Turquoise SymbolismTurquoise Symbolism

Turquoise Specialist Mini Course

Turquoise Symbolism

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.

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Turquoise has been used in jewelry for millennia and remains a treasured but also affordable gemstone. If you want to learn more about this beautiful blue gem, this course is for you. You'll learn all about turquoise, from its geological formation and cultural significance to the various treatments it receives. You'll also learn what to look for when evaluating and buying turquoises, whether you're a consumer or a budding gemologist.
turquoise and silver rings
Silver and turquoise rings, photo and jewelry by Mauro Cateb. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

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.

bridle with filigree and turquoises - Ottoman Empire
Part of a silver bridle, decorated with filigree and turquoise stones. Ottoman Empire, 18th century. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Czerny's International Auction House.

Aztec Turquoise Symbolism

The Aztecs greatly valued turquoise. The American geologist and educator W. P. Blake compiled some notable accounts of this gemstone from the Spanish conquest of Mexico during the 16th century. For example:

  • Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a Spanish conquistador and historian, observed that the Aztecs valued chalchihuitl, or turquoise, more than the Spaniards valued gold and emerald.
  • Juan de Torquemada, a Franciscan missionary, wrote that the Aztecs made offerings of this stone at the temple of the goddess Matlalcueye and buried distinguished chiefs with fragments of chalchihuitl in their mouths. When 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 believed their god Quetzalcoatl taught them the art of cutting and polishing this stone.
  • Bernardino de Sahagún, another Franciscan missionary, wrote that Aztec chiefs wore strings of chalchihuitl around their wrists as badges of distinction.
turquoise symbolism - mosaic
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. This Aztec wooden animal head pendant is covered by a mosaic of turquoise and malachite. 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. Photo by Matthew Hadley. Licensed under CC By-ND 2.0.

Turquoise Symbolism and the Native American Southwest

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.

Turquoise Man and Salt Woman

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.

Zuni pin
Zuni handmade pin, sterling silver with turquoise, 2 inches across, signed by the maker, CJ. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

Turquoise as a Stone of Hope

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

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

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