Summary
The beautiful blue stone lapis lazuli has been highly prized for thousands of years. Scholars believe many early historical references to sapphire may actually refer to samples of lapis lazuli. Jewelry made from this lazurite-rich rock has been found in prehistoric tombs in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Not surprisingly, lapis lazuli symbolism stretches back in time for millennia.
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lapis lazuli mother goddess amulet

Mother goddess amulet, lapis lazuli, Anatolia, 7th-5th millennium BCE. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and TimeLine Auctions Ltd.

Lapis Lazuli and Ancient Myths

Lapis lazuli legends are among the oldest in the world. The myth of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, and her descent and return from the underworld may date from as early as 4,000 BCE. Inanna entered the underworld bearing the insignias of her rank, including a lapis lazuli necklace and rod.

“In ancient Sumer,” writes Scott Cunningham in his Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic, “lapis lazuli has timeless associations” with royalty and deities. People believed the stone contained “the soul of the deity, who would ‘rejoice in its owner.’”

In Ancient Egypt, pharaohs favored lapis lazuli, and judges wore emblems of Maat, the goddess of truth, made from the stone.

Maat amulet - Egypt

Maat amulet, lapis lazuli. Egypt, Late Period, 664–332 BCE, 1.7 cm. Gift of Helen Miller Gould, 1910. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Public Domain.

Many ancient civilizations prized lapis lazuli. To them, the stone had religious significance and reflected the high status of their rulers.

lapis lazuli pendant - Egypt

The Egyptian Pharaoh Osorkon II (874-850 BCE) wore this pendant made from solid gold and lapis lazuli. The inscription on the stone is the pharaoh’s cartouche, or royal name inscribed within an oval shape. Pendant on display at the Museé de Louvre, Paris. Photo by akhenatenator. Public Domain.

Lapis Cylinder Seals

In ancient times, cylinder seals carved from lapis lazuli were used to impress official seals, signatures, or religious inscriptions on wet clay. When rolled across the clay, these cylinders created very detailed impressions with both text and images. The seals themselves could be worn as necklaces, too. Lapis lazuli could very well have sealed or marked texts containing its own legends!

cylinder seal - Mesopotamia

Since lapis lazuli is relatively easy to carve, it was a popular choice for making cylinder seals, such as this one from Ancient Mesopotamia. This seal would have made an impression depicting a goddess and worshipper with cuneiform text on a clay surface. Photo by the Walters Art Museum. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Lapis Lazuli and Ultramarine Blue

The name “lapis lazuli” means “blue stone.” The gorgeous blue color of lapis lazuli has attracted the attention of artists for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used it to create blue cosmetics. In the Renaissance, painters ground the stone to make ultramarine, a blue pigment used for skies and seas.

Sistine Chapel fresco

Michelangelo used lapis lazuli powder for the blue colors in his frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. Photo by Bryan Allison. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Lapis Lazuli Symbolism and Gem Language

In the English and French royal courts of the 18th century, a kind of elaborate and symbolic “gem language” was used to convey messages discreetly. (“Flower language” was also used at this time and is still used today). People would set bracelets, brooches, rings, etc., with gems, the first letters of which conveyed a motto or sentiment. Lapis lazuli could stand for “good luck” or “love me,” depending on its usage and setting (and probably on who was sitting next to you).

Edwardian acrostic jewelry

Jewelry with gemstones set in an acrostic setting remained popular even into the 19th and early 20th centuries. This Edwardian-era gold locket bangle contains gemstones that spell out the name “Rosemary:” Ruby, Opal, Sapphire, Emerald, Moonstone, Amethyst, Ruby (again), and Citrine (as Yellow). No lapis lazuli. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Fellows.

Of course, if you find the acrostic technique too subtle, you can always try the direct approach.

lapis lazuli heart pendant

Pendant with an angel resting on a heart-shaped lapis lazuli. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Fellows.

Modern Lapis Lazuli Symbolism

Today, some people associate lapis lazuli with wisdom, love, and healing and claim it nurtures and promotes psychic ability. (Although I have met one “psychic” lady so laden with the stones around her neck that Inanna herself would have fallen at her feet, weeping).

lapis lazuli jewelry

Lapis lazuli jewelry. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Soulis Auctions.