As we head into Halloween Season, we're focusing on a stone that's long been associated with magic and the underworld, gods and spirits: Obsidian.
So what exactly is Obsidian, and why is it so special? Obsidian is what geologists call an "Igneous Extrusive Felsic Rock," which basically means it is a stone made from cooling magma, [Igneous] that happened to cool after emerging from the Earth's crust [Extrusive] made mostly of silica [Felsic], same as quartz. But while other Felsic rocks form into crystals (or boulders with micro-crystalline structure) as it slowly cools and hardens, Obsidian cools and solidifies so quickly, usually because it hits a body of water, that its molecules are random instead of formed into crystalline patterns, making it a glass. What this means is that Obsidian, amazing as it is, is not actually a crystal.
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Even though it's technically not a crystal, it still has some pretty amazing properties. Obsidian is slightly harder than window glass, with what's called a conchoidal fracture, which means it can be chipped or fractured into razor-sharp edges by blunt objects. This made Obsidian, along with Flint, one of the first materials to be shaped and used by pre-historic peoples, who used the stone as hunting and carving tools. It's actually still used to this day in some types of heart surgeries, as specially made obsidian blades can be up to 5x sharper than steel scalpels, with the cutting edge of the blade being only 3 nanometers thick, which translates to less scar tissue and faster healing time! [Don't try this at home]
While classic Obsidian is typically black, different varieties of the glass are created by inclusions. The presence of hematite crystals can color it red, creating Mahogany Obsidian. Small white spherulites (small spheroids of needle-like crystals that were able to form) create snowflake patterns in the aptly named Snowflake Obsidian. Both Gold and Silver Sheen, as well as Peacock and Rainbow Obsidian are created by refracted light caused by teeny tiny gas bubbles trapped within the glass as it cools.
Because it's formed by volcanic activity, Mother Nature's glass is found all across the world where volcanoes are found: along the Ring of Fire of the Pacific Rim in North and South America, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, and New Zealand; as well as in Greece and Italy, Iceland and even Kenya. Compared to most stones, Obsidian is relatively young, only 65.5 million years old, as over time it's either ground down by water and weather to become black sand, or it devitrifies—which means minerals eventually crystallize in the glass, creating minute quartz and alkali feldspar crystals, similar to granite or rhyolite.
The first known usage was in Kenya, over 700,000 years ago! Homo Erectus was using Obsidian tools before Homo Sapiens even began to evolve! Naturally sharp, and with a Moh’s hardness of only 5.5, Obsidian use becomes widespread in Neolithic Stone Age cultures around the world because of its ability to make sharp blades and arrowheads with nothing but a simple rock. It continued to be esteemed, traded far and wide, by the later Mesoamerican, Greek, Egyptian, and North American tribal cultures for its ability to be crafted into expert weapons, or conversely, polished to a smooth mirror finish, perfect for creating early mirrors, jewelry, ritual items, and works of art such as masks.
Each volcano, and in some cases each volcanic eruption, produces a distinguishable type of obsidian, making it possible for archeologists to trace the origins of a particular artifact, as well as the routes along which it was traded, giving us insight into ancient economic, social, and political aspects of ancient civilizations.
Besides the practical uses of the glass, Obsidian has long been associated with ritual, magic, and the realms of the spirits. Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans used Obsidian daggers in sacred bloodletting and human sacrifice. In the Middle East, it was esteemed for its sharpness and precision in ritual circumcision, ancient Melanesians honed pointed pieces for tattooing the skin.
In ancient Central America, Obsidian was known as iztli or teotetl, meaning "the divine stone," and used to carve amulets, jewelry, grave ornaments, and images of the god Tezcatlipoca, whose name means "smoking mirror," and who was said to see all that occurred in the world and heavens through his Obsidian mirror. Shamans and priests of the Maya and Aztec civilizations followed his example and carved sacred mirrors to divine a person's future, or communicate with gods and spirits. Warriors and royalty would wear Obsidian jewelry believing it would protect them from enemies or evil forces, and Obsidian masks were carved to represent gods. Deathmasks usually had closed eyes and an open mouth and were intended for nobles to wear after death to protect the spirit within the underworld. Ancient Greek civilizations used Obsidian balls and flat mirrors for scrying, and Native American cultures used Obsidian in their spiritual ceremonies to sharpen the inner eye.
One moving Native legend tells of Apache Tears, small rounded obsidian nuggets often embedded within a grayish-white perlite matrix. Seventy-five brave Apache warriors were camped on a mountain, surrounded and viciously attacked by soldiers of the U.S. Cavalry. In the sneak attack, 50 of the Apaches were killed within minutes, while the 25 that remained retreated to the edge of a cliff. Realizing that they had nowhere to go, the remaining warriors chose to leap to their death, rather than to die at the hands of the white man. After the battle, when the women and children discovered the bones of their beloved husbands, fathers, and sons dead at the bottom of the cliff, they wept for a full moon. They knew that not only their loved ones had died but with them the fighting spirit of the Apache. Their sadness was so great, their tears turned black as they fell. When the black stones are held up to the light, the tears of the Apache women can still be seen.
In the shamanic and metaphysical communities of the present, Obsidian is understood to still carry these properties of protection, insight, and communication. The "mirror stone" is unforgiving, forcing us to see the entirety of ourselves, for only through accepting our shadow self can we become whole. It is purifying, able to clear and cut out some of the deepest rooted of traumas with precision, but Black Obsidian can be a harsh teacher. It's extremely protective, especially for those who find themselves in abusive or dangerous situations, but it can be a double-edged blade, so it's best to use in conjunction with gentle, supportive stones like amethyst. It's a powerful stone to use in Shamanic journeys, as it grants us access to the spirit realms while also providing protection. A root-chakra stone, it's extremely grounding, rooting us deep into the earth and the underworld.
The sheen and colored varieties tend to be a bit gentler.
Gold Sheen Obsidian is particularly effective for scrying, taking us into the past to get to the core of a problem, and into the future to see all that is possible. It purifies the auric field and Solar Plexus Chakra, re-aligning with the divine and helps us see what is stopping us from realizing our inner Sovereignty and from manifesting our own reality.
Silver Sheen Obsidian enhances meditation and is an excellent scrying tool. Connecting with lunar energies, it helps us see ourselves as others do. It's a potent stone to use in communicating with ancestors and guides and is useful for out of body journeying as it connects the astral body with the physical while imparting protection.
Mahogany Obsidian contains hematite, and so doubly resonates with Earth, grounding, protecting and realigning the Sacral and Root Chakras. It helps us understand memories of shame, humiliation, and abuse, and is ideal for dispelling feelings of unworthiness that hold us back from fulfilling our full potential. It's a perfect shield to protect us from emotional, psychological, or psychic attacks.
Snowflake Obsidian is the Obsidian of hope and perseverance, bolstering our courage and persistence when all seems lost. Aligned with both the Root and Brow Chakra, Snowflake Obsidian helps us recognize and banish negative and self-defeating thoughts. It's an excellent stone to protect us from ourselves. Although not a good scrying stone, it does assist us in identify signs from our guides, and expand our awareness and psychic sensitivity to experience both the energetic and physical dimensions simultaneously.
Apache Tears, as the legend above suggests, are said to soothe grief and the pain of loss, as we are not alone in our pain. The naturally rounded stones can help us forgive those who have hurt us, allowing us to finally heal.
Peacock Obsidian is the strongest Obsidian for spiritual journeys and is an excellent tool for shamans and those who "walk between worlds," especially in regards to lucid dreaming, breathwork, guided meditation and other forms of consciousness expansion. It is powerful for calling our ancestors, guides and other helping spirits, and provides a protective shield during magic work, astral travel, and journeys to other earthly realms. It stimulates the Third Eye Chakra and eases the fear of the unknown that make come when we are first experiencing our intuitive senses, or for those of us have shut down our abilities out of distress, or feelings of being overwhelmed by the information received. Peacock Obsidian reminds us the greatest joys are found when we accept ourselves and all our gifts.
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Rainbow Obsidian is the gentlest of all Obsidians, helping us recover from emotional wounds. It supports our journey downward, deep into our psyche, helping us reclaim the pieces we thought we'd lost or buried. Often life throws us into times of crisis that force us into these inner journeys Light to Darkness that seem daunting and hopeless, but Rainbow Obsidian can help us choose our own path into the shadows that eventually leads to expanded consciousness and a vibrant, color-filled spiritual awakening.
Obsidian spheres and mirrors, in general, are perfect scrying implements, and Obsidian blades are well-adapted for ritual work, or for cutting cords, and easy to find Obsidian arrowheads are useful in protection crystal grids.
No matter which Obsidian calls to you most, it can't be denied that this beautiful black glass has shaped the way humans evolved, continually connecting us back to the earth, to the underworld, and to ourselves.