One of the earliest substances used for ornamentation by humans is Amber. Stone Age gravesites dating back to 8000 BCE have yielded amulets, beads and pendants carved out of amber. Amulets with ancient spiral patterns, placed with the dead and in ritualistic formations, indicates the high regard with which early peoples viewed this gem ‘stone’. Fossil is a more appropriate term, and amber’s tendency to contain bits of moss, wood and insects, coupled with its warm feel, must have indicated that it could also contains spirits of the natural world, and of the sun.
This connection to the sun was also enhanced due to the bright sunshine colours of this stone. One early author, Nicias, saw amber as being congealed droplets from the setting sun as it sank beneath the waves. These droplets of fossilized sap were also depicted by several ancient writers as being the tears of gods or heroes in various questing type sagas.
The early and longstanding love affair with amber stemmed from the earliest days, through to the Viking age, and beyond. Amber in that age was often carved into animal shapes and was purported to contain the special powers and strengths of the creatures so depicted. This trait continued on into Classical times, when women would wear images of fish, frogs and rabbits to ensure fertility. Amber from the Baltic area was traded as far away as Egypt, and great amounts of Baltic amber were found in the graves of Mycenae.
Often seen as a gem of special power, containing the energies of the sun and its related icons, magic workers would often wear necklaces of amber. The possession or gift of such a necklace indicated great power and esteem. Homer writes of a gift of a necklace of amber beads in Odyssey:
- Received a golden necklace, richly wrought,
- And set with amber beads, that glowed as if
- With sunshine.
The early Chinese believed that the souls of tigers became amber upon their release from this plane.
Amber rubbed against silk or wool becomes electrically charged. Thus its old Greek name of Elektron has since lent itself to the modern word Electron and therefore electricity. Due to its proclivity to contain once living things, the classical worshippers of the Mother Goddess believed that amber contained the essence of life itself, the animating principle, or Akasha. Called the ‘fifth element’ (great movie, by the way;-), Akasha bound together the other elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. This is a bit odd, when one considers that in the Chinese system, there ARE five elements; their fifth being metal, a great conductor AND creator of electricity.