Updated: May 6, 2019
Where better to begin my Alphabet of Gemstones blog than with Amethyst, the mystical purple crystal long prized for its protective powers. The most coveted member of the Quartz family, amethyst owes its violet hue to the presence of iron atoms, which sneak into the mineral’s crystal lattice as it forms deep within the Earth’s crust.
The stone’s name has amusing origins; when translated directly from Ancient Greek, ‘a-methyst’ means “without intoxication”. Those of us who like to indulge in a tipple from time to time might do well to slip a purple pebble or two in our pockets as we head out on a Friday night… Alternatively you could follow the example of the Romans and Greeks, both enthusiastic topers, who are known to have carved goblets from the crystal in an effort to stave off inebriation! Worth a try.
Ancient civilisations prized the gem highly, not only for its detoxifying properties (doctors used to rub a dampened amethyst crystal over acne-prone skin to clear pimples), but also for its romantic powers. Indeed, amethyst is believed to help men attract “good women” and to encourage wives to stay faithful. (Something tells me those good Roman wives with travelling husbands were onto a winner there...gems galore!)
While scientists remain firm in the belief that amethyst crystals grow in gas cavities that form within cooling lava flows, Greek mythology provides a more dramatic version of events. Legend goes that Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, was miffed at having been given the slip by a young maiden mortal called Amethyst. In a fit of anger, he sent two tigers to dispatch the young girl as she walked home from the temple one day. Upon hearing her cries for help, Artemis, the Goddess of Hunting, turned Amethyst into a sparkling white crystal. A repentant (and drunk) Dionysus then proceeded to spill his glass of wine over the girl-turned-stone, transforming it into a beautiful purple crystal. When we consider the many different origins of amethyst today (ranging from the Ural Mountains in Russia, to Brazil, Canada and Sri Lanka), it might be noted that Dionysus spilled his cup of wine on a fairly regular basis…