All That Glitters
Hello there! If you're anything like me, you like 'shinies'. Jewelry, glittery makeup, you name it, if it sparkles I want it! So naturally, I just had to devote a column to my favourite subject. Cassie was kind enough to indulge me, so here goes..
I think we can all agree that birthdays are special. Do you know what makes them even more special than the cake, presents, and cute little birthday memes that inevitably find their way to your inbox? You guessed it-SPARKLIES! And no, before you get all excited, I'm not sending each of you jewelry. I know, I know..mean to get your hopes up that way. But while I may not be talking exactly about jewelry, I am talking about jewels (of a fashion).
You see, each month has a corresponding gemstone to mark it, and if you happen to be born in that month, then you have every right to claim it as yours. I was lucky enough to be born in February, for example, and therefore, 'my' birthstone is amethyst. Ah, the colour of royalty. Just call me Queen...just joking, of course. We will get to the amethyst in time, my own royal status non-withstanding. The point is, each month I will be highlighting a different stone. This month we will be celebrating two gems, both laying claim to October, namely the tourmaline and opal. Excited? Me, too!!
Tourmaline is a semi-precious stone that is found mainly in Brazil and Africa, though it can also be mined in such places as Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malawi, and even the United States (specifically Maine). It comes in a variety of colours, mostly dependent on the minerals in the area of soil where they are mined. For instance, those found in areas of high iron content are black and bluish-black in colour, whereas when the soil has a high content of magnesium, the gems tend to be yellow. Lithium rich soil produces a myriad of colours; blue, green, red, yellow, pink, etc. So if you are lucky enough to be born in October, you are almost guaranteed to find a colour of tourmaline to please you.
Ancient legend haruumphs the more scientific soil explanation in favour of a much more fanciful one. Legend states that tourmaline is found in all colors because it traveled along a rainbow and gathered all the the rainbow's colors. Which one is correct? Pick your fancy, I suppose. Personally, the Ravenclaw in me upholds the soil theory, while the more fanciful, I-love-unicorns side of me embraces the rainbow legend. To that end, I suppose there is a little Luna Lovegood in me after all. Who knew??!
While tourmaline has many magical and healing properties, one in particular lies very close to our hearts here at Hogwarts. Tourmaline is highly prized by alchemists due to its pyroelectric properties, and believe it directly related to the Philosopher's Stone. If the alchemists are to be believed, then this gem is touted as being the substance that would grant enlightenment, give power over spiritual affairs, reconcile opposites and change base metals to gold. Shininess at its best, I say!!
Now let us turn our attention to the other October gemstone-the opal. To dispense with the scientific mumbo jumbo, it is classified as a mineraloid with a water content ranging anywhere from 3% to 21%. Its not a picky sort of gem, taking up residence in the fissure of almost any rock, though it is most commonly found alongside limonite, sandstone, rhyolite, marl, and basalt. Another interesting thing about opal is that it diffracts light, giving it the ability to take on the appearance of a vast myriad of colours. These precious gems come in clear through white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black. The rarest colour is black, with white and green being the most common. Red/orange opals are commonly referred to as 'fire opals', and bear little resemblance to their paler siblings. I am fortunate enough to own both, and treasure them with equal measure. Opals are also, interestingly enough, the official gemstone of Australia.
Now that the science is out of the way, let's get down to the folklore, which is found in spades when it comes to opals. For example, in the Middle Ages, opals were thought to be extremely powerful good luck charms, possessing all the properties of the gemstones 'found' within its colours. It was also believed to be able to render the wearer invisible, provided that they wrapped the stone in a bay leaf and kept it hidden in their hand. Pretty nifty trick, huh?!
On the flip side, however, the opal has the unfortunate reputation as being a harbinger of ill omen. This unfortunate reputation can be laid at the feet of one Sir Walter Scott, who wrote the infamous novel, Anne of Geuerstein, in 1829, In the novel, the character of Lady Hermione was falsely accused of being a demoness. Poor Lady H met her end when a drop of Holy Water accidentally fell on her opal, and the dear promptly dropped down dead as the water destroyed the stone's colour. Naturally, people made the correlation that the author was trying to 'warn' them that the opal was bad luck. Sales dropped drastically, and people hastened to get rid of any opals they did own, lest the same fate befall them or their loved ones.
And so it would remain for approximately the next 20 years until a gorgeous black opal was found in South Wales, Australia, and the market for opals was restored. The taint of the novel still remains, however, and likely always will in some fashion or the other. In Russia, for example, well into the 20th century, it was considered bad luck to buy or own an opal. As he owner of several opals, I cannot either deny or confirm the rumours. I suppose it all depends on what you choose to believe.
And there you have it, October in all of its sparkly wonderfulness.
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Scientifics are slightly geeky additions that have been with us since the eagle has known how to fly. Okay, not that long, but it's a nifty category that separates it from the usual ramble of articles.