Blue as a summer sky or a robin’s egg, the soft yet fragile turquoise has been revered the world over as a stone of luck and good fortune. From Afghanistan to the Aztec empire, its uses are many and varied, and most come with a mystical connection.
The ancient Persians had a saying that, to escape evil and attain good fortune, one must see the reflection of the new moon either on the face of a friend, on a copy of the Koran, or on a turquoise. In such high regard was this stone held.
Like malachite, turquoise warns the owner of imminent danger by breaking or changing colour, although colour change was usually equated with impending illness. One account has it that when the owner thought he had broken a bone, he later found that the cracking had been the turquoise taking the injury for him. Like malachite, it is also supposed to protect the wearer from falls, most especially from horseback. It was believed that turquoise affixed to the bridle of the horse protected the steed as well. All indications are that the first uses of turquoise in the East were as a “horse-amulet.”
The Navaho used ground turquoise and coral to make sacred sand mandalas to summon rain. The Apache word for turquoise is duklij, and was highly prized for its talismanic properties. Amulets, beads, pendants and fetishes of turquoise carvings and beads were very highly prized. An Apache Shaman would not receive proper recognition if not in possession of this magical stone. It was also said that, if after a storm one found the end of the rainbow and searched in the damp earth, a turquoise would be found.
According to Bernal Diaz, who came to the Americas with Cortez, turquoise (or chalchihuitl, as the Aztecs called it) was more precious to the native populace than gold or emeralds were to the Spaniards. One account states that when Alvarada and Montezuma played together at games of chance, Alvarada received gold if he won, but paid chalchihuitl if he lost.
In 1680, a large section of Mount Chalchihuitl collapsed from the undermining by the native miners, killing a number of them. This lead to the uprising of the Pueblos, and resulting in the expulsion of the Spaniards who were so eager for this treasure.
The Aztecs claimed that the god Quetzalcohvatl taught them the art of cutting and polishing chalchihuitl. The Aztec chiefs wore strings of turquoise beads as a mark of distinction. The Indians in the temple of the goddess Matlalcueye made offerings, and it was custom to place a fragment of turquoise in the mouths of the higher-ups when prepared for burial.
In 1593, Friar De Nica travelled in New Mexico and noted that “the people have emeralds and other jewels, although they esteem none so much as turquoises, wherewith they adorn the wall of the porches of their houses and apparel and vessels, and they use them instead of money through all the country.”
Zuni legend relates the story of Turquoise Man and Salt Woman, who also figure largely in other oral traditions. Sadly, I was unable to track down more info on this mysterious Turquoise Man, other than that he and Salt Woman went away from the People, as they did not feel they were valued enough. Turquoise Man said, “His flesh was simply given out to women for sexual favors.” I guess he didn’t care for being used as money. Salt Woman had bigger issues, which culminated in an annual pilgrimage by her people to retrieve salt from the sacred lake where she ultimately hid out.
Ancient treasures of turquoise rediscovered in the Americas include a gopher made of white marble, with turquoise for eyes. From Los Muertos, in a Zuni jar, a sea shell coated with pitch and inset with turquoise and garnets, in the form of a toad, the sacred emblem of the Zunis. Also plundered from the Aztecs and other tribes are many mosaics of shell and turquoise and garnet, as well as masks of wood and turquoise. This art of mosaic creation was still practiced in Guatemala in 1892.
As a decorative or protective amulet, horse protector or rain-bringer, the uses of the turquoise to the desert dwelling peoples the world over who unearthed and cherished it are many. The sky-blue stone with the cheeriness of the sunny sky has always been foremost a stone of hope.