By A.L. Sapinsky–
Diamonds, rubies, pearls, jasper– precious stones like these are known for their beauty and rarity. You’ll see them on jewelry, in museums, and even in religious practice and scripture.
Ceremonial and ritualistic purposes for such stones is unending and has existed since as far back as human history can date. In Pentateuch (Torah/Bible), Exodus 28:15-30, details 12 specific stones to be placed across the breast plate of a high priest. But what do these stones mean?
Below are the twelve stones, and why they are valued in Christianity, Judaism, and even other religions:
The first stone on the breastplate of the high priest. This stone is famous for its ancient legend in Burma, which held that inserting a ruby into one’s flesh would make a person invulnerable. In Europe, during the middle ages, this stone was believed to convey good health, resolve disagreements and remove negative thoughts. Considered the stone of royalty in China, it is said that Emperor Kublai Khan offered an entire city in exchange for a huge ruby.
In Islamic culture, yaqut, as the stone is called, represents beauty and dignity and is worn on a ring of the hand of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad.
The second stone on the breastplate of the high priest. Topaz stems from the Greek work “Topazios” which means “to seek,” and is probably in reference to Topazos Island, on which a particular yellow mineral was mined.
The third stone on the breastplate. Beryl is also the color of the wheels beside the four living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision, as seen in Ezekiel 1:16.
The fourth stone on the breastplate. In Buddhist tradition, turquoise is believed to assure a safe journey (when worn as a ring), prevent reincarnation as a donkey (when worn as an earring), is considered auspicious when seen in a dream, and when found, gives luck and new life. When changing its color to green, turquoise indicates hepatitis, yet at the same time draws out jaundice. The stone is also believed to absorb sin.
In Native American culture, turquoise, also called “fallen sky stone” because many indigenous cultures believed it fell from the sky, represents good fortune, protection and good health.
Persians saw the stone as a symbolic connection between heaven and earth, and ancient Egyptians associated turquoise with Hathor, their goddess of motherhood, dance, and music.
The fifth stone on the breastplate. As written in Isaiah 54:11 and other verses,Sapphire represents truth. “O thou afflicted, and tossed with tempests, and not comforted, behold I will set thy stones with antimony, and lay thy foundations in sapphires.”
It was also believed to protect kings from harm and envy, and protect people from poverty, stupidity and ill temper.
The sixth stone on the breastplate. In ancient Rome, emerald was viewed as a symbol of fertility, represents healing and
resurrection, and bestows the gift of prophecy. People used to think it would cure any disease of the eye, putting it in water overnight and using that water the next day to pour on eyes.
The seventh stone of the breastplate. It’s tricky to say what the exact nature of jacinth is, as the name refers to multiple stones, all taking on the likeness of a hyacinth flower. Allegedly, the stone was once used as a talisman against tempests.
The eighth stone on the breastplate. Agate belongs to the silex family and is formed by deposits of siliceous beds in hollows of rocks. The way in which it’s formed gives way to various bands of colors that the stone contains.
Various medicinal powers were attributed to the agate, well into the Middle Ages. It was thought to void all poisons and counteract the infections of any contagious disease. When held in the mouth or hand, agate has been thought to alleviate fever.
In Islamic legend, it is believed that Ali wore the stone, also known as aqiq, on a silver ring on his right hand, facing toward his palm, to protect himself from enemies and misfortune.
The nineth stone on the breastplate of the high priest, Amethyst is one of the ten stones upon which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved. Most often used in crowns, scepters, and the rings of bishops. Amethyst, a name rooted back to Greek mythology, means “not drunken.”
The tenth stone of the breastplate. In Jewish culture, this stone represents the tribe of Zabulon. During the Middle Ages, it was believed to possess the power of relieving anxiety at night, driving away demons and to be an excellent cure for eye diseases.
The eleventh stone of the breastplate, onyx represents the tribe of Joseph. In Chinese culture, this stone is seen as an attractor for money. In Greek mythology, this stone is believed to be the fingernail clippings of the goddess Venus– Onyx is actually Greek for “fingernail.”
The twelfth stone of the breastplate. Jasper derives from the Hebrew word ‘yashepheh’ which means “to polish.” Jasper can take a high polish and was used in ancient times as mantles, pillars and vases.