Opal is the birthstone for the month of October, along with pink tourmaline. Opals can vary in colour from the common milky white with pastel glints of rainbow colours to the rarer black opal. Like most birthstones, opal has its fair share of myths and legends surrounding it. Some are well documented, others less so. Here are just a few associated with the fascinating opal and this month I can actually say I do have a ring that contains an opal! A piece of jewellery that has been in the family a while and which I enjoy wearing from time to time.
A common myth is that opals are the ‘unlucky’ gem. In modern times this idea probably originated from the bestselling novel by Sir Walter Scott. His novel Anne of Geuerstein, written in 1829, was the story of Lady Hermione, who wore an enchanted opal in her hair. It gave off fiery red flashes when she was angry, and it sparkled beautifully when she was happy. She was falsely accused of being a demoness, and died shortly after a drop of holy water accidentally fell on her opal destroying its colour. In consequence, the European opal market was crushed within months of the novels release and remained at a low for around 50 years. Perhaps a warning to authors of the potential power of their written word!
Going back to the mid 14th century the opal was associated with the plague. It was rumoured that an opal worn by a sufferer was alight with colour right up to the patient’s death when it lost all its brilliance. But even in the 18th and 19th century opals were linked with disasters such as, famine and the fall of monarchs.
Another contributing factor to its somewhat tarnished reputation may be due to the fragility of the opal. Compared to some gemstones the opal can be easily damaged if not treated with care. Not a gemstone to wear whilst doing the gardening or washing up!
In contrast, Queen Victoria laughed at the superstition and made no secret of her love of the opal. Frequently seen wearing them during her reign and giving her daughters fine opals when they married.
In Asia, opal is viewed as a symbol of hope.
In medieval times, all blonde maidens wanted a necklace made of opals. Thinking it prevented their hair from fading or darkening.
The opal was also thought to make a person invisible whenever he wished, and for that reason, it was called Patronus forum (patron of thieves).
The Arabs believed that opals fell from heaven in flashes of lightning whilst Ancient Greeks believed the opal gave the gift of foresight and prophecy to the wearer. It was also known as the love stone of Cupid. Cleopatra is said to have worn an opal to attract Mark Anthony.
Opals have strong spiritual respect in Aboriginal legends. It is said that their ancestors left their presence behind in opals.
Opals are also given to celebrate the 14th year of marriage.
Finally, the verse from the Gregorian Poem by unknown author;
“October’s child is born for woe,
And life’s vicissitudes must know,
But lay an opal on her breast,
And hope will lull those woes to rest.”
Well there we are, a few stories surrounding this stone. It is certainly a gem with a chequered history, but I happen to think it is a very pretty jewel and one any discerning unicorn would love to adorn its horn! On that note, why not take a look at the excerpt from Opal the Birthstone Unicorn's story. Click tab at top of page.
Happy Birthday to all celebrating this month.