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Garnet: A Stone for January

Garnet is the traditional birthstone of the month of January. Largely invented by the 19th-century jewelry industry, the system of birthstones as we popularly know it today is based on a poem published by Tiffany & Co. in 1870. While I have never given much credence to this notion of birthstones due to its history in the early roots of modern consumerism, garnet kept coming through as I was meditating on a stone for January.

Garnet in matrix

Garnet in matrix

The tradition of birthstones in general terms has a long and developed history. Some credit the idea to the twelve magic stones adorning the breastplates of the Israelite high priests as outlined in the Book of Exodus. Other ancient mystical traditions, including those of India and Mesopotamia, attribute stones to each of the zodiacal signs, roughly corresponding to the twelve months of the Gregorian calendar. While many birthstones have been changed or added throughout the centuries due to fashionable trends, garnet has been steadfast as the sole stone associated with the month of January since the 1500s. Garnet also has strong magical associations with the planet Saturn, the ruling planetary influence of Capricorn. As Chronos—the ruler of time—Saturn focuses an, albeit sometimes somber, energy of maturity through garnet. A very rooted, pragmatic energy emanates from this crystal. The deep burgundy coloured almandine garnet naturally forms in beautiful dodecahedrons on a rock matrix. The sacred geometry of the number 12 links us with perfect completion—the solar and zodiacal cycle of the year. The rough nodules, once removed from the matrix, can be cut and polished to showcase this stunning natural geometry.

Almandine garnet's dodecahedral shape

Almandine garnet’s dodecahedral shape

Some of the interesting characteristics of the garnet family are its myriad forms and colours. Most of us think of a blood-red stone when it comes to garnet, and that certainly is the most common variety of the crystal on the market, especially in jewelry. The word garnet originates from Middle French and refers to the pomegranate’s red colour— grenade. However, garnet occurs in a variety of other colours: notably green, orange, and black. Uvarovite is an especially intriguing green variety of garnet from Russia that forms aggregations of very finely sized crystals. The black form of garnet is known as melanite. Another, called spessartite is an orange garnet that forms usually in dense crystalline clusters on smoky quartz. Almandine garnet, the red dodecahedral variety, is the one associated with the month of January and the one I wish to explore further for the purposes of this entry.

Spessartite on smoky quartz

Spessartine garnet on smoky quartz

Just as in my previous post about citrine—and its associations with fire and sunlight—all crystals and stones can be associated with an elemental power—one of Earth, Air, Fire, or Water. Ancient cultures from Greece to China had a system of elements, the raw forces of nature as perceived in the day-to-day lives of the people. Each element developed its own mythologies, magical folklore, and personifications. The four classical elements listed above, as most commonly understood in Western Hermeticism, were developed largely by Aristotle, and later Paracelsus. Considering this, I intuitively link garnet with the Earth element—with deep roots and solidity—as heated by Fire. The garnet’s dark crimson speaks of the primordial earth’s molten core, tectonic force, as well as the eternal smouldering flame from which new fires are awoken. I also strongly associate garnet with the Gnomes, the elemental rulers of Earth. Since these mythological creatures are the guardians of all the gems and minerals within the Earth’s surface, one could associate them with all crystals and stones. However, something about the energy of the deep red garnet has always reminded of me these staunch, gentle creatures and their underground kingdoms. The ethereal Fey—the fairy folk—have always been associated with beautiful underground realms where unwitting humans are easily carried away for lustful trysts and luxurious feasts, or for darker, more nefarious purposes. For me, garnet embodies the energy of what is underneath—underneath the earth’s surface like the kingdoms of the Gnomes and Fey, underneath our own skin, and, in the month of January, what is underneath the frosts and snow. In this way garnet is the blood beneath the surface of our skin, the bones giving us strength, the thudding and throbbing pulse of the earth’s core and our hearts of flesh and blood. Garnet represents the hushed breath of the hibernating creatures beneath the blanket of winter, the bulbs and rhizomes of plants slowly and patiently waiting, laying the basis for what will sprout in the spring.

The Immaculate Heart

The Immaculate Heart

In a similar way, garnet vertically links aspects of our energy bodies—the below with the above. The gentle but confident strength of garnet builds a bridge, connecting Muladhara—the Root Chakra—directly with Anahata—the Heart Chakra. This is a unique pathway between these two energy vortexes. It allows us to anchor into the earth— the sacred womb/tomb— the otherwise boundless energy of love generated by the Immaculate Heart. It facilitates a conduit for an otherwise naturally diffuse energy to ground and manifest. In Qabalistic terms, this pathway joins Malkuth—the three-dimensional kingdom of bone and blood—through the astral, lunar sphere of Yesod—the Sacral Chakra—directly to Tiphereth—the pure realm of unconditional compassion for all sentient beings. Tiphereth is the Sun/Son—the Christ/Buddha consciousness—the place of divine union where we become the anointed ones. In Hebrew Gematria, the link between Yesod and Tiphereth is the energy of the letter Samekh, which in Tarot is Temperance, the reconciler. This sacred pathway between root and heart allows us to explore the polarities of Love and move freely between Agape—spiritual loveand Eros—sexual love. Garnet enables the transition in grace between two aspects of love that seem estranged in our modern state. Too often in our culture we create spaces for only one or the other to exist. Orthodox religious institutions deny sacred sexuality and, in so doing, perpetuate the virgin/whore dichotomy—that we must commit to celibacy to experience the divine, or walk a path of shame and guilt, tarnished by lust. This is the sacred endeavor of Temperance, to unite two opposites to form a tempered whole. By exploring this pathway we combine a lower, base form of reality—which doesn’t mean bad or sinful—with a higher, more spiritual reality. We begin to acquaint the Mundane Self with the Higher Self so they no longer remain estranged or at odds. We blend in the crucible of Temperance our psychic atoms to become a unified whole. Garnet is this crucible—warming and nourishing our hearts through the wintry month of January from its deep roots in the earth.

Trump XIV: Temperance

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Obsidian: A Stone for November

Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca – Aztec god of magic

Many of us are familiar with the smooth, glossy black stone called obsidian. Truly, obsidian isn’t a stone at all. Rather, it is a naturally occurring glass that forms when lava from a volcano has cooled under special conditions. Because of its fragile nature, obsidian fractures with sharp edges which is why it was used as a weapon by ancient indigenous peoples who fashioned obsidian shards into arrow and spearheads. Among the Aztec culture, obsidian was sacred to Tezcatlipoca, the god of magic and divination. Large black mirrors were made from obsidian that were used for prophesying during shamanic ceremonies. The black jaguar was sacred to Tezcatlipoca and, because of its colour, was connected with the magical associations of obsidian as the black mirror used to pierce through the illusions of the world to see our true, refined essences. The tectonic crucible from which obsidian originates also links it with Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. Lava was sacred to Pele as the primordial matter that is always regenerating, melted down deep in the earth’s core. As raw, kinetic essence, it bursts forth in grand spectacle, often clearing whatever path is necessary and then shapeshifting once again. Congealing into solid form, it takes on a new identity as a shiny, smooth black glass—the mirror of the magician. The stone of the shaman—the jaguar shapeshifter—obsidian today is especially appropriate and appealing for those who walk the boundary between definitions, refusing categorization—holding a space of openness, one-ness.

Obsidian arrowhead

The mirror-like quality of obsidian draws energy in, much like a black hole, to be devoured by its intense gravity. That’s how I perceive obsidian—a strong, yet gentle magnet that has the ability to dampen and absorb those energies no longer serving positive change. When working with obsidian it becomes impossible to remain stagnant, it doesn’t allow indulgence to linger. This is why I have chosen to discuss obsidian at this time of year. It embodies the type of shadow work I addressed in my previous post regarding the darkening part of the year as experienced in the months of October and November throughout the northern hemisphere. During this time of repose, it is fitting that obsidian offers us a true reflection of self—in its black mirrored surface we are given an unadulterated view of ourselves, a holistic view containing our strengths, glory, failures, and weaknesses. In its reflection we are able to perceive the shadows that hide in daylight. Obsidian allows us to peek behind the curtain of our preferred constructed identities and glimpse those elements that only come out at night, those fears and worries that came out of our closets and from under our beds as children when the bedroom lights were turned off. By working with obsidian we can foster a healthy relationship with these energies. Obsidian allows us to discern through the shadows, bringing them into awareness but while also acting as a sentinel to keep them in check. Just as Cerberus, the three-headed hound guards the realms of Hades, so does obsidian help keep these energies, thoughts, memories, or worries from taking over. Obsidian is, in a sense, dark matter. It represents all the unseen forces at work in the Universe, giving us structure and shape. What, to the eye, we consider empty space, is a vast world of dark energy and dark matter—the stuff of our dreams and nightmares. These ancient myths and fairytales exist in the vast chasms between the churning neutrons, electrons, and protons within the very atoms of everything we see and touch.

Obsidian outcrop

Obsidian outcrop

Obsidian can be readily found in most metaphysical shops. It comes in a wide variety of forms from small tumbled pieces, to raw specimens, to beautifully carved spheres and large mirror discs. I would recommend working with a piece of obsidian around this time of year in the following way: every night before bed sit with the stone in the palm of your hand, preferably by candlelight, firelight, or moonlight. Use the stone as a physical mirror, gaze into the light glinting on its dark surface, as if it were the vast reaches of outer space or the dark still waters of a lake at night. As you are gazing into its depths consider your dark energy. What does it look like? What is its source? When does it emerge? Does it ever get out of control? What do you fear could happen if it did? What holds you back? Keep a journal to answer these questions if you like. The act of writing in itself is sometimes enough to excavate and purge unwanted energy. As you contemplate what you see in the mirror, develop a relationship with the obsidian, it is the gatekeeper for you to acknowledge and contact your shadow self. As the month progresses use the obsidian in different ways: keep it beneath your pillow, place it in your water bottle, bury it in your garden, or place pieces in the corners of your bedroom and note the ways it speaks to you, the dreams you have, shifts in mood, etc.

Obsidian, because of its close ties with deep earth energy, is also extremely grounding. In this way it can send, like a taproot, any residual negativity or unwanted energy deep into the abyss to be broken down and regenerated. If you ever need to access this stabilizing power, reach for a piece of obsidian, carry it in your pocket, and visualize a great root descending from your sacrum and coccyx, down through your legs and the soles of your feet, into the tectonic forces of the earth. Visualize this mighty personal tendril anchoring into the very core of the earth itself. Here you are anchored, empowered by the gravity of the planet on whose surface we walk. This image can be called upon whenever you feel anxious, nervous, distracted, or unsettled. Simply close your eyes for a moment, bring awareness to your breath, stand or sit and bring the above image to mind and hold a meditative intention. Obviously, this type of visualization would be most advantageous if done outside on the ground, at the beach with your feet in the sand, or at the base of a tree.

Apache Tears

Lastly, a particular variety of obsidian, known as Apache tears, are well suited to issues of grief and recovery. Apache tears are small nodules of translucent obsidian found throughout the Arizona desert. So named because of an armed conflict between the Apache nation and the US cavalry in the 1870s during which the Apache were defeated. The tears of the mourning families were said to have turned to stone upon falling to the ground. These stunning specimens carry a very uniquely powerful energy to aid in expressing and transmuting grief and sorrow in both a literal or metaphoric sense.

As with any energy-based work, it is important to remember that crystals and stones are simply tools to be used to aid creative intent. With continued practice, intent is all that’s necessary, however, using objects like crystals and stones is appealing because of their beautiful and unique energies and qualities. Developing relationships with individual crystals and stones is an extremely rewarding experience, an experience I’ve been exploring most of my life.

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