Monday, July 23, 2012

Scrying with obsidian

Obsidian is a natural volcanic glass.  It is an ancient scrying tool with unique properties and sacred associations that make it a popular choice even today.   The stone, found primarily in North America, is black with a naturally glossy texture.  Large deposits of obsidian were formed when silica-rich lava or magma cooled rapidly, creating an igneous rock.  Obsidian often gets lumped into the crystal category by New Agers, but the stone is technically not crystalline--it's vitreous (or amorphous).  The metaphysical properties attributed to obsidian include grounding, blocking negative energy, spiritual protection, and enhancing psychic vision.  (Isn't every single gemstone credited with clearing negativity and enhancing psychic vision?  Just once, I'd like to walk into a crystal store and have someone say, "Here, check out the energy of this crappite--it shuts down all your chakras at once and gives you warts, besides!") 

Anyway, the largest veins of obsidian are found in North America, where for thousands of years it was used to make tools and ceremonial items.  Obsidian is fairly easy to shape with stone tools, and can be honed to an extremely sharp edge.  The knowledge of metallurgy, so important in the course of European civilization, did not develop in pre-Colombian Mesoamerica, perhaps because of the wide availability of obsidian for knives, axes, and awls.  To the Aztecs, obsidian was a divine stone, thought to be a form of blood originating from deep in the earth.  It was sacred to the god Tezcatlipoca ("Smoking Mirror"), who presided over magic, divination, the night sky, and ancestral memory.  Obsidian also has mythic significance in the Navajo and Maya cultures.  (For more obsidian facts and history, go here.)

Obsidian in its usual form is solid black and polished to a high shine.  But there are variations.  "Gold sheen" or "silver sheen" obsidian has phantom streaks of light-catching inclusions, which are caused by tiny gas bubbles trapped during the cooling process.  "Rainbow" obsidian has a multicolor effect caused in a similar way by trapped water.  There's also "snowflake" obsidian (or "Apache tears") that is sprinkled with grey, ash-like flecks.  (I can't imagine that this kind would be very good for scrying.)  Most obsidian goods come from Mexico.  You can buy obsidian in the usual assortment of shapes, including spheres, cabochons, skulls, pyramids and palmstones, and also in natural chunks which reflect the flow of the lava that formed it.

Among the most prized of scrying tools are black obsidian mirrors.  These are usually unframed round or ovoid slabs about a centimeter thick.  Broad pieces of obsidian that can be crafted into mirrors are rare, and it takes a lot of skill to cut the brittle stone this way.  That translates into serious coin.  I've seen 6-inch obsidian mirrors selling for $300 or more online, while most occult shops offer 12-inch beveled black glass mirrors for between $60 and $100.  If it's important to you to have the natural volcanic glass, you'll almost certainly have to content yourself with a smaller surface.

Now, from reading various internet forums (why, oh why?) I've learned that some people are reluctant to use a black surface for scrying, the same way some people have a fearful reaction to black candles, robes, and other ritual tools.  Of course my esteemed readers already know that there isn't anything evil or sinister about the color black and indeed it has a rich symbolic link to sleep, the powers of the North, the generative darkness of the Goddess, etc.  I think the black mirror's PR problem comes not only from negative associations with the color, but its use in ceremonial magic as a means of evoking spirits, such as in the Solomonic revival led by Carroll "Poke" Runyon.  But just because dark mirrors are useful for evocation work, doesn't mean you can't safely use them for general divinatory purposes, also.  If you're drawn to obsidian, you should use it.  If you're so superstitious and timid that just looking at a black surface gives you the creeps, you should probably just take up needlepoint--it's safer.

 While I'm dishing out the unsolicited advice, I'd also like to say, don't worry if you can't see anything in obsidian, because it really is different from other media.  Just try something else.  (Conversely, you might want to try obsidian if other scrying tools don't do it for you.)  For years, I thought that I couldn't scry a dark surface.  Despite some fleeting success with hematite and blank computer screens, I got much better results with water and later, quartz.  I found I relied on the subtle movements of light inside my specula, and obisidian just looked flat to me.  I also disliked the tendency of black surfaces to suddenly reflect my face back to me when I was trying to get a fix on a vision.  (That's right--my face is just too, too distracting.)

Recently, though, I've branched out and started playing with a small obsidian sphere that I picked up for around $10.  I was at a new (to me) crystal store that had a large display of obsidian at very reasonable prices.  There was another shopper nearby me, a Mexican man, who was in the process of reverently handling each and every stone one by one, sometimes muttering under his breath and holding the stone closer to his head as if waiting for an answer.  I watched him for a little while, then figured well, either he's fuckin' nuts or he knows what he's doing.  What the heck, maybe I'll go find me an obsidian, too.

So I go over to the display (there was plenty of room, and anyway, he didn't notice me) and start picking up rocks.  I didn't talk to them, though.  Eventually there was one I felt particularly drawn to, a ball about an inch and a half in diameter.  I held it up to the light.  And...I saw something!  Some clouds, some mountains.  I was so excited--I'd never seen anything (besides my nose) in an obsidian sphere before.  There was motion and light, a silvery streak with just the slightest warm tinge.  (I couldn't tell if it was silver or gold, so I just called it "sold.")  I took it home and began to work with it right away.  Turns out this was a "sheen" obsidian, which I had never heard of before.  When I turn it back an forth, it has a hypnotic effect that's similar to what I get from the light play in quartz.  I still find that clear depth works best for me, but I enjoy the challenge of trying something different.  I also get out obsidian during the dark moon, when my (very lunar) primary crystal seems to be hibernating.

Well, that's about all I know about scrying with obsidian.  I recommend trying this beautiful stone, especially if you have an affinity for volcanoes, Aztec and Mesoamerican culture, the color black, or the elements of Earth and Fire.  If you have any ideas or experiences that relate to the magical use of obsidian, please share them in the comments section--I'd love to learn more.

Related links on my blog:

Read about some basic scrying techniques.
Don't like black? Shop for a crystal instead.
See pictures of the most notorious obsidian mirror ever.

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