Amber: magic, medicine, and folklore

Strings of amber beads.

A fossilized tree resin, often with inclusions of organic and inorganic matter. It carries the warmth of the Sun, attracts wealth and happiness, and heals even lethal wounds.

Common types: Clear Amber. Inclusion Amber. Bony Amber. Resinite. Firniss. Blue Amber.

Type: organic gemstone (fossil)
Primary components: tree resin
Formula: mix of compounds
Crystal system: none; amorphous
Formations: resin polymerized under high pressure and temperature
Color: yellow, brown, reddish, colorless
Hardness: 2—2.5

A full-color illustration of various types of amber
An illustration of amber from Geologist’s Primer showing a raw chunk of amber, a polished piece with an inclusion, and small chunks of raw amber as commonly sold.

Description

A fossilized resin of long-extinct relatives of modern pine trees, usually ranging in color from ivory to yellow, orange, red, and brown. An extremely rare variation of amber has a blue coloration and an intense fluorescent blue glow, visible only in direct sunlight. The resin often includes impurities of soil, bark, or small animals trapped in the resin before it solidified. Unlike most gems, amber is warm to the touch, ignites easily, may be burned as incense or melted, and becomes electrostatic when rubbed.


Occurrence

Amber is formed over millions of years through molecular polymerization resulting from high pressure and temperature, under layers of sediment, away from sunlight, rain, and microorganisms.


Extraction and Preparation

Usually formed in the rocks of the sea bed, amber is extracted through the natural erosion and washed up on the shores. In other regions, where ancient seas dried up, it is mined through bell pitting or open mines. Afterwards, it is washed and turned on the lathe, then polished with flannel. A gradual heating in oil clarifies the resin and turns amber soft and flexible for molding or pressing.


Culinary Properties

An amber-infused spirit (usually vodka) is sporadically used as a medicine or preventative for cold, flu, migraines, inflammation, and toothaches.


Industrial Properties

Use in production of pipes and other smoking and glassblowing mouthpieces, resinous incenses, and perfumes. Amber decomposed by heating yields oil of amber and a black residue which may be fashioned into resistant, transparent varnish..


Decorative Properties

Amber is commonly used to produce beads, rings, earrings, necklaces, and other types of jewelry. It scratches easily but is equally easy to work and polish, making it a popular, but expensive choice. Other resins (mostly copal), ceramics, and artificial materials are used as imitation amber.


Magical Properties

Amber is a gemstone of warmth, Sun, healing, and attraction. It channels the radiance of Sun, dispersing bad luck, nightmares, and dark thoughts. Amber smoke drives off malicious spirits, breaks enchantments, and restores physical senses. It creates a powerful barrier against negative energy.

The gemstone brings healing energy, draws out toxins and diseases, strengthens the body, mind, and soul. Used in spells of herbal preparations, it heals the most terrible of wounds, forcing the body to regenerate. Surgical knives and lancets with handles fashioned out of amber help staunch bleeding during the medical procedures.

Inclusion amber is used by necromancers and powerful undead as a repository of souls, allowing them to achieve a form of immortality or entrap their enemies. Other practitioners use the same quality to bind and preserve the souls of departed ancestors, keeping their close for guidance.

Alchemically, amber is a catalyst and a tool of transformation of dark, cold matter into warm and radiant one.


Additional Context

Prized by humanity for over 5,000 years, amber is one of the most folklore-rich gemstones. Many hypotheses about its creation have been presented over the millennia: that it’s the fossilized honey of ancient wild bees; that it’s just hardened sea foam, transformed by sun rays; that it was created out of tears of a sun god Helios’s daughters grieving the death of their brother Phaethon; that it comes from the tears of a sea goddess Jurate mourning her beloved mortal, Kastytis…

No matter their origin, the stories about amber center around its unique physical qualities: being warm to the touch, burning in fire like coal, melting into honey-like substance if heated without air—in other words, magical.


Read more!

This entry on amber will be included in the upcoming Geologist’s Primer by Double Proficiency. The book is being written and illustrated in every free moment Anna has, and she expects to be more or less finished with it in Autumn 2023.

If you want to have early access to the book as it is created, join the Double Proficiency Patreon and enjoy the shiny gems and metals 💎.


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