I=92ve always been mystified how a stone as full of life and beauty as
precious opal could be regarded as bad luck. The only bad luck
associated with opal is not being lucky enough to own a good one, and
that=92s what I=92ve been telling my happy opal customers for nearly
three decades now.
Sir Walter Scott, who originated the historical novel form and
authored the classic =93Waverly=94 novels and =93Ivanhoe,=94 wrote the=
novel =93Anne of Geierstein=94 (174 years ago, not 300 as earlier
stated). An opal played a role in it but not with Anne, the heroine.
It belonged to her grandmother Hermione, daughter of a Middle
Eastern shaman, who died in something close to the circumstances that
have been described here.
But it=92s important to remember that Scott, who did his research very
carefully, based much of his tale on material from Goethe and
earlier writers. His story is set in 1474, and it=92s clear that Scot=
took the opal superstition from an earlier time. The =93bad luck=94 m=
originated in the Middle Ages.
After many years of research I think I=92ve found the truth, or most
of it. Let=92s begin with Seigneur Marbodus, Bishop of Rennes in
Normandy, who wrote =93Lapidarium=94 about 1075. In it he said that o=
=93conferred invisibility on the wearer enabling him to steal by day
without risk of exposure to the baneful dews of night.=94 That was no=
an endorsement of opal-wearers, especially coming from someone as
powerful as a medieval bishop!
Before Marbodus designated opal the Talisman of Thieves, only good
things had been written about it. But Marbodus was probably trying
to save his own neck because Rennes is in Normandy which was then the
dukedom of Robert the Devil, father of William the Conquerer. Robert
attributed his evil nature to the belief that his mother, tempted
with opal jewelry, gave herself to the Prince of Darkness himself and
so produced him, the heir to the throne. Marbodus probably felt it
was =91politically correct=92 to say bad things about opal given his
powerful patron=92s beliefs.
Then, from 1347 to 1350 the Black Death ravaged Europe. It has been
documented that in Venice during the Plague, someone made the
fanciful observation that opals worn by plague victims were brilliant
up to the point of death, then were believed to fade and became
lifeless like their owners. During and after the Plague Italian
jewelers who earlier had considered opal a favored gem considered it
=93a badge of dread.=94 It=92s likely that the opal =93bad luck=94 in =
novel was based on these two frightening myths.
Unfortunately Marbodus=92s slander has endured for the better part of
a thousand years, given new twists along the way by the imaginative.
It=92s up to jewelers to change that silly perception. Remember this
rhyme attributed by some to Tiffany & Co. and others to a person
named Tassion at the Smithsonian Institution:
=93October=92s child is born for woe, And life=92s vicissitudes must k=
But lay an Opal on her breast and Hope will lull those fears to