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Lapis lazuli, also known simply as “lapis,” is a blue metamorphic rock that has been used by people as a gemstone, sculpting material, pigment, and ornamental material for thousands of years. High-quality lapis lazuli can be a costly gem. The most desirable specimens have a rich, solid blue color and perhaps a few reflective pieces of gold pyrite.

Unlike most other gem materials, lapis lazuli is not a mineral. Instead, it is a rock composed of multiple minerals. 

Lapis Characteristics

  • Hardness: 5 – 5.5
  • Color: Blue, or purple, mottled with white calcite and brassy pyrite
  • Crystal habit: Compact, massive
  • Refractive index: 1.5

History of Lapis

Historians believe the link between humans and lapis lazuli stretches back more than 6,500 years. The gem was treasured by the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome. They valued it for its vivid, exquisite color, and prized it as much as they prized other blue gems like sapphire and turquoise.

Badakshan, a province in present-day Afghanistan, is a forbidding wasteland of mountains, bare of any vegetation. The sheer mountain faces rise as high as 17,000 feet, and are scored with treacherous ravines. Humans make their way there to seek one thing only: the azure treasure that is fine lapis lazuli.

The same was true as far back as 700 BC, when the region was part of a country known as Bactria. The lapis mines that were producing then are still producing today. They are, in fact, the world’s oldest known commercial gemstone sources.

Merchant caravans transported their precious blue cargo across Bactria, on their way to the great cities of the ancient Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Persians. Marco Polo referred to the area’s lapis mines in 1271, but few outsiders have seen them because of their inhospitable location.

For thousands of years, lapis has been fashioned to show off its rich, dark color. Typically, lapis used in jewelry has been cut into cabochons, beads, inlays, and tablets. But lapis lazuli’s use has never been limited to jewelry alone. It’s also a popular carving material. Throughout its history, lapis has been fashioned into practical objects, including game boards, bowls, dagger handles, hair combs, and amulets.

Today, lapis is frequently fashioned into freeform and nature-themed sculptures. Some of these carvings become wearable art, others are purely decorative.

Sources of Lapis

Mines in northeast Afghanistan continue to be a major source of lapis lazuli. Important amounts are also produced from mines west of Lake Baikal in Russia, and in the Andes mountains in Chile which is the source that the Inca used to carve artifacts and jewelry from. Smaller quantities are mined in Pakistan, Italy, Mongolia, the United States, and Canada.

Meanings of Lapis

Lapis Lazuli is one of the most sought after stones in use since man’s history began. Its deep, celestial blue remains the symbol of royalty and honor, gods and power, spirit and vision. It is a universal symbol of wisdom and truth.

In ancient times Lapis Lazuli was most highly regarded because of its beautiful color and the valuable ultramarine dye derived from it. Its name comes from the Latin lapis, “stone,” and the Persian lazhuward, “blue.” It is rock formed by multiple minerals, mostly Lazurite, Sodalite, Calcite and Pyrite, and is a rich medium to royal blue with gold flecks (pyrites). Lower-grade Lapis is lighter blue with more white than gold flecks, and is sometimes called denim Lapis.

Lapis Lazuli was among the most highly prized tribute paid to Egypt, obtained from the oldest mines in the world, worked from around 4000 B.C. and still in use today. Referenced in the Old Testament as sapphire (unknown in that part of the ancient world), Lapis Lazuli is most likely the fifth stone in the original breastplate of the High Priest, as well as those of later times. 

The golden sarcophagus of King Tutankhamen was richly inlaid with Lapis, as were other burial ornaments of Egyptian kings and queens. It was used extensively in scarabs, pendants, and other jewelry, and ground into powder for dyes, eye shadow, and medicinal elixirs.  In the dry, barren land of the Egyptians, this deep cobalt blue color was a spiritual contrast to their arid desert hues. The gold flecks were like stars in their night-time sky and by meditating on these colors they felt supernatural forces would transform their lives. The garments of priests and royalty were dyed with Lapis to indicate their status as gods themselves. 

In ancient Persia and pre-Columbian America, Lapis Lazuli was a symbol of the starry night and a favorite stone of the Islamic Orient for protection from the evil eye. Lapis was much used in Greek and Roman times as an ornamental stone, and in medieval Europe, Lapis Lazuli, resembling the blue of the heavens, was believed to counteract the wiles of the spirits of darkness and procure the aid and favor of the spirits of light and wisdom. Ground and processed into powder, it produced the intense, but expensive, ultramarine color favored by the painter, Michelangelo. Buddhists recommended Lapis as a stone to bring inner peace and freedom from negative thought, and during the Renaissance, Catherine the Great adorned an entire room in her palace with Lapis Lazuli walls, fireplaces, doors, and mirror frames.

Benefits of Lapis

Lapis Lazuli is beneficial to the throat, larynx, and vocal chords, and helps regulate the endocrine and thyroid glands. It overcomes hearing loss and other problems with ear and nasal passages.

Lapis Lazuli enhances circulation and improves cardiac rhythm. It reduces vertigo and lowers blood pressure, and is thought to alleviate insomnia. 

Relieve oozing or septic sties, and other eye infections, by rubbing the area with a piece of Lapis heated in warm water. Once cooled, the water can then be used for an eye bath. A Lapis heated in sunlight, reduces bruising and is good for skin problems and insect bites. 

Lapis is beneficial for women suffering from menstrual irregularities and relieves cramps, stiffness, and lumbago. Lapis Lazuli relieves general pain and inflammations and is especially effective against migraine headaches. It aids the nervous system and brain disorders and is believed to help with attention deficit, autism, and Asperger’s syndrome.

Lapis Lazuli is a crystal of truth in all aspects. It reveals inner truth and promotes self-awareness and the acceptance of that knowledge. It provides for the relief of things that may have been suppressed and allows for them to the surface, helping to diminish dis-ease or repressed anger, and allows for self-expression without holding back or compromising.

Lapis encourages dignity in friendship and social ability. It encourages the qualities of honesty, compassion and uprightness when dealing with others. [Hall, 173] It provides an awareness of one’s motivations and beliefs, and gives a clearer perspective of one’s whole life. It reveals not only one’s limitations, but the opportunities for growth and to utilize one’s gifts and abilities.

Lapis Lazuli activates the psychic centers at the Third Eye, and balances the energies of the Throat Chakra.

The Brow Chakra, also called the Third Eye, is the center of our perception and command. It directs our sight and everyday awareness of the world. Our consciousness is located here, and we relate to ourselves through this chakra.

It balances the important and the unimportant, sorting meaning from data and impressions. It commands the energy flow within the body. When the brow chakra is in balance we see clearly and understand what we see. We can interpret visual cues and our perception is high. Our thoughts and internal communications within ourselves are healthy and vibrant. We are open to new ideas, dreams, and visions. We can be quietly observant, and reflective. We can control the flow of energy within all the chakras.

The Throat Chakra is the voice of the body, a pressure valve that allows the energy from the other chakras to be expressed. If it is blocked or out of balance, it can affect the health of the other chakras. In balance, it allows for the expression of what we think and what we feel. We can communicate our ideas, beliefs, and emotions. When the throat chakra is in balance and open, we can bring our personal truth out into the world. We have an easy flow of energy within the body and spirit. The energy that springs upward from the lower chakras can continue its path enabling free expression and natural release. Blue crystal energy will unblock and balance the throat chakra. The darker shades of blue carry the power of truth.

Lapis is one of the oldest spiritual stones known to man, used by healers, priests and royalty, for power, wisdom and to stimulate psychic abilities and inner vision. It represents universal truth.

Lapis quickly releases stress, allowing for peace and serenity. Placed over the third eye, Lapis expands awareness and conscious attunement to the intuitive self, stimulating enlightenment and enhancing dream work. It permits spiritual journeying, and tapping into personal and spiritual power. Lapis provides a connection with dream forces that are working to both guide and counsel during altered states. 

As a protection stone, Lapis Lazuli recognizes psychic attack and blocks it, returning the energy back to its source.