Image via ZsaZsa Bellagio
January’s birthstone brings some warm and welcome mid-winter fire if you’re living in the Northern Hemisphere, as it has for centuries. As far back as 2,000-3,500 BC, when the legendary fruit for which it was named was first cultivated.
The pomegranate was important enough to the ancient Greeks to be held responsible for the seasons – the goddess Persephone ate some of the seeds, requiring her to spend time in the Underworld each year. When she did, her mother, the goddess of the earth, would mourn and neglect her duties, leaving the earth to wither and freeze in the grips of winter. Feeding the evil demoness Hariti a pomegranate is how Buddha is said to have cured her of the unseemly habit of devouring children. In the Koran, the pomegranate is described with reverence, each one said to contain a single seed from Paradise. Jewish lore similarly venerates the pomegranate seed for its beauty, abundance and associations with fertility, as do customs in Japan, where the pomegranate goes by Kishimojin. And amongst the Bedouin, when a groom returns home with his new bride, he traditionally breaks open a pomegranate to symbolize the couple’s hopes of having many children, which are represented by the seeds.
Image via BHG
The seeds of the graceful granatum have long held a special place in our hearts and myths, which naturally carried over to its lovely gemstone namesake and lookalike, the garnet.
Garnets were carved and used in signet rings for the wax seals on important documents in ancient Rome. According to the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23 to 79 AD), they were among the most widely traded gems of the day and sometimes referred to by their alternate name: carbunculus, Latin for a glowing ember of coal. When he wrote of the Carbunculus of India, it was to a large, hollowed-out garnet that could hold as much as a pint of liquid. (Nowadays, of course, we only use the term carbuncle to refer to a nasty red abscess.)
Natural Garnet image via Tumblr
Whether as carbuncle or garnet, their glittery beauty entranced Egyptian pharaohs who adorned their necks with them, even taking them to the tomb to add some glitter to their afterlife attire. And, perhaps, for illumination…of the literal sort. According to the Talmud, the sole source of light keeping Noah company on those long, dark and no-doubt extremely wet nights aboard the Art was provided by a large and glowing garnet. It must have been a sizeable stone, possibly as big as the 465 carat behemoth owned by the Kind of Saxony. Nearby Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) turned out to be a treasure trove of glam garnets when they were discovered in 1500. Not only were the local castles and churches liberally festooned with garnets, but the gemstone gave birth to an entire regional industry.
Today, however, the most important sources of garnets are Africa, Sri Lanka, and India.
The star Garnet, found only in India and Idaho. Image via Minerals N More.
Garnets have long been associated with the theme of protection. As a talisman, they (hopefully) warn the wearer that danger approaches; engraved with the figure of a lion, the garnet was believed to protect not only against physical harm, but dangers to one’s health. And should a garnet lose its luster, beware! For disaster is to imminent. The ancient Greeks credited garnets with preventing children from drowning, and during the Middle Ages (ca. 475 to 1450 AD), the caregivers of the day employed them as protection against depression and nightmares. (We firmly believe in the power of gorgeous gemstones to make for pleasant dreams…as did Victorian fashionistas, who loved jewelry festooned with garnets.)
Protection against lawsuits is one of the reasons today’s New Age crowd wears garnets, as well as to release bad karma and facilitate manifestation of abundance. As the stone of one’s root chakra – located at the very base of of the spine and depicted as a spinning spiral of red – garnets are used to encourage orderly movement of the kundalini, Sanskrit for “coiled up” or “coiling like a snake.” The serpent in question is dormant energy coiled at the spine’s base that, when awakened, is believed to bring enlightenment and bliss.
Or love and great passion. (We’re fine with either.)
As symbol of eternal love, the garnet is the anniversary gemstone for someone you’ve managed to stay married to for two years (and also again at the nineteen year mark). Even without love in the mix, it’s symbolic of friendship and trust, making it a great gift for that friend who has everything, according to this birthstone poem:
Suffice it to say, we love-love-love the wine hue of garnet, as did Pantone, which crowned a version called Marsala as the Color of the Year for 2015. It bodes beautifully for the year, don’t you think?
Don’t forget to show us how you enjoy the glimmery glitz of garnet by tagging your posts @Isharya.