I’ve been considering for some time the best way of rendering down the information found in “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones” by George Frederick Kunz for Ars Magica. A pair of plot hooks were shaken loose in an earlier article about gemstones that are possessed by tiny False Gods. For simplicity, I’ve carved his book up into chapters, and then thrown out anything which is outside of Mythic Europe, or postdates the game period for Ars Magica, save where I can shoe-horn it in. This episode covers general material: a follow-up will describe each stone.
Kunz gives many magical effects for each stone, but it’s not necessary that every myth he relates be true, or that all stones of a type share the exactly the same properties. Each power might be a Virtue of the stone, granted to the carrier, but they might also be Divine or Infernal powers, caused by aligned spirits that dwell in the stones.
I’ll be saying “Quoting Kunz” an awful lot, to try and break up quotes from him with my inculcations.
The Source of Engraved Stones
Kunz noted that talismanic stones were produced, in greatest quantity, in Alexandria, but that they have been shipped everywhere, and that they were no longer made in the game period. In part this is because Alexandria fell to Islamic forces, and the new rulers were not in favour of the depiction of material things in art.
After the third or fourth century of our era the art of gem-engraving seems to have been lost, or at least to have been very seldom practised, and it is noteworthy in the matter that after this period writers who treat of the virtues of engraved gems as talismans rarely, if ever, use the words “if you engrave” such or such a figure on a stone, but write “if you find” such a figure…As the art of gem engraving was not practised in the Middle Ages, some medieval writers suppose that the engraved talismanic gems current in their time were not works of art, but of nature, and Konrad von Megenberg accepting this view, gave it as his opinion that “God granted these stones their beauty and virtue for the help and comfort of the human race,” adding that when he hoped to receive help from them he in no wise denied the grace of God.
Gem engraving is one of the arts which magic is particularly suited to, because it uses materials which are very expensive, unless you are temporarily creating them in the process of using Rego Magic. Many early talismans were carved with sharp, tiny sapphire tips. Later these were replaced with wheels that were dusted with a hard substance, diamond being best.
The idea that some stones are naturally disgorged from the Earth with images upon them moves them away from claims of idolatory, but what happens when the images on a gem are related to the Order of Hermes?
Can your covenant mine stones with odd characters on them, or make their stones more valuable by pretending to?
Designs of virtue
The virtue believed to be inherent in precious stones was thought to gain an added potency when the stone was engraved with some symbol or figure possessing a special sacredness, or denoting and typifying a special quality. It is true that the earliest engraved stones, the Babylonian cylinders and the Egyptian scarabs, were both designed to serve an eminently practical purpose as well, namely, that of seals; but in a great number of instances these primitive seals were looked upon as endowed with talismanic power, and were worn on the person as talismans.
A list of these symbolic designs is said to have been given in the “Book of Wings,” by Ragiel, one of the curious treatises composed about the thirteenth century under the influence of Hebrew and Greco-Roman tradition. Although it owes its origin to the Hebrew “Book of Raziel,” it bears little if any likeness to that work.
Note the book’s date suits the game period perfectly.
I’ve cut up the list Kunz gives, slotting it into each stone. At the most basic, the appropriate character adds +1 to the Material bonus for a stone.
Note that some people thought the wax seals made by their signets had a minor power of their own, related to the image. The core rules don’t handle that fantastically well, but you can simulate it by having a ring cast a small spell on the sealed object with, for example, the Faerie Magic duration Until.
House Guernicus is probably interewsted in magical seals. The lives of the Order’s contract lawyers would be made far easier if binding magical contracts, a sort of conditional curse, were easier in Hermetic magic.
Alexander the Great
In Roman times the image of Alexander the Great was looked upon as possessing magic virtues, and it is related that when Cornelius Macer gave a splendid banquet in the temple of Hercules, the chief ornament of the table was an amber cup, in the midst of which was a portrait of Alexander, and around this his whole history figured in small, finely engraved representations. From this cup Macer drank to the health of the pontifex and then ordered that it should be passed around among the guests, so that each one might gaze upon the image of the great man.
Pollio, relating this, states that it was a common belief that everything happened fortunately for those who bore with them Alexander’s portrait executed in gold or silver. Indeed, even among Christians coins of Alexander were in great favor as amulets, and the stern John Chrysostom sharply rebukes those who wore bronze coins of this monarch attached to their heads and their feet. As illustrating the eclectic character of some of the amulets used in the early Christian centuries, we may note one in the Cabinet de Médailles, in Paris. This has upon the obverse the head of Alexander the Great; on the reverse is a she-ass with her foal, and below this a scorpion and the name Jesus Christ. Another amulet of this class, figured by Vettori, also has the head of Alexander on the obverse, while the reverse bears the Greek monogram of the name Christos.
I’d suggest these coins are powerfully aligned to the Art of Rego. This veneration of Alexander may match some of the ancestral bloodline magic praqcticed by House Mercere. The pontifex of Rome, the chief bridge builder, is claimed as an ancestor by House Guerncius.
Many engraved stones of the Roman imperial period bore the figures of Serapis and of Isis, the former signifying Time and the latter Earth. On other stones the symbols of the zodiacal signs appear, referring to the natal constellation of the wearer…These designs were usually engraved on onyxes, carnelians, and similar stones, in Greek and Roman times; but occasionally the emerald was used in this way, and more rarely the ruby or the sapphire. Here the costliness of the material was probably thought to enhance the value of the amulet. The figures engraved on precious stones were supposed to have a greater or lesser degree of efficacy in themselves independent of the virtues peculiar to the stone on which they were engraved, and this efficacy depended largely upon the hour, day, or month during which the work was executed. For the influence of the planet, star, or constellation which was in the ascendant was thought to infuse a subtle essence into the stone while the appropriate image was being engraved. However, to exert the maximum power, the virtue of the image must be of the same character as the virtue inherent in the material, and the gem became less potent when this was not the case. Certain images, those symbolizing the zodiacal signs for instance, were looked upon as possessing such power that their peculiar nature impressed itself even upon stones inherently of different quality; others again were only efficacious when engraved on stones the quality of which was in sympathy with them.
So, this adds birth stones and natal horoscopes to our lore. I’d suggest these are perfect for longevity charms. Note that for maximum power they need to be carved at an exact time of year, with the correct figure, on the correct stone.
An Italian manuscript, dating from the fourteenth century, gives the following talismanic gems. I’d suggest each of these adds +1 to the gem’s material bonus. Remember: no mundane person in Europe carves stones anymore. You’ll need to find them naturally occurring, or learn to do it yourself, or borrow the skills of a craftsman from an older covenant, or find faeries who will copy the figure for you. These negotiations and preparations are a source of stories. Note also that some of these sources will only provide a single figure: your lode of stones with the mark of the goat won’t necessarily have any stone with the sign of the reaper.
If thou findest a stone on which is graven or figured a man with a goat’s head, whoever wears this stone, with God’s help, will have great riches and the love of all men and animals.
If a stone be found on which is graven or figured an armed man or the draped figure of a virgin, bound with laurel and having a laurel branch in her hand, this stone is sacred and frees the wearer from all changes and haps of fortune.
When thou findest a stone on which is graven the figure of a man holding a scythe in his hand, a stone like this imparts strength and power to the wearer. Every day adds to his strength, courage and boldness.
Hold dear that stone on which thou shalt find figured or cut the moon or the sun, or both together, for it makes the wearer chaste and guards him from lust.
A jewel to be prized is that stone on which is graven or figured a man with wings having beneath his feet a serpent whose head he holds in his hand. A stone of this kind gives the wearer, by God’s help, abundant wealth of knowledge, as well as good health and favor.
Shouldst thou find a stone on which is the figure of a man holding in his right hand a palm branch, this stone, with God’s help, renders the wearer victorious in disputes and in battles, and brings him the favor of the great.
A good stone is that one on which thou shalt find graven or figured a serpent with a raven on its tail. Whoever wears this stone will enjoy high station and be much honored; it also protects from the ill-effects of the heat.
On many of the amulets fabricated in Italy for protection against the dreaded jettatura, or spell of the Evil Eye, the cock is figured. His image was supposed in ancient times to assure the protection of the sun-god, and his crowing was regarded as an inarticulate hymn of praise to this deity. He was also a type of dauntless courage. All this contributed to make him a defender of the weak, especially of women and children, against the wiles of the spirits of darkness.
A class of amulets even older than the Egyptian scarabs is represented by the engraved Assyrio-Babylonian cylinders. There has been much discussion among scholars as to the original purpose for which these cylinders were made, some holding that they were exclusively employed as seals or signets, while others incline to the belief that many of them were intended only for use as amulets or talismans.
These cylinders are perforated and were worn suspended from the neck or wrist, as is most frequently the case with talismans, and the engraved designs often represent religious or mythological subjects, the accompanying inscription merely consisting of the names of the gods. Cylinders of this type could not have been used as personal signets, and it is quite possible that Dr. Wiedemann is right in supposing that their imprint on a document was considered to impart a certain mystic sanction to the agreement, and render the divinities or spirits accountable for the fulfilment of the contract.
The oldest known form of seal is the cylinder. Babylonian and Assyrian cylinder-seals are known of a date as early as 4000 b.c.From the earliest period until 2500 b.c. they were made of black or green serpentine, conglomerate, diorite, and frequently of the central core of a large conch shell from the Persian Gulf. From 2500 b.c. to 500 b.c. the cylindrical form was prevalent, and the materials include a brick-red ferruginous quartz, red hematite (an iron ore), and chalcedony, a beautiful variety of the last-named stone known as sapphirine being sometimes used. On the cylinders produced from 4000 b.c. to 2500 b.c. the designs most frequently represent animal forms; on those dating from 2500 b.c. to 500 b.c. are generally inscribed five or six rows of cuneiform characters. Up to the last-named date the work was all done by the sapphire point, and not by the wheel, and it is not until the fifth century b.c.that wheel work is apparent in any Babylonian or Assyrian stone-engraving.
In the course of the sixth century b.c. the cylindrical seals became less frequent, and the tall cone-like seals came into use. A new type makes its appearance about the fifth or sixth century b.c., namely, the scaraboid seal introduced from Egypt. From the third century b.c. until the second or third century a.d., the seals became lower and flatter, and the perforation larger, until they sometimes assumed the form of rings; later the ring form becomes general. They are usually hollowed a little in the middle, which gives them the shape and size of the lower short joints of a reed; indeed, it has been suggested that the original seal was rudely patterned after a reed joint. The materials used for these cylinders include lapis-lazuli, very freely used and probably from the Persian mines, jasper, rock-crystals, chalcedony, carnelian, agate, jade, etc.; a hard, black variety of serpentine is perhaps the most common of all the materials used for this purpose.
The Cretan peasants of to-day set a high value upon certain very ancient seals—dating perhaps from as early as 2500 b.c.—which they find buried in the soil. These seals are inscribed with symbols supposed to represent the prehistoric Cretan form of writing. Of course these inscriptions, which have not yet been deciphered by archæologists, are utterly incomprehensible for the peasants, but they undoubtedly serve to render the stones objects of mystery. The peasants call them galopetræ, or “milk-stones,” and they are supposed to promote the secretion of milk, as was the case with the galactite. The careful preservation of these so-called galopetræ by Cretan women has served the purpose of archæological research, as otherwise so large a supply of these very interesting seals would not now be available.
Some of the cylinders seem to be able to lay a hex on an agreement so that it harms those who break it. This is a form of faerie worship.
Milk stones may have some strong Creo influence, or be a vis source, or be the external vis of faeries who desire the milk for themselves.
It is a well-known fact that many amulets were made in forms suggesting objects offensive to our sense of propriety. These were thought to protect the wearers by denoting the contempt they felt for the evil spirits leagued against them. Some such fancy may have induced the peculiar designs of certain of the jewels alleged to have been pawned in Paris by the ex-Sultan Abdul Hamid for the sum of 1,200,000 francs….According to rumor, these pledges must be sold, as the sultan has failed to redeem them, but the designs are so risqué that they cannot be offered at public sale; therefore the stones and pearls are to be removed and the gold settings are to be melted and sold as metal.
This sounds like a problem that Jerbiton magi might create. Just because want to animate statues of perfect human forms, to use as servants, doesn’t mean you should or that the Church isn’t going to question what;’s going on.
There’s a lengthy folk tradition in England that nakedness scares away demons. I like the idea that some of the most powerful apotropaic magic items in the Order need to be hidden because they look vulgar. It seems like just the sort of thing a spiteful Verditius magus might do.
Scarabs are frequently engraved with the hieroglyph ☥(anch, “life”) and (ha, “increase of power”). The emblem of stability (tet) is also employed, as well as many others. In addition to these simple symbols, many scarabs bear legends supposed to render them exceptionally luck-bringing. The following are characteristic specimens.
Funeral scarabs were often made of jasper, amethyst, lapis-lazuli, ruby, or carnelian, with the names of gods, kings, priests, officials, or private persons engraved on the base; occasionally monograms or floral devices were engraved. Sometimes the base of the scarab was heart-shaped and at others the scarab was combined with the “utat,” or eye of Horus, and also with the frog, typifying revivification. Set in rings they were placed on the fingers of the dead, or else, wrapped in linen bandages, they rested on the heart of the deceased…They were symbols of the resurrection of the body.
Some of the Egyptian scarabs were evidently used as talismanic gifts from one friend to another. Two such scarabs are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One bears the inscription “May Ra grant you a happy New Year,” the text of the other reading as follows: “May your name be established, may you have a son,” and “May your house flourish every day.”
On the Egyptian inscribed scarabs used as signets were engraved many of the symbols to which a talismanic virtue was attributed. The uræus serpent, signifying death, is sometimes associated with the knot, the so-called ankh symbol, denoting life. Often the hieroglyph for nub, gold, appears; this symbol is a necklace with pendant beads, showing that gold beads must have been known in Egypt in the early days when the hieroglyph for gold was first used. All these symbolic figures, of which a great number occur, served to impart to the signet a sacred and auspicious quality which communicated itself to the wearer, and even to the impression made by the seal, this in its turn acquiring a certain magic force.
Many scarabs and signets exist made of the artificial cyanus, which was an imitation lapis-lazuli made in Egypt. This was an alkaline silicate, colored a deep blue with carbonate of copper. Often a wonderful translucent or opaque blue glass was used. The genuine lapis-lazuli was also used to a considerable extent for scarabs and cylinders, in Egypt and Assyria, and gems were also cut from it in imperial Roman times. A notable instance of the use of lapis-lazuli in ancient Egypt was as the material for the image of Truth (Ma), which the Egyptian chief-justice wore on his neck, suspended from a golden chain.
In Roman times some of the legionaries are said to have worn rings set with scarabs, for the reason that this figure was believed to impart great courage and vigor to the wearer.
In parts of the order, the Feather of Maat is found in magic items wielded by the Guernicus in their duties. It is mentiioned in Sanctuary of Ice, for example, and fits the Alpine cultural trend of harking back to ancient glories. The scarab might make a suitable badge for the hopolites.