not eat a mango - returns angrily to the magic tree to chop it down. The tree begs to be spared, and gives him a fourth mango, telling him to feed it to a horse. The fruit transforms the horse into a magic steed, with whose help Ramji rescues his friend from prison.
They then fly to the palace, where the horse kicks the crap out of the king and the minister (telling them to "eat your sapphires and pears!"). It then flies the two friends home, and when they land, the horse transforms into a basketful of sapphires and pearls. The friends live happily ever after.
In the meantime, the king loses his throne and becomes a beggar. The minister is cursed: whenever he tries to eat, whatever he touches turns into sapphires and pearls. Thus, they are punished for their disloyalty.

Sources: Read the story (in Hungarian) here.

Which mango would you have chosen?

Thursday, April 21, 2022

R is for Ruby Revenge (Gemstone Folklore)

 Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Ruby is the red variety of corundum (aluminum oxide), one of the hardest minerals on earth. It gains its signature red-pink color from chromium. For much of history, rubies were deemed more valuable than diamonds because of their color. I found dozens of tales and legends about them, so this time, it was a matter of picking favorites.

(Warning: this one gets a bit bloody.)

The story of Prince Mahbub
Folktale from India

The beginning of this story is not too nice, but the rest more than makes up for it by being fascinating. It begins with a Persian king who doesn't have a son, so he adopts a butcher's boy as his own. The adopted child grows up to be evil because of his lowly birth (yikes). However, the queen later becomes pregnant unexpectedly. The adopted son, hearing the news, sneaks into the palace and kills the king, taking over the empire. The queen flees, and gives birth to her son, Mahbub, in hiding.
Time goes by, and the young prince accidentally reveals himself to his tyrant brother in an archery contest. He manages to get away, but he and his mother have to flee again ahead of their pursuers. In the wilderness they encounter a fakir, who gives them two magic objects: a torch to keep wild animals away, and a rod that has power over water. The latter, when placed in the sea, makes sure that the water in a circle around mother and son is only knee-deep. 
Using the magic rod, the queen and the prince begin crossing the ocean. They are basically surrounded by high walls of water as they wade at the bottom, seeing many sea creatures and endless wonders on their strange journey. In the middle of the ocean, they notice a current of water that is carrying brilliant rubies. Mahbub secretly plucks one out of the water and hides it.
Arriving to a new city, the prince sells the ruby and it ends up in the king's possession, who gifts it to his daughter. However, the princess overhears some birds making fun of her for having just one ruby instead of a pair, so she demands to be given a second, identical gem. The king asks Mahbub to provide one.
The prince returns to the ocean with the magic rod, and follows the current, seeking the origin point of the rubies. He eventually reaches a whirlpool where he sees a column of water rising into the air, spouting rubies. He jumps into the whirlpool and swims down. He enters a magical underwater realm through a gate - and there finds his beheaded father, whose blood is dripping into a stream, transforming into rubies. 
The body is cared for by peris, fairy maidens. Suddenly, the fakir appears, and reveals the truth: the king was one of the Magi, commanding genies and peris, and therefore he cannot truly die. At the touch of his son, the king's body heals and he comes back to life; they return to the Queen together. Mahbub goes to the princess and her father, and demonstrates his newfound power: he cuts his finger, drips his blood into a cup of water, and every drop turns into a ruby. Thus proving he is true royalty, he conquers his father's kingdom, and executes the tyrant (whose blood turns into toads.)

There is a lot to unpack in this tale, but I just can't tear myself away from the visual effects of the underwater journey and the floating rubies.

Sources: You can read this story here. Interestingly, the motif of rubies in water originating from someone's blood is fairly common in many Asian tales. In one from Bengal it is a maiden whose blood-rubies appear in a whirlpool, and a prince manages to bring her back to life. Another variant of the same, from India, has the hero kill a giant who is keeping the maiden hostage.

Other stories: One tale from Punjab features a Ruby Prince, a child mysteriously born from a ruby. When his wife questions where he came from, he disappears, and she has to fulfill a task to win him back. In another tale from India, a clever turtle uses a ruby to save a deer from a hunter. In a fun one from Simla, a woman hides rubies in bread, and later joins the police to save her husband who's kidnapped for the gems. There is a shorter tale from India where a ruby breaks into small pieces when it is taken by a greedy person. A while ago I also blogged about a myth about the origin of rubies from Myanmar. There is also a very amusing Spanish legend about a king who sneezes a ruby.

The conversion of bodily fluids into gems is actually not uncommon in folklore.
People in stories sneeze, spit, bleed, or even pee gemstones sometimes.
Would you accept such a superpower?

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Q is for Quartz Crystals (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Quartz is a crystalline mineral composed of silicone dioxide. Clear, transparent quartz is often called "rock crystal".

The legend of Manpupuner
Mansi/Komi legend

In the Ural mountains there is a fascinating geological site that features seven tall stone pillars. They are 30-40 meters high, standing on a plain, and made of schist rock with veins of quartz. A local Mansi (according to other sources, Komi) legend explains their origin.
According to the story, once there lived a powerful chief who had a son and a daughter. They were both brave and handsome, and their people flourished. The chief was on good terms with the spirits, who helped him build a tower (and/or castle) of crystal.
However, the giants that lived in the nearby mountains heard about the beautiful maiden, and their chief decided to take her as his wife. His suit was rejected, so he returned with six of his men to attack the tribe and steal the girl. The chief's son was away on a hunting expedition. People fled to the crystal building, seeking shelter. The giants fell upon the crystal walls and shattered them - scattering rock crystal all over the Ural mountains, where it can still be found.
Eventually the spirits, hearing the cries of the besieged, sent a thick fog. Under the cover of the fog, the people escaped. By the time the fog lifted the chief's son returned with a sword and shield gifted to him by the spirits. They reflected the sun so strongly that the giants, hit by the rays of light, turned into stone. Their king is the seventh pillar that stands apart from the others.

Sources: Read versions of the story here, here, and here. Read more about Manpupuner here and here.

If you built a castle from one gemstone, what would it be?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

P is for Pounamu (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Pounamu (sometimes translated as greenstone) is the Maori term used for green colored stones found in New Zealand that play an important role in its indigenous culture. It includes more than one type of mineral - usually nephrite jade, and bowenite (see the letter B earlier). 

Rata and the First Greenstone Axe
Maori legend

Rata's father, a chief, is killed by another chief called Makutu before the boy is born. When he grows up, Rata decides to set out and seek revenge on Makutu. First he needs to make a canoe for the quest, and for that, he needs an axe sharp enough to fell a giant tree. He seeks out a mythical being called Kahué to ask for a stone axe. Hearing Rata's story, Kahué agrees to split some rocks and provide the strongest greenstone for the axe. However, the axe thus formed is not sharp yet. Rata has to take it to the Whetstone Goddess, and sharpen it over her backbone. Rata seeks out the goddess, prays to her, and she allows him to sharpen his greenstone axe.
(In another variant of the story, the greenstone axe is left to Rata by his ancestors, buried underground until he needs it.)
With the use of the axe Rata manages to create a giant canoe (although he fails at it multiple times, because he doesn't show proper respect to the deities of nature). He sets out to the far east, and reaches the land of the Ponaturi, beings who hide underwater in the day and come to land at night. With the help of a captive woman Rata and his men manage to trap Makutu, cut him, and transform him into a bittern bird. They return home victorious, carrying the bones of Rata's father so they can give him a proper burial.
Rata becomes a famous chief, and teaches all his people how to make pounamu axes. The red-blossoming rata tree is named in his honor.

Sources: Read versions of this story here, here, here, and here. Read more Maori legends about pounamu here.

Have you ever been to New Zealand? Have you read any literature from there?

Monday, April 18, 2022

O is for Onyx (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Onyx is a silicate mineral, a variety of chalcedony that is usually known for its deep black color, or black and white parallel layers. People associate it with the color black, although it also exists in various other colors.

Rostam and Sohrab
Persian legend

There is a story in the Persian Book of Kings about the great hero Rostam and his son. One day, Rostam goes out hunting, and his famous horse Rakhsh is stolen. Searching for the horse he ventures into a city where a princess named Tahmineh falls in love with him. They marry, and on their wedding day Rostam gives her an onyx armband "that was known unto all the world" as one of his treasures. He tells the princess that if they have a daughter, put the onyx in her hair ("it will shield her from evil"), and if they have a son, let him wear it as an armband.
The princess gives birth to a son and names him Sohrab. When he grows up, he decides to lead an army to Iran to overthrow the king and put his father Rostam on the throne. The king of Turan, his mother's country, has long been an enemy of Iran, so the king supports the venture (although they are mutually planning to overthrow the other after the campaign). Sohrab takes a castle on the border after an epic fight with the woman warrior Gurdafrid. Hearing the news of the attack, the king of Iran sends out Rostam to deal with the invaders.
Rostam sneaks into Sohrab's camp, but doesn't recognize the young warrior as his son. Sohrab, in turn, asks about the enemy, but he is not told how to recognize Rostam, because people fear he'd challenge the hero to a duel. Sohrab issues a challenge to the king, who sends out Rostam to duel in his name. Rostam feels sorry for the young warrior and tries to avoid the duel, hiding his true identity to lessen the challenge. Tragedy ensues: not recognizing each other, Rostam and Sohrab fight to the death, and though they are almost evenly matched, in the end Rostam breaks his son's back. Dying, Sohrab asks about his father, and Rostam realizes too late that he's killed his own son - proven when he opens Sohrab's armor, and finds the onyx armband underneath.

Sources: Read this part of the epic here. This motif of the fated duel between father and son also appears in many other epic traditions (such as Cú Chulainn's legend, or the Dietrich cycle).

What are your thoughts on black gemstones as jewelry?

Saturday, April 16, 2022

N is for Naga Mani (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Chlorophane (also known as cobra stone) is a rare variety of the mineral fluorite, with fluorescent and thermoluminescent properties. When exposed to sunlight or heat, it emits a faint light in the dark.

Serpent stones
India, Sri Lanka, Bengal

Naga mani (cobra/serpent gem) is the Sanskrit name used for legendary "snake stones". They are one of the Nine Sacred Pearls of Vedic texts. In 1890 a Professor H. Hensoldt published a fascinating account of his journey to India in search of such stones. He found that some young cobras tended to "guard" fluorescent chlorophane pebbles (found in riverbeds) because their light attracted fireflies as easy prey. Various minerals and stones are seen as "cobra stones" or "Naga stones" all over India, and from there this ancient belief has spread all the way to Europe.
There are several folktales that feature such magical serpent stones. In The Golden Tree from Sri Lanka a king sends out his sons to find a magic tree. The youngest prince encounters a city threatened by a cobra that carries a magic gem. The prince manages to obtain the gem and kill the Naga King. The luminous gem allows him to find the three princesses who can transform into the magic tree together.
A similar adventure happens in the amazing story of Brave Seventee Bai from India. Here a brave young woman disguised as a man goes through many adventures, including one where she sets a trap for a cobra and takes its radiant diamond. Using the diamond she enters the snake's underwater gardens, and rescues a princess who agrees to marry her. (Don't get too excited, Seventee Bai rescues many princesses, but in the end gives them all to her husband. Boo.)
In the tale of Pakir Chand from Bengal, a prince and a minister's son acquire a serpent's luminous stone by similar means, and use it to enter an underwater realm where a princess resides. The jewel plays a key role in the rest of the story. In the Jataka tales a Brahman acquires a wish-granting serpent jewel from young Nagas who play "all night in the waters by its radiance."
There is also a tale from Thailand about a magician who creates rubies by injecting serpents with magic. (!) Any serpent that lives to be a thousand years old develops a radiant ruby in its forehead. The magician doesn't live long enough to see the result, but one in a thousand snakes survives, and causes a lot of trouble for a kingdom.

Sources: Read Hensoldt's account here. Read more about cobra pearls here.

If you had a wish-granting, light-giving magic stone, what would you use it for?

Friday, April 15, 2022

M is for Moonstone Magic (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Moonstone is a kind of feldspar with a pearly white sheen that, according to popular belief, resembles moonlight. Pliny the Elder claimed that it changes its brilliance according to the phases of the moon (which is not true, but it sounds fun).

The serpent's moonstone
Spanish/Basque legend

Two churches in Navarre, the Santa María de Eunate and the San Miguel de Olcoz have almost identical Romanesque portals at their entrance, like mirror images - and an old legend to explain the similarity.
The legend says that when the Santa María was built in Eunate sometime in the 12th century as a convent for the Knights Templar (allegedly), the master tasked with the work had to take a leave. He was away longer than intended, doing reparations somewhere else and also due to illness.
In his absence, the monks hired a local stone cutter to make the portal for the entrance, and he did so, in an astonishing three days' time. (Some versions of the legend say he was a jentilak, a Basque giant). When the master returned, he was furious to see someone else had done part of his work. To pacify him, the abbot paid him to make an identical portal - provided he could do it in the same amount of time.
The master, desperate, turned to a witch (or lamiñak) for advice. She told him that every Noche de San Juan (midsummer night) a large serpent appears at the nearby river, and deposits a magic moonstone on the bank while it goes bathing.
The master managed to steal the moonstone, and use its power to create an identical portal before the deadline. He placed it in a golden bowl of clear spring water on San Juan's Eve. As the water reflected the portal in the moonlight, the master said magic words, and the mirror image of the portal appeared on the church wall (except it was a little bit off, for the master jostled the bowl by trembling with excitement).
However, when the local stone cutter / giant saw his work, he grew furious, and hit the entrance with such force that it flew over to the neighboring village of Olcoz. The locals did not look a gift portal in the mouth, and built a church around it. There it remains to this day.

Sources: Read the story here, here, here, here, here, here, or here.

If you had the magic moonstone, what would you use it to build?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

L is for Lapis Lazuli (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Lapis lazuli is a metamorphic rock of intense blue color that has been mined for millennia. It often contains pyrite with gives it gold-colored veins. In the middle ages, it was the source of ultramarine blue pigment.

Inanna's descent into the Underworld

This old Sumerian myth from about 4000 years ago tells the story of the goddess Inanna's journey into "The Land of No Return." The goddess of beauty, sex, and war (among other things) dresses in her finest, and descends down into the underworld to visit her elder sister Ereskhigal, queen of the dead. Among her adornments whe wears a necklace of lapis lazuli beads, and carries a lapis lazuli measuring rod and measuring line. Ereshkigal herself lives in a palace made of lapis lazuli. Passing through seven gates, Inanna's adornments are taken away one by one - including the beads and the measuring instruments - until she enters the palace naked, and is turned into a corpse. Later on, she is brought back to life.

Lapis lazuli figures into the mythology of Inanna and Ereshkigal in other texts as well. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh (which is claimed to be inscribed on tablets of lapis lazuli itself), Gilgamesh makes various offerings to the gods at his partner Enkidu's funeral. He offers a cup of lapis lazuli to Ereshkigal, and a chair and staff of lapis lazuli to Namtar, her underworld vizier. When Inanna tries to seduce the king, she promises him a chariot of gold and lapis lazuli.
Also, when Uta-napishti tells Gilgamesh the story of the epic deluge he'd survived, he mentions another mother goddess, Belet-ili. Belet-ili mourns for humanity swept away by the flood, and after it ends, she appears to the survivors. She makes an oath to remember the deluge, and swears on her necklace of flies carved for lapis lazuli. Apparently she received the precious necklace from her lover, Anu the sky god. It is the Bablyonian equivalent of the Bible's rainbow...

Sources: Read about the Sumerian texts here and here. Gilgamesh here or here.

What is your favorite kind of blue?

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

K is for Kordierite, a.k.a. Sunstone (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


(I know I know, I am cheating with the K, deal with it. It works in Hungarian.)
Cordierite is one of the minerals that has been theorized to be the legendary sunstone, or sólarsteinn, that Norse navigators used in the Viking Age to see the sun's direction on partially overcast days. While it is not the only possibility (Iceland spar is also a strong contender), technically it has been proven to work.

Kings and crystals

Sunstones make an appearance in various old stories. One is a 13th century Icelandic manuscript that contains an allegorical tale (Rauðúlfs þáttr) of Saint Olaf visiting a wise man named Raudr. The man lives in a meticulously laid out house, in which the king has a vivid dream that Raudr interprets for him. The two sons of Raudr, Sigurd and Dag, are also wise and well educated. Sigurd can guess the sun's position correctly on an overcast day - a feat which makes King Olaf bring out a sunstone to verify.

Another 13th century collection of various Icelandic sagas, collectively known as the Sturlunga saga, also has mentions of sunstones. The stories of two different sagas, that of Icelandic bishop Gudmundur Arason, and doctor and priest Hrafn Sveinbarnarson, intersect in this case. The bishop once gifted Hrafn, world-traveling healer, two things: an exquisite dress for a woman, and a sunstone. Later on, when Hrafn's home was raided, and he himself killed by his old enemy Thorvald, son of Snorri, the raiders took the gifts with them. According to legend, however, the beautiful dress turned into ugly black rags in their hands, and the sunstone looked like a mere pebble to them, so they threw it away on the beach. Later, the precious stone was recovered, without the raiders ever finding out what exceptional treasure they had lost.

You can read the first story here, the story of Bishop Gudmundur here, and you can find the text of Hrafn's saga here. Find more info on sunstones here and here.

Have you ever read Icelandic sagas before? 
Do you have a favorite story?

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

J is for Jade Seeds (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Jade is actually the name of the gem quality version of two silicate minerals: nephrite, or jadeite. It is usually light to dark green in color, and has played an important role in East Asian and South American cultures for centuries.

Squire Yang plants jade

A kind man named Yang moves up to a steep mountain where there is no water source. He hauls water up the mountain to establish a free drinking station for pilgrims crossing the pass. One day a traveler, in exchange for his kindness, gives Yang a handful of stone seeds, telling him to plant them in a rocky place. Yang does so, and lo and behold, a crop of jade sprouts from the ground.
Later on, when Yang wants to marry a wealthy girl, her parents ask for a bride price in jade. Yang fulfills the request from his secret jade garden, and earns himself a wife. Finding out about the miracle, the emperor makes Yang a minister, and marks the Jade Field with four columns.

You can find this story in here. It is a translation from the Soushen Ji, a 4th century Chinese collection of legends and tales.

If you could grow any mineral or gem, what would you plant?