The great vision in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation where the woman appears clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head, is a prelude of a coming event: the celestial Jerusalem descending from heaven. The New Jerusalem consists of gold (“clothed with the sun”), each of its entrances is made out of one pearl (“the moon under her feet”), its surrounding wall rest on twelve foundation stones adorned with the twelve gemstones (“a crown of twelve stars upon her head”).
The correlation between stars and gemstones is an indication of the high spiritual level we are confronted with when dealing with gemstones. It is the level which may appear before our inner eye when we look at the essential differences between human beings, animals, plants and rocks. The human being has its ego on earth. In animals we may observe a wisdom far greater than ours, but there is a complete lack of personal responsibility: the ego of the animals, their wise group soul, is in the astral world. In the plants we have before us pure life forces, gently touched by astrality in the flowering processes. The astral body of the plants is in the astral world. The plants’ ego is in a still higher world, the lower Devachan. Finally, in the crystal we may have the feeling that a shade of life processes is around it at the moment of crystallization. The etheric part of the crystals is in the astral word, the astral “body” in the lower Devachan, the ego in the higher Devachan.
The feeling that the physical appearance of crystals is connected with spiritual beings of a very high level, may account for the magical attraction which gemstones have had throughout human history. Modern spiritual approach should bear this in mind.
Jasper, the first of the twelve gemstones, consists mainly of silicic acid. In fact, the whole circle of apocalyptic gemstones is, chemically, composed either of silicic acid or silicates, i.e. combinations of silicic acid. What is the character of silicic acid? It is the main component (60%) of the earth’s rocks, especially of the continents. That means that it provides, unselfishly, the foundation on which we stand, walk and live. On the other hand the purest form of silicic acid, rock-crystal, is of such a high transparency that even ultraviolet rays pass through. In the technical sense, mankind has learnt to use this unselfish transparency of silicic acid to produce glass from quartz sands. It is significant that unselfishness is the basic feature of the twelve gemstones. In jasper the pure silicic acid is colored by extremely fine grained particles of iron oxide. Iron is the bearer of the ego force in human blood, oxygen is the life substance. It might be concluded that in jasper we have that kind of unselfishness which is permeated with and borne by ego-force, the kind of unselfishness which is found in the life and work of the greatest artists. It is the unwavering condition of creative work. Strikingly, jasper is one of the two gemstones which characterize the highest divine being in chapter four of the apocalypse: “A throne stood there in heaven and one who sat on the throne. His appearance blazed like jasper and carnelian. And a rainbow shining like emerald encircled the throne.”
Jasper is totally opaque. In the circle of the twelve gemstones there are six opaque, or nearly untransparent, and six totally translucent rocks, the opaque always facing a translucent one. The translucent gemstones are, in a sense are more connected with thinking, the opaque with the forces of the will. Each two opposite gemstones are, in a sense, complementary in their qualities. Between the two may arise for our inner eye a congenial quality which is connected with realm of feeling.
Chrysolite, opposite to jasper, is the seventh gemstone of the apocalyptic circle. Jewelers call it peridot. It has a high transparency and a beautiful golden green color. According to a jeweler’s book on gems (Mab Wilson) “ there is no blue in the green, even in the darkest version of itself. Place it in the shade and it still remains sun-touched”.
Chemically it is an iron magnesium silicate. Where do we find the combination of iron and magnesium playing a major role in nature? In chlorophyll, the green substance of the leaves in which the sun produces oxygen out of carbon dioxide.
Evidently, this gemstone has a close relation to sun, to light in general.
Magnesium in fact is an element with an enormous light potential. We experience the relation, as indicated by Rudolf Steiner, between chrysolite and the sense of sight.
The qualities of jasper and chrysolite are clearly complementary. Unbiased sensorial obversation is in urgent need of ego-conscious unselfishness, the result in between the two poles being the way to truth.
The most conspicuous property of lapis lazuli indeed is the heavenly blue color with the golden specks of very small pyrite crystals, often compared with the blue sky and golden stars. It is the kind of blue which expresses devotion, that form of reverence which goes deep into the will forces. True and pure devotion should be rooted in firm ground and should be borne by ego force. Both these aspects appear in lapis lazuli. In its very complicated chemical composition normal salt plays a part, and on the other hand we find in the golden pyrite an expression of the ego force of iron which has conquered the sulfur process, a true Michaelic impulse.
Beryl, facing lapis lazuli in the ring, is really in many ways is opposite. It is a very hard (harder than quartz), totally transparent, hexagonal columnar crystal with often a greenish hue which however disappears when the crystal is heated. Chemically it is a beryllium aluminium silicate. Beryllium is one of the most resistant elements. It plays a major role in nuclear power plants.
Beryl’s hardness and transparency, its upright columnar form (in North America crystals of more than eight meters have been found), its sunlike hexagonal symmetry, give a beautiful image of high intelligence. In the story of the Holy Grail (the ancestor of the Grail family is called Beryllus) we are told that devil cannot stay for even a moment if this stone is present: there is nothing adversary forces fear more than being seen through.
The very diverse qualities of lapis lazuli and beryl are highly in need of each other in human life. Devotion in the will forces should be guided by clear, high intelligence. On the other hand, intelligence badly needs devotion. And what is between the two extremes? It is the right way, that way which is called righteousness in the Bible. In fact, it is the way of inner development as described in Rudolf Steiner’s book “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds”: starting with the path of devotion and reverence and leading to the highest levels of knowledge.
Chalcedony, the third stone of the circle, is essentially pure silicic acid. Typical for chalcedony is its structure. It is an extremely fine structure consisting of fiber-like crystals with in between some disseminated opal-silica. The total aspect of this often bluish gemstone is of an embracing gesture. This, in fact, is the essence of chalcedony: it represents the embracing power of the soul, an embracing power which is unselfish (silic acid), which is filled with soul power (opal is the gemstone of the soul) and which is not exclusive on the will side (chalcedony is not totally opaque like jasper).
Topaz, the opposite of chalcedony, has a high transparency, is hard and appears in a great variety of colors. “So rich and warm is its golden tone one hesitates to call it a pastel” ( Mab Wilson). Topaz is a fluor aluminium silicate. Fluor is one of the fiercest elements, aluminium is next to silicon, the most common element in the Earth’s crust. It is the essential component of clays and clayey material.
In topaz we may recognize the colorful, immensely variable world of mankind’s ideas. There is a connection between idea and taste. There are as many diverse and divergent tastes as there are ideas. Certainly, one cannot act tastefully in life, if one has no ideas. Rudolf Steiner indicates that there is a connection between topaz and the sense of taste.
The relationship between topaz and chalcedony is, again, quite obvious. What are ideas more in need of than being furthered and protected by the enveloping qualities of our soul forces? It is only by these forces that they can grow and develop. And in the human breast, the realm of our feeling capacities, peace may arise, that kind of peace which is an active and productive force and not only the absence of conflict.
Emerald, the fourth gemstone, is essentially beryl. Why does it take such an outstanding place among the gemstones if it is in fact only a beryl? Because of its color! Emerald green is a color in itself, and emerald will not change its color even by considerable heating. This color is due to the presence of extremely fine disseminated chromium. Chromium, the highest superlative of iron.
If we think of the high intelligence represented by beryl and the highest ego force represented by chromium, we easily see why emerald may be called the gemstone of the Christ.
In the already quoted passage (see jasper) of Apocalypse chapter four the throne is encircled by a rainbow of emerald. Seemingly a contradiction in itself because a rainbow contains all colors whereas the green of the emerald is one unique color. From a spiritual point of view this is not a contradiction: The highest ego which of course is unique, comprehends the total number of human egos in all their individual colors.
Chrysoprase, opposite, but really very much opposite emerald, is a totally opaque gemstone, in fact a chalcedony beautifully green colored by finely disseminated nickel oxide. It has a green color in which blue is clearly present, the kind of green which arises from the dark and is underway to the light. Nickel is the metal which makes iron tough. Both the color and the peculiar character of nickel characterize man’s endeavor to go the way of inner development.
It is interesting to note that chrysoprase in a gemstone quality was, until recently only found in Saxony, in the middle of Europe (together with bright red jasper and amethyst it is found in the gemstone clad chapels which Charles IV of Bohemia had built in Prague and in his castle Karlstein in the middle of the fourteenth century). In the last decades however chrysoprase of high quality has been found and successfully mined in Queensland.
The relation between chrysoprase and emerald is obvious. The way to higher development is necessarily the way to the higher ego, that is to Christ. On this way arises the true faith, that means the faith in ourselves, in our higher ego, in Christ.
Sardonyx, the fifth gemstone, consists of very fine-banded layers of white chalcedony and red carnelian. Already from Roman times, both sardonyx and the quite similar agate-jasper were the famous material from which cameos were cut using the red layer as foundation and sculpturing the portrait in the white chalcedony layer, or vice versa. In really typical sardonyx there is such an extremely fine-banded sequence that we are reminded of the phenomenon of sound vibration made visible in stone. In fact, our listening is a sequence of lively attention and silent concentration in our soul. It becomes clear why Rudolf Steiner indicated that sardonyx is related with the sense of hearing, and is at the same time the gemstone of inspiration.
Hyacinth, facing sardonyx in the ring of the twelve gemstones, is a marvellous fiery red, totally transparent stone. In chemical terms it is zirconium silicate. Zirconium is an element with an enormous light capacity. In the previous century zirconium light was used in the same way as magnesium light. At the same time, zirconium is an element with great resistance (it is used in nuclear plants) and a good transparency: it is the raw material for production of enamel.
Evidently hyacinth has a relation to light, but in a totally different way than chrysolite. The latter is more connected with sun-processes, the former has the light in itself, even to the extent to produce some radioactive radiation.
The capacity to produce light from inner sources may in a way be considered as an image of the capacity of imagination.
The relation between sardonyx as the gemstone of inspiration and hyacinth as the gemstone of imagination is of course clear, also in the sense that imagination (the transparent hyacinth) has a closer connection to our thinking, and inspiration (the practically untransparent sardony) is distinctly linked to the forces of the will. The way which leads to imagination and from imagination to inspiration is the way which makes our one-sided view of the world whole again. Between hyacinth and sardonyx there is the way of wholesomeness. The Bible uses the word “soteria”, translated by salvation.
Carnelian, also called cornelian or sard, is the sixth gemstone. It is a chalcedony coloured by iron hydroxide. The name carnelian stems from the wonderful red color, a real incardanine. It is indeed a gemstone related to the process of incarnation. Max Stibbe, one of the first Waldorf teachers in Holland, considered the sequence of gemstones on the high-priest's breastplate as a reflection of the spiritual way of the old Jewish history. These twelve gemstones begin with carnelian, the gemstone of consanguinity, and is finally leading to jasper, the gemstone of unselfishness. That means: the blood had to be kept pure in such a way that it would provide unselfishly the body and the substance in which the incarnation of Christ could take place. The twelve gemstones of the apocalypse represent the way of Christendom, beginning with the ego endowed unselfishness of jasper and completing its way in amethyst, the gemstone of the love of one's neighbor. Stibbe's problem was, what is the role of carnelian in the Apocalyptic sequence? Here we should look at the ultimate goal of incarnation: that is resurrection, the "Geistesmensch".
In the aspect of gemstone of resurrection carnelian is one of the two gemstones representing the highest divine being in the vision of Apocalypse chapter four.
Amethyst is the final gemstone of the Apocalyptic ring. Since 610 A.D. it has been the gemstone of the bishop's ring in the Roman Catholic church. It mainly appears in pyramidal hexagonal violet crystals. The color stems from iron together with titanium and manganese, two of the higher congenial elements of iron. So, we have before us a scale of higher ego aspects together with the violet color which involves the blue of devotion and the red of the blood forces. Add to these the sun-like hexagonal symmetry and we have the basic features of what in the Gospels is called love of one's neighbor. The Greek word amethustos means: sober, not inebriated. How true it is that love of one's neighbor should be free from any intoxication.
By the way, amethyst is the third gemstone with hexagonal crystals. The three: amethyst, emerald and beryl form a triangle within the circle. The Greek author Lucian, in the second century A.D., describes in his Vera Historia the city of the Islands of the Blessed. The walls of this city are of emerald, the temples of beryl, and the altars therein of single amethysts.
Complementary qualities appear in amethyst and carnelian, love of one's neighbor is both conditional to and as a result of the way which leads to resurrection. They are the response (German: Antwort) on the Word of God.
Bringing now together the qualities which arise between the pairs of gemstones we recognize the "armor of God" St.Paul describes in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians:
"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints."
- Dr. Simon van der Heide, Haarlem, Holland- past Secretary-General of the International Union of Geological Sciences.