Natal or Birthstones

In ancient times, the entire mineral kingdom was intricately involved in a complex scheme of occult correspondences, endowing each stone with celestial values. All stones, even those not strictly speaking ‘precious’, were classified according to the planets, which in turn were thought to influence the various stones and all properties attributed to them. Priests and magicians further elaborated these properties.

Zodiacal stones are those gems believed to be mystically related to the various Zodiac signs. Whereas these signs constitute a twelve-fold division of the year the same as the months, they, however, do not coincide with each month, but overlap each other. This naturally allowed for enlarging the selection of birthstones, while preserving the established order suitable for the relevant months, an order which dates to the Scriptures. 

The origin of the belief that each month of the year is represented by a specific stone stems from the writings of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (circa 37–100 CE) and the church father St. Jerome (circa 345–420 CE). Both men expounded on a perceived connection among the twelve stones found on the breastplate of the Jewish high priest, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve signs of the zodiac. Josephus stated that the twelve stones inlaid in the Jewish high priest’s breastplate represented twelve virtues, among them wisdom, truth, justice, humility, peace, strength, faith, and victory, as well as symbolising the twelve months of the year and the twelve tribes of Israel. 

Based on the writings of Flavius Josephus and St. Jerome, astrologers and magicians later evolved a complicated system of correspondences, relating and associating various gems, metals, colours, animals, and flowers to the planets and Zodiac signs. In assigning stones to different planets, their colour was especially considered important. Lengthy postulations about the symbolic significance of colours developed over time. For example, all colourless, white stones, such as rock crystal, quartz, and the pearl, known as the ‘stone of the sea’, were connected with the moon and, therefore, partook in the enigmatic characteristics ascribed to this heavenly body. 

Illuminating the night sky, when treacherous and maleficent spirits were thought to abound, the moon was regarded with ambivalence, seen on the one hand as menacing and on the other to have the power to drive off evil forces. As the colour white symbolised integrity, purity, friendship, and religion, all stones linked with the colour took on these characteristics. Each stone was not only related to a planet, but also, depending on its colour, with a day of the week. White stones, through their connection with the moon, were assigned to Mondays. Lists of gems associated with the various Zodiac signs differ, depending on period of origin and tradition. Another factor considered in the complexity of lore surrounding natal stones applies to the variety of Zodiacs pertaining to differing cultures: the Chaldean Zodiac, Arabian Zodiac, Hindu Zodiac, Chinese Zodiac, and Islamic Zodiac – every one having specific gemstones ascribed to a particular month.

Although the connection between each stone and a specific month of the year had been expounded on in early antiquity, the wearing of natal stones only became popular as late as the eighteenth century. Before that, it was recommended to wear various stones, because many virtues, especially in a therapeutic context, were attributed to them all. Consequently, if affordable, it was customary for a person to acquire all twelve stones and to wear each during the respective month to which it was assigned. During that period, the stone was believed to exercise its talismanic and therapeutic effect to the fullest extent. It was not until much later that a mystic bond was perceived between the stone of the month and the person born in that month, leading to the assumption that each stone was endowed with the same virtues as the person born in that month, and it became customary to wear one’s birthstone to ensure good fortune throughout life. 

The most popular association and identity of astrological gemstones according to British and American birthstone charts is as follows: 

January, Capricorn: 

the garnet, symbolising truth and constancy

February, Aquarius: 

the amethyst, symbolising sincerity and sobriety

March, Pisces:

the bloodstone, alternately the aquamarine, symbolising courage and presence of mind. 

April, Aries: 

the diamond, symbolising innocence and strength

May, Taurus: 

the emerald, symbolising success in love

June, Gemini:

the pearl, symbolising purity and tears  

July, Cancer:

the ruby, symbolising courage and purity 

August, Leo:

the sardonyx, alternately, the peridot

September, Virgo:

the sapphire, symbolising love

October, Libra:

the opal, symbolising hope, alternately, the tourmaline 

November, Scorpio:

the topaz, symbolising fidelity

December, Sagittarius:

the turquoise, symbolising prosperity, alternately, the lapis lazuli


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