The Legends and History of Emeralds
The name emerald isfrom the Greek word “smaragdos,” which is from the Old French word esmeralde, meaning “green gemstone.” Emeralds are one of the the oldest known gemstones. Sandawana emeralds from Zimbabwe in southern Africa began forming more than 2,500 million years ago, while those from Pakistan are around nine million years old.
The beauty of emeralds were recognized early on, but they made a grand entrance around 4,000 years ago with the discovery of the Cleopatra mines, 440 miles southeast of Cairo. The mines were in operation before Cleopatra’s time, but they were eventually named after her due to her affinity for them. Egyptians believed that emeralds could bring fertility and rebirth and they called emeralds the lover’s stone. Mummies were buried with emeralds around their neck in hopes of bringing them eternal youth.
The Greeks also considered emerald a symbol of love. In ancient Greece they were regarded as the sacred stone of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and the Greeks would wear emeralds on Friday to honor the Aphrodite.
Following in the footsteps of the Greeks, the Romans used emeralds to pay tribute to Venus. They believed that emeralds had a life of their own and emeralds were used to gauge love, the color turning deeper and richer when love was strong, and fading with the fall of romance. The Romans also cherished emeralds for their practical application. The Emperor Nero was said to own a pair of emerald sunglasses that would shield his eyes during gladiator matches. It was believed that the green of emeralds soothed the eyes and restored and vision.
In the middle ages emeralds were used as a precursor to the modern day Ouija board and were a popular crystal for oracles. Holding an emerald above a bowl of water by a thread, questions were asked and the answers were given by letters written upon the surface of water.
South America harbored some of the most beautiful and spectacular emeralds. According to legend, the Incas had a giant emerald the size of an ostrich egg that they believed was the incarnation of their goddess Umina. The Incas worshipped their emerald queen and brought her smaller emeralds, thought to be her daughters, when they sought her guidance. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived and looted the temple, the daughters of the goddess fell into their hands, but the huge Emerald goddess herself has never been found, despite decades of efforts. Umina and her whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.
An ancient Colombian creation legend tells of two immortal beings. A man names Tena and woman named Fura were created by god in order to populate the earth. The couple had only one rule, that they must remain faithful to one another and they would be rewarded with eternal youth. Fura did not remain faithful and once she betrayed Tena she immediately began to age. Tena, seeing Fura’s aging state, realized that she had broken the rule given them and she would soon die. Not wanting to be left alone, Tena laid down on Fura’s knees and stabbed himself in the heart. For three days Fura cried with remorse with the body of her husband on her lap. Tena’s death was so painful to Fura that her screams of pain perforated the silent jungle and broke into millions of multicolored butterflies. Her torrent of tears were transformed by the sun into emeralds. The creator later took pity on the couple and turned them into two mountains protected from storms and serpents and in whose depths Fura’s tears of remorse were emeralds. Today the Fura and Tena Crags, rising approximately 840 and 500 meters respectively above the valley of the Minero River, are the official guardians of Colombia’s emerald zone.
For centuries emeralds have symbolized beauty and constant love. Besides love, emeralds are a symbol of loyalty, devotion, adoration and friendship. Emeralds are regarded as supernatural, serving as protective talismans and guarding against enchantments and spells. Emeralds traditionally represent true love and are said to change color when the loved one is being unfaithful. Emeralds were also thought to change color to alert the wearer of impending danger. Because of their green color, emeralds are also associated with rebirth and spring and are said to boost creativity and open doors to new possibilities.
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