I’m writing this early morning, coming down from three days working one of the largest gem shows in Vancouver. All weekend all anyone could talk about (aside from the glut of gorgeous stones) was the current celestial movements – the strange mirrored doorways of both a lunar and solar eclipse close together and the retrograde of mercury carrying us on an energetic current as summer in the northern hemisphere drains out.
It was a beautiful and telling juxtaposition: looking so far out from ourselves while also at an event all about objects and energies harvested from deep within the earth.
To me – this seeking, this watchfulness, this questioning, is all symptomatic of looking for a way to navigate one’s self through times of shift and intense change. We are trying to see the path of what is coming through the stars as we are looking to hold a tangible piece of earth in our hands to reassure and somehow guide us through.
At times like this, I will usually rifle through my jewellery to wear something comforting close to the skin; something like rose quartz or a lithium based crystal like kunzite. Yet while I think comfort and emotional nourishment are highly important, I’m going to talk this month about stones good for crossing emotional thresholds and barriers.
The season is turning and change is upon us, so the momentum is with you to enact or meet change.
So let’s start with lapis. Lapis Lazuli, the Pharaoh’s stone, the stone of ancient Chinese priest-kings, of Catherine the Great, of the hydrokinetic Lapis on Steven Universe. This is a stone we have adored and adorned ourselves with for thousands of years. It is a stone of lore, a stone codified in sacred texts, a stone we have used to pigment paint, and found throughout the oldest trade routes in human history. Energetically, lapis is said to be stone of inner-vision and truth-telling in the highest possible sense: consistently representing the best aspects of ourselves even when we normally cloud our thinking with insecurity or the necessary banalities of every day life. Lapis is touted as working with the higher ideologies of philosophical thinking, spiritual awareness, and emotional teaching/learning.
It’s all very lofty, I know. I tend to suggest using it in a bit more a subtle way – a way that I hope diverges a bit from some of the previous Orientalism that has made the stone so popular. I take in the meaning that lapis is meant to impart a kind of ennobling energy in us – but I use it to ennoble my self-awareness instead of getting caught in patterns of self-loathing and punishment. It’s not about feeding ego so much as it is about being magnanimous towards the parts of yourself that are holding you back.
With its saturated night blues and famous pyrite inclusions, lapis is famous for looking like our own personal shards of starry sky – constellations fixed in messages unique to its bearer. A good reminder that we all have a personal destiny – whether we believe this is driven by ourselves or by some external, cosmic force. Lapis tells us not just to keep our hearts fixed on our what we feel is our purpose, but to acknowledge how this requires us to often choose the “higher road” and exercise our intuition and empathy.
How it’s mined: While lapis is found in Canada, Russia, and China in addition to Afghanistan – it is almost exclusively still mined in Afghanistan (in which some of the oldest active mine sites have been in use for six thousand years). In the summer of 2016 there was a flurry of news articles about how lapis is considered a Conflict Mineral as its extraction and sale has been used to fund corruption – and in some cases even the worst regimes in the country. I’ve been studying the situation for some time and the tough thing about buying lapis is that there really is no way to be certain about its journey to you.
Does this mean we should utterly avoid it? No, I don’t necessarily think so. I think we just need to be ever more mindful of where it is coming from and who we are purchasing it from as well. For example, all of the lapis that I currently have is from a jewellery supply store that was going out of business due to family hardship. I knew that purchasing those stones not only helped someone when they really needed it, but I also wasn’t fuelling the market as the business was closing. Thus, if you’re going to buy lapis – please consider buying old stock, or from a small business. If you believe in the energetic properties of stones – be sure to give it a good cleansing (sun, sound or meditation only – lapis shouldn’t be immersed in water). Should you already have and work with lapis – as I do, I’d suggest taking its conflict mineral status into consideration by using those ideas about “higher self” and practicing empathy and inclusiveness as often as you possibly can to help balance the scales.
How it’s graded: lapis lazuli is a rock, not a crystal (the crystalline version of the blue component of lapis, lazurite, does form crystals) so grading is very much a matter of taste. Usually lapis that has a vivid blue pigment (but not light) with a good dusting of pyrite is highly desirable. Lapis that is too dark or that conversely has a lot of white calcite streaking it typically considered lower-grade even while it can add a lovely dimension to how lapis emulates the sky. What you are looking for is solid bright blues and a medium dusting of pyrite with very little (to no) white or browns.
So while lapis is very much about manifesting the best parts of yourself, tourmaline is excellent for looking inwards and finding out what those parts are. There is a whole rainbow of tourmaline from dense opaque black to yellow and clear. But in keeping with the theme of liminality – I want to specifically talk about bi and multi coloured tourmaline.
Tourmaline so sought after because of its huge variation and its reputation for being a bit of an energetic powerhouse. Bi-colour tourmalines (like the famous green and pink ‘watermelon’ variety) are often a pairing of pink and either blue, green, brown or black tourmaline. Pink tourmaline is a water element stone that helps to heal, comfort, and inspire the heart with love. Green tourmaline is said to impart strength and endurance to the heart, while blue aids in finding inner knowledge and communication. Brown tourmaline, or dravite – is said to aid in the acceptance of our shadow selves, while black tourmaline is a well-known purification and protection stone. The pairing of pink – which in crystal lore is representative of true and spiritual love – with these other colours tells a story of an almost alchemical synthesis: pairing the heart’s knowing and love with strength, intellect, self-acceptance and protection.
Bi-colour tourmalines are truly liminal in that they are transition itself – they are two or more things at once. For me, this really speaks to how we are thousand-fold in what we contain as individuals; always changing, feeling, thinking, and remembering. I use these crystals to meditate on what different parts of myself I can braid together – either to inspire my creativity and problem-solving, or to survive something emotionally rough.
How it’s mined: Tourmaline is currently mined from a wide array of places – from the Unite States to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brazil, and several regions in Africa. It’s an excellent example of how sometimes the market shifts away from conflict minerals (a few years ago almost all tourmalines on the market were from either Pakistan or Afghanistan) to new finds elsewhere. Recently there have been a lot of stunningly bright tourmalines from Minas Gerais, Brazil, and some very very interesting bi-colour crystals out of Madagascar (including a lot of purple material which is pretty rare!).
How it’s graded: Unless we are talking about black tourmaline – usually the more translucent and “gemmy” the tourmaline – the more expensive and sought after it is. Translucency and the saturation (and number) of colours are key. Tourmalines can be very susceptible to natural fracture lines – so the more whole a crystal, the larger a piece it is – the higher the grade/value. Rare hues are yellow, purple, and blue.