The soft white lustrous orb that is the pearl has long been associated with the moon, the ruler of the watery domain from which it is born. In ancient Vedic texts, the pearl is born of the earth’s waters and the heaven’s powers; it is fertilized by a flash of lightning and considered to be the daughter of the moon. The planet Venus is also associated with the pearl. The goddess of love arose from the sea, and the pearl is definitely seen as a feminine jewel.
George Kunz says, “The pearl, like a lady of old, pure and fair to look upon, is the emblem of modesty and purity.” Symbols of fertility, pearls are worn as necklaces by brides in Asia, hoping the sympathetic magic will ensure their fertility. Strangely, to this day, pearls are mostly worn by women, and rarely by men. This feminine energy associated with pearls seems to be ingrained in our cultural psyche, though in ancient times wearing ropes of pearls was often the mark of a very wealthy king.
The pearl is not a real gemstone, yet the ancients made little distinction between the pearl and actual stones. It is not flashy, but serenely beautiful, making it the perfect complement for more sparkly stones such as diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. Of course, finding perfect specimens in ancient times was much more difficult than today with our cultured pearls.
The expense of perfect pearls brought about a curious notion for a wealth increasing spell in ancient times. The owner would select a particularly fine specimen, infuse it with the desire and wish for wealth and riches, then throw it away into a rubbish heap. The idea behind this sympathetic magic was that someone with the wealth to throw away pearls was rich indeed.
The rarity and expense of pearls and their association with wealth gave rise to some common expressions which are still used to this day. The bible speaks of “Throwing pearls before swine,” meaning not to waste items or thoughts of refinement and rarity on those who would not appreciate them as such. Another saying, “Pearls of wisdom” speaks of the rarity of perfect wisdom being as hard to find as a perfect pearl. When a “pearl of wisdom” is given, treasure it. Researching that particular phrase was quite difficult, as it is so ingrained in our culture it seems no one even questions the origin of it or its veracity. What’s true is true, and that’s that.
An early Chinese myth gave that pearls fell from the sky when dragons fought amongst the clouds. Another myth was that pearls were raindrops swallowed by oysters. An ancient Chinese tale tells of a boy who found a miraculous pearl that when placed in a jar with just a bit of rice, made the jar full of rice by the next day. When the neighbours found out about this and tried to force their way in to steal the pearl, the boy swallowed the pearl to protect it. He was turned into a dragon. To this day, dragons in Chinese art are often depicted with pearls, the jewels that they are protecting.
Their smooth wholeness and ‘magical’ appearance in such a lowly life form such as the oyster indicated to the ancient Asian peoples the presence of divinity. It represented to them the journey of the soul or spirit along the path to perfection. In ancient burials, pearls were often placed in the mouths of the deceased, as they were thought to contain the principles of life and could help the departed on their further journeys. Burial gifts and clothing were also often decorated with pearls. This may have started as a practical act, as pearls were among the first beads. Their natural bead shape made them quite simple to decorate with, and yielded such lovely results.
The violence associated with removing the pearls from their natural abode has given the pearl a bit of a reputation as being unlucky. Most of the superstitions surrounding the unluckiness of these jewels can be traced back to the idea of purity, though. Any piece of pearl jewelry with malice, jealousy or other ill will in its past has a reputation for bringing bad luck to those bearing the same traits. Given in love with a pure heart, the pearl has always been a symbol of purity, fertility and the cycles of life.