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Legends and Symbolism of Lapis Lazuli (reprinted from gemsociety.org)

Lapis Lazuli Symbolism

by Fara Braid

The beautiful blue stone lapis lazuli has been highly prized for thousands of years. Scholars believe many early historical references to sapphire may actual refer to samples of lapis lazuli. Jewelry made from this lazurite rich semi-precious rock has been found in prehistoric tombs in Asia, Africa, and Europe.  Not surprisingly, lapis lazuli symbolism goes back for millennia.

“Lapis lazuli (Sar-e-Sasang deposit, Hindu Kush mountains, Afghanistan)” by James St. John is licensed under CC By 2.0

Lapis lazuli legends are among the oldest in the world. The myth of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, and her descent and return from the underworld may date from as early as 4000 BCE. Inanna entered the underworld bearing the insignias of her rank, including a lapis lazuli necklace and rod. “In ancient Sumer,” writes Scott Cunningham in hisEncyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic, “lapis lazuli has timeless associations” with royalty and deities. The stone was said to contain “the soul of the deity, who would ‘rejoice in its owner.’”

In ancient Egypt, pharaohs favored lapis lazuli, and judges wore emblems of Maat, the goddess of truth, made from the stone.

Many ancient civilizations prized lapis lazuli. To them, the stone had religious significance and reflected the high status of their rulers.  The Egyptian Pharaoh Osorkon II (874-850 BCE) wore this pendant made from solid gold and lapis lazuli.  The inscription on the stone is the pharaoh’s cartouche, or royal name inscribed within an oval shape.  “Pendant of Osorkon II, Paris, Museé de Louvre, August 2012” by Jan is licensed under CC By-ND 2.0

Lapis lazuli was not only mentioned in ancient myths, it was also used to mark documents. Cylinder seals carved from the soft stone were used to impress official seals, signatures, or religious inscriptions on wet clay. These cylinders were rolled across the clay and could create very detailed impressions with both text and images. The seals could be worn as necklaces, too. Lapis lazuli legends could very well have been sealed or marked with lapis lazuli!

“Cylinder Seal with Standing Figures and Inscriptions” from the Walters Art Museum is licensed under CC By-SA 3.0

The name “lapis lazuli” means “blue stone.” The stone is also popularly called “lapis” for short. The gorgeous blue color of lapis lazuli has attracted the attention of artists for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used it to create blue cosmetics. In the Renaissance, painters ground the stone to make ultramarine, a blue pigment used for skies and seas.

Michelangelo used lapis lazuli powder for the blue colors in his frescoes for the Sistine Chapel.  “Sistine Chapel” by Bryan Allison is licensed under CC By-SA 2.0

Today, some people associate lapis lazuli with wisdom, love, and healing and claim it nurtures and promotes psychic ability. (Although I have met one “psychic” lady so laden with lapis around her neck that Inanna herself would have fallen at her feet, weeping).

In the English and French royal courts of the 18th century, a kind of elaborate and symbolic “gem language” was used to convey messages not psychically but discreetly. (“Flower language” was also used at this time and is still used today). Bracelets, brooches, rings, etc., were set with gems, the first letters of which conveyed a motto or sentiment. Lapis lazuli could stand for “good luck” or “love me,” depending on its usage and setting (and probably on who was sitting next to you).

“Lapis Earrings” by Naomi King is licensed under CC By 2.0

 

Reprinted with permission from IGS

Original article available here