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Earth magic: the message within the opal

Lately I’ve been immersed in the extraordinary beauty of opals.

No other stone can deliver quite the character that opals can.
Don’t get me wrong – I love many gemstones, but I believe that when we’re drawn to something (and particularly if it gets a little bit unbalanced and obsessive!), this indicates there is energy or information here that we need to pay attention to.

I’ve got quiet opals with dark faces but when they catch the light at certain angles there’s a flash of brilliant green as pure as the green ray of the heart chakra.
Others are steadfast earthy rocks (brown as the earth they’ve come from) with marvelous glowing cores like multicoloured lava.  And others have a quiet purity of intention, a preternatural glow of meltingly luminous greens, reds and blues.

 

White opal showing flashes of colour

When I first heard the description of white opal as the ‘Seed of the Holy Fire’ this felt so pure and true. Beneath the haze of white light there are dazzling flashes of inspiration that evoke for me the Ecstasy of St Teresa, burning with mystical Eros,  as captured so beautifully in Bernini’s extraordinary sculpture.

 

No stone offers quite the spectrum of colour play – or, in fact, the extremes of price – as does the opal.

Thus, there is something wonderfully egalitarian about this stone.  And in particular the Boulder Opal, which contains all the colours of its fancier cousins the White and Black Opals. It’s simply that its veins of colour are usually more narrow. Once they used to be sliced down and glued onto slabs to produce little ‘triplets’ and ‘doublets’ that appeared in ubiquitous, uninteresting jewellery in every tourist trap across Australia.

Now we celebrate them in their natural state, their colours still contained in the  matrix of rock that enabled their growth.

Opals are actually water turned to stone. You can literally see the liquid flows in the patterns of many opals, telling the story of how water and minerals trickled into channels and spaces in rocks, or were laid down in dissolving wood and the bones of ancient animals.  And then transformed, over unimaginable years, into these glorious combinations of earth and light.

Unlike other gems such as diamonds or rubies or amethysts, they don’t grow deep underground in volcanic pipes, or fiery larval flows, or dark caverns.

Opals began in the sands of a vast inland sea that covered the heart of the continent 100 million years ago.

Veins of opal in ironstone from Koroit opal fields
Veins of opal appear like rivers in a desert landscape in this opal from the Koroit opal fields in Queensland.

I source my opals directly from the miners in my home town of Winton (in ‘outback’ Queensland), which is on the edge of this ancient sea, and most recently has been made famous for its dinosaur fossil discoveries. In fact the mines are about 120kms south of the town and are still mined by individuals (very clear traceability to source here!).  Here there are none of the giant mining pits or multinational conglomerates associated with diamond mining.

Opal is not, strictly speaking, a crystal, but an amorphous ‘mineraloid’ of hydrous silicon oxide.

Unlike other stones it does not occur as crystals but as small veins, globules and crusts, usually condensed from silica-rich solutions. It can also replace the skeletons of many marine organisms and plants, which is how you get opalised shell and wood – fossils that have become jewels!

It owes its fragility to the loss of water when it is exposed to air. The surface becomes crazed with tiny conchoidal fractures. The characteristic play of colours in many opals result from the way that light is dispersed according to the angle of incidence (the angle in which the light strikes the surface).

Opals haven’t been so popular in Australia – most is sold into the US market.
I believe this is largely due not only to our ‘cultural cringe’ but also to the design abuses the stones suffered in the 70’s and 80’s!

And the increase in their popularity now is part of the rising interest in preserving our natural world. The fragility of opals is an echo of the fragile balance within Australia’s eco-systems.

In a time that feels like we are on the verge of an ecological crisis, the opal is a quiet reminder of earth magic.

In an era when everyone is trying to escape into the virtual worlds of technology – and the belief that science will solve our ecological problems – the opal evokes the sublime beauty of the material world.

This sensation of awe and delight is not only good for us, it reminds us of the preciousness of this land in which we live. The opal plays its role in re-orienting us around respect and love for the world of matter.

And this simple re-orientation is perhaps the singularly most important shift we can make to  solve what ails us in modern times.

Unsplash image by Rokslana Zasiadko

Read this next time you’re longing to feel beautiful

Are you beautiful? Do you find that a provocative question? Perhaps it hits a nerve that has you listing the ways that you’re not, yet, beautiful. Or perhaps you shy back due to modesty…

We don’t go about openly declaring ourselves beautiful in this culture. And yet we’re obsessed by it!

It’s difficult not to be obsessed considering that we’ve been indoctrinated from a young age, even if simply from watching movies and music videos.

As a maker of jewellery, and a first-house-Venus-in-Taurus, beauty has always held a certain prominence for me. And yet, like many, at the same time I crave beauty, I’ve also felt there was something self-indulgent, frivolous and ultimately irrelevant about it.

But then I started to dig into why beauty is high on my list of values. So I decided to do this series of explorations on beauty and what it really means…

What if beauty is not what you think it is?

Do you recognise that deep longing for beauty that you can feel in your heart and your belly? Do you crave beauty and yet sometimes have this jealousy, this feeling that sneaks up on you, that it’s something ‘out there’ that other women have but not you?

Are you the kind of woman who gets caught in comparisons? Not enough of this, too much of that? I know I am. It’s hard not to in this society where everywhere we turn we see a parade of Hollywood beauties, airbrushed to perfection – or the ‘ugly’ counterpart much used by checkout magazines splashing pics of ‘stars without their make-up’ across their covers.

Remarkably, I notice that whenever I read one of those mags (and only because I’ve been waiting too long at the doctor’s surgery and I’m desperately bored), I feel drained of my energy. Robbed of it, in fact.

And this drained feeling comes from the simple truth that these magazines are stealing my beauty by making it impossible. Since I can only ever be myself, not some copy of a celebrity or supermodel.

What are you allowing to steal your beauty?

In modern times it’s easy to believe that beauty is about a narrow range of visual criteria, because way too much energy is spent trying to convince us of this fact in order to sell us a product or service!

And thus we’ve been trained to forget what beauty really is. We mistake beauty for appearance, or rather we think beauty is in how we appear, when it’s actually an energy.

This is why we can meet people who have perfect faces and bodies, and yet something feels like it’s missing. This seemingly perfect beauty is an artifice.
It’s beauty that does not believe itself because the woman (or man) is not connected to that intangible vitality that energises her from within.

This isn’t just an experience we have with people either. Although the “beauty” industry works very hard to suppress our natural and uncanny ability to detect when something is ‘all surface and no substance’.

Beauty is the vitalising energy of life pulsating through us.

And it’s an energy that can be ‘stolen’… or more precisely it’s an energy that can be diverted or suppressed.

For example, whenever you look in a mirror and critique yourself for not meeting beauty standards, you’re giving away a little of your life energy to some social dictate about what beauty is supposed to look like.

It’s the same when you’re ogling makeup displays in department stores, or poring over the images of Vogue, and you feel this ache for the possibilities promised.

In each of these actions, beyond, around, behind envy is that little delicious scent of potentiality. When we pause a moment to recognise that sensation we’re seeking, when we really feel into the potency of beauty, we get to claim it for ourselves.

Because it doesn’t live in magazines or products, it lives within  our own vitality.

So even if you’re struggling to see it in yourself – or most importantly when you’re struggling to see it in the mirror – seek it not in magazines and advertisements.
Look for it in life. In gardens and galleries, in pets and sunsets.

Just because it seems to be ‘outside’ you doesn’t mean it’s not yours to experience. Beauty is not something we can own. And it’s ironic that the billion dollar industry so effectively keeps us chasing the possibility of it, by promising we can own it via a particular product. Even as we know this beauty is never permanent!

We can’t own it and it’s not permanent, but not because someone else has what we don’t, or time and age take it away from us – but because we can’t own an energy.

You can’t own vitality. You have to let it flow through you if you want the experience of it.

The ancient Greeks thought of the beauty we see as a manifestation of some ideal ‘off-world’ pure essence. But beauty is not abstraction, it’s of-this-world, available through the deeply embodied experience of life pulsating through us – in response to the vitality of a flower, or the energetic presence of the artist in an artwork.

Or the clear expression of our own real-ness in a world accustomed to artifice.

 

Unsplash image by Rokslana Zasladko

 

Beauty is an experience of energy, not a specific thing.

If you want to feel beautiful than dip into your own vital life force and feel it express through you. In laughter, or sadness, or calm. In all its forms.

Every time you see something that is naturally beautiful – flower or sunset, kitten or baby – it’s because there is a pure energy expressing through these.
Accept that energy as a gift, letting it enter your senses, feeling it infuse your body with whatever ‘feel-good’ chemicals that happiness and awe and joy evoke (and there are a bunch of neurotransmitters connected to these experiences).

And then just let that sensation fuel your own beauty, your own deep and vital essence.

Receive the beauty the world is offering everyday. This most simple of actions fuels your own beauty.

Some days you may have to ‘work’ on seeking it out, especially in a chaotic, cacophonous modern city. But whether it means flowers that make your heart sing, or a delicious fabric that enlivens your senses, or the taste of something amazing, let it all in.

Get excited about being alive. Because this increases your reserves of beauty.

And we need to continually replenish these in a world that seems constantly at work attempting to steal the beauty that we naturally have.