Pearls have been highly valued as adornment in jewellery for over 6000 years, and their allure has always been embellished by the fact that obtaining them was quite difficult in earlier times. Pearls are organic, which means they are made by living organisms, but most gemstones are minerals created by different processes in the Earth crust. Pearls are generally formed within oysters and mussels, and do not require any processing because they emerge with full shine and lustre in natural conditions.
Pearls were present in aquatic cosmology and sexual symbolism for centuries. They are participants in the secret powers of water. Pearls used to be an omen of power, of procreation and of transcendental reality; today western civilisation considers them a mere precious stone. The making of pearls in the wombs of oysters inspired such symbolism from prehistoric times, in most of societies bound by sea. Today, we generally forget the powerful symbols that are shells and pearl, and look to them for pure aesthetical reasons. We have reduced these crucial symbols to mere shiny beads or decor. But they have been much more.
The cosmological function of pearls has been known since Vedean times. Atharva Veda (IV, 10) speaks about shells and pearls: Born of the wind, the air, of lightning, and of the light, may this pearl shell born of gold, protect us from fright! With this shell, born in sea, at the head of bright substances, we slay the Rakshas and conquer the Atrins (devouring demons). With this shell we conquer illness and poverty; with the shell, too, the Saânvâs. The shell is our universal remedy; the pearl shall protect us from fright! Born in the heavens, born in the sea, brought on from the river Sindhu, this shell, born of gold, is our life-prolonging amulet...The bone of the gods turned into pearl; that, animated, dwells in the waters. That do I fasten upon thee unto life, luster, strength, longevity, unto a life lasting a hundred autumns. May the charm of pearl protect thee!
In Ancient Greece, pearls symbolised love and marriage. In Ancient Syria, the Goddess of Love was called the Lady with Pearls. Shells and pearls can symbolise resurrection and spiritual rebirth too, as they represent birth itself. Therefore, according to rules of burial during the Chinese Han Dynasty, all magnates were buried dressed in robes plated with pearls and jade, which was meant to help the deceased resurrect. The burial places of Cleopatra and of Native American chiefs from North and South America were all decorated by pearls, even though there are thousands of kilometers and many centuries between them.
From the eighth century, pearl was considered to be a strong therapeutic remedy, and became widely used in medicine. It supposedly cured epilepsy, melancholy and madness — what a combination of illnesses — but was also used to strengthen heart and bring longevity. None other than Francis Bacon spoke about this property of pearls. It was widely considered connected to the sources of the universe’s energy, hence providing the stamina we have searched for from the earliest days, to continue that extra mile. Chinese medicine still considers pearl an exceptional medicine because of its valuable effect on fertility, beneficial effects in gynecology and other qualities. Indian medicine uses pearl dust as an aphrodisiac. There is always a good reason to try that, isn’t there?
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