The Lore of Gemstones (Continued) 2

Echoes 13 by Joe Novak
(Mixed Media with Flourite on Quartz, China)

Rock crystal or quartz is a gem that may not have inspired quite as much bloodshed as Ho’s jade but certainly has attracted an equally intriguing body of mystical belief. In the Amazon and Central America shamans use quartz crystals as gates into other realities. As a medium for entering a trance state, the crystal allows the invisible realms to be perceived and entered. In Nepal quartz can aid a shaman in a healing ceremony or serve as the shaman’s messenger, flashing warnings if a witch or enemy is nearby. Tribes in Queensland, Australia used crystals in rain-making ceremonies.Many tribal peoples, including the Cherokee, used crystals for divining, the stone’s natural clarity being linked to the power of clairvoyance. Australian and Oceanian shamans, who also used rock crystal for clairvoyance attributed this power to the quartz being a "stone of light," having once been part of a celestial throne. The Tohono O’odham people of the Sonoran Desert use crystals or "shining stones" to locate an enemy’s trail or the cause of illness or even to find lost objects. The Rio Grande Pueblo peoples not only used crystals to locate lost objects and game, but to invoke the moon.The Hopi imbued specific crystals with powers to divine the cause of illness. In Eastern India quartz is considered a protection against wild beasts and thieves, as well as an antidote to poison. Statues from Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty under the Old Kingdom (circa 2600 B.C.) bear rock crystal eyes that are said to gaze into eternity. Other Egyptian statues of the deceased bore a crystal "thirdeye" in the center of the forehead to guide the soul to the land of the dead. And in Aztec Mexico, crystal was reserved for the highest strata of society, the astronomers, who believed it was the sacred material of the heavens and clairvoyance.

Farther south, in the rainforest of British Honduras (now Belize), an archaeological party led by Frederick Mitchell–Hedges, of the Maya Committee of the British Museum, began digging at a site called Lubaantum in 1927. There they unearthed a lost Mayan city, complete with pyramids, palaces, and an amphitheater. Mitchell–Hedges’s sixteen–year–old daughter, Anna, climbed up onto one of the pyramids and spied a shining object, which turned out to be a transparent crystal skull. The skull, which currently goes by the names Max and Sha Na Ra, weighed 475.5 ounces and was rendered with incredibly accurate anatomical detail, measuring almost the same size as a human skull. In The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls by Chris Morton and Ceri Louise Thomas, a note from Mitchell–Hedges is quoted in which he states that the skull is "at least 3,600 years old and according to legend was used by the High Priest of the Maya when performing esoteric rites. It is said that whenhe willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed. It has been described as the embodiment of all evil." There was great controversy over this claim, complete with theories that Mitchell–Hedges was actually a spy for the British government in the years before World War I, had been fighting alongside Pancho Villa, and had somehow obtained the skull from Villa who had stolen it from the Mexican president; Mitchell–Hedges then allegedly planted the skull in the ruins of Lubaantum. Adding to the confusion, other crystal skulls began to emerge in the museums of Europe and even in the Smithsonian, and with them rumors of yet another ancient legend which stated that the crystal skulls "would be rediscovered and brought together and at that time they would reveal their important and sacred information for the good of all mankind."In fact, most of the beliefs connected to the skulls in the time since Mitchell–Hedges have been quite positive, leading one to wonder exactly where he got his "embodiment of evil" theory.

Increasing doubts over the Mitchell–Hedges skull’s age and authenticity finally resulted in it being lent to the Hewlitt–Packard laboratories in Santa Clara in 1970 for a series of tests. According to the results, the skull was carved from a single block of crystal. Although Hewlitt–Packard could find no sign of a metal tool being used in the carving, they did find that diamond–point chisels had been used, and the skull’s smooth surface was the result of polishing with silicon–crystal sand, the conundrum being that if these methods were, in fact, the ones used to fashion the skull, it would have taken over 300 years of hand labor to complete. Other tests revealed that the geometry of the carving was carefully designed to channel light from below: When placed over a light source, the whole skull was illuminated and the eye sockets glowed.

: Echoes 4 by Joe Novak
(Mixed Media with Selenite and Halite, Peru)

Other strange phenomena have been ascribed to the skull. It’s been said to cloud and then clear again in specific areas. Some observers have seen glowing auras surrounding it, and still others have seen reflections of buildings and UFOs in it, even when the skull was set against a dark background. Ringing sounds have been heard coming from the crystal, and even scents have been ascribed to it. Many believe that the skull is a gift from the ancient Mayans and is here, in our time, for healing, not only of individual ills but of the planet. Frank Dorland, the researcher who oversaw the Hewlitt-Packard tests, noted that quartz gives off electrical vibrations which might interact like radio waves, and theorized that the quartz skull might stimulate the opening of a psychic door in the observer’s brain. Morton and Thomas also cite Dr. John Pohl, Mesoamerican specialist at UCLA, who stated that Central American descendents of the ancient Maya "liken crystal to some sort of ancient radio,television or computer, a device for communicating ‘between the worlds,’ a sort of doorway into other dimensions, a way of communicating with the world of spirits and the ancestors." Whatever the truth of his origin, Sha Na Ra, or Max, continues to travel, currently along the New Age circuit where he periodically shows up for workshops on crystals and the endlessly mysterious crystal skulls.

Whereas the crystal skulls are tangible physical objects whose meaning is obscure, gems are wound through Buddhism as symbols and metaphors in a system of great philosophical clarity. The Sanskrit word vajra literally means "diamond club or sceptre" and is also the word for diamond. In ancient India the vajra was the thunderbolt that Indra, chief of the Vedic gods, hurled at his enemies, a weapon against evil influences. In Inside Tibetan Buddhism, Robert Thurman explains that dorje, literally meaning "lord of stones," is the Tibetan equivalent of vajra, and is represented by a small sceptre, often made of bronze, "that symbolizes the power of universal compassion; unbreakable as a diamond and powerful as a thunderbolt." The Theosophy Library Online further states that the dorje is the "sceptre of Initiates and Adepts and is the symbol of the possession of all the siddhis, the highest spiritual powers. Controlling these powers, such a one is alsocalled a Dorjesempa, which literally means ‘Diamond Holder,’ another title for ‘Diamond–Souled. . . Thus the symbol of the diamond, reflected on many levels, describes a vast spectrum of unfolding spiritual potency. From the simplest material object to the highest transcendental embodiment, all are like slowly emerging crystals which increasingly reflect the light of pure spirit."

As in all cultures, jewels are that which are precious and rare and indestructible, but in Tibetan Buddhism, these treasures are specifically the gifts of spiritual instruction. The chant Om Mani Padme Hung, an invocation to Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, which is often translated as "Behold the Jewel in the Lotus!" has been interpreted to mean, "You who hold the jewel and the lotus, please look on me with compassion and bless me to become like you," with Mani, the Sanskrit word for jewel, signifying skillful means, such as compassion and love, and signified by the crystal prayer beads that Chenrezig holds. (Padme is the lotus, a symbol of the spiritual aspirant, among other things). The Triple Gem or the Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings and Truth of the Buddha), and the Sangha, the community of those who follow those teachings. Thurman notes that the Three Jewels are symbolized by three large gemstones"engulfed in the flames of wisdom, which burn away ignorance. The flames suggest the active, transformative and light–giving qualities of the Three Jewels."

There are also three mantric sounds, known as the three vajras, or "diamond thunderbolts," which are said to evoke the energies of enlightenment. While meditating the devotee visualizes a jewel on each of three chakras: a diamond OM on his crown, a ruby AH at his throat, and a sapphire HUNG at his heart. The devotee also envisions these same jewels on the chakras of the deities and then visualizes his energies and ultimately himself dissolving into these enlightened beings. In turn, "the delighted deities then melt into the devotee."

Echoes 15 by Joe Novak
(Mixed Media with Green Apophyllite, India)

Additionally, there are five Buddhas, each of whom transforms an addictive passion into a wisdom energy, and each of these Buddhas is associated with a gem. The Buddha Akshobya, whose "jewel color energy" is sapphire blue changes hate into reality-perfecting wisdom. The Buddha Vairochana, whose jewel color is diamond white, transmutes "delusion into mirror wisdom." Ratnasambhava, whose color is topaz gold, changes selfish-pride into equalizing wisdom. The Amhitabha Buddha, whose color is ruby red, transforms lust into discriminating wisdom, and Amoghasiddhi, whose energy is the green of emeralds, changes envy into wonder-working wisdom. And wound throughout the Tibetan tradition are references to Yeshin Norbu, the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel. There are numerous interpretations of this term. Perhaps foremost, it’s a term reserved for the Dalai Lama. Some define it as a representation of Chenrezig’s power to manifest all that sentient beings desire, including enlightenment, and in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche explains that the liberation we obtain (through meditation and practice) from suffering is to be understood as the wish-fulfilling jewel. These few examples don’t even begin to do justice to the many ways Tibetan Buddhism invokes spirituality through the imagery of jewels, and yet they reveal a specific kind of knowledge of the nature of these rocks. Transformative and light-giving and engendering the exchange of the divine energies, these descriptive qualities that come out of the Tibetan system seem to me to come very close to the describing the mystery that humans have always sensed flickering in the heart of gems.