faceted Welo opal - opal symbolismfaceted Welo opal - opal symbolism

Opal Symbolism

Once the stone of royalty, the fragile opal has a convoluted personality and lore. Opal symbolism is as varied as the play of color of the stone itself.

3 Minute Read

For centuries, opal symbolism included associations with royalty and good luck. However, in modern times, this gemstone has become the object of many negative — and unfounded — superstitions. Let's take a look at the multifaceted lore of the traditional October birthstone.
faceted Welo opal - opal symbolism
Faceted Welo Opal, 12.2 cts, 16 mm. © Hashnu Stones & Gems. Used with permission.

All but black opals have acquired a reputation for being unlucky. Although the beauty and uniqueness of opals have helped their owners disregard the superstitions, they persist.

opal ring, Slovakia
Opal ring, Slovakia. Photo by Slovakiaopal. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

Why Do Opals Have a Bad Rap?

In The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, the mineralogist George Kunz identified what he believed changed the popular perception of opal. In a chapter of Sir Walter Scott's 1829 gothic novel, Anne of Geierstein, we learn the unusual story of the enchanted and mysterious Lady Hermione.

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This article is also a part of our Opal Specialist Mini Course, in the unit Introduction to Opals and Their Properties.

The grandmother of the titular character, she appeared to possess magical powers. At times, she seemed more an indefatigable spirit — an ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp — than human. She always wore in her hair a golden clasp with an opal that "amid the changing lights peculiar to that gem, displayed internally a slight tinge of red like a spark of fire." This gem seemed to reflect her moods, showing "a twinkling and flashing gleam which seemed to be emitted by the gem itself" whenever she became animated or agitated, "as if it sympathized with the wearer's emotions."

Lady Hermione
Scene from Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein: "Hermione takes refuge in the chemical laboratory of Sir Herman, an Austrian alchemist." Oil painting by William Long (fl. 1821-1855). Photo by Wellcome Images. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

On the day of her daughter's christening, drops of holy water struck her opal, which "shot out a brilliant spark like a falling star, and became the instant afterwards lightless and colorless as a common pebble." Hermione then collapsed. Two hours later, all that remained of her was a handful of gray ashes.

Take one popular but fictional tale of misfortune befalling an opal wearer. Combine with the fact that many gem cutters refuse to work on the fragile gem. (You break it, you bought it). Thus, you get the basis for the bad rap that still haunts this lovely stone.

The Traditional October Birthstone

Nevertheless, opal's popularity as a jewelry stone belies its negative association. Until 1912, opal was considered the October birthstone. That year, the National Association of Jewelers released a modern birthstone list, which featured exclusively transparent gems. Thus, tourmaline replaced opal. Other gems were demoted, too. For example, March's bloodstone was replaced by aquamarine. These changes have nothing to do with bad luck. Birthstone revisions continue to this day, mostly driven by marketing.

Of course, some still seize on the negative. Just the other day, a lady told me it was VERY bad luck to wear an opal if it wasn't your birthstone. (If you're skittish about wearing opal and you weren't born in October, find out the hour of your birth. Opal is an alternative birthstone for those born in the 6 PM hour).

the October birthstone
A Christmas Ring was a popular American book on birthstones from 1879. Connecting opals with "misfortune but hope," this page seems to cover the field on the symbolic associations of this gem. No known copyright restrictions.

Opal Symbolism and Vision

Wearing opal as a jewelry stone is a relatively modern practice. However, in ancient times, people wore this stone for various reasons. Many considered opal to be beneficial to the eye and wore it to cure eye diseases. Some even believed it could render the carrier invisible. Supposedly, carrying an opal wrapped in a fresh bay leaf would keep others from seeing you. This superstition earned opal the popular designation of patronus furum, Latin for "patron of thieves."

Opal. Photo by Yagan Kiely. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Opals and Magic

Perhaps extending on the invisibility theme, some believe opals aid in astral projection, a state of definite invisibility.

Supposedly, the inner fire or play of color of opals attracts forces that bring money. (Then again, the cost of fine opals alone points to the necessary presence of money).

Some believe the darkness and depth of the black opal can hold and release power for magicians in their arcane workings. Of course, whether they use this power for good or bad is up to their discretion and has no bearing on the stone itself.

black opal bracelet - opal symbolism
Black opals have a black or deep blue body color and show play of color, too. Gold bracelet with 9-ct black opal, on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Tim Evanson. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

A Gem with Many Associations

Once the stone of kings, second only to the emerald, the fragile opal has a convoluted personality and lore. Opal symbolism is as varied as the play of color of the stone itself. Many still regard the opal as a good luck stone. However, those who hold superstitions are more likely to latch on to the negative associations.

opal pendants - opal symbolism
"Aqua Vita" and "Aqua Mortem" pendants, Collection Otrava. Australian opals, polymer clay, pastel, paint, and metal furniture. Jewelry and photo by Valeria Myrusso. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

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