In many fables, myths and fairy stories, references to precious gemstones are often made. This probably has a part to play in why it is common to associate jewels and gemstones and myth and magic, today. Often becoming apparent when the characters in the story enter a special place, such as a mythical cavern or an abandoned castle, it’s no surprise that we have learnt to link these precious stones with rich royalty, and magical places.
Still, to this day, The Brothers Grimm are renowned for their world-class collection of fairy tales. Many of the Disney stories that you read today were originally taken from The Brothers Grimm stories, but adapted by Disney and made famous all around the globe. For instance, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White all originated from The Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Disney achieved so much success with the stories, by adapting them to make them more appealing to younger readers. The original tales from The Brothers Grim were collected from true stories told by local peasants and village people on the streets; often violent, and The Brothers Grimm kept these stories almost exactly how they had been told originally. When taken over by Disney, the stories still retained an element of truth to them but were made much more suitable for a younger audience, involving an awful lot more princesses, lust, lure and magic than the original tales. Below, we discuss a couple of classic fairytales and explore the use of gemstones within them.
Much like The Brothers Grimm, Russian writer Pavel Bazhov collected stories from members of the public – most commonly, Ural Mountain miners. In 1939, he produced a famous collection of fairy stories, known today as ‘The Malachite Casket’.
One of the most renowned tales from his collection is named ‘Silver Hoof’ and is still incredibly popular in Russia today. Getting the name from its main character, Silver Hoof involves a magical goat who has a mysterious silver hoof on his front leg. Boasting an incredible magic power, whenever Silver Hoof stamps his hoof, sparks fly out and a lavish gemstone in produced. With the ability to produce a variety of rainbow coloured sparks, a different type of beautiful gemstone is made dependent on the colour of the spark he releases. For instance, a red spark produces a ruby, white makes a diamond and a blue spark produces a sapphire.
Another important character in the tale is a young girl named Daryonka. Recently orphaned, she and her pet cat Muryonka get adopted by an old hunter called Kokovanya, who just happens to have been searching for Silver Hoof religiously for years.
One dark night, when the hunter is away, Silver Hoof arrives at the lodge and speaks secretly to Daryonka. After much excitement, the goat starts running around the lodge stamping his feet, thus producing enough gemstones to cover the lodge entirely. When the old man returns, he arrives just in time to catch a Glimpse of Silver Hoof, but instead of taking the time to catch him, he starts collecting up as many of the gemstones as possible. Before he can stop him, Silver Hoof runs off, carrying with him Daryonka’s beloved cat.
The message to the ancient fable is that there is always a price to pay with a huge gift or reward. Although Daryonka and the hunter were now rich, the little girl had lost the only thing she had left in the world.
French writer Countess D’Aulnoy was best known for her fairy tales, one of which is a famous tale called ‘The White Cat’.
The story consists of a young prince, hunting for his father. Unfortunately, on his quest, he encounters a terrible storm and has to search for refuge. Seeing a glimpse of bright lights in the distance, he headed towards them, but as he gets closer he realises he is approaching an incredible castle, and the lights that lead him there was actually the glow from a garnet encrusted gate. With walls made of crystal and doors of coral, the castle is truly magnificent. On his search for the owner of the palace, he comes across some dry clothes that are bejewelled with emeralds and a mysterious white cat. He changes out of his wet clothes and goes on to have a beautiful dinner with the cat, who is wearing precious jewellery and boasts jewel encrusted table-wear.
As time goes by, the prince falls in love with the cat and returns to the castle to visit her many times. Little to the Prince’s knowledge, the cat is really a beautiful princess under a wicked spell, that can only be broken by someone chopping off her head. When the cat asks the prince to chop off her head, he reluctantly agrees and the spell is broken. Later they get married and travel back to the king’s castle as husband and wife.
The use of gemstones in the tale is thought to symbolise royalty and wealth, but also to let us know that each of the characters is special, even the strange white cat.
Often, old fairy stories were incredibly sad and violent, as shown with the tales from The Brothers Grimm, before they were adapted by Disney. Originally, the violence in the stories was intended to scare children so that they became weary of the dangers around them. Although this may have seemed like a sensible idea back then, we now realise that teaching children through that kind of methods is definitely not the best option.
An ancient Indian tale that is known as ‘The Legend of Vala’, explains to us how gemstones were originally (supposedly) created.
In the story, Intra, the god of thunder, had recently been overthrown by a Hindu demon named Vala. Little to his knowledge, Vala had been tricked into getting involved with a ritual that ultimately ended in sacrifice. Once Vala had become helpless, the other gods took the chance to kill him and chop his body into little pieces. As Vala had agreed to participate in the ritual before his death, his deceased body was now pure, so when his body parts fell down to earth, they became different types of precious gemstones. His blood became rubies, his skin turned into yellow sapphires, and his bones shattered into multiple diamonds.
Though a little complicated, the story does boast great significance. Today, gemstones are commonly used for healing the body, with rubies (Vala’s blood) often being used to aid blood diseases, yellow sapphires used for skin infections, and so on.
Originally created to teach children life skills and lessons, fairy tales remain a popular part of childhood to this day. With tales embellished with precious gemstones, there a clear link between the beautiful jewels we know and love, and myth, magic and legend.