Carnelian is a gorgeous gem of unique and unmistakable colour. The warm hues of its tint vary from deep red to pale orange, evoking the colours of glorious sunrises and romantic sunsets. A much admired mineral, it has across centuries inspired poets the likes of Lord Byron, who gave his sweetheart John Edleston a heart-shaped Carnelian pendant as a gift and dedicated him the poem The Cornelian (1806): “No specious splendour of this stone / Endears it to my memory ever / With lustre only once it shone / and blushes modest as the giver.”
What is Carnelian?
This striking semi-precious stone belongs to the Quartz family, more specifically to the Chalcedony group. It originates from the warmest depths of the Earth as a result of volcanic eruptions. Amazing Carnelian gems can in fact be extracted from igneous rocks found in solidified lava.
Its unique pigmentation is owed to the presence of iron oxide, while lighter shades of the stone indicate a presence of iron hydroxide. Deep red and brown gems are known as “Sard” (a Latin name used by Pliny the Elder).
Characteristics of Carnelian
Carnelian is a popular mineral found in abundance in several parts of the world. Its characteristics are that it is warm to touch, it is found in a wide range of warm colours and its lustre spans from translucent to opaque. Specimens of Carnelian will in fact range from brown to dark red to orange or golden and can be crystalline, semi-transparent or even dull.
Striping in darker or lighter (at times white) shades are present in some gems, creating mesmerising patterns which render each specimen extraordinary and unique. Cutting a cross section of a Carnelian gem will reveal concentric circles of different tones, a picturesque pattern which may bring to mind tree rings.
Carnelian measures 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness, which means this is an ideal gem for cutting and chiselling. Nowadays, it is more commonly shaped into spheres of various sizes to create stunning necklaces, while across the centuries this stone was carved into magnificent ornaments including cameos or signets.
Origin of its name
The origin of its name rests on the exceptional red colour of some gems, which resembles the bright colour of wild cornelian cherries (Latin name: ‘cornus mas’).
Types of Carnelian
There are two main varieties of Carnelian gems, characterized by their colour. The darker stones, ranging from dark red to brown, are classified as the more ‘masculine’ variety, while the lighter and brighter colours, of orange or golden hues, are classified as ‘feminine’.
Authentic Carnelian gems can be identified using a simple trick which relies on a unique characteristic of this mineral: when lightly heated, even just by vigorously rubbing a gem in your hands, real Carnelian stones will briefly turn a shade darker, and then go back to their original colour once removed from the heat source.
Where can Carnelian be found?
This fascinating mineral is typically extracted in India and parts of South America (more specifically Brazil and Uruguay). A number of exquisite specimens have also been found in California and Madagascar.
In ancient times, Carnelian came from deposits in Persia, India and Arabia and was already known and used in Egyptian and Roman times.
Properties of Carnelian
Carnelian is a versatile healing stone which supports both physical and emotional wellbeing.
This gem has the power to anchor us in the present moment, helping us focus on action and pragmatism while overcoming procrastination. This gem is particularly recommended for those of us who linger, perhaps excessively, on thought but would like to be more concrete in making things happen.
Carnelian strengthens our connection with Mother Earth and aids our appreciation of ordinary small pleasures. Furthermore, it balances opposite energies (Yin and Yang) and harmonises our inner selves, overall helping us appreciate and love ‘being part of the world’.
It restores the vital energy needed to focus on and reach our objectives: in moments of stagnation a Carnelian gem merely needs to be held (in the right hand for women and the left one for men) to regain the desire to realise one’s dreams with firmness and resolution, at the same time enhancing one’s mood and self-esteem.
When worn, this gem has the power to convey a sense of wellbeing and renewed energy, strengthening the energy we ourselves release and helping us see the good in everything.
On a physical level, Carnelian helps alleviate tiredness and stress, improving our muscle tone and blood circulation. To benefit from the effective healing powers of this stone, a gem is simply to be placed in the water while bathing.
Because of its deep red colour, this gem is often associated to pathologies linked to blood pressure and circulation. In particular, Carnelian is mainly used to combat anaemia and haemorrhages. Massaging the lower limbs or even just the ankles for a few minutes with this stone will stimulate the circulation and alleviate leg swelling or heaviness, and even prevent various veins.
Carnelian is often used to stimulate fertility as well as the assimilation of nutrients (vitamins in particular) as it expels toxins and accelerates the metabolism.
On a psychic level instead, it helps one accept their past and reassess or reinterpret events under a new light.
Carnelian rocks are often carved into luck charms against not only bad luck but also the evil eye. It is regarded a powerful defence against natural disasters such as earthquakes or avalanches. Eulogising such properties, the renowned German author J.W. Goethe wrote “Carnelian is a talisman, it brings good luck to child and to man; if resting on an onyx ground, a sacred kiss imprint when found.”
In crystal therapy, Carnelian is regarded an essential healing stone. Its unique colour makes it a ‘joyful’ and radiant stone, with the power to both strengthen and relax one’s spirit. Wearing a Carnelian gem will release positive energies: its unique trait is that as it radiates energy, when the stone will begin to drain small cracks will start forming within the centre of the rock, transforming its appearance.
This gem acts slowly, it is thus advisable to keep it on oneself for long periods of time. Should the stone require recharging, it can be placed in direct sunlight for a few hours; while, should it need to be cleansed and purified, the gem can either be placed in running water or under a heap of coarse sea salt for an hour or two.
Carnelian is associated to the second chakra (Svadhistana), found around the navel, linked to our primordial origins, motherhood and nutrition.
The element Water, which this gem is associated to, is itself linked to genesis, just like the amniotic liquid in the womb. Carnelian is correlated to Mother Earth,to desire and emotions. This mineral is, for many, the symbol of both life and death simultaneously.
Carnelian across cultures and history
Carnelian has, since ancient times, been known and utilised as a talisman to ward off bad luck and to protect the dead in their journey to the afterlife.
For ancient Egyptians, the colour red was the symbol of life, thus Carnelian was often used to create ornamental funerary items: the most illustrious of gems is without a doubt that which adorns the death mask of pharaoh Tutankhamen’s mummy. Carnelian was also used to sculpt sacred animals such as the Aries associated to the god Amon-Ra and the falcon god Horus (both symbolising the sun and rebirth).
By ancient Romans it was instead used to create signets for wax seals. Carnelian was ideal for this purpose as, due to its hardness, it was an optimal stone to create exquisite intricate carvings and when used on hot wax, this would not stick to it.
During Medieval times, in western culture Carnelian was used to encourage blood clotting and was believed to have calming energies able to pacify anger. At the time, it was also widely used by midwives as it was known to help during labour.
In Buddhism, this wonderful stone represents wisdom. It is considered one of the ‘seven treasures’, that is one of the spiritual qualities of human beings (each of these qualities is represented by a different gem).
Carnelian is the most valued of gems in Islam, it is worshiped by some Muslims as it is considered the ‘Mecca stone’: it is said that it was set on the prophet Mohammed’s signet ring and represents the uniqueness of Allah. Today it is set in rings as a talisman to keep enemies away and to ward off misfortune.