Secrets, Myths and Legends of Turquoise
Updated: Jun 16, 2021
As today is Indigenous People’s Day in the US, it seems like the perfect time to take a closer look at Turquoise—a gemstone precious and sacred to Native American tribes of the Southwest USA.
Turquoise is an opaque blue/green gemstone that forms when water containing copper and aluminium seeps into rock and settles there. It’s the copper that’s responsible for the vivid colour of the gemstone. The most valuable turquoise gemstones have no matrix (the non-precious stone surrounding the veins of turquoise), though the combination of turquoise and matrix can look very striking.
Individual pieces of turquoise can look very different from each other depending on the particular geology of the area where they are mined. There is a great deal of variety even within a relatively small area. A real expert can tell exactly where a piece of turquoise was mined, right down to naming the mine itself! During my research trip for Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in the USA, I met some truly knowledgeable turquoise dealers, who introduced me to the fascinating variations between stones from different mines.
Southwest Native American tribes have been using turquoise in religious ceremonies, trade, art, jewellery and negotiations for over 2000 years. Deeply important spiritually and for health, turquoise is used as a healing stone and good luck talisman by several Native American tribes. The gemstone is significant because it represents life—turquoise’s blue and green mixed with the brown of the matrix, are the colours of the sky, water and earth.
It’s not surprising that this sacred stone is the subject of many Native American tales, though it’s perhaps most strongly associated with the Navajo, whose stories almost always have some mention of turquoise. Navajo legend tells of the goddess, Estsanatlehi, who appeared to humankind as a drop of turquoise or a turquoise woman. Estsanatlehi means ‘Changing Woman’, which refers to the way turquoise changes colour according to its environment, its wearer’s skin acidity and light exposure. Another Navajo creation myth describes how, when rains came after a long drought and the people cried with relief, their tears mingled with water and became turquoise.
With indigenous people’s way of life so often under threat and subject to exploitation, it’s particularly important to make sure you buy Native American jewellery from ethical dealers who pay the makers an honest price for the exquisite craftsmanship and intense labour that goes into each piece. You’ll be wearing a piece imbued with centuries of tradition and spirituality!
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