art by Rachel Anderson:
If gazing into the sparkling purple depths of an Amethyst suffuses you with a sense of powerful well being, this is only to be expected. The ancient Greeks believed that this gemstone held many powers, among them protection against intoxication. In fact, the word Amethyst comes from the Greek word "amethystos," meaning sober. In ancient Greece, the gemstone was associated with the god of wine, and it was common practice to serve this beverage from Amethyst goblets in the belief that this would prevent overindulgence. Even today, Amethyst is considered a stabilizing force for those struggling to overcome addictive behaviors.
February's purple birthstone has been found among the possessions of royalty throughout the ages. The intense violet hue of Amethyst appealed to early monarchs, perhaps because they often wore this color. Purple dye was scarce and expensive at one time, and so it was reserved for the garments of kings and queens. Amethyst has been found in ruins dating as far back as the ninth century, adorning crowns, scepters, jewelry, and breastplates worn into battle. A large Amethyst is among the closely guarded gemstones in the British Crown Jewels.
From the earliest dawn of history the occult properties of amethysts were seen as an antidote to drunkenness, by all writers, the name originating from a Greek word meaning "without intoxication". According to the Greek Philosopher Aristotle it was also the name of a beautiful nymph who invoked the aid of the Goddess Diana to protect her from the attentions of the god Bacchus, which the goddess did by converting her into a precious gem, upon which Bacchus, in remembrance of his love, gave the stone its colour and the quality of preserving its wearers from the noxious influence of wine. Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and intoxication, known as Dionysus to the Greeks.
The Egyptians often used amethysts for Talismans, their soldiers wearing them as Amulets for success in their exploits and calmness in danger. The ancient Roman author Pliny says the Magi believed that if the symbols of the Sun and Moon were engraved upon the Amethyst it made a powerful charm against witchcraft, and gave its wearers success to their petitions, good luck and favour with those in authority.
Amethysts have always been associated with ecclesiastical decorations, its frequent use in Episcopal rings giving rise to its description as "the Bishop's Stone," and rosaries consisting of Amethyst beads were much in request in ancient times to attract soothing influences in times of stress and to confer a pious calm on their wearers. In religious art it was regarded as an emblem of resignation to earthly sufferings, patience in sorrow, and trust unto death.
During the Middle Ages the qualities attributed to amethysts were many. Medieval people believed it indicated the presence of poison by becoming dim, also personal danger and ill-health by changing colour; it was, moreover, considered to give vigilance to business men, and to sportsmen and soldiers calmness in danger.
The Amethyst is the stone of St. Valentine, who is said to have always worn it. During the Middle Ages in the days of romance and chivalry, if an amethyst was presented by a lady to her knight, or a bride to her husband in the shape of a heart set in silver, it was said to confer the greatest possible earthly happiness on the pair who would be blessed with good fortune for the remainder of their lives.