Turquoise Symbolism


turquoise symbolism - Zuni pin
“Sterling Silver with Turquoise, Zuni handmade pin,” 2 inches across, signed by the maker, CJ. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

From Afghanistan to the Zuni Pueblo, people the world over have revered turquoise as a good luck stone for centuries. Blue as the summer sky or a robin’s egg, this soft stone has inspired many mystical associations. The Ancient Persians had a saying: to escape evil and attain good fortune, one must see the reflection of the New Moon either on the face of a friend, a copy of the Koran, or a turquoise.

Turquoise as a Stone of Protection

A great deal of turquoise symbolism and lore involves predicting danger. Some believe turquoise stones can warn their owners by breaking, like malachites supposedly do. Color changes presumably warn of impending illness. In one tale, a man believed he had broken a bone. Later, he discovered his turquoise had made the cracking sound he heard. It took the injury in his place. Also like malachite, turquoise can supposedly protect from falls, most especially from horseback. Affixing this gem to a horse’s bridle can protect the animal, as well. Turquoise’s use as a “horse amulet” appears to be an ancient magical practice.

turquoise symbolism - rings
“Silver and Turquoise Rings” by Mauro Cateb is licensed under CC By 2.0

Aztec Turquoise Symbolism

According to Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a Spanish conquistador and historian, the Aztecs of Mexico valued chalchihuitl, or turquoise, more than the Spaniards valued gold and emerald. One account relates how the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and the Emperor Montezuma played games of chance. Alvarado received gold if he won but paid chalchihuitl if he lost.

The Aztecs said the god Quetzalcoatl taught them the art of cutting and polishing turquoise. Their chiefs wore strings of turquoise beads as a mark of distinction. In the temple of the goddess Matlalcueye, the Aztecs made offerings of this stone. When they buried important persons, they placed fragments of turquoise in their mouths.

The Aztecs and other Meso-American cultures created mosaics of turquoise, garnet, and shell. They also made masks of wood and turquoise. This art was still practiced in Guatemala as late as 1892.

turquoise symbolism - mosaic
A mosaic of turquoise and malachite covers this Aztec wooden animal head pendant. It also features pyrite and shell eyes and a mouth encrusted with garnet, beryl, emerald, spinel, zircon, and shark teeth. “Turquoise Creature,” at The British Museum, London, UK, by Matthew Hadley. Licensed under CC By-ND 2.0.

Turquoise Symbolism and the Native American Southwest

In 1539, Friar Marcos De Nica travelled in New Mexico. He 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.

The Apache highly prized duklij, turquoise, for its talismanic properties. They carved amulets, beads, pendants, and fetishes from this material. If Apache shamans didn’t possess this stone, they wouldn’t receive proper recognition from their tribes. One popular belief connected turquoises and rainbows. If you could find the end of a rainbow after a storm, searching the damp earth would yield a turquoise.

The Navaho used ground turquoise and coral to make sacred sand mandalas to summon rain.

A Zuni legend relates the story of Turquoise Man and Salt Woman. They felt they were not valued enough, so they went away from the people. 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). The Zuni held an annual pilgrimage to retrieve salt from the sacred lake where Salt Woman hid.

At Pueblo de Los Muertos, New Mexico, a sea shell coated with pitch and inset with turquoise and garnets was found. It had the form of a toad, a sacred emblem for the Zuni.

Turquoise as a Stone of Hope

Whether used as a decorative or protective amulet, a horse protector or rain bringer, turquoise has been cherished by people everywhere. The blue stone with the cheeriness of the sunny sky has always been foremost a symbol of hope.

turquoise symbolism - beads
“Turquoise Beads” on display at the Tucson Rock and Gem Show, 2007, by cobalt123. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.