February’s Birthstone: Myth and Magic of Amethyst Gemstones

Amethyst, with its purple wine color, has been associated since the time of the Greeks with the ability to prevent drunkenness. There are two similar stories about how this came to be. In neither of them is the god Dionysius, known for his lechery and his tendency to over imbibe, shown in a good light.

ABOVE: These beautiful Moroccan amethysts would be a wonderful addition to your jewelry wardrobe, whether you are a February baby or are born in March under the sign of Pisces. Photo Mia Dixon. Courtesy Pala International.

In the first, Dionysius, his intentions less than honorable (and drunk we might assume), is pursuing a young maiden named Amethystos through the woods as she is on her way to worship at the shrine of Artemis, the huntress. Terrified, the young woman calls out to Artemis for protection from the lecherous god. Artemis immediately changes the young woman into a crystal of pure white quartz. Dionysius, made ashamed of his actions, either pours his cup of wine–which he’s managed to hold onto during the chase–over the crystal or weeps tears of wine over it. Either way, he turns it purple. (This tale is believed to have originated with a poem written in the 1500s by Rémy Belleau, who gave the gods their Roman names: Bacchus and Diana.)

Pastel amethysts, aqua and peridot are married harmoniously in these aptly named Czarina Big Drop Earrings by Daria de Koning. Courtesy Daria de Koning.

In possibly the original story, Dionysius is fuming because a mortal has stinted in his worship of the wine god. Dionysius swears to revenge himself on mortals by setting tigers to devour the first human who crosses his path. That happens to be Amethystos. In order to save her from the tigers, Artemis turns her into a block of quartz.

Either way, amethyst gained a reputation for its ability to prevent drunkenness, and presumably dishonorable actions such as Dionysius’. George Frederick Kunz hypothesizes that the real reason the stone got this reputation is that a goblet of amethyst would make pure water in it appear like wine, which quite naturally could be drunk without ill effect.

Kunz also records the belief that “a bear, if engraved on an amethyst, has the virtue of putting demons to flight and defends and preserves the wearer from drunkenness.”

amethyst pendant

Gem-quality amethyst often comes in quite large sizes–like this 27.98 carat uniquely faceted stone–so you needn’t be shy about making a statement with it. Photo Mia Dixon. Courtesy The Collector Fine Jewelry.

If you were born in March and love amethysts, you are not completely out of luck. Amethyst is also associated with the zodiac sign of Pisces (February 20 through March 20). Kunz records this rhyme:

From passion and from care kept free
Shall Pisces’ children ever be
Who wear so all the world may see
The amethyst.

If you’re as fascinated as I am about the lore around gemstones, you can do no better than Kunz’s Curious Lore of Precious Stones. Originally published in 1913, it is full of odd information and wonderful old spellings. In these posts, I touch on only the smallest part of what Kunz has to offer.

Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.

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