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’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.
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’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:
Received a golden necklace, richly wrought,
And set with amber beads, that glowed as if
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!