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A regular series of articles concerning all things amber.
Sit back, pour yourself a cup of something soothing & plunge into the world of Baltic amber.
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Amber in Therapeutics
Text and Pictures by Gabriela Gierlowska
One day Phaeton, the son of Helios, the God of the Sun, managed to convince his father to allow him to drive his horse-drawn chariot down the firmament. The father agreed, but as soon as the horses felt that the charioteer was inexperienced, they bolted.
The sun burnt the African land to ashes, tanning its inhabitants black. So as to prevent further damage, Zeus was forced to strike Phaeton with lightning into the river Eridanus. Phaeton's sisters, the Heliades, lamented his fate, cursing the gods. They were turned into poplar trees as punishment. Grieving, they kept crying. Their tears became resin, which turned into amber. Years later, the sea is still throwing the sisters' amber tears onto the shore.
The existence of ancient amber amulets is evidence that people believed in the power of the stone since the earliest prehistoric times.
Amber has also been used as a kind of foundation stone to ensure health and good luck for inhabitants of a dwelling. The faith in the effectiveness and power of amber continues until today.
As ages ago, amber is still perceived as an exceptional stone, as it:
smells nicely when warmed in your hand, gives out a resinous scent and aromatic smoke when burnt, electrifies and attracts small piece of paper when rubbed, sinks in fresh water but floats on the surface in saltwater, contains inclusions (traces of life dating back 40 million years ago).
But the most fascinating is perhaps its unequalled colour diversity.
The uniqueness of amber also results from the visual properties of the raw stone. Forms created by nature are interesting: drops, icicles, and nuggets with a natural opening were used as the first amulets. They were strung
on a leather thong for protection or as a decoration.
Then there were figurines of animals, birds, and fish which were to guarantee successful hunting or fishing. People believed that just as amber attracts dry grass blades, such amulets attract luck and happiness and have a special power to ward off evil.
Various amber amulets, such as amber hearts, crosses, elephants with a raised trunk or figurines of Buddha are still used today. Necklaces are also a type of amulet. In the Polish regions of Kurpie and Kashuba we may come across "pajaki" and "kierece" which decorate peoples' homes. "Kierce" are connected with the cult of the sun.
The first records concerning the use of amber as medicine date back to antiquity. Initially medicines were made only from ingredients available in the natural environment: plants, animals and minerals. It was also believed that the more ingredients a medicine contained, the better the final results. An original formula by Nicolaus Copernicus, kept in Sweden, specifies 22 ingredients, including amber.
Albert the Great (1193-1280), a Dominican and a philosopher, identifies amber as the first among the six most effective medicines ...Sunt sex in medicis, quae vincunt raobore aurum: succinium, ocastorem, mors, camphora, tartarus, aurum."
Tinctures originate from the same period. They were based on beer, wine or water and were effective cures for stomach and rheumatic aches. There are no records even vaguely suggesting any harmful or undesirable effect of amber.
In the Middle Ages plagues swarmed across towns, taking a heavy toll of the inhabitants. Fumigation with the smoke of burning amber was recommended as an effective preventive measure. As recorded by Matthaus Praetorius, During the plague not a single amberman from Gdansk, Klaipeda, Konigsberg or Liepaja died of the disease." (1680) Amber smoke is still used in aromatherapy.
Both the first monograph on amber (Succini historia 1551) and the first Polish monographic paper on amber were written by doctors. Perhaps because representatives of the medical profession both witnessed and instinctively felt the protective and therapeutic value of amber.
Amber was for centuries perceived as a bactericidal agent. Hence, amber baby teethers, spoons, cigarette holders and pipe mouthpieces. There are also 17th century tea containers made from amber.
In 1546 G. Agricola, a mineralist and a doctor, obtained succinic acid using dry distillation. The dry distillation (accomplished by heating amber in a vacuum) divides amber into acid, oil and rosin, all of which are exceptionally valuable and very useful.
Baltic amber contains 3-8% of succinic acid, a scientifically examined medical substance used in contemporary medicine. The highest content of the acid is found in the amber cortex--the external layer of the stone. Therefore, nuggets and amber goods (necklaces, bracelets and pendants) made from non-ground or little ground raw material should be used for theraputic and bactericidal purposes.
Recent scientific research has also proved that succinic acid has a very positive influence on the human organism. It strengthens the body, improves immunity, the course of energy-related processes and the balance of acids. Succinic acid was analysed by the pioneer of modern bacteriology, the Nobel Prize winner, Robert Kock (1886), who confirmed its positive influence and discovered that there is no risk of the accumulation of surplus amounts of succinic acid in the human organism, even after the introduction of considerable amounts into the body
In present day times, tens of effective medicines containing succinic acid have been manufactured and patented, especially in the USA and Russia. Of particular value are pharmaceuticals preventing the aging of human cells, which use succinic acid as an inhibitor (an agent slowing down or totally stopping the loss of) of potassim ions and an antioxidant. Therefore, the acid may be called a scientifically described, modern elixir of youth. Succinic acid is also a valuable product for sportspeople. It is not a stimulant improving one's effort on a single event basis, but rather a stimulator of a balanced, comprehensive development.
Andzia's Amber Jewelry & Beads
PO Box 468, Chinchilla, Pa 18410 USA
1 877 586 6599