Facts about Onyx and Lithotherapy in Ancient Cultures

Onyx has been highly valued by several cultures throughout history, each attributing unique properties and significance to the stone. From the Ancient Greeks who gave Onyx its name, to Queen Victoria who incorporated the stone in some of the period’s most stunning and meaningful pieces of jewelry, the stone has a rich history with links to the divine and the royal.

Onyx or Onux, Fingernail of a Goddess

The mythological origins of onyx are deeply rooted in Greek mythology, particularly involving the figures of Aphrodite and her son, Cupid. According to the legend, Cupid (the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Eros, the god of desire) cut the fingernails of his mother, Venus (Aphrodite in Greek mythology), while she slept.

The gods then transformed these clippings into onyx stones, thereby immortalizing every part of her divine body. In fact, the name Onyx comes from the Greek word for fingernail “Onux

This myth is reflective of the broader cultural practices of the Romans and Greeks, who often used myths to explain natural phenomena and the origins of various stones and materials found in the world. The story provides both the divine origin for Onyx and connects it to themes of love and beauty characteristic of Venus/Aphrodite.

Onyx in Queen Victoria’s Mourning Jewelry

Queen Victoria is well-known for popularizing mourning jewelry during the Victorian era. This jewelry often incorporated onyx due to its somber appearance and supposed protective properties, aligning with the era's fascination with spiritualism and the occult.

One notable piece associated with Queen Victoria is an onyx, banded agate, enamel, and diamond pendant created in memory of her daughter Alice, featuring an onyx heart. This piece exemplifies the type of mourning jewelry that Queen Victoria would have worn or commissioned.

This onyx heart, detailed with a coronet and featuring Alice’s name, symbolizes the depth of Victoria's grief and her desire to keep the memory of her loved ones close. Additionally, this pendant includes a lock of Alice's hair, encapsulating the personal and intimate nature of mourning jewelry from that era.

Valued in Vastu-Shastra

Onyx, known for its protective and grounding qualities, is thought to enhance stability and security. In Indian culture, onyx is regarded as a particularly auspicious and protective stone, believed to offer both physical and emotional benefits. It is commonly used to ward off the evil eye and is said to bring spiritual inspiration and control over emotions.

According to astrological beliefs, wearing onyx can help eliminate negative thinking and reduce stress and neurological disorders. The stone is also thought to improve kidney, eye, and hair health, and is particularly noted for its ability to alleviate pain during childbirth​.

In Vastu Shastra, which is closely linked to the holistic wellness principles of Ayurveda, every direction and zone in a living space has specific energies and attributes.

Vastu principles aim to harmonize spatial energies with natural elements, thereby promoting health, prosperity, and happiness. It is believed that placing onyx in certain areas of a home or office can shield the occupants from malevolent influences and psychic attacks.

Onyx’s Use in Ancient Roman Seals and Signet Rings

Pliny the Elder, in his encyclopedic work Natural History, discusses onyx and its uses in Roman society, such as in seal rings. Onyx and similar stones were important in Roman culture for authentication and as symbols of the personal identities of their wearers.

Specifically, Pliny notes the uses of onyx in Roman society for carved items like seals, which were integral to signet rings. He appreciates onyx for its aesthetic qualities and its utility in craftsmanship, which made it a favored choice in making detailed engravings for signet rings.

A Lasting Legacy

Throughout history, onyx has been cherished across various cultures for its unique properties and mythological significance. From its legendary origins in Greek mythology as the fingernail of the goddess Venus, to its esteemed place in Queen Victoria's mourning jewelry, onyx has symbolized protection, beauty, and deep personal connection.

These uses highlight Onyx's enduring legacy as a stone that transcends ornamental value, integrating deeply into the spiritual and daily lives of those who value its presence. Through its historical, aesthetic, and protective qualities, Onyx remains a profound testament to the interweaving of nature's artistry with human history and culture.

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