“Natures Fireworks” - A beginner’s guide to OPAL - Pt1 Myths, Legends and FolkloreThis 8 part series has been written for the novice opal collector or admirer who has little or no knowledge about opal.
It is hoped that by reading the information contained within, you will have a better understanding of where opal comes from, how it is mined, and the value and various types of opal available to the collector, investor, or those who just want a better understanding of these fascinating stones.
There are over 100 different types of opal being mined around the world, with each type being unique to the area it came from and no two opals alike.
I have attempted to include the most common types available to you as a buyer.
Myths, Legends and Folklore
Opal has been treasured throughout history from the early Aztecs and Romans to Queen Victoria, who loved opals so much that she gave them away as wedding presents. They have adorned the crowns of the Holy Roman Emperor, and are set in the crown jewels of France. Josephine was given an opal with brilliant red flashes called “The Burning of Troy” by Napoleon. Roman historian Pliny described the beauty of opals as the combination of the beauty of all gems.
“Natures Fireworks” and “The Queen of Gems” are some of the superlatives that have been used to describe opal. The word itself – “opal” – may have several origins and differing suggestions as to its first use: One is that it comes from a Sanskrit word “upala,” simply meaning “precious stone.” Another is that the Romans knew it by different names
– “opthalmus,” from the Greek word for “eye,” and “paederes,” meaning both “child and “favourite.” Whatever the actual name origin; opal has been a favoured, valued stone throughout a long period of history.
The Australian Aboriginals believe that they have lived in Australia since the Dreamtime, the beginning of all creation. Over time, their culture has produced a rich variety of mythologies in hundreds of different languages. To the Aborigines, opals, like other minerals, have a spiritual value because they represent something a Dreaming ancestor left behind as a sign of their presence. The aboriginal Wangkumara tribe recount a legend of how their people gained fire from opal stones, with the assistance of a Muda – a creator who switches from human form to pelican:
"Long, long ago the Wangkumara people decided to send a pelican (Muda) to explore the Northern Territory, so he could return and tell them what was there. After a time, while still in Queensland, the pelican felt ill and landed on top of a hill. While resting, the pelican observed the ground beneath him, amazed by its magnificent array of colours. Being curious he began to peck at the coloured stones with his beak. Suddenly, a spark flew out and lit dry grass nearby. The flames rose and spread across long distances, approaching a group of Wangkumara who were camped near by. The people were able to cook their meat and fish for the first time, grateful for this new gift brought by these precious stones".
Throughout history, early cultures credited opal with magical properties, believing it to possess the healing properties of all the gemstones, due to its multitude of colours.
The ancient Greeks believed the opal gave the wearer protection from disease and was a sought after gem for its gift of prophecy and foresight. Greek astrologers, mediums and soothsayers also used the stone for divination. As well as its mystical significance and psychic vision properties, opal was also thought to aid in digestion, stomach disorder, and to cure all disease associated with the eyes. It was believed that when a person was to suffer a minor illness, the stone became dull and grey; it would turn a sickly yellow when an injury or accident was about to occur.
Superstitions associated with opal continued throughout the Middle Ages, when opal was widely believed to be beneficial to eyesight, while others thought wearing opal would render the wearer invisible to the eye. It was for this reason thieves held opal in such high regard, using it as their symbol, due to this superstition. Blond haired women wore necklaces of opal to protect their hair from loosing its colour, while opal amulets were worn to attract happiness, love, good fortune and favour.
In the 19th century, opal was considered unlucky in Europe, due to the plot of a popular novel of the time written by Sir Walter Scott, while in Asia it has always been considered to bring loyalty and hope to the wearer.
This conludes part 1. in part 2, we will discover where opal is mined around the world. You will be surprised at some of the locations.
i hope you have enjoyed reading part 1 and i look forward to your company again in part 2.
Best wishes and have a great day
About the author:
I started Kulpunya Opals several years ago to provide the UK and Europe with a specialist supply of opals.
We import directly from key suppliers in Australia with whom we have developed strong and long-term relationships.