Agate was given its name by Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher who is believed to have discovered the gem on the banks of the river Achates (today called Cirilo), in the province Ragusa in Sicily in the 4th century BC. The gemstone was later mentioned in the Bible as one of the “stones of fire”.
Made from silicon dioxide, it has a glassy (vitreous) lustre, and is often used to make brooches and pins. It can also resist acids and has been used to make mortars and pestles to press and combine chemicals.
Many Agates originate in cavities of molten rock, where gas bubbles trapped in solidifying lava are replaced with alkali and silica bearing solutions. Formed as a banded round nodule (like the rings of a tree trunk) and has bands of colours of bands – Riband Agate.
Myths and legends suggest that when a person wears Agate, they become more pleasant and agreeable. It is believed to quench thirst, protect against viruses (including fever) and to cure insomnia. Some tribes in Brazil also believe that Agate can even cure the stings of scorpions and bites from poisonous snakes!
Muslims often have the gem set into a ring and wear it on their right hand and have the name of Allah, Ali, or one of the names of the other eleven Imams inscribed on the ring.
Agate objects from the Neolithic era have been found. The Sumerians made seals, necklaces, signet rings and other jewellery items. The Sumerians used agate by wearing it with other stones around the neck and wrist to protect against the curses of Goddess Lamashtu whom threatened their new-born children. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, it has been said that in the garden of the Gods, the dewdrops were agates.
The Greek king of Pontus, Mithridates had a collection of four thousand agate bowls. In the Greek mythology, agate is associated with Mother Earth, the goddess Gaia and Nyx, the goddess of the night. Cups in agate were also popular during the Byzantine era with many examples in European museums.
In Wales, agate is linked to who was the goddess of death and fertility. She is the queen of the west, of water and of the autumn season. Ceridwen is the creator of magic and the queen of witches.
In ancient China, it was believed that agate came from the brain of a fossilised horse. During the era of the Yellow Emperor (2500-2600 BC), agate was believed to come from the recrystallisation of spilled blood. Agate was highly revered since the Han Dynasty of East China (25-220 BC) where its tints of red were extremely appreciated.
It was said that Persian magicians used to burn agates to take away storms.
Romans associated agate to Aurore (Aurora), the goddess of dawn and the mother of the winds and to Bona Dea, the goddess of virtue, protector of the women. The Romans believed the stone had healing properties and consuming it as a drink mixed with water healed a snake bite.