January is a time for planning, looking forward to the year ahead. There is a special feeling that comes from sitting down with a new calendar—each month a fresh, blank slate—and wondering what will eventually fill its pages. Right after New Year’s, it’s easier than usual to think of the year in its entirety, as something with a beginning and end, that we’ll cycle through, month by month and season by season.
The practice of using gemstones to represent each individual month dates back to ancient times. The first pairing of gems with the twelve calendar months was in the Bible and this symbolism evolved over time to become the tradition of “birthstones” that is still popular today. You might be familiar with the concept of a birthstone being assigned to you based on your birthday month. For example, those born in January have garnet as their birthstone; if you were born in September, your stone is a sapphire. Since the 1950s, this concept is used often in jewelry marketing. Although it’s fun, it overlooks the deeper meaning of this tradition. It also limits your options—what if you were born in August but hate the lime green color of peridot? Or born in February but love wearing the October birthstone of Opal?
Luckily, there are many different options and interpretations for how to use birthstones. In ancient tradition, stones were assigned to each month, and everyone wore that stone all month—not just those with birthdays that month. It was believed that the therapeutic and magical qualities of each stone was enhanced during the month that is symbolized.
The Breastplate of Aaron, in the Book of Exodus, was the very first time stones were used in conjunction with the number twelve. The stones were arranged in four rows of three, with each stone representing one of the twelve tribes of Isreal. Later, the twelve stones were used to represent the twelve apostles, and finally, in the Book of Revelations, the stones became symbolic of the calendar months. It wasn’t until the 1500s that people in Germany and Poland began wearing the stones to represent their individual birth month, but the details of this custom still varied from region to region. In 1912, the Jeweler’s Association put together a list of which stone matched which month—making our modern day notion of birthstones official. The list was updated in 1952, and has remained popular ever since.
There are also powerful Hindu traditions surrounding birthstones that date back to the 5th century. “Navratna” is the Sanskrit word for “nine gems.” Each gem symbolizes one of the nine planets and their corresponding celestial gods—and wearing them can help hone the power and protection of each god. According to Hindu astrology, these gems should be worn either alone or in combinations based on the wearer’s Vedic astrological chart.
How you use birthstones is up to you, and there are many ways to use their historical and spiritual meanings to express your own beliefs. As you look ahead at the new year, maybe gem stones can bring some inspiration to your plans!
Which interpretation speaks to you? Modern or traditional? The navratna? The zodiac?
January: Both the traditional and modern birthstone for January is the garnet, a stone that represents constancy, truth, devotion, and trust. It is believed to keep the wearer safe during travel and aid in building healthy relationships.
February: Amethyst is known for increasing intelligence, imagination, and inspiration, and was said to be used by Leonardo da Vinci to help him create. It was also traditionally worn to help prevent the wearer from getting too drunk!
March: The modern birthstone for March is aquamarine, while the traditional birthstone is a bloodstone. Aquamarine represents youth, vitality, hope, purity, and the ocean. Sailors would etch the god Neptune into aquamarine as a talisman to keep them safe while out at sea.
April: Diamonds represent clarity, truth, vision, fearlessness, and everlasting love. It protects the wearer from negativity and bad influences.
May: May’s birthstone, Emerald, is known as being a stone of good luck! It first became popular in ancient Egypt, circa 300 B.C, and also represents the goddess Venus. It is also associated with health, fertility, and faithfulness.
June: The modern birthstone for June is Alexandrite, and the traditional stone is pearl. Pearl is known for its calming properties, and the deep turquoise-colored Alexandrite is said to bring luck and love.
July: Ruby is both the traditional and modern birthstone for July. The deep red stone regulates emotions, and is associated with integrity and happiness.
August: The modern birthstone for August is sardonyx, and the traditional birthstone is peridot. Ancient Egyptians mined peridots from the Red Sea, and this lime green gem is said to ease anger and jealousy, as well as slow the aging process.
September: September’s stone, sapphire, is known as a natural healer. It is used for creativity, expression, and wisdom.
October: The modern October birthstone is tourmaline, and the traditional stone is opal. Opals reflect a myriad of colors, and often change shade depending on what light they are reflecting. In fact, the word Opal comes from the Greek word, Opallos, which means “to change color.” They are associated with hope and creativity.
November: November’s modern stone is citrine and its traditional stone is topaz. Both are a beautiful warm orangey red color and both are considered to bring abundance, energy, and clarity of thought.
December: December has several birthstones, most notably, turquoise. December is also associated with lapis (the traditional stone, along with turquoise) and blue zircon, blue topaz, and tanzanite (the modern stones). Many cultures considered turquoise a sacred and powerful gem including Egyptian, Turkish, and Aztec tradition. This stone is thought prevent sickness and to help the wearer make many friends.
While this Western birthstone chart pairs stones with each of the twelve months, the Hindu navratna contains only nine gems:
The Sun: Ruby
The Moon: Pearl
Mars: Red Coral
Saturn: Blue sapphire
Jupiter: Yellow sapphire
Ketu: Cat’s Eye
Birthstones are also associated with the Zodiac, and each sign has a corresponding gem or crystal. Which stone connects to your horoscope? Is it different or the same as your calendar birthstone?
Capricorn December 23-January 22: Garnet
Aquarius January 23- February 22: Amethyst
Pisces February 23- March 22: Aquamarine
Aries March 23-April 22: Diamond
Taurus April 23-May 22: Emerald
Gemini May 23-June 22: Pearl
Cancer June 23- July 22: Ruby
Leo July 23- August 22: Peridot
Virgo August 23- September 22: Sapphire
Libra September 23- October 22: Opal
Scorpio October 23- November 22: Topaz
Sagittarius November 23-December 22: Tanzanite
Happy New Year from Kirsten’s Corner!