The Folklore of Opal

The folklore around opal gemstones has changed over the centuries. It has long been associated with hope, happiness, innocence, and luck.

Silver ring with opal mineral gemstone on pearl background

According to Arabic legend, opals fell from the sky in bolts of lightning. Greek mythology stated that opals originated from Zeus’ joyful tears after winning the battle against the Titans. Meanwhile, Australian aborigines believed that the Creator came to Earth on a rainbow, leaving these colorful stones where his feet touched the ground.

Aztecs named fire opal after Quetzalcoatl, their feathered-serpent diety. They believed the “Stone of the Bird of Paradise” could foster creativity and beginnings. They felt it could also bring about necessary destruction.

People in the Middle Ages work opal gemstones to bring them luck. They believed that the color-changing opal possessed the powers of each gemstone whose color appeared in its sheen.

However, that perception changed with the 1829 publication of Sir Walter Scott’s book, “Anne of Geierstein.” The story featured an enchanted princess who wore an opal that changed colors with her moods. But when a few drops of holy water extinguished the stone’s magic fire, the woman soon died. People began associating opals with bad luck. Within a year after publication of Scott’s book, opal sales in Europe fell by 50 percent.

Other stories of bad luck were told through the years. For example, Spain’s King Alfonso XII was gifted an opal ring for his wedding. After giving it to his wife, she died. The ring was then given to his grandmother, siter, and sister-in-law, each of them also dying when in possession of the ring. King Alfonso was the last to wear the opal, dying shortly after. These deaths could have been attributed to the cholera epidemic at the time, but the legend of the cursed opal persists.

When opal deposits were discovered in Australia after 1850, the gemstone’s perception changed yet again. The country started to produce 95 percent of the world’s opal supply and many of the most beautiful specimens. People once again clamored to wear opal jewelry.

If you’re looking for opal jewelry to celebrate an October birthday or 14th wedding anniversary, find an American Gem Society jeweler near you.

NOTE: The above is intended to educate on the myth, legend, and historical lore of opal and is not meant to be interpreted as fact.

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