In every culture which has had an encounter with pearls, they have been associated with great virtues, powers, healing powers, wealth and wisdom; hence incorporated into their mythology. Throughout their long history, pearls have endured as mysterious and highly cherished gifts of the deep, described in most ancient literature as dew from the moon, related to moon goddesses, and thus associated with the feminine. Due to the pearl’s circular or oval shape, ancient ones perceived the essence of the moon in the watery oyster which receives its dewy pregnancy from heavenly dew drops.
The Persian Goddess Astarte, also known as the licentious Ishtar of Babylonia, was represented as a moon goddess standing naked on the back of a lioness, holding a lotus and a mirror in one hand and two serpents in the other.
Greeks believed that pearls were formed when rain or dewdrops haphazardly fell into an oyster. In ancient Greece, pearls symbolized love and marriage; wearing them supposedly promoted marital bliss and prevented newlywed women from weeping. Drops of water that fell from Aphrodite when she emerged from the water were conceived as pearls. To date, pearls are often the best choice of gifts to brides at weddings or given for the first, third, twelfth and thirtieth wedding anniversaries.
The pearl has long been considered a symbol of love, protection, wisdom, purity and wealth and have been frequently used as love potions.
Tahitian black pearls are believed to symbolize hope for wounded hearts. Due to the mysterious aura surrounding the black pearl, legends attribute healing powers to what is known to be a gift of God. It is astonishing how myths surrounding the creation of pearls are the same in the most scattered parts of the world. From Persia to Tahiti, and from China to Japan and Ceylon, pearls are associated with heavenly dews, tears, the moon and the feminine.
According to one Tahitian story, the moon casts its light on the ocean to attract oysters. Once the oysters rise from the depths onto the surface of the ocean to bathe in the moonlight, the moon graces each oyster with a drop of heavenly dew. After the drop becomes polished, it shrouds itself with grey, blue, green, gold and pink shimmering garments, thus creating the dazzling variety of colors in Tahitian black pearls.
In another Tahitian legend, Oro, the Polynesian God of peace and fertility descended to earth on a rainbow to offer the “Te Ufi” oyster to humans as a gift. Once the oyster gave birth to a beautiful black pearl, Oro offered it to princess Bora Bora as a symbol of his undying love and affection.
Since the Tahitian black pearl was only worn by the royalty, it was referred to as the “Pearl of Queens and the Queen of Pearls.” Due to its many feminine attributes, the black pearl has been primarily worn by women until recently as more and more men are becoming seduced by this mysterious creation of the sea.
The Japanese equated pearls with tears of mythical nymphs, mermaids and angels. Man'youshuu, the oldest surviving collection of Japanese poetry, contains many pearl stories. The Shousouin storehouse of the Toudaiji Temple in Nara, preserved as a national treasure and opened to the public only once each year, also contains numerous pearl-decorated artifacts.
For some in the Orient, pearls came from angel’s tears. An ancient myth from Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) portrays a lake of tears created as a result of tears shed by Adam and Eve. From Eve’s tears, white pearls were created whereas from Adam’s tears came black pearls. Since men were thought to shed fewer tears than women, the scarcity of Adam’s tears is used to explain the rarity of black pearls as compared to white ones.
Conception of pearls as tear drops led Indian warriors to place pearls on their swords as a reminder of the pain and suffering caused by the use of swords.
Similarly, in Persian literature, pearls are often associated with pain and suffering resulting in tears and purification. Pearls were also believed to be the byproduct of the love affair between the fructifying heaven and the fertile earth when a rainbow meets the earth. In the famous Persian story of “A Thousand and One Nights” Sheherezade has made many references to the pearl. Irregularities in pearls were thought to be caused by thunder. Amongst Persian Kurds, the round flawless pearl stands for purity and virginity, while piercing the pearl represents the consummation of a marriage.
For Persian Manicheans, the pearl represented a conjunction of reason and spiritual feeling; thus valued as the ultimate talisman for warding off the evils of this world.
Other virtues of the pearl are to promote conjugal bliss and loyalty. It is also believed to quicken the laws of karma, create lasting bonds in love relationships and ensure the safety of children.
Some ancients believed that introducing a pearl into a dove’s womb and letting it gestate for a while would enhance the pearl’s iridescent orient.
As the only organic gems nurtured by a living animal, tales and superstitions abound surrounding pearls. Due to its birth in water, the pearl was used as a charm against fire in some folklore. Not having pearls as an ancestral gem was thought to bring bad luck. On the other hand, the powdered pearl mixed with water, was believed to cure lunacy.
Hindus associated pearls with the moon, wild boars, elephants, snakes, fish and only rarely with oysters. In Hindu literature, pearls represented love and purity. Legend has it that Krishna discovered the first pearl and presented it to his daughter on her wedding day. To ensure a happy marriage and prevent widowhood, many Hindu brides still wear pearl nose rings at their weddings.
Various Hindu deities preside over different pearls, depending on their color:
Black Pearls: Yamaraia Other dark pearls: Vishnu Fiery brilliant Pearls: Agni Red Pearls: Vavu Yellow Pearls: Varuna White or cream moon-like Pearls: Indra
In ancient Lore, wearing black pearls helps you know yourself and become prosperous. Blue Shades help you find love. Gold tones bring wealth while pink tones will earn you fame and fortune.
Wearing different colors of pearls are also recommended depending on your social status or profession. Pure white is recommended to priests, teachers, scientists or intellectuals; white with orange hue is recommended for rulers, administrators and warriors; white with green overtone is suggested for bankers, businessmen and farmers; and finally black or blue is reserved for artisans.
The Goddess Lakshmi is believed to bestow a healthy happy long successful life of fame and fortune upon all who wear a perfect un-pierced round pearl. She washes your sins away and blesses you with virtue, vitality, wisdom, wealth, purity, patience, self-esteem and enables you to achieve a high position in life. Wearing pearls is supposed to help you find a suitable partner, create harmony and fidelity between young married couples, bring sons, and ward off evil spirits, grief and disease.
In China, the first Emperor of the Shin kingdom who believed that pearls could prevent the aging process, launched a great campaign in search of pearls. It is said that the secret to the beauty of the famous Chinese Yang Kuei-fei, was daily intake of powdered pearls. The famed Japanese pearl legend, Mikimoto, consumed two powdered pearls as a daily dietary supplement until the age of 92.
Not all superstitions about pearls are positive, however. Some folklore has it that wearing defective pearls with cracks, spots, blisters, lack of luster, thin nacre or internal dirt can bring misfortune. For example, wearing a spotted pearl is said to cause leprosy or loss of one’s children; a broken pearl will cause loss of livelihood. Wearing a pearl without luster can shorten one’s life span. Wearing a bird-shaped or coral-shaped pearl can result in loss of wealth.
For ancient Chinese, natural black pearls were created in the brains of dragons and fell from the sky when dragons fought. Chinese art and lore is replete with images of the dragon holding onto the pearl safely between its teeth or paws. Thus, the human quest for the precious “pearl of wisdom” required the long and arduous process of slaying the dragon. For the Chinese, attaining to the pearl was akin to achieving wisdom through the hard experience of a hero or heroine’s journey.
Just as you need to kill a live oyster in order to obtain a “pearl of great price,” you must surrender to the trials and tribulations of life and let go of old attitudes, identities, values and behaviors in order to obtain something of real value. For the spiritual seeker, standing before a vast, dark and cold sea, looking for the shimmering light that emanates from within the black pearl is the true test of one’s values, courage and determination. The question is: Are you willing to take the leap into the unknown to heal old wounds, purify your heart and mind of old and outmoded attitudes and behaviors? Are you going to stand at the shore and look at other brave souls with envy? Or are you going to turn your back to the gift of the goddess altogether and walk away? The choice is yours, and so are the consequences and rewards.
Whatever myths, legends, folklore, and fairytales are attributed to this precious gift of mother-nature, it is clear that the pearl has long captured the human imagination with its inner glow and outward beauty, rich spectrum of colors, dazzling shine, enchanting lustre, pure rarity and symbolic value, much like the alchemist’s philosopher’s stone. If you who have been on a spiritual quest for the elixir of life and the alchemical philosopher’s stone, have faith that the black pearl is the ultimate symbol of the Self; a gift of the Goddess; destined to live in your heart, shine its light on your path, and to adorn you with its stunning beauty, always….