History of Coral

Coral is not a mineral, bur rather a marine invertebrate.  They live in compact colonies, some of which form ocean reefs. Corals secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton, which under the right circumstances can be dried and preserved. While many dried Corals are soft and fragile, a few such as Corallium rubrum, which is native to the Mediterranean Sea, are hard enough when dried to be used for jewelry and talismans. The vivid red coloring of Corallium rubrum has made it a popular and precious “gemstone” for thousands of years. This popularity meant it was included in many of the earliest known lapidaries, texts which describe gemstones and their powers.

Today many coral species, including Corallium rubrum, are threatened or endangered.  Hard corals are usually wild-harvested in an unsustainable manner.  They often in very deep water and as a result they grow very slowly, compared to the soft corals that tend to grow nearer the surface.  Hard corals are the main architects of reefs, home to some of the world’s greatest biodiversity.  Protecting our reefs is one of the most important tasks for humans as caretakers of this planet.  Moonrise Crystals does not recommend buying wild-harvested Coral and is working with coral experts to find a truly sustainable source for the healing industry.

The legendary Greek poet, Orpheus, wrote that Coral was a “gift of Athena” (the goddess of wisdom and handicrafts). Orpheus is credited with writing the Orphic Hymns (6th century BCE) which describe some of the great Greek myths. In one of them the poems state that Red Coral, “originated when the newly-severed Gorgon’s head [Medusa] was laid down by Perseus on the sea-weeds, which the issuing gore turned to stone.” The poems later go on to state that Coral is the “farmer’s friend” and when mixed with seeds can protect crops from dangerous insects, diseases and storms. It could also be used to prevent witchcraft, counteract poisons, and protect against robbers. Four hundred years later, the ancient Greek lapidary, The Virtue of Stones, by Damigeron, likewise stated that Coral, “makes him who wears it unconquerable, powerful, unable to be touched, free from fear and care, giving orders easily and having easy access to the great.”

Persus With Medusa

Perseus with the head of Medusa

During the Roman Era, Pliny the Elder (CE 23-79), a Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher also mentioned Red Coral in his Natural HistoryHe wrote that Coral could protect sailors from storms at sea as well as from lightning strikes; while drinking powdered Coral mixed with water or wine was believed to protect against all evils. But beware, he cautioned, if the Coral was broken unintentionally, it could then lose all its potency. Roman physicians routinely proscribed Coral medicines. One popular elixir was made by boiling Coral in melted wax and then steeping the resulting mixture in alcohol. This potion was meant to increase perspiration to treat fevers and other “bad humors.” Another remedy called for poultice of Coral and saffron wrapped in the skin of a cat and tied around the patient’s neck. This strange poultice supposedly had marvelous healing properties, particularly for reducing fevers. When Emerald was added to it, the power was said to be magnified.

A millennium later, Coral was similarly included in many medieval European lapidaries. For example, during the 13th century, Albertus Magnus claimed to have definitive proof that Coral could slow the flow of blood, cure madness, bring wisdom, and allow the bearer to be safe from storms and to cross seas and rivers confidently. The 16th century Speculum Lapidum, states that carrying Coral, “drives away ghosts, hobgoblins, illusions, dreams, lightning, wind and tempests.” Because of its color, Red Coral was often closely associated with blood. According to one European tradition, a necklace of Red Coral, a pater de sang, or blood rosary should be worn as protection against hemorrhaging. While another medieval European tradition claimed that Red Coral changed its color in accordance with a woman’s monthly cycle. As a result, women with Red Coral jewelry or talismans were advised to keep them hidden from men for modesty’s sake. This folklore was widely believed as late as the early Twentieth century. Today, Red Coral is often referred to as the blood of Mother Earth.

Until the advent of Coral aquaculture, most Red Corals were harvested from the Mediterranean Sea. Some of these Corals then traveled back along the Silk Road to Asia. Ancient Vedic texts record the origin story of many gemstones including Coral. According to legend, long ago the demon, Vala, took the form of a stone cave where stolen cows were hidden. Indra, the leader of the demigods, split Vala apart, killing him and freeing the cows. Vala’s body was scattered across the earth and his various body parts were transformed into gems. His intestines were thrown in the water, where they became Coral reefs. According to Marco Polo, Red Coral jewelry was very popular in the Himalayas, particularly throughout Tibet. Its color corresponds with one of the Buddha’s incarnations, making it an especially desirable commodity for Lamas. Among modern Tibetans, Red Coral and Blue Turquoise are often paired together for striking jewelry and decorative items.

Coral has a special glamour for desert peoples. It has long been prized by Arab peoples, who often used it as funerary ornaments. According to Persian lore, true Coral always smelled of the sea and only gained its vivid coloring and mystical powers after being removed from the water. Red Coral was introduced to Native Americans by Spanish explorers and it was soon particularly popular among the southwestern Hopi and Zuni tribes. Among desert tribes, water is the most precious commodity, and so anything associated with water, including Coral and seashells, is often considered particularly precious.