(Author’s Note: Do I love stones? Yes. Is this a dissertation-length article fueled by insomnia and coffee? Yes. Is it a fascinating read? Also yes. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! –> Mack)
In case anyone is wondering what I want for Christmas- I want a polished piece of amber with a creature in it!
I love “Jurassic Park”. Present tense. Roll your eyes if you must, but ever since I could read, I have been enamored with dinosaurs and paleontology, and the first movie came out right when I could watch dinosaurs maul people to death without getting scared. There was a lot to love about the first movie (still a household favorite, even if it is a little bit campy). Besides the coolest depictions of dinosaurs, we got to see a girl hacker and a woman as the more tech-savvy paleontologist. Also, there was a very good moral lesson about how we shouldn’t steal other people’s things, because sometimes you lose your glasses in a mudslide and get killed by a dilophosaurus. See? Moral lesson!
Besides wanting a pet compsognathus (I got a parrot instead, so it sort of counts), do you know what I really wanted from that movie?
I wanted that massive piece of amber, which ends up as the head of a cane. Little seven-year-old me became OBSESSED with geology – because some pretty rocks have creatures in them!! How cool is that?!
The Science of Amber
As gemstones go, amber is a sort of weird one, being sort of organic, but also sort of not. All amber started out as tree resin (hence sort of organic), which underwent the process of fossilization (hence sort of not organic). (1) Amber, as we have access to it now, is a heterogeneous stone, but one that is partially dissolvable in alcohol; can be burned as an incense; can be softened to a plastic consistency and molded; and can be distilled to create an aromatic oil. (1)
Before you ask, no. You can not normally do any of these things with stones.
Amber is also a bit of a misnomer, in that the name is for the fossilized stone, not the tree from which the resin came. Amber is found around the world, and different regions have different trees! Most European amber originated with a type of conifer from the Agathis genus – widespread throughout the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, these trees are now represented in small pockets of species in Borneo, Malaysia, the Philippines, New Caledonia, New Zealand, and very minimally in Australia. (2)
Despite the color association, amber comes in a rainbow of colors, from the more widely available yellows, browns, and gold; to inky black, cherry red, citrusy green, and even a stunning blue!
Baltic amber originated with conifers from the Sciadopityaceae family. (3) Once widespread, there is now one single surviving member of the family, the umbrella pine of Japan. (4) The umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) is considered a living fossil, like the ginkgo tree and aardvark! (5) You probably won’t be able to use the fresh resin in the same way as amber, but if you are very patient (and find the key to immortality) you could make your own amber- the ultimate DIY!!
The third amber is found throughout the American continents and Africa and originated not with conifers, but with legumes from the genus Hymenaea.(1) Unlike the other species, the surviving members of this genus “stayed home”- thirteen species can still be found in the Caribbean, Brazil, and Mexico, and one lonely species can be found in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda!(6)
Don't let the map fool you, while amber is found across the globe, in some countries, the deposits are limited to a very small region!
Baltic Amber is found in Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine, with Russia and Poland making up the main sources of Baltic amber on the market. (7) Additional European deposits of amber are found in England, France, Italy, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland. (7) American amber can be found surprisingly close to home, with significant deposits in Arkansas and New Jersey (known for having leaves and insects preserved in the amber!). (7) Even more deposits can be found throughout Mexico, Canada, and Greenland! (7) Asian amber is largely found in China, Japan, Malaysia, and Myanmar. (7) Africa and Australia boast deposits of “young amber” (a paltry 10,000-5,000,000 years old); referred to as “copal”, deposits are currently found primarily in Tanzania and New Zealand. (8, 7)
Amber in History
Amber, like many gemstones, has been prized by ancient civilizations. However, the ancient world knew it by a different name- Electrum!(1) Actually, the ancient world knew two mineable resources as electrum: amber from ancient Greece, and a naturally occurring gold-and-silver alloy from ancient Egypt (wait until I tell you about sapphires and lapis lazuli…).(9)
And this is why you should never drive a chariot without a license, folks. The gods get mad. Jan Carel van Eyck, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The name is traced back to the ancient Greek myth of Phaeton. Phaeton was Helios’ son, and got it into his head that he would drive his father’s chariot to prove that he was really the son of a sun god. Helios was not a huge fan of this idea, but Phaeton tried anyway. And it was a disaster. So much of a disaster that Zeus smite Phaeton with one of his famed lightning bolts. Following his death, Pheaton’s sisters (noticeably absent from the story until he died), turned into trees and wept tears of electrum. (10)
The myth serves to explain why a certain region of ancient Greece was so rich in amber deposits, and the word gave rise to one of the most ubiquitous words in modern vocabulary- electricity! The name was more apt than you might expect, as amber has the ability to hold a static electric charge! (11, 12)
The use of amber for adornment can be traced all the way back to the Stone Age, which just goes to show you that even a cave person can have good taste! (13) Ancient China gave rise to the practice of distilling amber for its oil, and prized it for its musky aroma. (14) The practice of distilling fossilized amber continues today, and it is quite a precious commodity- our supplier charges a staggering $202.00 per OUNCE- that’s twice as expensive as rose absolute! (15) Amber also has an extensive application in folk medicine, where it is prized both for its purported healing properties, and its potential to help calm the mind. (16) In 2021, scientists began looking into these healing properties, and while the jury is still out, it shows some promise! (17)
I always wanted to wallpaper my apartment with 650 tons of amber... Amber Room. (2023, February 22). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amber_Room
In more recent history, this precious stone was used by Prussian King Frederick to decorate a room- it utilized 6.5 tons of amber, and while the original room was lost to the Nazis, a replica was created, in all its glory. Considered the 8th wonder of the world before it was lost, the room was impressive not only for its beauty, but also because it was relocated several times between 1701 and 1945. (18)
Amber in Metaphysic and Magic
Phaeton wasn’t the only mythological figure associated with amber- Norse mythology speaks of a necklace worn by Freja, crafted by dwarves from gold and amber, while Lithuanian mythology attributes amber to the tears of a sea goddess. (19, 20) Amber is also associated with the ancient Egyptian goddess of war and healing, Sekhmet. (21)
Unsurprisingly, ancient and modern culture associate amber with the sun. (21) This association with the sun is reflected in many of its metaphysical correspondences. Amber was used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans as a protective talisman and a ward against negative spirits. (21) It was also well utilized as a good luck charm for warriors going into battle, believed to bolster courage and confidence, not unlike tiger’s eye. (22)
In more modern times, amber is respected both as a stone of healing and balancing and as a stone of confidence and inner strength. (23) It is also frequently used for absorbing or dispelling negative energies, making it a valuable tool for energy- and aura-based healers. (21) Amber is also purported to help support intuition and wisdom. (21)
Amber is associated with the navel and sacral chakras (much like fossilization, I won't be going too deeply into chakras. But I do encourage you to dive into the research if you are interested in the Hindu or Buddhist tantras, or New Age traditions. There is so much more to chakras than a cute color palette and a Pinterest infographic!). The navel chakra (or Manipura) is often associated with the color yellow, and with the power of transformation, as well as relationships. (21, 24, 25) Paired with the navel chakra, amber is believed to encourage self-expression and self-interpretation, without holding on to fears of what others may think or do as a result. (21)
The sacral chakra (or Svadhishthana) is associated with the color orange, and is reputed to assist in creativity, manifesting desires, and strengthened confidence. (24, 26) With the sacral chakra, amber is reputed to bring balance to the mind a body, allowing the user to embrace happiness and flexibility. (21)
While I may not use actual amber in its stone or oil form in the Amber products, they do fall in line with the folk uses of the stone (healing and calming), and have a stunning range of amber colors! I use the stone exclusively as a focal bead for the Empowerment Lavaliere, paired with mookaite, yellow amazonite, orange aventurine, and yellow agate. If it is the aroma of amber that calls to you, I don’t blame you- true amber is one of my favorite scents! I use it in Archangel, Art of War, Commander, and Keelah Se’lai; and it can be found in my autumnal fragrances Candy Man, Cthulhu Rising, It’s ALIVE!!! and Pumpkinhead!
A LITTLE LIGHT READING (The REFERENCES!!)
Amber. (2023, March 1). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amber
Agathis. (2023, March 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agathis
Baltic amber. (2023, March 11). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltic_amber
Sciadopityaceae. (2023, January 7). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sciadopityaceae
Living fossil. (2023, March 3). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_fossil
Hymenaea. (2023, January 28). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymenaea
Amber Info. (n.d.). http://www.realgems.org/list_of_gemstones/amber_info.html
Delclòs, X., Peñalver, E., Ranaivosoa, V., & Solórzano-Kraemer, M. M. (2019). Unravelling the mystery of “Madagascar copal”: Age, origin and preservation of a Recent resin. PLoS ONE, 15(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232623
Electrum. (2023, January 22). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrum
Myth of Phaethon :: Amber Museum. (n.d.). Музей Янтаря. https://www.ambermuseum.ru/en/home/about_amber/legends/phaethon_myth
Origin and meaning of electric. (n.d.). Etymonline. https://www.etymonline.com/word/electric
Causey, F. (2019, November 26). The Properties of Amber. Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum. https://www.getty.edu/publications/ambers/intro/6/
Grimaldi, D. A. (2009). Pushing Back Amber Production. Science, 326(5949), 51–52. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1179328
Riddle, J. M. (1973). AMBER in ancient Pharmacy: The Transmission of Information About a Single Drug: A Case Study. Pharmacy in History, 15(1), 3–17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41108779
L. (n.d.). Amber Oil, Fossilized. Eden Botanicals. https://www.edenbotanicals.com/amber-oil-fossilized.html
Zhu, Z., Chen, C., Zhu, Y., Shang, E., Zhao, M., Guo, S., Guo, J., Qian, D., Tang, Z., Yan, H., & Duan, J. (2019). Exploratory Cortex Metabolic Profiling Revealed the Sedative Effect of Amber in Pentylenetetrazole-Induced Epilepsy-Like Mice. Molecules, 24(3), 460. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24030460
American Chemical Society. (2021, April 5). Paleopharmaceuticals from Baltic amber might fight drug-resistant infections. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 13, 2023 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210405075859.htm
Amber Room. (2023, February 22). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amber_Room
Brísingamen. (2023, February 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Br%C3%ADsingamen
Legend of Jurate and Kastytis :: Amber Museum. (n.d.). https://www.ambermuseum.ru/en/home/about_amber/legends/jurate_and_kastytis
Mitchell, R., Mitchell, R., & Mitchell, R. (2022, October 29). Amber Through the Ages: Origin Myths, Medical Uses, and Beautiful Baubles. Ancient Origins Reconstructing the Story of Humanity’s Past. https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-other-artifacts/amber
A. (2023, February 10). Amber Meaning and Uses. Crystal Vaults. https://www.crystalvaults.com/crystal-encyclopedia/amber/
Amber Meanings and Properties. (n.d.). Fire Mountain Gems. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from https://www.firemountaingems.com/resources/encyclobeadia/gem-notes/mbr