Amethyst has one of the oldest and most detailed historical traditions of any healing stone. It is included in virtually every known lapidary, texts which describe gemstones and their powers. Some of the most ancient traditions concerning Amethyst date back to the very dawn of human civilization and probably originated long before that! For centuries, gem dealers in the Old World considered Amethyst to be one of only five “cardinal gemstones,” comparable with Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. These cardinal gemstones were considered so rare that only the very highest echelons of society could hope to own one. However, in the 18th century, large Amethyst mines were discovered in Brazil and soon flooded the market, thus transforming Amethyst from a “precious” to a “semi-precious” stone.
The very oldest reference to Amethysts is found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a funerary text dating back to 3400 BCE. The Book of the Dead is a funerary text whose name may be more correctly translated as the Book of Emerging Forth Into The Light. It contains a series of magical spells which, if used correctly, were thought to help the souls of the dead travel safely through the Underworld. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, an Amethyst heart is described as the symbol for ‘wisdom in life’ and later as a symbol of ‘pure intellect.’
According to later Egyptian medical texts, an Amethyst necklace combined with a swallow feather and hung on a peacock ‘hair’ would protect the wearer from sorcery and cure gout. The remedy was described centuries later by Pliny the Elder (CE 23-79), a Roman author, naturalist and philopsher. In his lapidary, The Natural History of Precious Gemstones, Pliny the Elder wrote, “The lying Magi claim…that if the names of the Moon or Sun be engraved upon [an Amethyst], and they be hung about the neck from the hair of a baboon, or the feathers of a swallow, they are a charm against witchcraft. They are also serviceable to persons having petitions to make to Princes: they keep off hailstorms and flights of locusts, with the assistance of a spell…” While Pliny the Elder scoffed at the Egyptian beliefs, he also related that Amethyst was nicknamed ‘Venus’ eyelid’ on account of its great beauty. Most famously, Pliny the Elder provided one of the earliest known references for Amethyst’s ability to ward off drunkenness, a feat long celebrated by both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.