Diamonds were once believed to hold many magical, mystical and medicinal properties. The phosphorescence of certain diamonds (their ability to glow in the dark) was considered a proof of the stone’s extraordinary powers. Diamonds were thought to calm the mentally ill, and to ward off devils, phantoms and even nightmares. They were supposed to impart virtue, generosity and courage in battle, and to cause lawsuits to be determined in the wearer’s favor. A house or garden touched at each corner with a diamond was supposed to be protected from lightning, storms and blight.
The ancient Indians believed that the human soul could pass through various incarnations, animating gemstones as well as plants and animals. And Plato, the Greek philosopher, shared the belief that gems were living beings, produced by a chemical reaction to vivifying astral spirits. Later philosophers divided precious stones into male and female specimens, and even claimed that they could “marry” and reproduce!
Minerals were among the first medicinal ingredients. In the middle ages it was believed that a diamond could heal if the sick person took it bed and warmed it with his body, of breathed upon it while fasting or wore it next to the skin. A diamond held in the mouth would correct the bad habits of liars and scolds. And diamonds were worn as a talisman against poisoning.
Diamond powder administered internally, however, was a legendary poison. The Turkish Sultan Bajazet (1447 – 1513) was perhaps murdered by his son, who slipped a large quantity of powdered diamond in his father’s food. In l532, his doctors dosed Pope Clement VII with fourteen spoonfuls of pulverized gems, including diamond, which resulted in death for the patient, as well as a very high bill for his treatment. In the same century, Catherine de Medici was famous for dealing out death by diamond powder, and Benvenuto Cellini, the famous s Italian goldsmith, described an attempt on his life by an enemy who ordered diamond powder to be mixed in his salad. But the lapidary responsible for grinding the diamond filched the stone, replacing it with powdered glass (thereby saving Cellini).
The association of diamonds with poison may have been promoted to discourage the practice of stealing diamonds by swallowing them, particularly during mining.
Many early cultures and many countries used diamonds for their own reasons, each with their own meanings. Ancient man used the raw diamond to create tools and carvings. For example, when tribes in Africa and the Middle East expanded their trade with one another, these rare stones became a mode of exchange, the world’s first hard currency. The symbols and representations of the Diamond are expansive and individual. For some it meant the key to magic, healing, protection and even poisoning. To others its wealth, prosperity, status, and everlasting love. It was even said that in ancient Greece and Rome Cupids’ arrows were tipped with diamonds which had an effect equal to nothing. They have been the strength, power and symbols of Kings and Queens, the ruin of kingdoms, and the teardrops of forgotten Gods.
Today one of the most common uses of the Diamond from a sociological aspect is in the Wedding, Engagement ring. Even in the 2nd Century Rome the ring was used in the ceremony before the Emperor and his blessing. The custom was then continued and mostly Christianized by the 4th century by St. Augustine. Byzantine wedding rings are thick gold bands with round or oval bezels depicting the couple face to face, or receiving Christ’s blessing of their eternal union. Today the diamond ring, commits a man and a woman to each other with the expression of strength, purity, brilliance and the indestructible bond of love.