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Talismanic Gem Cutting

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#1 Imperial Arts

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 07:57 AM

Gems are unique natural expressions of light and color whose properties are often only evident after careful preparation. They also share with talismanic figures the universal reverence given them, and they are to be stored and handled with care. This is a description of the use of gems in magical processes like talisman creations, but instead of a step-by-step instruction, I will provide examples from my own work and allow you to adapt them to your own purposes as you see fit.

I intend this to be an advertisement of the skills as something people who are interested in talismanic arts might also explore the possibilities that gems offer, and to explain why they are more advantageous than cardboard and paint.

The value of a gem is derived first and foremost from its magical virtues, the place it occupies in the global consciousness. In the days before mass communication and translation, gems were able to act as a means of currency that superseded less permanent goods and which could be traded separately from other forms of currency and trade. Centuries before the stock market became the hub of esoteric financing, the gem trade established value between cultures who might agree on nothing at all beyond their mutual assessment of beauty in a fine gemstone. As gems are relatively permanent, ownership of gemstones permitted a person to exchange large sums without the need of land titles or mass quantities of goods or livestock.

Over time, certain stones came to be associated with ideas connected to all of the secret powers of mankind. Ruby for example is expensive on account of its connection to ideas of royalty, the manner in which it adorns crowns of east and west alike attest to its status. The very name of the stone is a holy word of the English language.

There is cut glass which is red and beautiful, and there is horrible opaque pink ruby, and neither have the arresting power of a lustrous gem. For a ruby, that sort of deep red brilliance in a clear stone is commercially rare and commands a steep price. I use it as an example familiar to everyone, but for the practical examples I have specifically restricted this to things that are literally dirt cheap.

It is fine to have a gem purchased, and to use it for a talisman, but I prefer to prepare them especially, and when possible to dig them from the ground. My mother introduced me to the crystal mine in Arkansas, which I heartily recommend as a start. The bears kept their distance and I saw two hopping armadillos while I dug on an Ozark hilltop for ten dollars a day. I obtained a few hundred pounds of quartz crystal clusters and points.

Most gems come out of the ground looking awful. I had to boil the crystals in oxalic acid for hours, and finally the rust colored dust was removed with a wire brush. The sack to carry it from the mine, the boiling pot, the digging tool, and the brush are all specific to talismans, kept apart from regular working tools.

Finding the right gem begins with being where the gems are. They tend to be abundant in the rare places wherein they are found. In Africa, the independent miners dig for an average of eight years before discovering anything of value, and then in small quantities. They also find lots of other stones which have little market value, which just sit around waiting for someone to decide which are precious.

It is not some official doctrine, but it has often seemed to me that the distinction between a precious stone and a semiprecious stone is that precious stones come from the territories of Great Britain, and anything else is semiprecious. Regardless of the retail value, there is something incredibly precious to me about having something that had been buried since the ground became ground, and to have brought it forth by hand for a select purpose.

In order to facilitate this at the quartz mine, I used a square talisman, drawn on the ground at the crystal mine site along with a spoken incantation. I dug into the ground through the square, and discovered a very large crystal, not perfectly clear but more than adequate to invoke aerial princes. Sphere cutting is the least common and easiest form of gem cutting. It’s incredibly simple. You shape the stone on a grinder to fit between two or three cups lined with abrasive, and flip the switch. It requires almost no attention, and takes about as much time as the Great Mass in C Minor.

A Mormon missionary told me about a deposit of topaz in Utah, and I made a note of where to look, although I admit at the time I did not quite grasp the vastness of the western basin. I wanted to produce a talismanic ring for a Mormon businessman (no one in particular), using a Utah topaz. The ring would be like a trumpet for what he would say, so that he could be heard and understood, and I would not market it as such, but nonetheless it would have the virtue.

I started reading into what might be required to transform rocks into riches, and from that I stepped into a completely different career than the one I had long intended. I read about a small town called Kingman in Arizona, where there was a deposit of rare and precious agate. I wanted to obtain the agate, the topaz, and whatever else could be exhumed in a month of rockhounding out west.

The fire agate digging involved going to a tiny village called Oatman, where I was also directed to a field in California strewn with garnets like spilled pieces of candy for hundreds of yards and an abundance of rattlesnakes. Along with my topaz, garnets, and fire agates, I came back with fossils and an exposure to a the desert Southwest. I truly cannot strongly enough recommend that to create an artifact with a magical enchantment, it is best to pluck the jewel from its cradle in the earth and bring it to life with patience, rather than to just buy it.


Digging gems from the ground is really not expensive, though it is laborious. If you cannot get your gems from the earth, there are other options. One of those options is to use an existing gem, which might have considerable damage if it is old. I tell the young and hopeful grooms who have no money to go check the family diamond mine. Someone, somewhere, has a diamond, which I can set for a fee, of course.

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In either case, the next step is to cut the gem. This is done on a faceting wheel, which is like a protractor attached to a record player, except instead of a record it turns an abrasive wheel. The stone is oriented at different angle to the grinding disc, and thus the gem is given polished flat surfaces. I am confident that a well trained monkey could do this task, the main obstacle being the machine which can be expensive.

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In the beginning, I overcame the expense of a faceting machine by adapting a sheet of copper with two levels of abrasive, one on each side. With the stone fixed by high-density wax to rotating rod on a tripod, I polished them into cardinal-cut squares on a wet sheet of glass covered in tin oxide powder. It required only hand operation, without any motors, and it is possible to write with the stone while cutting it, to draw seals or write hymns and psalms and so forth.

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I was eventually able to obtain an actual [Graves Mark I] faceting machine from an old man in a trailer in Arizona, late at night, for half the expected price. It worked wonderfully for years. I have used several other machines since but that is still the one I prefer. If the drawing of seals etc while cutting the stones seems an appealing way to enchant them, the Raytech models are a good choice as they also have an untethered handpiece.

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Getting the machine reasonably merited something worth cutting, so I spent about $30 and bought a sack of unsearched Brazilian emerald rough from a guy who had inherited twelve tons of it. Some of the pieces were outstanding, and I presented them to a jeweler along with my stone cutting while learning the trade. I called him the Alcatholic, as his habit was to drink and talk about God while telling me what not to do. He was an expert goldsmith, but a terrible business owner, and has ended up in jail at least once over his goofball retail management.

A feature of working with the goldsmith was that he operated a very small store and produced only his own creations, primarily in gold and opals. His lessons came in handy later working for a fancy jewelry store in Las Vegas. Our exclusive specialty was black coral, very rare and able to display fine detail and high polish. Through the coral company, I began to take an interest in larger stone sculptures in alabaster, which is easily worked and polishes to resemble ice.


Through this company, I met a man who reproduced fine ancient works of art for museums, carving intaglio for ruby and onyx cameo figures. Most ancient gemstone talismans are inscribed with letters, figures, words, according to the desire. This is done, predictably, with small tools. Magnification helps, as does a braced hand and the stone secured well in place.

Much later, almost as a hobby, I took up cabochon cutting, which is usually where people will start in gem cutting. This was a big field in the 60's, and now it is either a facet of the commercial gem industry, or it is an extremely obscure hobby. A good machine can be purchased used for very cheap because it is such a rare thing to want to do. This ancient art involved a vertical wheel set with various grades of abrasive, and the stone to be cut is held in the hand on the end of a stick, rolled over the grinding wheels until the surface is shaped as desired.

As a person intent on occult activity, it provides an excellent media for entering states of highly focused attention, to which one can freely add words and other esoterics, and the divinatory opportunities involved in sourcing materials for cutting are abundant. The use of gems probably adds nothing to the effectiveness of any act of magic that could not be added in some other way, but as an aesthetic touch a person could certainly do worse.

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#2 Aurum

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 01:15 PM

That finished stone looks like a tanzanite, which became very popular and more expensive after Tiffany & Co issued them in its jewellery. In Australia, our official gemstone is the opal. We have white opals from Coober Pedy, black opals from Lightning Ridge, and really fascinating boulder opals which are often brown with colourful veins running through them. I don't put engraved talismans on stones because I like them as they are. I take a lot of joy from their colour or wearing some.

I don't think the semi-precious/precious distinction makes sense, too. Rutilated quartz, with golden or silver rutile is increasingly rare and expensive and I wouldn't call it semi-precious. Sometimes it's regarded as a distinction based on the hardness of the stone.

#3 violetstar

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 04:48 PM

An engrossing read IA.Thanks.I love how even an article like this is littered with anecdotes and tales of adventure that usually feature encounters of a dangerous nature!

The medieval Lapidaries contained many recipes for gem stones and one might place these works somewhere between prohibited works on magic and orthodox natural medicine.Despite their somewhat innocuous appearance,the Lapidary often contained information on how to practice magic Some of these gems were ground down to be ingested for the cure of ailments according to their various astrological or other Occult virtue.

The idea of engraved stones and rings inscribed with magical words or symbols of course dates back to antiquity and this practice found its way into the Monasteries of Europe where texts on gem stones shared a place with Alchemical MSS in their libraries.

Anyway,to save a massive posting,I have sent you two illustrated pdf's that I think will interest you including a run down of the gems in Sloane 2539 and engraved stones until the 7thC.

#4 Imperial Arts

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 11:41 PM

View PostAurum, on 11 February 2018 - 01:15 PM, said:

That finished stone looks like a tanzanite,

That it is! My customer went to Tanzania and brought it back for cutting, which inspired the post and some reminiscence about gem cutting in general.

Most localities with metamorphic rocks available have some kind of gem, however rare they might be. Some are super rare, like manganovesuvianite, which is prized in Ontario, or Ellensburg Blue, which is only found in that tiny cowboy town in Washington. Montana has Yogo sapphire. There are many varieties of gems. I am primarily suggesting that if people who want to use gems and stones in magic would look around, there are materials available in nature with which to produce magical artifacts such as enchanted rings and other talismans as are described in the lore of magic.

I also do not feel that defacing a gem is warranted unless it somehow improves the appearance of the gem as with intaglio and cameo figures done well. I prefer the use of psalms and angular figures incorporated into the cutting and setting of the stone.

An excellent resource for gem meanings and powers is G.F.Kunz, "The Curious Lore of Precious Stones." I do not subscribe to the idea of gemstone powers, but that such ideas give a gemstone context and meaning.

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Edited by Imperial Arts, 12 February 2018 - 12:41 AM.

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#5 Aurum

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 01:35 AM

Is that rhodolite garnet and lapis set in this one? You seem to like garnets. Spessartite garnets have gone up so much in price. They're extremely popular on the market. I looked up manganovesuvianite and the lighter colours of candy pink are really on point. These are some boulder opals I've collected:

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We have an annual gem show with miners, gem cutters, and people who go directly to the mines to buy boulder opals. I've seen very small ones with lots of colours for only $5 AUD each. These ones were more than that but it's difficult to buy them online because they're much more expensive. I don't know if you've seen this before on the market, but you probably have. Some sellers do a lot of laser carvings of all kinds of detailed imagery on jasper, lapis, etc. Here is an example:

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And the amount of detail is quite impressive:

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I am one of those people who believe in the metaphysical qualities of stones lol, but I've found the book you mentioned and I'm interested in seeing what it says about amber. Thanks!

#6 Imperial Arts

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 03:52 AM

Looks like a nice collection of Andamooka opal.

Going closer to the source is always the best deal. I am certain that there are tiny little huts all over Australia hosting private opal heirlooms worth many times in excess those owned by the Queen, excavated and cut to be held dear by the miners and their families. Sometimes these "king stones" reserved by the miners for themselves go to auction. I have seen one the size of a toilet, from Coober Pedy. I am personally partial to the fossilized creatures like crabs and clams.


Twice I have made charms in opal, for different purposes, and never for myself. It is a mercurial stone as it is of mixed hue, and its essential character is to transform into stone what was once flesh as part of a journey into the underworld. Each opal is unique, and so it is possible to sort them by character as well as by color. In once instance the talisman was a simple pendulum, and in another it was a mix of Nevada opal and Mexican opal (from Escondido) for a mercurial ring to expose cheats in shady deals.

View PostAurum, on 12 February 2018 - 01:35 AM, said:

Is that rhodolite garnet and lapis set in this one? You seem to like garnets.

Aside from it being my birthstone, it is something I have long collected. Nice garnets are relatively common where they are found, but the locations are usually inconvenient.

The other stones are North Carolina sapphire and California tourmaline. Sapphire was chosen as it is the stone denoting spiritual rather than temporal authority, and tourmaline for its mercurial bi-color features which indicate harmonious differences of perspective.

View PostAurum, on 12 February 2018 - 01:35 AM, said:

I am one of those people who believe in the metaphysical qualities of stones lol, but I've found the book you mentioned and I'm interested in seeing what it says about amber.

Kunz is definitely a dry read compared to a lot of the new age books, but he was an influential figure in gemology, and was a major factor in creating the Smithsonian gem collection.

Amber is particularly related to the sign of Cancer, as in ancient times it was extracted from the sands of the shore, and considered an extremely valuable gem some thousand years ago. I once carved a large piece into a nice little alligator. Apparently that's what the ancient people did with it too, taking advantage of its relative softness to make figurines, most of which have been since burned for incense in monasteries, when not being sent off in a blazing ship along with some dead Scandinavian heroes.

Edited by Imperial Arts, 12 February 2018 - 03:57 AM.

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#7 Aurum

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 04:43 AM

Yeah, I've heard quite a few saying they've found large pieces but they don't take them there on show, lol. I've also seen wall slabs of fossil for sale. I'm partial to red spinel and I think orange and red sapphires are beautiful. But of course, all stones are nice. I think after diamonds, opals seems like the most difficult thing to price. Buyers don't seem to know what they should pay and they will pay a lot if it speaks to them. I, for instance, got a quartz faceted crystal and kept it in my room then after a while it became much brighter and lustrous. I think it was because of the extreme heat in the house. Now I don't want to sell it because I like it and it has a lot of value to me. It's difficult to put money on some things. If you're ever looking for a particular stone (other than a diamond) let me know if you want to trade something.





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