Has anyone ever warned you not to wear opal? Maybe you heard it’s cursed or bad luck. So what’s all this superstition about? What is the curse about opals, and is it true?
The most popular source is Sir Walter Scott’s 1829 novel, Anne of Geierstein. However, others say the belief goes back much further in time, stemming from the Black Plague or even ancient Rome.
This superstition has led other authors since Scott to pair opals with evil, notably the cursed opal necklace in the Harry Potter
series. But is this just a trope of fiction? Does any real evidence exist? Or is it a vast marketing scheme dating back over a century?
We’ll answer these questions and more to finally distinguish opal fact from fiction.
Sources of the Superstition
As we all know, myths don’t just suddenly enter mass consciousness; they start in stories passed down, especially by artists or authors. Let’s look at a few sources that set this myth into motion.
Sir Walter Scott
As we mentioned, the most popular source of the opals being cursed is Scott’s novel, Anne of Geierstein
. His story started a widespread connection between opals and the paranormal.
The chapter in question included the spontaneous combustion of a character who wore a special opal hair clip. The character seemed to bring out the magic in the stone, but when holy water eventually touched it, the stone immediately faded to black and the woman fainted before reducing to ash by the morning.
As holy water is used in exorcisms, many people, both characters and readers alike, thought this must mean opals were demonic. At the very least, they thought it brought bad luck, leading opal sales to drop by a whopping 50%. However, the novel wasn’t the only reason behind this.
The Black Plague
You probably remember learning about the plague, aka “The Black Death,” that happened in the Middle Ages. We know the tales of rats and creepy masks, but you might not remember that the plague stayed around for centuries. One of the periodic outbreaks happened just a few decades after Scott’s book was published.
Sometimes referred to as the “third pandemic,” the 1860 outbreak was devastating. The public still didn’t know the exact science behind the cause, so many blamed it on the supernatural. Naturally, rumors about the original Black Plague resurfaced. A particularly famous one claimed that, after one patient died, the color in the opal she wore vanished.
This only increased the opal’s association with curses and death. Even though the scientific reason for the plague was discovered shortly after the third pandemic began, some made it their mission to stoke the flame of this opal controversy.
Around 1900, diamonds were the most popular gem on the market. No surprise there, right? But as opal imports started flooding into the U.S. and Europe, leading diamond dealers were scared of losing their share on the market.
To quench the competition, they spread more rumors about the gem. One of these rumors was based on opals cracking. While opals tend to retain moisture and do sometimes crack as they’re drying out, the dealers claimed any stone that cracked was bad luck.
Considering they were selling the hardest stone to crack, diamonds, it’s not hard to see why they chose to put down opals like this. But because of these dealers’ status at the time, the rumors were so influential that many still believe them.
You might be thinking, “If everything about this stone is negative, shouldn’t I just avoid it?” On the contrary! For just this one bad myth, there are a handful of legends and traditions that illuminate the positive attributes of opals!
The Brighter Side of Opal Mythology
The idea that opals are harmful is a relatively recent phenomenon, compared to how far legends about the gem go back. Long before the Black Plague — we’re talking 1st century A.D. — ancient Romans made their own lore about this stone’s power.
Many Romans believed the opal’s display of colors was because other gemstones, like rubies and sapphires, were growing inside them. Others said wrapping one in a bay leaf would make you invisible. One lasting association, however, was with wealth; a connection that extended all over the world.
Opals and Good Fortune
In Rome, those in power would keep their own special opals for good fortune. One story states that Julius Caesar even tried to convince a wealthy man to give up his opal and the man decided to skip town and live in isolation instead. Many rulers since, from Queen Victoria to the first Empress of France, have famously donned opals, too.
Even the Greeks had their own story, believing opals could give you clairvoyance. Go to the Middle East in the era of Mohammad, and you’d hear Arabs describing how opals came from the sky, brought to Earth by lightning.
Before the Black Plague, lots of Europeans wore opal to see better and stop their hair color from fading. As Scott’s novel was set around this time period, this could be the reason behind the “evil” opal hair clip.
Symbolically, opals have represented intense emotions, especially hope and enthusiasm. They’re also known for facilitating self-reflection and freedom from the past. These beliefs are likely rooted in opal’s unique way of absorbing and reflecting a rainbow of colors. To some, this parallels the idea of bringing hidden thoughts or feelings to light, and many even cleanse their opals by moonlight to release any negative energy the stone might have absorbed.
So What’s The Verdict?
Most of the stories surrounding opals are rumors and urban legends. While urban legends serve to entertain or teach a lesson through storytelling, rumors help people make sense of a situation they don’t understand. When an uncertain outcome will affect your life, the rumor can be even more powerful.
If you’re worried that buying a beautiful opal
will bring bad luck, know that these rumors are just that: rumors, with no substantial basis. However, you may feel more at ease by following the metaphysical practice of adding diamonds around the opal to overpower its energy.
At the end of the day, opals are striking gemstones valued for their iridescence. The only significance behind the “opal curse” rumors is the mystery and intrigue they’ve brought to this already captivating stone.
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