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moonstone - goddess power

the 'star stone'
Sri Lankan legend says moonstone was first discovered by a person of Tamil origin sometime during the country's colonialization by the Portuguese (1505-1658) but it was probably known long before the Portuguese arrived.

moonstone exhibiting asterism

Also found in India but in much less quantity, it's very possible that Indian moonstone found its way to ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt.
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), Roman historian, naturalist and author of the world's first encyclopedia, referred to stones called astrions -- meaning "star-stones" (also called asteria, or astriotes) -- which are believed to have been moonstones. He described them as "a colorless stone...[from India] having within it the appearance of a star shining brightly like the full moon."
The bright white spot that appears to move as the stone is rotated was believed by the ancients to be a reflection of the moon that waxed and waned in harmony with lunar movement. According to Pliny, when moonstone was held up to the stars, the stones collected and reflected their glitter. (The term "star-stone" later referred to sapphires which were probably unknown at the time.)

diana, goddess of the moon

Legend has it that amulets of moonstone, associated with the goddesses Isis (Egyptian), Diana (Roman) and Selene (Greek), were hung in fruit trees to produce abundant crops.
Moonstone was also thought to protect against wandering of the mind, insanity and epilepsy; and was attributed with improving physical strength and reconciling lovers. If held in the mouth, a moonstone was even thought to help one make the right decision.
Italian Renaissance Prince Cesare Borgia's court physician, Camillus Leonardus, author of Speculum Lapidum -- "Mirror of Stones" -- (1502), called the stones selenites, writing:

"[Selinite] contains the figure of the moon or a clouded star... It is very powerful stone in the reconciling of love, and during the whole time of the increase of the moon, it helps the pthisical (consumptive); but in the decrease it discovers surprising effects, for it enables a person to foretell future events."

the moonstone step
According to Sri Lankan tradition, the Moonstone Temple in Anuradhapura, ancient capital of Sinhalese kings of Ceylon that flourished for 1,300 years -- abandoned after the Tamil Chola kings of southern India invaded in 993 AD -- had 'moonstone' steps faced with mosaics of moonstone.

the moonstone step of anuradhapura temple, now a ruin

The ruins of this temple, built about 100 BC, can still be seen today -- but the moonstones are no longer there, undoubtedly looted in one of the many invasions suffered by Sri Lanka throughout the centuries.
However, entrances of important buildings in Sri Lanka still frequently have a large half moon shaped carved 'step,' called a 'moonstone.'

moonstone step
photo: robert wilson ceylon tea

The six to seven carved rows of moonstone step are highly significant to Sri Lankan Buddhists as they represent the story of life and the progression on one's inward path -- via a form of reincarnation -- to the sacred and then to final enlightenment.
the stairway to heaven
S. Paranawithana in his "Significance of the Sinhalese Moonstone" explained the various arcs, each of which represents a spiritual stage in one's ascent to Nirvana. There may be some variation in design, but in general:
row design meaning
1 arc of flower petals (palapethi) motif the fires of worldly existence (or some say, "the flames of hell")
2 arc of four beasts - elephant, lion, horse and bull the four mortal perils birth disease, decay and death
3 arc of undulating scrolls of leaves and flowers forming the liyavela motif (the "vine of life") desire or craving (tanha)
4 arc of swans or geese (hansa puttuwa) the sign of purity, wholeness and goodness (the thoughtful ones who have left their worldly abodes)
5 arc containing a second liyavela motif the heavenly worlds.
6 arc of lotus petals turned outwards, the arc of lotus petals turned inwards and seed-cup in the centre forming together half a lotus nirvana

the miraculous moonstone tiara
Very popular in the early twentieth century, moonstone was used extensively in Art Nouveau jewelry (1890-1915).

art nouveau moonstone pendant; rene lalique, artist
photo: lalique

In 1906, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, gave an extraordinary Russian tiara of ribbons of turquoise and moonstone wrapped around a diamond frame, as a Christmas present to his second wife, Princess Eleanore of Solms-Hohensohms-Lich.
As with most jewelry of this period, each jewel was significant: the diamonds symbolized eternity; the turquoise, true love; and the moonstones, innocence.

"the moonstone" movie poster, 1934
photo: sinister cinema

In an odd twist to the story, in 1937, Ernst's son with Princess Eleanore, George Donatus -- who happened to be traveling with the tiara -- died in an air crash in which he and five of his family (including his wife, Cecile, sister of Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip) and six other people were killed.
Almost everything was destroyed in the crash except for a strongbox holding the moonstone and turquoise tiara. Todday, the tiara is on exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.