The Magic of Jewels and Charms

The Curious Lore of Precious Stones

By George Fedrick Kunz


III Stones of Healing

In his commentary on Theophrastus, Sir John Hill touches upon the question of the medicinal virtues of precious
stones. His researches regarding the causes and conditions determining color in stones, led him to the
conjecture that the active principle, if it really existed, was to be sought in the coloring matter. As the opinion of a
very clever student in his day, his words will bear quotation: 1
The greatest part of these [medicinal virtues] cannot but be seen at first view to be altogether imaginary; and as
to the virtues of the Gems in general, it is now the reigning Opinion, that they are nearly all so, their greatest
Friends allowing them no other than those of the common alkaline Absorbents. However, whether the metalline Particles, to which they owe their Colours, are, in either Quantity or Quality, in Condition to have any effect in the
Body, is a Matter worthy of a strict and regular Tryal; and that would at once decide the Question between us and
the Antients, and shew whether we have been too rash, or they too superstitious.
The so-called "doctrine of signatures" treated of the marks set by nature upon certain objects to denote their
usefulness in the cure of diseases affecting different parts of the body, or their power to neutralize the effects of
the bites of certain animals or reptiles. Of this theory Martins says that the "signatures" are not to be sought in a fanciful resemblance to the form of the objects with the diseased parts of the human body, but rather in the color,
odor, taste, composition, etc., of the objects.2

1 TheophrastuB's " History of Stones," with an English version by John Hill, London, 1746, p. 73.

2Martius, "Unterricht von der Magiae Naturali, Leipzig, 1717, p. 290.

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Medieval medical literature has no more interesting example than the treatise entitled "Thesaurus Pauperum,"
or the "Poor-man's Treasury," written by Petrus Hispanus, who later reigned for a brief period as pope under
the name of John XXI (1276-1277). The birthplace of the author was Lisbon in Portugal, and he studied for some
time at the University of Paris, where his learning earned him high praise. Prior to his election as pope, he served
for a time as first physician to Pope Gregory X (1271-1276). Most of the remedies prescribed in this little treatise
are naturally such as had long been popular among the peasantry, and the ingredients of which could easily be
secured; vegetable growths, plants, herbs and flowers, and certain parts of the more common animals, served
here, as in Pliny's day and earlier still, as those most highly favored.
Of the comparatively few mineral substances whose use is recommended may be noted the red variety of
chelidonius or ''swallow stone,'' for the cure of epilepsy; the powder of the "iris" (probably an iridescent variety
of quartz) was also a cure for epileptics. Then we find, strange to say, a recommendation of such costly remedial agencies as emerald and sapphire, either of which if touched on the eye would heal diseases of that organ. Cold
stones placed on the temples and tightly bound on were said to arrest bleeding from the nose, and coral was a
great help in syncope. For stone in the bladder two mineral substances, "humus" and ''songie,'' are warmly recommended (the former can scarcely be held to signify mere "soil"), as are also "stones found in the gizzards
of cocks'' (the alectorius) and those from the bladders of hogs. All these were to be reduced to powder, dissolved
in liquid, and taken in the form of potions. The use of stones and coral rather as amulets or talismans than as
remedies is occasionally mentioned. Thus the loadstone, if worn, is said to remove discord between man and

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coral, if kept in the house, destroyed all evil influences, and if a woman wore touching her skin a concretion taken
from the stomach of a she-goat that had not had young, this woman would never bear a child.3

The curious old medical treatise in verse called the "Schola Salernitana, " was translated into English by Sir
James Harington in 1607. The following lines give advice that is as appropriate to the conditions of our own age as
to those of any other: 4

Use three physitians still, first doctor Quiet,
Next doctor Merry-man and doctor Dyet.

Whether with or without intention, the translator has omitted to render the qualification given in the original:
"Si tibi deficiant medici" (if other doctors are lacking).
The terrible plague known as the Black Death is said to have claimed 13,000,000 victims in Europe in the years
1347 and 1348. A contemporary, Olivier de la Haye, in a poem describing this fearful visitation, gives a number of
recipes used, or to be used as remedies. In one of these there appear as ingredients pearls, jargoons, emeralds
and coral, one-sixth of a drachm of each of these materials entering into the composition of the prescription.5 The
symptoms of this form of the plague, as described by the old writers, are said to resemble closely those of the
disease that was prevalent not long ago in some parts of Asia, especially in northern China and Manchuria.

A famous class of medical remedies used in medieval

3 From a fourteenth century Italian MS. translation of the treatise in the author's library; see fol. 8, recto, col. 2;
fol. 9, recto, col. 1; fol. 10, recto, col. 2; fol. 14, verso, col. 1; fol. 17, verso, col. 1; fol. 25, verso, col. 1; fol. 26,
verso, col. 1; fol. 26, verso, col. 2; fol. 29, verso, col. 2.

4 Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum, ed. Sir Alexander Cooke, Oxford, 1830, p. 125. This edition contains
reproductions of many curious woodcuts from the old German editions of Curio, published in 1559, 1568 and 1573.

5Havard, "Histoire de I'orfevrerie," Paris, 1896, p. 359; Olivier de la Haye,

6 Poeme sur la grande peste de 1348," verses 3162 sqq.

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times bore the generic name theriaca, or theriac, this designation being derived from the Greek therion, signifying
a beast, more specifically a poisonous animal and hence also a serpent. These preparations were primarily
antidotes for poison, but were also freely administered for any form of "blood-poisoning," for malarial infection, malignant fevers and the like. Principal ingredients were the "Armenian stone" (a friable, blue carbonate of
copper), pearls, charred stag's-hom, and coral. The Veronese physician, Francesco India, confidently affirms that
this remedy not only cured the plague, but also protected those who had partaken of it from contracting the
disease; this was said to be more especially true of the theriaca Andromachi, or Venice treacle as it was popularly called, which purported to be the invention of a Eoman or Greek physician, Andromachus, who composed some
medical poems dedicated to Caesar.6
In medieval Bohemia the knowledge of precious stones and their employment for curative purposes is well
There exists a Bohemian manuscript list of precious stones dated in 1391, in which no less than 55 different gems
are noted. Their medicinal use in Bohemia at this time is vouched for by the Synonima Apothecariorum where
precious stones are listed among the materials of the apothecaries 'art.7
In the testaments of royal and princely personages, medical stones are often bestowed as precious legacies.
Thus in the will of the Hessian prince, Henry VIII of Fiirstenberg, the following stones are mentioned as
especially costly objects: a "crabstone" (Krebstein), a blood-stone, and a gravel-stone, the latter being a piece of
jade or nephrite.8 The crabstone, sometimes called crab's-eye, is a chalky concretion which forms on either side
of the stomach

6 Francisoi Indise, "Hygiphylus sive de febre maligna dialogus," Veronae, 1593, pp. 125, 126.

7 Dr. B. Jesak, "Aus dem Reiehe der Edlesteine," Prag, 1914, p. 65.

8 Kobert, " Ein Edlestein der Vorzeit," Stuttgart, 1910, p. 36.

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of a crab or other crustacean during the moulting period, and this was and is still used as an eye-stone for the
removing of foreign bodies that have entered the eye, the eye-stone

Interior of fifteenth century pharmacy. From Johaunis de Cuba's "Ortus Sanitatia", Straasburg, 1483.

being introduced under the eyelid. This results in a rapid flow from the tear-ducts which often washes away the
foreign bodies, the passage of the stone across the eyeball occasionally aiding in the work by rubbing off the body.

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In the sixteenth century sapphires, emeralds, rubies, garnets, jacinths, coral and sardonyxes were used in all
tonics prescribed to protect the heart against the effects of poison and of the plague. As it was noted that these
remedies were frequently ineffectual, an explanation was sought in the fact that spurious stones were often used,
the apothecaries either not having the knowledge to recognize the genuine stones, or being moved by a desire to
profit by the substitution of some inferior substance. Hence phys- icians were warned to be on their guard against
such deceptions, and only to employ thoroughly trustworthy apothecaries for the compounding of their
prescriptions. A substitution frequently made was that of the so-called yellow chrysoprase (cerogate), a stained chalcedony, for the jacinth, although the true jacinth of the ancients was of the color of the amethyst. The grinding
of coral in a brass mortar, instead of in one of marble, was also regarded as a very dangerous proceeding, which
would have the worst possible results for the unlucky patient who took the powder, for some particles of the brass
might be rubbed away and mix with the coral. This was said to have often produced very serious illness.9
In a price-list of a firm of German druggists, printed in 1757, all the precious stones still appear. Here the cost of
a pound of rock-crystal is six groschen ($.18); the same quantity of emerald was priced at eight groschen ($.25),
while the pound of sapphire was quoted at sixteen groschen ($.50), of ruby at one thaler ($.75), and of lapis-lazuli
at five thalers ($3.75). This indicates quite clearly the quality of the emerald, sapphire and ruby offered for sale. A
pound of Oriental bezoar commanded the highest price, sixteen thalers ($12). 10

9 Andrea Matthiolus, "Commentaries sur Diseoride," Lyon, 1642 (written in 1565), p. 538.

10 Fuhner," Lithotherapie," Berlin, 1902, p. 44.

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Eegarding the length of time during which various preparations retained their strength, Braunfels " states that,
according to the opinion of the Arabian physicians, the solution of lapis Armenus lasted for ten years, while that of
lapis lazuli could be preserved only about three years. A list of the indispensable materials which should be in every
good pharmacy included the following precious stones:

Jacinth                        Magnes
Sapphire                     Coral
Emerald                      Hematite
Topaz                           Aetites
Margaritha                 Jasper

The supposed medicinal properties of precious stones are subjected to a searching criticism by the Veronese
physician, Francesco India, writing in 1593.12 After establishing the distinction between alimentary and medicinal
substances, he proceeds to exclude from the latter category the jacinth, emerald, sapphire, etc., because although
they could be reduced to a powder, they could not be dissolved, so that when taken in a potion they could be
absorbed in the human system.13 Hence no such effects could properly be  ascribed to them as were to be
expected from the regular and normal medicinal agencies. This writer ascribes the original use of such stones as remedies for malignant fevers and other dangerous diseases to the Arabs, adding that "had they not made this
mistake and thus led many physicians into error, they would have been better worthy of praise. 11
In fact he does not hesitate to pronounce the emphatic
opinion that these stones are not remedial agents fit to be

11 Braunfels, "Reformation der Apptecken," Strassburg, 1536, fol. XIV b, XX b.
12 Francisei Indise, " Hygiphylus, aive de febre maligna dialogus," Veronae, 1593.

13 Op. cit. pp. 115 sqq.

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administered or used by any rational physician.14 That  powdered hematite (red oxide of iron) possesses an
astringent quality and may really be looked upon as a medicine, he fully recognizes, more particularly its efficacy
for the cure of diseases of the eye, but neither these nor similar qualities can be credited to sapphires, emeralds,
or jacinths.
At the same time he is not disposed to deny that these stones may have some subtle effect upon the body when
worn, or when held in the mouth for a time. Thus he agrees with Avicenna (Ben Sina) that a jacinth worn over the
heart may strengthen that organ, for he knows of the power inherent in jasper to check a heniorrhage. In a word
his argument is principally directed against the internal use of powders made from these hard and unassimilable
Robert Boyle, writing in 1663, attempts to show that the theory of the therapeutic action of precious stones is not
incompatible with observed facts. In this connection he says: 16
I am not altogether of their mind, that absolutely reject the internal use of Leaf -Gold, Rubies, Saphyrs, Emeralds,
and other Gems, as things that are unconquerable by the heat of the stomach. For as there are rich Patients that
may, without much inconvenience, goe to the price of the dearest Medicines; so I think the Stomach acts not on Medicines barely upon the account of its heat, but is endowed with a subtle dissolvent (whence never it hath it) by
which it may perform divers things not to be done by so languid a beat. And I have, with Liquors of differing sorts,
easily drawn from Vegetable Substances, and perhaps unrectified, sometimes dissolved, and sometimes drawn
Tinctures from Gems, and that in the cold . . . But that which I chiefly consider on this occasion is, that 'tis one
thing to make it probable, that is, possible, Gold, Eubies, Saphyrs, etc., may be wrought upon by humane Stomach;
and another thing to shew both that they are wont to be so, and that they are actually endowed with those

14 Op. cit., p. 116.

15 Op. cit, pp. 118-122.

16 Boyle, "On the Usefulness of Experimental Philosophy," Oxford, 1664, p. 108.

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and specifick Virtues that are ascribed to them; nay and (over and above) that these Virtues are such and so
eminent, that they considerably surpass those of cheaper Simples. And I think, that in Prescriptions made for the
poorer sort of Patients, a Physician may well substitute cheaper Ingredients in the place of these precious ones,
whose Virtues are no half so unquestionable as their Dearnesse.

Whether the somewhat mysterious illness and death of the popes Leo IV and Paul II could have been caused by
the great quantity of pearls and precious stones they were in the habit of wearing was a question seriously
discussed by Johann Wolff, the supposed lethal effect being attributed to the coldness of such objects.17 Indeed,
the frigidity of precious stones was adduced by certain writers as one of the chief reasons for their remedial use in fevers.18
Not only to King Frederick III of Denmark himself, to whom on his death-bed in 1670, a dose of pulverized bezoar
was administered, but to his queen and their children such remedies were given, there being record that on
September 19, 1663, a prescription containing red coral and pearl powder was compounded by the Court Pharmacy
for the queen, while a few years earlier the inevitable bezoar and also a tonic pearl-milk were administered to
some of the royal offspring.19
Some interesting details as to the use of precious stone remedies for the cure of illness appear in the manuscript
notes of lectures given at the Leyden Hospital by the seventeenth century physician, Lucas Schacht, in 1674
and 1675.20
This shows that these remedial agents were there and at that time only used as a last resort, when the patient's

17 Johannis Wolffii, " Curiosus amuletorum scrutator," Francofurti et Lipsiae, 1692, p. 564.

18 J. B. Silvatici, " Controversiae medicae," Francofurti, 1601, p. 223.

19 Axel Garboe, "Kunsthistorlske Studier over Edelstene," Kjbenhavn og Kristiania, 1915, p. 254.

20 See Axel Garboe, "Kulturhistoriske Studier over edelstene, med saerligt Henbilk paa det 17. Aarhundrede," Kjbenhavn og Kristiania, 1915, pp. 141 sqq.


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dition had become desperate, and the physician is usually obliged to record the fact that death ensued shortly
afterwards. Thus we are told of the case of a certain Ludovicus Carels who was suffering from difficulty of
breathing and purulent expectoration; his body was so distended that he could scarcely move his limbs, and he
also had a severe diarrhoea. This was his condition on November 12, 1674, and the symptoms steadily grew worse under a treatment of herb decoctions, until a few days later, on November 21, it is noted that "he only thinks of
death." Still the doctors waited until November 24 before they decided to administer a compound remedy
consisting in part of the elixirs of jacinth and pearl; three days later the patient died. In general the chief
symptoms which justified the use of such remedies were those of high fever or great weakness.

Although by the middle of the eighteenth century the belief in the special curative powers of precious-stone
material had almost entirely disappeared, giving place to a more scientific conception of the chemical
composition of these bodies, still, we find, even in so capable a writer as the German mineralogist, U. F. B.
Briickmann, a lingering trace of the old idea, for while he declares that all intelligent physicians have abandoned
their use, he adds, "if, however, any stone of this kind has more effect than an ordinary earthy substance, it is the
lapis lazuli, but we have a hundred other remedies equally efficacious and much cheaper. ''He also testifies to the
fact that very little genuine material was to be had from the apothecaries, he himself having often seen a yellow
feldspar offered instead of a jacinth, and poor garnets as substitutes for rubies.21

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, a famous cordial medicine, called "Grascoign's Powder," after the

21 U. F. B. Briickmann, "Abhandlung von Bdelsteinen," Braunschweig, 1757, pp. 4, 5 of preface.

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physician who compounded it, had an immense vogue in England. This man is said to have got more than £50,000
($250,000) from the sale of this single remedy. It is stated to have contained Oriental bezoar (the most important
ingredient), white amber, red coral, crab's eyes, powdered hartshorn, pearl and black crab's claws; certainly a
most incongruous mixture and one well calculated to test the resisting powers of the person to whom it was
administered. 22
A modern writer finds in the homeopathic theory of medicine an explanation of the apparent therapeutic effects of precious stones.23 For if the smaller the dose the greater the effect, then such super-subtle emanations as are
thought to proceed from precious stones must have effects still more powerful than those of the most highly
diluted tinctures administered by homeopathists of the old school. Christian Science, however, with its bold denial
of the existence of disease, and with its purely spiritual treatment of the "mental error" that is supposed to be at
the root of all morbid symptoms, could even more easily account for the apparent cures wrought by merely
wearing precious stones. The belief in their remedial virtue would serve to remove the morbid impression, and
would restore the mind to its normal and healthy state.
An instance from our own day of the application of a mineral substance externally for the cure of disease, appears
in the use of the uranium pitchblende occurring in Joachims- thal, Bohemia. This is enclosed in leather bags and
applied to the head for the cure of headache. The most violent pains are said to be relieved in a short time by this treatment,

22 John and Andrew Van Rymsdyk, "Museum Brittanicum," 2 ed. revised and corrected by P. Boyle, London,
1791, p. 51.

23 Fernie, " Precious Stones for Curative Wear," Bristol, 1907, p. 256.

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the effect being produced by the radium contained in the pitchblende.24


Treating of the medicinal virtues of agates, Pliny distinguishes between the Indian agates, which were a remedy
for diseases of the eyes, and those from Egypt and Crete, which were especially adapted for curing the bites of
spiders or scorpions.25 This latter quality was probably attributed to the agate because it was believed to have a
cooling influence upon the body. Damigeron directs that when used  to cure the bites of venomous creatures the
stone should be  reduced to a powder, which was to be strewn over the  wound; sometimes, however, this powder
was dissolved in wine and administered internally.26 As an agate, if held  in the mouth, was supposed to quench
thirst, it was recommended at an early period for the cure of fevers and inflammatory diseases.27
In Byzantine times the use of agate for inflamed eyes and for headaches is still advised by Psellus (eleventh
century), who adds that it checks menstruation and prevents the accumulation of water in cases of dropsy. This he
attributes to the wonderful absorbent power of the stone.28
It seems most probable that here some kind of hydrophane has been confounded with the agate. The other use,
that of checking hemorrhages, presupposes the use of a red variety of agate.

25 Von Hovorka and Kronfeld, "Vergleichende Volksmedizin," Stuttgart, 1908, vol. i, p. 355. Communication of
Dr. Christof Hartungen, Jr.

26 Damigeron, " De lapidibus," ed. Abel, Berol., 1881, p. 177.

27 Plinii, " Naturalls historia," lib. xxxvi, cap. 54.

28 Orphei, "Lithica," ed. Abel, Berol., 1881, vs. 610 sqq. Pselli, "De lapidum virtutibus," ed. Bemond, Lug. Bat.,
1745, p. 10.             9

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Thomas de Cantimpre 29 tells us that the beryl cures quinsy and swollen glands in the neck if the affected part be
rubbed with the stone. It is also useful as a remedy for diseases of the eye, and if water in which it has been
steeped be given to anyone suffering from an attack of hiccoughs, relief will be afforded.
The beryl was warmly recommended as a cure for injuries to the eyeball, even of the most serious kind. For use
in such cases the stone was to be pulverized in a mortar, and this powder then passed through a fine sieve. Of the
minute particles thus secured, a small quantity was to be introduced each morning into the injured eye, the patient
being in a recumbent posture. He was then to keep properly quiet with his eyes shut for a considerable length of
time after this operation. Although it was not indeed claimed that where the power of sight had been destroyed it
could thus be restored, still even in case of such severe injury the eyeball was healed sooner and assumed a better appearance.
In less serious cases a cure was considered to be assured.30


Many virtues are attributed to carbuncles. It is related that those who wear them can resist poisons and are
preserved from the pest. They dissipate sadness, control incontinence, avert evil thoughts and dreams, exhilarate
the soul and foretell misfortunes to man by losing their native splendor.31

29 Konrad von Megenberg's fourteenth century version, "Buch der Natur," ed. by Dr. Franz Pfeiffer, Stuttgart,
1861, p. 436.

30 Andreae Baccii, "De Gemmis et Ziapldibus Pretiosis" ( Latin version by Wolfgang Gabelchover of the Italian original), Francofurti, 1603, pp. 100, 101, Note of Gabelchover.

31 Johannis Braunii, "De Vestitu Saoerdotum Hebraeorum," Amstelodami, 1680, pp. 672-3.

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Perforated, spherical beads of milky-white chalcedony are worn at the present day by Italian peasant-women to
increase the supply of milk. Hence the Italian name for such a bead, pietra lattea. Perforated beads of white
steatite, belonging to the early Iron Age, have been found near Perugia, where the chalcedony beads' are worn,
and it is believed that these steatite beads were borne for the same purpose.32


Coral and safran, if wrapped in the skin of a cat, were believed to have marvellous powers; and when emeralds
were added to the coral the talisman would drive off a mortal fever. To have the proper effect, however, it must be
attached to the neck of the patient.33 As a cure for hydrophobia, dog-collars set with fliut and Maltese coral were
recommended in Roman times; "sacred shells" and herbs over which magic incantations had been pronounced
were also attached to, or enclosed in these collars. The use of coral in this case appears to have been due to the
belief in its power to dissolve the spell cast by the Evil Eye, for Gratius, who flourished in the first century A.D.
and was a contemporary of the poet Ovid, asserts that if such collars were put on dogs suffering from
hydrophobia, the gods were appeased, and the charm cast by "an envious eye" was broken.34

The Hindu physicians found that coral tasted both sweet and sour, and they asserted that its principal action was

32 Belucci, " Catalogue de I'Exposition de la Societe d'Anthropologie " ( Ex. de 1900), pp. 278-279.

33 Severus Sammonicus, " Preceptes medicaux," text and trans, by L. Baudet, Paris, 1845, pp. 76, 77.

34 Gratii Falisci, "Cynegeticon"; collection des auteurs Latin, ed. Nizard, vol. xvi, Paris, 1851, p. 786,
lines 401-405.

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on the secretions of the mucous membrane, on the bile and on certain morbid secretions.35 Although the chemical
constituents of coral have but slight medicinal value, it is quite possible that some effects upon the secretions may
have been observed experimentally after the administration of a dose of powdered coral.
An old pharmacopoeia gives elaborate directions for the preparation of the "Tincture of Coral." A branch of very
red coral was to be buried in melted wax, and allowed to remain over a fire for the space of two days, "after which
time you will see that the coral has become white, while the wax has assumed a red hue.'' A fresh branch of coral
is then to be put into the partially colored wax, and the above operation repeated; the wax will then be ''redder
than before." It is now to be broken into crusts, which are to be steeped in alcohol until the liquid has extracted
the coloring matter from the wax and has become reddish. In this way, after the removal of the wax by filtration,
etc., a tincture was obtained which is represented to have been an excellent tonic, and to have had the power to
expel "bad humors," by inducing perspiration, or by its diuretic action.36 We strongly suspect that in this, as in
many modern "tonics," the contents of spirit was the active principle.
An apparent confirmation of the widespread belief of former centuries that red coral changed its hue in sympathy
with the state of the wearer's health, caused perhaps by the exudations or sweats arising from fevers or other
ailments, is given from personal experience by the German physician, Johann Wittich. Writing toward the end of
the sixteenth century, this author relates that he was called in to attend a youth named Bernard Erasmus, son of
the burgomaster of

35 Garbe, "Die indische Mineralien"; Naharari's "Rajanighantu," Varga XIII, Leipzig, 1882, p. 76.

36 Lamery, "Cursus Chymicus," Latin version by De Rebecque, Geneva, 1681, p. 338.

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Arnstadt. As the youth sickened unto death a red coral which he was wearing turned first whitish, then of a
dirty yellow, and finally became covered with black spots. To the anxious questions of the youth's sister,
Wittich could only give a mournful answer, telling her to take away the coral, for death was surely approaching,
and this prognostication proved to be only too true, as in a few hours young Erasmus was dead.37
A rosary of coral beads was sometimes called in France a pater de sang, or "blood-rosary," since it was believed
to check hemorrhages. An anonymous author of an eighteenth century treatise on superstitions, assuming that
this effect could be produced only by thickening the blood, asserts that such a rosary might do more harm than
good, for if it possessed this power at one time, it must possess it constantly, and its action would be very
Pearls and corals were still freely used as therapeutic agents in the last half of the seventeenth century, for we are
told that Louis XIV (1638-1715), in 1655, took tablets containing gold and pearls, which had been prescribed for
him by his physician Vallot, and, in 1664, a remedy composed of pearls and corals was recommended by the same authority.39


A stone, which from the description seems to have been an almost colorless variety of corundum with a faint
reddish tint, is recommended in the Syrian Aristotle for the alleviation of diseases of the breast. To have the
proper effect

" Johannes Wittichius, " Bericht von den wunderbaren Bezoardischen Steinen," Leipzig, 1589, p. 56, cited in Axel Garboe's " Kunsthistoriske Studier over Eldelstene," Kobenhavn og Kristiania, 1915, p. 98.

" " Hiatoire critique des practiques superstitieuses; par un pretre de I'Oratoire," Paris, 1702, p. 326.

" Hovarka and Kronfeld, " Vergleiehende Volkamedizin," Stuttgart, 1908, vol. i, p. 107.

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this stone was to be worn on the region affected by the malady.40


The Hindu physicians claimed that they had found that the diamond had six flavors; it was sweet, sour, salty,
pungent, bitter, and acrid. Since the stone united all these apparently contradictory qualities, we have no reason
to be surprised that it should be supposed to cure all diseases and lessen all ills. An elixir of great potency,
stimulating and strengthening all the bodily functions, was made from the diamond.41
The author of the Jawahir-nameh (Book of Jewels), written about a century ago, gives some of the prevalent
Hindu ideas regarding the diamond. He asserts that the similarity of this stone and rock-crystal led to the belief
that the latter was only an incomplete or "unripe" form of the diamond. For this reason rock crystal was called
Icacha, "unripe," and the diamond, pakha, "ripe." The same writer, after noting the general belief that if a
diamond were put in the mouth it caused the teeth to fall out, states that some were not disposed to admit this, as diamond-dust had been used as a tooth-powder without any bad effects.42 It might certainly serve to whiten the
teeth, but any one who trusted to this very drastic dentifrice would soon be sadly in need of the dentist's help.
As a proof that the diamond was not much prized as an ornamental stone in the Middle Ages, although some of

40 Rose, "Aristotelea De lapidibus und Arnoldus Saxo," in Zeitsch. fur D. Alt., New Series, vol. vi, pp. 378, 379.

41 Garbe, "Die indische Mineralien"; Naharari's "Rajanighantu," Varga XIII, Leipzig, 1882, p. 80.

42 Oriental Accounts of the Precious Minerals," trans, by Raja Kalikiahan, with remarks by James Prinsep; Journ. Asiat. Soc. of Bengal, vol. i, Calcutta, p. 354.

Page 135

the praise bestowed upon it by Pliny and other classical writers was copied and recopied in a more or less
perfunctory way, we may cite the few lines devoted to the stone by Psellus, who lived in Constantinople in the
eleventh century A.D. This writer simply remarks of the diamond that it is hard and difficult to pierce, adding, as
its chief virtue, that it would quench the heat of the "semi-tertian" fever. 43
The belief in this cooling quality of the diamond was suggested by its lack of color coupled with its extreme
hardness, the latter quality being thought to augment the refrigerant power supposed to be inherent in colorless
crystals which resembled ice.


The emerald is especially commended for amulets to be suspended from the necks of children; it is believed to
preserve them from epileptic convulsions and to prevent the falling sickness; but if the violence of the disease is
such that it cannot be overcome by the stone, the latter breaks up.
Bound to a woman's thigh it is said to hasten parturition; hanging from the neck it drives off vain fears and evil
spirits. It strengthens the memory, restores the sight, reveals adultery and gives a knowledge of the future,
produces eloquence and increases wealth.44
Besides the usual designation marakata which Garbe believes to be derived from the Greek                      the
Sanskrit has several distinguishing names for the emerald. One of these, acmagarbhaja, signifies "sprung from
the rock,"and well describes the emerald in its matrix. Another name is garalari, "enemy of poison," indicating
the great repute enjoyed by this stone in India as an antidote for all animal,

43 See Finder, " De adamante," Berolini, 1829, p. 66.

44 Johannis Braunii, "De Vestitu Sacerdotum Hebraeorum," Amstelodami, 1680, p. 659.

Page 136

mineral and vegetable poisons.45 In Mexico the emerald 46 bore the name Quetzalitzli, ''stone of the quetzal,''
because its color resembled the brilliant green of the plumes of the bird called in the Mexican tongue quetzal.
These plumes were worn as insignia of royalty by the sovereigns of Mexico and Central America, and hence the emerald was regarded as an essentially regal gem, although its use was not confined to royalty.
The tincture of emerald is recommended by the Arab physician Abenzoar as an internal remedy for the cure of
dysentery, the dose prescribed being six grains. He also claims to have cured one of his patients suffering from
this disease by making him wear an emerald.47 This illustrates the use of the stone in Moorish Spain in the early
part of the eleventh century, the period of the highest development of Moorish civilization, for Abenzoar, or Abu Meruan, as he is sometimes called, was bom in Seville about 1091 a.d. and died in 1161 or 1162.


The curative properties of the hematite were generally recognized by the early writers, and in this case they were
not so much at fault, as this substance possesses considerable astringent properties. Galen recommends its use for
inflamed eyelids, following in this the teachings of the Egyptian schools of medicine. If there were tumors on the
eyelids, the hematite was to be dissolved in white of Egg, and if the tumors were very large it was to be boiled
with fenugreek (foenum grsecum); if, however, there were no tumors, but simply a general inflammation of the
eyelids, a

Garbe, "Die indische Mineralien"; Naharari's "Kajanighantu," Varga XIII, Leipzig, 1882, p. 76.

"The emerald of Mexico was evidently the jade or the piedra del hijada.

" Gabriel Colin, " Avenzoar, sa vie et ses ceuvres," dissertation for doctorate in Univ. of Paris, 1911,
pp. 164, 165.

Page 137

solution in water sufficed. At the outset a few drops of a weak solution were to be poured into the eye through a
glass tube; should this treatment not prove effective, the solution was to be made thicker and thicker, until at last
it had to be dipped out on the point of the tube. If ground to a fine powder in a mortar, hematite cured spitting of
blood and all ulcers. Galen advises great care in judging of the quality and strength of the powder, which was to be poured on or spread over the sore, but in his own case he admits that he trusted to his sense of taste to determine
its quality.48
Sotacus as quoted by Pliny distinguishes five kinds of hematite, each one of which possessed special medicinal
virtues. The best was the Ethiopic, which was a valuable ingredient in lotions for the eyes, and for burns. The
second kind was called androdamus and came from Africa; this was very black, and was exceedingly hard and
heavy, whence its name "conqueror of man"; it was reputed to attract silver, brass and iron. If rubbed with a
moistened whetstone it gave forth a red juice, and was considered to be a specific for bilious disorders. The third
kind was brought by the Arabs; this gave scarcely any juice when rubbed with the whetstone, but occasionally a
little of a yellowish hue, and was useful for burns and for all bilious disorders.
The fourth kind was called elatite in its natural state and melitite when burned; and the fifth appears to have
contained an admixture of schist. These shared in the general virtues of the hematite, three grains of whose
powder, when taken in oil, would cure all blood diseases.49
That the cause of the friendship between Hector and Dolon was the latter's ownership of a hematite is asserted
in the Greek Orphic poem "Lithica." This statement must

48 Claudli Galeni, " Opera omnia," ed. Kiihn, Lipsise, 1826, vol. xii, pp. 195, 196; De simplic. med., lib. vii, cap. 2.

49 Plinii, " Historia Naturalis," lib. xxxvi, cap. 38.

Page 138. 

be derived from some annotation to the Iliad made in the Alexandrine schools, for Homer himself knows nothing of
it. In the fateful encounter of Hector with Achilles, the form and aspect of Dolon are assumed by Athena to deceive
Hector into the belief that his friend was at his side to aid him in the unequal struggle. The blood of Uranus when
wounded by Kronos is stated in "Lithica" as the generating cause of hematite, and the stone is recommended as
a cure for eye-diseases.50


A peculiarly stimulant and tonic effect exercised by the jacinth was noted by Ben Sina (Avicenna), and to this is
attributed its value as an antidote for poisons. Not, how- ever, to the material composition of the stone was this
effect to be attributed, for it proceeded from the mass in the same way as did the virtue of the magnet. Hence Ben
Sina is opposed to the theory that the natural warmth of the body acted upon the jacinth, when taken internally, producing a transmutation, dissolution and mingling of its substance with the volatile spiritual essence.51
In Constantinople, at a time when the plague was exceptionally . prevalent, the citizens used to wear jacinths,
because of the special virtues these stones were supposed to possess as guardians against the plague. That jacinth
amulets intended for therapeutic use were occasionally to be found in pharmacies, is attested by Ambrosianus, who states that a jacinth the size of a human nail, and set in silver, was kept in a "pharmacy in Poland." This stone, if
held to a wound, was said to prevent mortification.52

50 Lithica,". lines 636 sqq.

51 Avicennje, "Liber canonis," BaslleiE, 1556.

52 Aldrovandi, "Museum metallicum," Bononise, 1648, p. 965.


Figa. 1-4, plain types; Fig 5, curved in shape of realistic cicada (a, upper. 6, lower face) '•

FigB. 6-9, conventionalized forms of cicada. From "Jade," by Berthold Laufer

By courtesy of the author and Field Maseum 'A National History, Chicago.

Page 139

The first mention of this material is made by Monardes, who says: 53

The so-called nephritic stone is a species of stone, the finest of which resemble the emerald crystal, and are green
with a milky hue. It is worn in various forms, made in ancient times, such as the Indians had; some like fish, some
like the heads of birds, others like the beaks of parrots and others again round as balls; all, however, are
perforated, since the Indians used to wear them attached for nephritic or gastric pains, for they had marvellous
effacy in both these infirmities. Their principal virtue regards the nephritic pain, and the passing of gravel and
stone, in such sort that a gentleman who owns one, the best I have ever seen, wearing it bound on his arm, passed
so much gravel that he often takes it off, thinking that it may be injurious for him to pass such a quantity; and,
indeed, when he removes the stone he passes much less. . . . This stone has an occult property, by means of which
it exercises a wonderful prophylactic effect, preventing the occurrence of nephritic pain, and should it nevertheless ensue, removing or alleviating it. The duchess my lady, having suffered three attacks of this malady during a short period, had one of these stones set in a bracelet and wore it on her arm, and from the time she put it on, she has
never felt any pain, although ten years have past. In the same way it has served many, who have realized the same benefit. Therefore, it is highly prized and it cannot now be worn so easily as in former times, as only caciques and noblemen own it, and rightly, since it has such wonderful effects.
The Chinese Taoist adept T'ao Hung Ching, who flourished A.D. 500, directs that when powdered jade is
prescribed by a physician, carved jade must not be used, nor unwrought jade that has been buried in tombs. While sometimes a very fine powder was recommended, the usual plan was to reduce the jade by pounding it into pieces
the size of small pulse.
When administered in this form the Chinese physicians asserted that the powder passed unchanged through the
system, but that the essential principle, the innate virtue, was absorbed by the patient. It relieved heart-burn and

53 Monardes, "Delle cose che vengono portate dall'Indie Occidentali," Venetia, 1575, Bk. II, chap. XIV, p. 46.


asthma and stilled thirst. Taken regularly for a long period it acted as a powerful general tonic, and had the special
effects of strengthening the voice and rendering the hair glossy; hut all these good effects could only be secured by
the use of unwrought jade.54
The lapis nephriticus (jade) was held to be a remedy for cedematous affections of the feet. As this stone was so
highly in favor in Europe for a century or two after it had first been brought from America by the Spaniards, many
were of the opinion that it should be constantly worn to exert its full curative power. There were some, however,
who argued that with this as with other remedies, constant and unremitting use weakened the effect, so that when
the wearer was suddenly attacked by some disorder for which jade was a cure, his system would have become so
habituated to its action that it would no longer work as a remedy.55
Of the lapis nephriticus the old Danish writer, Caspar Bertholin, relates in 1628 that four prominent citizens of
Copenhagen, whom he had recommended to wear it to break up the calculi with which they were afflicted, could
testify to its worth, adding, somewhat naively, "at least two of them can, for the two others are dead — but not of
the stone. ''He himself, however, although he had sent for specimens at great expense, to Venice, Nuremberg and Batavia, could not gain any relief from his trouble, but nevertheless, firm in his conviction of the special curative
power of jade, he asserts that the calculi which tormented him must have been exceptionally hard and flint-like, so
that they could not be broken up. The vogue enjoyed by this supposed remedy in the Denmark of the time is
illustrated in the case of the reign-

54 T'ang Jung-tso, "Yu-shuo" (a discourse on jade), trans, by Stephen W. Bushell; Investigations and Studies in
Jade, The Bishop Collection, New York, 1900, pp. 329, 330.

55 Jacobi Wolff, "Curiosus arauletorura scrutator," Francofurti et Lipsise, 1692, pp. 218, 219; citing principally, Bartholini, "De lapide nephritico."

Page 141

ing sovereign, Christian IV, who wore on his person a green nephrite until the day of his death. This stone is still
preserved in the Rosenborg Museum collection among the relics of this king.56
Johannes de Laet was much impressed with the virtues of the lapis nephriticus as were most of his learned
contemporaries, since he assures his readers that an oblong, smooth, moderately thick stone in his possession,
having the color of honey and a very oily surface, had given his wife great relief from the severe pains caused by
renal calculus, when the stone was bound upon her wrist. This particular specimen he sent a few years later to his Danish friend, Ole Worms, for the latter 's cabinet of natural history. De Laet writes that all the virtues claimed for nephrite by Monardes in 1574, were observable in his specimen.56
As late as 1726, there were some who retained faith in the curative power of jade, for a record of that date informs
us that the traveller Paul Lucas had just come back to Paris from the Orient, and had brought with him a specimen
of the lapis nephriticus which he intended to have cut up into thin slabs to bestow upon such of his friends as were suffering from gravel or calculus, or similar troubles.57
After relating that a specimen of American jadeite had been sent to him prior to 1602, Cleandro Arnobio states that
when he showed it to a Signor Michele Mercato, "a man well versed in medicine and in the knowledge of minerals
and herbs," the latter immediately recognized it and called it "nephite," from its virtues, saying also that he had
found it useful in aiding parturition. A pharmacist, to whom it

55 Axel Garboe, " Kulturhistoriske Studier over Edelstene, med saerligt Henblik paa det 17. Aarhundrede,
"Kobenhavn og Kristiania, 1915, pp. 204, 205; citing Caspari Bertholini, "De lapide nephritico opusculum," 1628.

56 Johannes de Laet, " De gemmis et lapidibus libri duo," Lugduni Bata-
vorum [1647], p. 84.

57 Sammlung von Natur und Medicin-wie aueh hierzu gehorigen Kunstund Literatur-Geschichten," Breslau, 1726,
p. 262.

Page 142 

was shown in turn, declared that he had used the stone in this way but did not know its name. This is perhaps the
earliest use of the name nephrite, the form occurring in the Italian text being either due to a typographical error,
or to Arnobio 's ignorance of the correct spelling.
Proceeding to dilate upon the many virtues of this stone, Cleandro quotes Aldobrando, "a physician, physicist and
philosopher of Bologna, ''who described it as having usually a purple shade, almost like porphyry, with various
figures of herbs, flowers, knots and Arabic characters in a yellow color. There were, however, according to the
same authority, some of a darker hue, mth protuberances and bands of yellow and also black spots, as though the
stone were a section of the spleen. This kind was recommended and used in diseases of the spleen. In another
variety, in the midst of the purple color might be seen a yellow stain with pittings and hollows; this was thought to
figure a section of the liver, spattered with bile, and such stones were employed with good effect to cure those
suffering from bilious disorders.
To discharge the bile a dose of four grains was administered, the powdered stone being thoroughly dissolved in wine.
Still another kind, of a reddish hue, ''like coagulated blood,'' full of pittings and veinings, was thought to be more
especially valuable as a remedy for disorders of the blood and for checking hemorrhages.59
The learned Ko Kei asserts that the body of a mai; who had taken nearly five pounds of jade did not change color
after his death and states that the body having been exhumed several years later did not show the slightest
alteration. Besides this, it was observed that there were gold and jade around the tomb. Since then (in China), in
the Kan period, the custom was followed of embalming the dead bodies of the emperors, and of preserving them
in a gar-

59 Cleandro Arnobio, " Tesoro delle Gioie," Venetia, 1602, pp. 139-141,

Page 143

ment ornamented with pearls and enclosed in a case of jade.62

The Indians of Brazil prize the so-called Amazon-stones (jade) more highly than any other of the ornaments they
wear. This is not chiefly because of their ornamental quality, but rather because these ita ybymbae (green stones)
have in many cases been handed down from generation to generation for many centuries. They are of cylindrical,
tabular or other regular form and polished, and are believed to be amulets affording protection against many
diseases as well as against snake bites. They are worn suspended from the neck and are regarded as valuable aids
in difficult parturition. Because of their remedial virtues they are sometimes called ita pocanga, or "medicine
stones." They are also found with the natives of the Caribbean islands and are there called "the smooth stones
from the far-off continent. 61
As in all superstitions, so in those concerning jade in China, the fact that ill luck instead of good luck fortuitously
resulted from the use of the material was explained in away that did not do violence to the fundamental idea.
We are told that on the road near Kneha, in Turkestan, there lies a block of jade from the quarries of
Easkam-Darya, in Eastern Turkestan. This block was on its way to Pekin, when orders came from the imperial
court not to forward any more jade from this quarry. The reason was that the heir apparent had been taken ill after having slept on a couch made of Raskam jade.62

60 Les Lapidalres," etc., F. de Mgly, vol. i, Les lapidaires chinois, Paris, 1896, p. 178.

61 Martius, " Beitrage zur Ethnographie und Sprachkunde Amerika's sumal Braziliens," Leipzig, 1867, vol. i,
p. 729.

62 Grombtchewski, Berichte der Geog. Gesellschaft zu St. Petersburg, vol. XV, p. 454 (1889).

The Magic of Jewels and Charms

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