For more than 6,500 years lapis lazuli, a rich blue semiprecious gemstone, marbled with sparkling golden pyrite, has been mined and transformed into jewelry, sculptures and even medicine. The ancient Egyptians strongly believed lapis had many healing and spiritual powers. While lapis is relatively abundant and affordable today, in ancient times, lapis was a rarity as mining was an arduous procedure done solely in the far reaches of northern Afghanistan.
The ancient Egyptians saw lapis, the color of the sky, as representation of the heavens, which were the home of the gods. In Mahayana Buddhism the Medicine Buddha is depicted a rich azure blue and is referred to as the Healing Master of Lapis Lazuli Radiance. Rituals involving the Medicine Buddha include meditating on the soothing blue color of lapis lazuli.
Highly prized by the ancient Egyptians, lapis imported from Afghanistan was carved into figurines, jewelry and talismans. A lapis scarab was often buried with the dead as it was believed that lapis would protect them in the afterlife. Lapis was used more than any other stone in carvings of the third eye and was frequently adorned with gold. To the ancient Egyptians, lapis represented truth and was directly connected to the gods.
In New Age philosophy, lapis is considered a powerful healing stone for both physical and emotional problems. It is believed that wearing lapis jewelry relieves anxiety and insomnia and can strengthen the immune system, cure sore throats and headaches. Lapis malas, or prayer beads, are used to help open both the third eye and throat chakras in meditation as well as lead to greater creativity, spiritual enlightenment, wisdom and self expression.
Lapis may contain up to 15 minerals, but its main mineral is lazurite, a member of the sodalite group. The white color comes from calcite content, the blue from sodalite and the glittery gold from pyrite. It has a Mohs scale hardness of 5.0 to 5.5. Lapis is found in the United States, Afghanistan, Siberia, Burma, Italy and Canada. It has been mined since 5,000 B.C. in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, the stone's only ancient source.
Aside from their interest in lapis for carvings and jewelry, the ancient Egyptians had practical uses for the lapis stone. Powdered lapis was used to make tempura paints and ultramarine blue dye. Cleopatra is thought to have used the shimmering pyrite-flecked blue lapis dust as eye shadow. The "Ebers Papyrus," a 110-page medical papyrus written around 1500 B.C., contains a formula for eye medicine using lapis lazuli.