was one of the first substances used for decoration, as well as for protective
amulets and medicinal purposes.
It appears frequently in mythology and ancient writings. For the Greeks, amber
tears were shed by the Heliades* when grieving the death of their brother Phaethon;
for the Vikings it was Freya’s tears for Od**.
Amber has been called the essence of the brilliant rays of the setting sun,
congealed in the sea before being cast upon the shore.
In Chinese name for amber, hu-po means ‘tiger’s soul’ because of the
belief the soul of the beast sank underground when dying, transforming into
amber. Amber was supposed to give the wearer access to a tiger’s courage.
It is supposed to give magical strength and figured prominently in Andre Norton’s
Witch World novels. Amber was used for protection against dark witchcraft
and sorcery. It is one of the most time-honored bringers of luck, often found
as necklaces in prehistoric graves. Because of the electrical properties of
amber it was regarded as having life within.
The material was highly valued by the Roman Empire, where on at least one occasion
a small carved figure of man sold for more than a healthy slave. The term “amber
hair” was used to designate a rare and peculiar shade that became fashionable
at the time.
The brilliant and beautiful yellow of certain ambers, as well as the fact the
material is easily worked made it a favorite object of trade and barter. Amber
was often carved into animal forms and used as amulets, supposedly enhancing
the power of the material, giving it special virtues, increasing the value and
It is believed the more generations that have held a piece of amber, the more
powerful its protective qualities become. They gain even more power when given
as gifts. An amber necklace was seen as an auspicious decoration for a bride
at her wedding.
Pliny cataloged many of the medical or remedial uses of amber. When worn around
the throat, it was believed to have excellent effects on the diseases of the
throat and tonsils. Golden-hued amber, chryselectrum, was said to attract flame.
As such, it was worn on the neck as a cure for fevers. Powdered amber, mixed
with honey and oil of roses was used to cure dimness of vision, while taking
the powder remedied diseases of the stomach. An amber cup was said to reveal
various types of poison.
The oil of amber - oleum succini – had developed a reputation as a cure
for various afflictions. It is said to relieve inflammation and pain in joints,
especially in some forms of gout and rheumatism. Its antispasmodic action meant
it was used as a remedy for cases of asthma, whooping-cough, hysteria, bronchitis,
and infantile convulsions.
It was regarded as a safeguard for health, able to prevent infection. This is
one reason it was popular as the mouth-piece of pipes as well as cigar or cigarette
When heated it gives off a pleasant, sweet scent, and has been burned for its
soothing effects. Amber was believed to have disinfectant abilities with the
ability to filter germs by sterilizing an area, especially during childbirth.
Although amber is beneficial when used on any part of the body, it is supposed
to be especially effective on the brain, lungs, thyroid, spleen, endocrine system,
inner ear and neurological tissue. It is believed to draw disease out of afflicted
areas and neutralize negative energy. It is seen as a grounding healer in harmony
with the energies of the earth, providing stability, allowing the body to heal
Its positive influence on the brain is supposed to help with depression and
bring about a positive mental state. Amber has been used by some as a memory
Amber is a group name for fossilized tree resin, so includes many resins of
differing chemical and physical properties. Amber is less dense than most plastic
and resin imitations and will float in salty water. It is warm to the touch
and rubbing it produces a negative charge which attracts small particles, hence
the Greek name elektron. The name amber probably comes through French
form the Arabic word anbar.
five to forty million years ago in the Baltic region of Europe, tropical pine
forests began to sweat sap profusely. As the resin poured down the sides of
the trees it trapped anything in its path, including leaves and insects. This
process happened again, millions of years later in the Dominican Republic, and
again in Tanzania. The changing planet carried these vast tracts of hardening
resin underground where it became the highly prized, warm and lustrous material,
It is transparent to translucent and has a resinous luster. The most commonly
seen colors are golden yellow or honey brown, but it is also found in green,
red, violet, black, or creamy yellowish white. When found, it is often cloudy,
but heating the material in oil fills the air spaces and clears the amber.
Trapped animals sometimes provide spectacular proof of its origin. Insects,
pieces of moss, lichens and pine needles can be found trapped in amber, which
was once a soft, sticky resin. There has also been the rare discovery of frogs,
toads and lizards in amber. (The movie Jurassic Park used this to explain
the recovery of dinosaur DNA.)
The main localities for amber are along the Samland Coast near Kaliningrad,
Russia. Pit amber is obtained by open-pit mining. The amber is separated from
the soft sandy deposits using strong jets of water. Sea amber, which has been
washed out from the sea bed, floats on water and is carried by the tides and
currents to the shorelines of the Baltic, Norway, Denmark and England. The variety
from the Baltic region, along the coasts of Poland and the former USSR, is called
succinite. The Burmese (Myanmar) variety, burmite, found in clayey soil, is
much redder than the Baltic variety and is harder and denser. Sicilian amber
is called simetite after the name of the river along which it is found. Amber
is also found in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, France, Spain, Italy, Romania,
Czechoslovakia, Germany, Canada and the US.
*Heliades - The Heliades were three sisters in Greek mythology; Aegiale, Aegle,
and Aetheria. Their brother was Phaeton and they were daughters of Helios,
the sun god. When Phaeton died driving Helios' chariot, they mourned and grieved
so much (4 months) that the gods took pity on them. The gods changed all three
into poplar trees. Their arms turned into branches. Their legs turned into a
trunk, and their tears into amber. They stayed poplar trees forever. Heliades
means "children of the sun".
** Freya’s Tears - Freya was married to the God Od, perhaps identical to Odin,
who mysteriously disappeared. When she could not find her husband Od, Freya
shed tears of gold. The tears that hit trees turned into amber.