History and Lore of Garnet
Garnet is the birthstone for January and the stone that celebrates the 2nd anniversary of marriage. The name “garnet” comes from the Latin word “Garanatus,” meaning “seedlike,” in reference to a pomegranate. This reference makes sense as small garnets look like the bright red seeds you find inside in a pomegranate. The garnet has been a popular gem throughout history. Garnets were found as beads in a necklace worn by a young man in a grave that dates back to 3000 B.C. This is proof of the hardness and durability of the stone.
The King of Saxony is said to have had a garnet of over 465 carats. Plato had his portrait engraved on a garnet by a Roman engraver. Bohemia, now a part of Czechoslovakia, was once a tremendous source of garnet, and at one time, cutting, polishing, and mounting garnets was a very rich industry in that country. Many Bohemian castles and churches had magnificent interiors decorated with garnet. Bohemian garnets are famous even today, known for their small but beautiful stones set close to each other resembling a pomegranate. Garnet jewelry is still found in the Czech Republic, with the stones still arranged in the traditional, tightly joined way. This ensures that the attraction of the classical Garnet pieces is caused only by the beauty of its stones. The Anglo-Saxons were also fond of garnets. Their jewelry was set with garnets mounted in many forms.
Garnets were highly popular in Europe, in 18th and 19th centuries. They were frequently used for jewelry in the Victorian times. In Old Spain, the pomegranate was a favorite, and as a result of this, so was the garnet. In Spanish astrology, the garnet once represented the sun. In ancient times, garnet was known as ”Carbuncle,” which relates to the color and refers to a boil or blister. This name was also applied to other red stones, but to the garnet in particular.
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary describes the garnet as “a brittle and more or less transparent red silicate mineral that has a vitreous luster, occurs in many crystals but also in massive forms and in grains, is found commonly in gneiss and mica schist, and is used as a semiprecious stone and as an abrasive.” Garnet is one of the most plentiful stones. There is hardly any other gem that unites such a broad spectrum of color and luster, as well as rarity and size of widely varying gemstones. For example, the precious green uvarovite garnet from the Urals, is an almost priceless gemstone due to the fact that it only forms in fairly large crystals.
Garnet is actually a group name for the silicate minerals almandine, pyrope, spessartine, grossular, andradite, mozambique and uvarovite, so the garnet is a far more diverse gem than its name suggests. All of these garnet minerals share similar cubic crystal structure and chemical composition. Gem quality garnet occurs in many countries, and beautifully formed crystals have been prized for over 5000 years.
Throughout time, there have been many ancient traditions and legends about the garnet. In medieval times, the stones were thought to cure depression, protect against bad dreams, and relieve diseases of the liver, as well as hemorrhages. According to legend, Noah used a finely cut, glowing garnet to illuminate the ark during those dark wet days and nights. Hebrew writers include the garnet as one of the twelve gems in Aaron’s breastplate. Christian tradition considered the blood-red garnet as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. The Koran holds that the garnet illuminates the Fourth Heaven of the Moslems. The Greeks said it guarded children from drowning. It was also thought to be potent against poisons.
In Greek mythology, a pomegranate is referenced as a gift of love and is associated with eternity. Nowadays, Garnet remains as a gift of love and is traditionally given for the 19th anniversary of marriage. It may also be used as a gift for two-year and six-year anniversaries. Moreover, Garnet is symbolic of a quick return and separated love, since Hades had given a pomegranate to Persephone before she left him to ensure her speedy return. Therefore, Garnet may be given to a beloved before embarking on a trip, as it is believed to heal the broken bonds of lovers.
It has been said that a garnet engraved with the figure of a lion is an all around effective charm that will protect and preserve health, cure the wearer of all disease, bring him honors, and guard him from all the possible perils in traveling. It was also said to warn the wearer of approaching danger and was long ago carried as a protective talisman. One writer wrote that if a garnet loses its luster and shine, it is a sure sign of coming disaster. There may be an affinity between garnets and the warrior tradition. It is recorded that garnets have been used as pellets by a group of native people of India, shot from bows. The tribal belief was that the stone would inflict wounds, which would be particularly bloody.
The history of garnet’s ability to bring about transformation is found in many books. Thelma Isaacs writes that “garnets used for healing were usually almandine and pyrope, the red and purple-red transparent minerals. They were thought to counter melancholy and act as a heart stimulant. In ancient times, there were some who believed that gazing at a red garnet could lead to passion, anger, and even apoplexy.” Barbara Walker believes that “garnet blood magic was left over from ancient ideas of the life-giving powers of uterine blood.” Garnet was named from granatum, the pomegranate, a red-jeweled womb symbol ever since the matriarchal age. Because of these ancient connections with feminine life force, it was sometimes thought that only women should wear garnets.