Amber Symbolism


“Dangling Flower Amber Earring” by Choon Hong Yap is licensed under CC By 2.0
“Dangling Flower Amber Earring” by Choon Hong Yap. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Stone Age gravesites dating back to 8,000 BCE have yielded amulets with spiral patterns, beads, and pendants carved from amber. One of the first materials used for ornamentation, amber’s placement with the dead in ritualistic formations indicates prehistoric peoples revered this gemstone.

Amber’s Organic Inclusions

However, perhaps fossil is a more appropriate term than stone. This material, actually the hardened resin of ancient trees, often contains bits of plants and small animals, such as insects. These inclusions of preserved remains, coupled with amber’s warm feel, may have stimulated the beginnings of amber symbolism. Cultures from all over the world have associated amber with spirits of the natural world and The Sun.

amber symbolism - Baltic amber
Many ancient cultures traded for amber, especially highly prized pieces from the Baltic Sea area. Archeologists have found Baltic amber as far away as Egypt and in the celebrated graves of Mycenae in Greece. “Insects in Baltic Amber” by Brocken Inaglory. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Amber Sunshine

Amber’s bright, sunshine colors also enhanced this connection. The Ancient Greek historian Nicias believed amber to be congealed droplets of sweat formed on the Earth as The Sun set beneath the waves. Other ancient writers depicted these “droplets” of fossilized sap as the tears of gods or heroes on various quests.

Animals and Amber Symbolism

Amber symbolism also encompasses the animal world. The Vikings carved amber pieces into animal shapes believed to contain the strengths of the animals. In Ancient Greek and Roman times, women wore amber fish, frog, and rabbit figurines to ensure fertility. The early Chinese believed the souls of tigers became amber upon their release from this plane.

amber symbolism - bear
“The Amber Bear of Happiness.” Source: www.slupczewski.pl, Michał Słupczewski.

Since amber frequently holds once living things, the classical worshippers of the Mother Goddess believed amber possessed the essence of life itself. Akasha, this animating principle or “fifth element,” bound together the other elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

amber symbolism - gecko
“Gecko in Amber” by PG Palmer. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Amber’s Magical Associations

Not surprisingly, magic workers would often wear amber necklaces, believed to be charged with powerful energies. The possession or gift of such a necklace indicated great power and esteem. In The Odyssey, Penelope’s suitors hope to impress her with gifts. They send their servants to fetch magnificent presents to outdo one another. Of one such gift, Homer writes:

Eurymachus

Received a golden necklace, richly wrought,

And set with amber beads, that glowed as if

With sunshine.

Another quality, frictional electricity, may have reinforced the connection between magic and amber symbolism. If you rub amber against wool or silk it becomes electrically charged. In fact, the Greek word for amber, elektron, has given us the words electron and electricity.

In Chinese cosmology, there are five elements. The fifth element is metal, a great conductor of electricity. The fifth element of Akashic beliefs is thought to reside in amber, which can hold an electric charge. Now that’s quite an odd coincidence!

amber symbolism - jewelry
“Pre-Hispanic Ear Jewelry,” on display at the Museum of Amber in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, by AlejandroLinaresGarcia. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.