According to the 16th Century French poet, Remy Bellau, Bacchu the Greek god of wine, revelry and debauchery was once captivated by a beautiful maiden by the name of Amethyste. Bacchus pursued the fair Amethyste relentlessly, chasing her for mile after mile. Desperate not to become the prey of the lustful god, Amethyste called out to the goddess of chastity, Diana, for help. To protect Amethyste’s treasured virginity, Diana turned the maiden into a stone of the purest white. Humbled by her sacrifice, Bacchus poured a libation of his symbolic wine onto the stone, staining Amethyste the most glorious purple.
The truth behind the myth
This tale may not be the true origin of the amethyst, or indeed an authentic Greek myth, but it certainly evokes the romance, depth and strange, brightly colored clarity of this stunning gemstone. In this article we’ll be taking a closer look at amethyst, its myths, its legends and its magic – but also at the truth behind the mysticism.
Let’s begin with the facts. Lilac, lavender, eggplant, mauve, magenta – the amethyst has many beguiling shades and characters. The most precious amethysts shine with the darkest, richest purples. Known as deep Siberian (or deep Russian) amethysts, these captivating gemstones are comprised of 75-80% purple, 15-20% blue with a subtle red gleam. All amethysts are prized, but these deep Siberian stones are considered to be the very finest.
At its heart, however, a true amethyst is simply a very special form of quartz. When it is naturally irradiated and infused with iron impurities along with trace elements, quartz takes on a magical purple glow and becomes an amethyst. Found predominantly in the volcanic rock of Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico, this natural, geological sorcery also takes place in veins found in South Korea, Austria, Zambia, India and the granitic rocks of Russia.
Amethyst through the ages
One of the earliest references to amethyst in written sources does indeed involve Bellau’s promiscuous god, Bacchus. Only, rather than chasing maidens, Bacchus is given an amethyst to protect him from the madness caused by his wine drinking. We’ll learn more about the myths and legends of amethyst later, but for now let’s discover a little more about how our ancestors used this stunning jewel.
Bacchus’ tale appears in The Dionysiaca penned by Greek writer Nonnus around the late 4th Century. However, this story is predated by a poem written by the Greek poet Asclepiades of Samos in 320BC. In his poem Asclepiades describes “Cleopatra’s Ring” which was said to be made of Amethyst and engraved with the goddess of drunkenness Methe, a mythological ancestor of the famed Egyptian queen.
We first hear of amethyst as used as a jewel by the Egyptians. Scholars of antiquity have suggested that the Egyptians handmade jewelry from amethyst, engraving the precious stones with images and designs using a highly skilled, primitive hand-carving technique known as intaglio gem carving. Later the Greeks became taken with the stone and from there its popularity spread across the empires of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Amethyst beaded jewelry has been found in regions as far-flung as British Anglo-Saxon burials, whilst later medieval knights across Europe carried amulets made of amethyst for protection.
Myths & legends
Amethyst has long been thought to be an antidote to drunkenness. In fact, the very word Amethyst stems from the Greek “a” (not) + “methustos” (inebriated). Myths surrounding this idea are common amongst Greek philosophers, poets and writers and were taken up by much later poets including the aforementioned Remy Bellau in the 16thCentury.
Yet, Bacchus’s tale is not the only myth surrounding amethyst. Some say that one day the Roman god of wine, Dionysus was furious after being insulted by a mere mortal. He swore that he would kill the next moral he lay eyes upon and he created two ferocious tigers to do his violent bidding. The unfortunate mortal was a beautiful maiden. She was saved by the goddess Artemis who turned her into a statue of crystalline quartz to save her from the tigers’ teeth and claws. When he saw the beautiful statue, Dionysus wept tears of wine, filled with remorse. These wine tears stained the quartz purple, creating an amethyst.
Amethyst’s many meanings
The history and myths surrounding amethyst aren’t all related to wine and drunkenness. The medieval fighters of Europe carried the gem to help them keep a cool head during the madness of battle.
In the Middle Ages, a bride who presented her groom with a heart-shaped amethyst in a silver setting was thought to bestow great earthly happiness upon the couple. Meanwhile, it was also thought that the stones could detect poison, danger and poor health by becoming dimmer in their presence.
The stone even has symbolism within Christianity. It was once used to make the beaded jewelry which makes up Catholic rosaries as it was thought to have soothing properties which helped to create a sense of religious calmness.
Amethyst is also the February birthstone, commonly associated with Pisces. Within astrology, the gem is said to encourage mental clarity, calmness, healing and to help fight addictions.
Whether you love amethysts for their color, history, mythology or potential enlightening properties, they are truly beautiful stones. To find your own special gemstones, explore the gorgeous amethyst handmade beaded jewelry here at SWCreations, created by artist Stephanie A White.