Symbols in stone
Tea w C (19)
Two beady eyes of an owl looked up at me. The last package for my birthday was small and dense. Rolling around the forest green stone in my hand I asked curiously, “A paperweight?”
“Whatever you want it to be,” my mom responded.
I wonder if she sensed my apprehension about being given a stone. I received a C in Earth Science in college. I couldn’t get myself to care about a lecture on earth formation or rocks or stones in general. I placed it back into the bag and wondered how long it’d take me to lose it.
My birthday follows shortly after Thanksgiving, so that year we celebrated over the holiday. My suitcase was already tight, so I stuffed my winter coat pockets with anything small. That’s how the owl found itself in my winter coat.
I lose many things yet two years later this stone travels with me everywhere. During the winter I squeeze it in my pocket as I board the subway, and as I stand in line for coffee. This stone sat quietly at every desk I set up when I lived nomadically through the pandemic, its round body cheering me on through each lopsided draft when I decided to write again. Its green coating is now faded to natural black, and I wonder how long it will take to fully disintegrate from my grip.
We don’t overtly value the common stone, and probably give even less attention to rocks. (Stones are made from rocks, rocks are made up of smaller stones). We have expressions like “dumb as rocks,” or to tell someone off to go “kick rocks.” Maybe it’s because rocks are “everywhere,” sitting there heavy, futile, seemingly useless.
However, stone shows its grandeur through architecture like the mysterious pyramids of granite and limestone, the Taj Mahal’s marble, or the Colosseum’s glory of Italian travertine. We see it in thousand-year-old monuments like Stonehenge in England which were involved in some activity or ceremony celebrating the relationship between the living and the dead. It seems as if there’s an intention behind working with rock or its more formed stone. The once mundane essence is shaped into long-standing prominence, a powerful presence built with new meaning.
The Book of Symbols reflects on the archetype of stone, “It was this act of giving meaning to their world–of turning stone into a symbol–that made our earliest ancestors fully human. Our relationship with stone is so ancient and intimate that we have named the beginning of human history the Stone Age.”
I wondered why and how often we are still drawn to the mineral world after experiencing my palm-sized owl transition from dull paperweight to somewhat of a talisman. Talisman is a word taken from the Greek talesma which means an object or an idea that works with another to make it whole, complete. Used for thousands of years, talismans of all kinds provide a function, particular energies, or beneficial powers to the possessor.
Hot stone massages are said to ground us and eliminate toxins. Chinese Baoding balls are another ancient tool for health and wellbeing that are used today for physical therapy, stress relief, and relaxation usually made out of stone. According to the Irish if you kiss the Blarney Stone you're gifted with the gift of gab or skill of flattery. The Philosopher's Stone is also legendary, allegedly turning inexpensive metals into gold. The metaphor for the tale of the alchemist seeking the Philosopher’s stone is accepting one’s own limitations. As done with our ancestors forming the stone into something symbolic, we transcend areas of ourselves that we deem unlovable or not valuable, into something greater and withstanding– the journey of our self-actualization.
We are drawn to placing value on more than just stone in the mineral world, gemstones are another ballpark. Diamonds rose to their prominence in 1947 from a marketing campaign led by the De Beers corporation, who apparently still own 35-40% of the diamond supply. Although they are not as rare as other gemstones, diamonds win in the durability category, so their slogan, “diamonds are forever,” solidifies metaphorically their place in the engagement and wedding realm.
My owl is made of Shungite. I took it to a metaphysical store, and the lady who was wearing a Shungite necklace explained to me the stone’s benefits, which I later Googled because I thought she might be a fanatic. I found that Shungite is rare, and mainly found in a small village in Russia. It’s 2 billion years old, and geologists believe it existed before organic life on the planet. There’s not enough scientific evidence, yet Shungite’s properties possibly fight inflammation, reduce oxidative stress, and can shield from electric and magnetic field emissions (EMFs) from electronic devices. Maybe all my humble owl needs is a Shungite marketing campaign, a monopoly, and widely adopted scientific research. Though we might not want to hand it all to the Russians!
To me, it’s a mystery why we’re drawn to and create meaning around objects, especially ones derived from the earth, and perhaps that’s the point. Maybe something within us beyond our mind’s knowing recognizes their ancient properties, the thousands of years of life it takes to produce certain forms. Maybe it’s shallower and made up of marketing and spiritual schemes. I guess it comes down to our own perception.