Do you think this is:
a) fossilized unicorn poop
b) a rock that ran into a rainbow
c) a crystal prescription
d) none of the above OR
e) all of the above
? ? ?
I like to think of it as ALL of the above. In reality, it's agate, belonging to the quartz family, and one of the first stones used by humans, with worked pieces dating back to 25,000 B.C. It is found in a wide variety of colors and patterns: blue, brown, green, orange, red, white, and yellow. The crystal may also have green or brown-black inclusions (moss agate), or regular bands around the edges (fortification agate, shown here on the right, in the pendant made by TheSilverBear of Etsy). Agate was sacred to the Greek god of healing, Aesclepius, and has long been associated with healing and protection.
In ancient Babylon, the various shades and colors of agate were believed to have different properties. Red agate was thought to cure insect bites and stings, green to cure eye infections, gray to treat throat infections, and black or striped agate to protect women from disease. It also has a long history of use as an amulet for protection from drowning, falling, mischievous fairies, and poison.
The Vikings and Saxons used agate to find lost items by axe and stone -- a method of divination known as axinomancy. A double-headed axe would be made red-hot and then placed in the ground, the shaft being pushed into a hole. A round agate pebble would then be placed on the axe head. If the pebble stayed on top of the axe, the questioner had to look elsewhere for the lost item; if it fell to the ground, the questioner had to follow the direction of the rolling stone to find the missing item. Even today, some claim that you can divine by holding an agate pendulum over your palm and testing it for answers, such as seeing how it responds to a simple yes or no question.
On a more scientific level, most of the world's agates developed in ancient volcanic lava. When the continents were first forming, layers of molten lava pushed toward the earth's surface through rift zone cracks, volcanoes, and other geologic events. Within the lava, there were pockets of trapped gases. Later, these gases escaped through cracks that formed as the igneous rock cooled and hardened, leaving hollow cavities. The agates developed as these cavities filled in, molecule by molecule, layer by layer, as microcrystals self-organized to form concentric bands or other patterns. The colors and arrangement of the crystals are related to changes in pressure, temperature, and mineral content that occured during the formation process. Unlike other gemstones, each agate is unique. Even slabs cut from the same specimen will vary in color and design.
I first learned about agates while walking with my husband along the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan, his home state. He told me about his aunt and uncle who used to comb these beaches, living for the moments when they would find these beautiful banded rocks. They learned to spot the stones' special luminescence among the plainer rocks. When we got home, he showed me the boxes and boxes of stones he had inherited, each special gem waiting (in my mind) to be cut, polished, and put on well-deserved display around someone's (my) neck!
I so admire the artisans who work with agate. Our feature photo above is a delicious creation by SpiritEarthStones of Etsy, composed of moss agate along with crystal glass beads, silver wire and accents, fancy jasper, red quartz, peridot, green jasper and more. And here to the right is a bold design by netalivne, also of Etsy, showcasing a long strand of beautiful black, white and cream-colored marbled agate beads.
Whatever you may choose to make with agate cabochons and/or beads, you can be sure it will be magical -- whether because of their beauty, their energy, or their fascinating geological history. If you already have some agate creations, or if this post inspires you to make some, please send us some photos and tell us about them!
Until Next Time,