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Agate Properties, Meaning, Facts and Photos

colourful agate with distinctive bands

1. What is Agate?
2. History of Agate
4. Agate Different Types
5. More Agate Facts
6. Agate Healing Properties
7. Article Pictures
8. Shop Agate

What is Agate?

Agate is a translucent variety of chalcedony made up almost entirely of silicon dioxide.

The mineral agate is often black, white or grey but can also be exceptionally colourful.  The colour and banding come from impurities of other minerals.

Quartz crystals in agate are colourless in their purest form but turn red or brown with the presence of iron.  With manganese, the crystals turn pink, and with chromium, a shade of green.

The type of agate that's easiest to identify usually has distinctive bands. Some argue that a stone must exhibit banding to be classified as a 'true agate'. However, several types of agate are not banded.

Over the years, many discussions have taken place regarding the use of trade names.  From a geological perspective, they're often inaccurate and misleading.

Moss and dendritic agate do not exhibit visible banding but feature inclusions known as dendrites. Often mistaken for organic matter, dendrites are crystal formations similar to those seen on glass during winter.

The word dendrite comes from the Greek for 'tree' and refers to a 'branching form'.

dendritic inclusions in a beige coloured opaque piece of rock

Although frequently found within igneous rocks, agate can also occur in other rock types.  Its formation, which is exceptionally complex, begins when groundwater containing silica (sand or quartz) that enters the rock through holes, dries up leaving behind a residue of minerals.

As the process repeats, multiple layers of minerals build up within the rock following the outline of the cavity.

Once full, the mass begins to crystallise.  Quartz crystals often grow in space that has not been filled.

The cavity containing the crystallised minerals is known as a nodule.  Depending on the type of rock it can be incredibly resilient to weathering.  It's not unusual for the nodule to survive long after the host rock has eroded.

The agate formation remains locked away until the nodule is found and broken open.

On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, agate grades 7.  Being relatively hard makes it a relatively easy stone to work with.

large agate stones on display in a museum display cabinet

The History of Agate

The history of agate can be traced back more than 2000 years to the writings of ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus [c.370-285 BC].

The process of describing different types of agate and their properties and meanings can be found in his works, Theophrastus On Stones.

In this reference, he compares the hardness of agate to onyx and discusses how one type of agate differs from the other because of "its irregular and uncertain manner of spots, clouds and variegations".

He says although agate stones are predominantly grey, different colours can be present and are often beautifully spread out.  Patterns may resemble trees, shrubs, plants, clouds, rivers and even animals.

He goes on to say, "the ancients" organised agates into different types.  Each one was given a name that highlighted its difference from the "common agate".  That could be colour, markings or texture.dendritic agate stones Red agate was known as haemachates.  The prefix 'haema' comes from the Greek for 'blood' with reference to the stone's colour.  The name 'achates' came from the river in Sicily where agate was discovered.

Regarding its discovery, Theophrastus wrote, these stones have been "found to exist in almost every nation on Earth."  Those with patterns resembling trees and shrubs were called dendrachates (from dendrite) whilst other types were "idly named" according to the powers they held or because of their similarity to animal skin.

The ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder also wrote about the properties and meaning of agate in his works 'Naturalis Historia'.

Pliny wrote;

"Achates was a stone formerly in high esteem, but now held in none. It was first found in Sicily, near a river of that name; but has since been discovered in numerous other localities. In size it exceeds any other stones of this class, and the varieties of it are numerous, the name varying accordingly."

He goes on to name several types of agate and explains where they can be found.  Like Theophrastus, he also makes reference to dendrachates (dendritic agate) which he says is "marked with small shrubs".

He discusses the meaning of different types of agate from India and their distinctive markings.  He says "the sight of some is beneficial for the eyes whilst others when held in the mouth allay thirst.  Then there are those which are good for counteracting the effects of poison inflicted by the scorpion.  Agate stone can also be found in Cyprus."

Pliny believed those with uniform colour would render athletes invincible and said agate with the highest value has the transparency of glass.

Agate is one of the oldest minerals.  It was highly valued by many ancient cultures including the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

It was widely used for talismans, seals, vessels (containers for liquids), beads and gemstones. 

oval shaped crazy lace agate stone

Different Types of Agate

Agate stones are typically characterised by concentric, curved or angular banding.  They can also exhibit other curious and intricate patterns.

Hundreds of different types of agate can be found around the world and many have been given trade names.  These often indicate the locality where a stone is found or a particular colour or characteristic.

Fortification agate is a generic name for stones whose bands are arranged at sharp angles.  The name stems from the shape, which was once believed to resemble the lines of a fortress.  A fortification is a defensive wall or reinforcement built to strengthen a building against attack.

Blue lace agate and crazy lace agate are both types of fortification agate.

Botswana agate comes from Botswana, Brazil agate from Brazil, fire agate exhibits a distinctive flash of colour caused by inclusions of hematite.  Polka dot agate is often but not always spotted.

colourful agate stone with distinctive banding. In a museum display cabinet

More Agate Facts

An agate was believed to have been the second stone in the third row of the high priest breastplate.  This religious garment from biblical times was adorned with twelve gemstones.  It was worn by the Jewish high priest whilst presenting himself to God.

Agate's colour depends on the presence of other minerals for its colour.  Black, white and grey stones are often dyed to make them more appealing to the wider commercial market.

The practice of dying rocks and minerals can be traced back thousands of years.

Despite everything that has been learned about the formation of agate, so much is still not fully understood.  Its formation has never been studied from start to finish in real-time.  Nor has it been possible to recreate agate in a laboratory setting.  For this reason, much of what is known about this mineral is supposition.

Healing Properties of Agate

When used for its healing properties agate is a powerful grounding stone that stabilises energy and balances yin and yang.

Being grounded means we're well connected with Earth and our surroundings. That helps us to remain calm and rational and make better decisions especially when surrounded by chaos.

Known as the stone of balance and harmony, agate is widely used for its ability to bring emotional healing to mind, body and spirit.

It makes sense of the madness that we deal with in everyday life.

Agate can bring information deeply rooted in the subconscious to the surface and rebuild self-confidence.

Its soothing energies can help with turmoil, frustration and anger, allowing the healing process to begin. Agate works at its own pace but is powerful yet gentle. It’s associated with stamina, courage, vitality and strength.

When used in meditation, agate promotes deep inner peace and tranquillity. It creates a space for introspection and self-reflection.  Introspection allows you to understand yourself whilst self-reflection lets you process what you learn.

Agate's healing properties help you navigate life's challenges with eloquence and grace.

It enhances focus, clarity, perception and analytical skills.

Agate is an important companion for those on a journey of self-discovery and holistic well-being.

It's associated with the star sign Gemini. According to the traditional and ayurvedic birthstone chart, agate is the birthstone for May.

On the mystical birthstone chart, agate is the birthstone for September.

The healing properties of agate are highly personal and subjective. People may experience different benefits based on their beliefs, experiences and intentions.

Agate can be used for its healing properties in different ways. Healing with crystals should always be approached with an open mind.

Article Pictures

Picture 1 is courtesy of Captain Tenneal.  Picture 2 (dendritic inclusions in agate), picture 5 (crazy lace agate) and the last picture in our article are courtesy of Stan Celestian.

The agate stones displayed in the museum display cabinet are in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Washington D.C.  Photo by Stone Mania.

Picture 4 (dendritic agate) is courtesy of Steve (Singingstone48 - Flickr).

Most of our pictures are clickable and redirect to the original image.

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