You probably know your birthstone, and you may even know the other 11 as well. But where did the idea of birthstones come from? Are birthstones mentioned in the Bible? It has roots that go back further than you might think. Today, we’ll get to the bottom of this birthstone business, you will learn about the history and origin of birthstones.
In this article we discuss the following:
- Biblical Origin Of Birthstones
- Origin Of Birthstones In The West
- History Of Birthstone According To Hindu Astrology
- History Of Birthstones According To Rashis
- Modern Origin Of Birthstone
Biblical Origin Of Birthstones
Aaron, the brother of Moses, was the highest priest of the Israelites. When he entered the tabernacle to commune with God, he would wear a breastplate made to exact specifications, which are laid out in the Bible.
On the front of the breastplate are 12 different gem varieties to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, headed by Jacob’s 12 male descendants: Levi, Simeon, Reuben, Zebulun, Issachar, Judah, Gad, Naphtali, Dan, Benjamin, Joseph, and Asher.
They’re represented by carbuncle, topaz, sardius (likely a ruby or a carnelian), diamond, sapphire, emerald, amethyst, agate, jacinth, jasper, onyx, and beryl.
In the first century, scholar Titus Flavius Josephus noticed that the number 12 seemed to repeat a lot in the Bible, and he started making some connections.
Each of the 12 apostles had a stone associated with them. The Book of Revelation lists 12 stones as the foundation of the heavenly city: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst. Not to mention the streets made of pure gold, clear as glass.
This same chapter also mentions the 12 tribes of Israel again, which must have really gotten Professor Flavius’s wheels turning.
In the 5th century, another biblical scholar named Saint Jeremy suggested that these 12 stones could represent the 12 months of the year. Over time, various scholars put together a list of these 12 months and stones. And the Hebrew and Arabic versions differ only slightly from each other.
Origin Of Birthstones In The West
Birthstones may also have a history in Eastern religion as well as Western.
history Of Birthstone According To Hindu Astrology
In Hindu tradition, a 5th-century text called the Ratna Pariksha details the relationship between precious stones, deities, celestial bodies, and the days of the week. It’s kind of like an astrologist’s handbook.
In Indian culture, astrology is widely regarded as accurate and true, and is even taught in universities.
In Hinduism, when someone is born, an astrological chart is calculated for them. Depending on when and where you’re born and the position of those forces in the sky, the chart will determine which stones are best for you to wear in order to ward off negative energy and misfortune.
History Of Birthstones According To Rashis
Also important to Hinduism are Rashis, which are basically moon signs. The 12 Rashis are associated with several planets, the sun, and the moon, and nine different gemstones, with some Rashis sharing different stones and celestial bodies.
This system of relationships will tell you what stone to wear, what finger to wear it on, and on what day of the week.
For example, Mesha and Vrischika, which correspond with Aries and Scorpio respectively, are paired with Mars and suggest wearing coral on your ring finger on Tuesdays.
The Rashi Mthun and Kanya, or Gemini and Virgo as they’re known in the West, go with Mercury. And it’s suggested that on Wednesdays, you wear emerald on your pinky.
Modern Origin Of Birthstone
Now back to the West and the modern origins of today’s birthstone tradition. The practice of wearing your particular birthstone year-round is theorized to have been brought over by the Jews to Europe, likely an adaptation of the 12 stones of Hebrew tradition.
There’s a debate around when and where exactly this originated, though GIA claims it occurred in Germany as early as the 1500s. But gemologist and mineralogist George Coons believed it happened later in Poland around the 18th century. Whatever the case may be, the story does not end there.
Tiffany published a pamphlet that featured Gregorian poems written by an unknown author. These poems detailed explicitly which gemstone should be worn in which month and the benefits you could expect from adhering to these directions.
For example, “Who first comes to this world below, In dreary November’s fog and snow, Should prize the topaz amber hue, Emblem of friends and lovers true.” The poems are all very nice, but take a look at January and March, and you may notice some repeating themes.
It turns out garnet and bloodstone both ensure constancy, true friendship, and fidelity. Those of you that know your birthstones may have realized that March’s birthstone is no longer the bloodstone as our mysterious Gregorian poet described.
What happened? In 1912, the Jewelers Association of America decided that some standardization was in order and declared a final, once-and-for-all list. But even this list has been tweaked a little, and quite recently too.
In 1952, the color-changing wonder stone alexandrite was added to June, October gained pink tourmaline, November got citrine added, and zircon was replaced by lapis for December.
Then in 2002, tanzanite was added to December, but the most recent change was in 2016, when spinel was added to August.
Conclusion On History And Origin Of Birthstones
Who knows, maybe if you wait long enough, your favorite birthstone will be added to your birth month too. So that’s the story behind birthstones. Hope this post about the history and origin of birthstones may help you. If you could change one thing about the birthstone chart, what would it be?