October / Opal
“… it is made up of the glories of the most precious stones. To describe it is a matter of inexpressive difficulty: There is in it the gentler fire of the ruby, the brilliant purple of the amethyst, the sea-green of the emerald, all shining together in an incredible union.” – Pliny The Elder, 23AD-79AD
“…the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva once vied in jealous love for a beautiful woman. This angered the Eternal, who changed the fair mortal into a creature made of mist. Thereupon each of the three gods endowed her with his own colour so as to be able to recognise her. Brahma gave her the glorious blue of the heavens, Vishnu enriched her with the splendour of gold, and Shiva lent her his flaming red. But all this was in vain, since the lovely phantom was whisked away by the winds. Finally, the Eternal took pity on her and transformed her into a stone, a stone [sic.] that sparkles in all the colours of the rainbow.” – “Gemstones” by William Heaps
“In the dreamtime of the aborigines, it is said that the Creator came down to Earth on a rainbow to bring the message of peace to humans and at the point where his foot touched the earth, the stones started sparkling and came alive with all the colours of the rainbow.” – Anonymous
These quotes, reference the unique mineraloid that is October’s birthstone- the opal. Though usually linked with Australia, the opal is not exclusive to this continent. Celebrated for their
‘play of colours”, the name opal is derived from the Sanskrit word upala meaning precious stone.
The ancient Greeks referred to opal as opallios, literally, “to see a change in colour” and believed it bestowed the gift of foresight. Other cultures revered it as a sacred stone, one that would cloak a “true” owner with supernatural talent for invisibility – subsequently thieves and highwaymen appropriated the opal as their profession’s good luck charm!
Opals comprise of hydrated silicon dioxide, which in simple terms is a mix of silica and water. They range from colourless, to white, blue, grey, and on through to black. As light passes through the silica spheres in the microstructure of the opal, it diffracts into the rainbow display that is the colour spectrum. The colours ebb and flow as the viewing angle changes.
Traditionally a symbol of love and hope, the ancients believed that opals fell from the heavens in flashes of lightening. During the middle ages the opal was considered an accurate barometer of an individual’s wellbeing – colour intensity fluctuations were indicative of a change in health. Women once wore opals in their hair to protect its shine and colour.
Shakespeare referenced the opal in “Twelfth Night” as the queen of gems, as this notion is as applicable today as it was then.
“October’ child is born for woe,
And life’s vicissitudes must know,
But lay an opal on her breast,
And hope will lull those woes to rest”
Birthstone Poems, 1870, Tiffany & Co, author unknown.