Since ancient times, humans have attributed mystical and supernatural powers to certain minerals and gems that sparked wonder and intrigue. Cultures worldwide developed fascinating stories and lore to explain the origins and meanings behind these special stones.
If you’ve ever been curious about the tall tales and legends surrounding your favorite crystals and minerals, you’ll love learning the curious backstories of these 8 mythical mineral marvels.
I’ve collected some of the best for your reading pleasure, so let’s step into the ancient world of minerals with curious folklore and legends that surround them.
1. Smoky Quartz Crystals in Scotland
Quartz crystals come up a lot in folklore, and it’s easy to see why. The transparent, hexagonal prisms it forms are distinct, relatively common, and quite different from the normal species of minerals one runs across. It’s only fair that there should be legends surrounding them, although the folklore surrounding them has expanded greatly in modern times.
In Scotland, smoky quartz is found in the Cairngorm Mountains. These crystals are often called Cairngorm Crystals, or even simply Cairngorm, and they have a long history as a charm in the region. They were a common decorative device for much of history, generally being used for brooches and in the hilts of the traditional daggers known as dirks.
These crystals were thought to have healing powers and were often carried by soldiers for this reason. They were also traditionally passed down from one healing woman to the next, ensuring the lineage of healers was passed on properly. These qualities extended to regular quartz, also found in the same area, as well but it appears that smoky quartz was the favorite for the ancient Scots.
2. Turquoise in Mesoamerica
Turquoise is a stone with a long documented history of use, with legends surrounding it from Egypt to the Americas. To the Aztecs, in particular, turquoise was held as a sacred stone and saw a lot of use in religious ceremonies and objects. The color itself, unique in nature, was thought to prove its link to the Gods.
Turquoise was partially prized in Mesoamerica for its color, but also for rarity. As a soft, beautiful stone it is easy to see why people were attracted to more primitive tooling than in the modern day. It also doesn’t appear naturally in the area, instead, the turquoise used in the construction of the intricate mosaics and other artifacts was imported from North America along ancient trade routes.
The Nahuatl word for turquoise, xihuitl, is also the name used for both fire and time in the ancient language. It was common in ritually sacrificed objects, and often used to adorn statues of deities. The scale of turquoise craft in Mesoamerica was enormous, showing that the valuable mineral was of utmost importance. From mosaic decoration to being the armor of their Gods, the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations simply revered the material.
3. Chrysoprase and Alexander the Great
Chrysoprase is a green chalcedony mineral, sometimes with black inclusions. While prized by many cultures, it was generally used as a simple gemstone. To the Greeks, however, it held more significance. Specifically, it was said to bring victory in battle when worn.
The most famous of the legends involving Chrysoprase involves Alexander the Great. The remarkable general who conquered huge swathes of the ancient world as the King of Macedon. While modern historians simply note that he was an excellent general, the ancient world recognized his secret weapon: a stone of chrysoprase worn on the belt he took into battle.
The legend differs here. In some variations, he lost his lucky gemstone while bathing, and in others, it was stolen by a serpent. The result was the same: Alexander never won another battle before passing away at the age of 33. While it’s doubtful this story is based in fact, and Alexander encouraged myths and legends about himself during his life, it remains an enduring legend and a testament to the perceived qualities of gemstones.
4. Rhodochrosite to the Incans
Rhodochrosite is a pink to crimson mineral, specifically manganese carbonate. Much of it is found in massive forms, such as in stalactites, where it forms a pink stone. The most prized specimens are deep red, prismatic crystals that can rarely be found in some areas. The Incans, specifically, prized the material and to this day it is still sometimes referred to as Rosa del Inca, or Incan Rose.
There’s evidence that mining the material was important to the Incans, who used it in rituals. It was thought to be the blood of ancient Kings and Queens in the culture, solidified and placed in the Earth. It was often found alongside silver in the Northern parts of Incan territory, but the mines were forgotten after the 18th century.
Another legend holds that a warrior fell in love with a priestess, a taboo in their culture. The lovers fled South and were able to evade the Emperor of the Incas until the priestess passed after many years. The warrior was said to have turned to stone in the aftermath of his loss, and a shepherd discovered the body transformed into rose-like petals of red stone. While obviously a tall tale, the stone was very sacred to the Incans only to be independently “discovered” in the 18th century. A half millennium after the fall of the Incan Empire.
5. Amethyst and the Greeks
Most of us know that amethyst is simply quartz with iron in certain color centers of the crystals. When it forms at the right temperature, the purple form of quartz is the end result. It’s long been prized as a gemstone and was classically one of the “precious gemstones” of the world, but the discovery of huge stores in the Americas effectively rendered it “semi-precious” as time went on.
What you might not know is the root of the word amethyst relates to intoxication. The Grecian word “methysko” means drunkenness, while the modifying “a” at the front means the name essentially means “not drunk.” Both the Grecians and Romans believed that amethyst could protect one from becoming too intoxicated while drinking.
The legend is a strange one, like most Grecian myths. Dionysus took offense to a mortal’s insults and laid a trap for the man involving two tigers because drunken gods like to complicate things. A young woman was coming to pay tribute to Artemis, who saw the trap. To save the woman, she was turned into a pillar of quartz crystal by the goddess.
Dionysus, overcome with guilt and grief for what he’d done, poured his wine over the quartz. In response to the godly powers and wine, the quartz took on a deep purple hue and became amethyst. A testimony to both the oddness of Grecian myths, and the deeper history behind the superficial “qualities” assigned to many stones in the present.
6. Hag Stones
Hag stones have a fairly broad definition, specifically, they refer to coastal rocks which have holes bored through them. This can result from normal erosion or the creation of burrows by a bivalve mollusk commonly called the piddock. Their shells can sometimes be found in incomplete holes from stones in the same region.
Hag stones have fascinated people for centuries. Like many odd stones and crystals, most legends provide them with a quality of protection from evil spirits. Specifically, they could be placed on a window sill to prevent the entry of malign influences.
There are quite a few properties associated with these stones. My personal favorite is that the hole is a portal to the realm of the Fae. While it’s said that you could pass through to the other side with one, they generally don’t have holes big enough for a person. Instead, it’s rumored that you can peer into the other world by looking through the hole in the stone.
Most legends surrounding hag stones come from Britain, and they’re often tied in with the ancient druid cults from the area.
7. Labradorite Among the Inuit
It’s no surprise that labradorite has inspired some legends over the years. The stone’s internal play of color is a wonder to behold, and some flashes can be seen in even the rough stone as it’s turned in the light. While we now know this has to due with the lamellar structure of the variation of feldspar that creates labradorite, it’s easy to see how people in the past held differing opinions.
The oldest legend holds that an Inuit warrior found a dazzling array of labradorite. Knowing that such beauty belonged to the sky, he brought down his weapon and shattered the stones to free the light. The light that returned became the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, while that which remained is what we currently know as labradorescence.
Today the stone is very popular, especially since it’s common to find it in massive formations. While that part of things is relatively new, labradorite was used extensively by indigenous people from the Northern reaches of America. It was ground into powder as a medicine and cut and polished to create jewelry as well. Still, its purpose seemed to have been mainly spiritual despite decorative objects being made from it.
It’s a great legend, and when you hold a piece in your hand it doesn’t seem far-fetched that ancient people thought it contained light that truly belonged in the Heavens.
8. Amber as a Sacred Incense
Amber has a long history of use, and not just for jewelry. Amber itself is polymerized tree sap, making it a form of natural “plastic” that was unique among the materials used by the ancients. If you weren’t constantly surrounded by plastic, imagine finding an object made of the material. Smooth, light, and warm to the touch.
While it was long used as jewelry, one of the more fascinating uses is as sacred incense. Amber has long been associated with the Heavens, and it releases a pleasant, piney scent when crushed and burned. What’s most interesting is that it often appears to have been imported, meaning that it was specifically sought out for this purpose.
This usage is mainly associated with Egypt, which used it extensively in rituals. However, people are the same all over and it’s also known that amber was used as an incense by the Mayan people of prehistoric Mesoamerica. This chain of use has remained pretty much unbroken, with even modern people sometimes using amber as a spiritual incense.