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Obsidian Properties, Facts and Photos

two pieces of natural black obsidian side by side isolated on a white background

1. What is Obsidian?
2. Meaning of Obsidian
3. How Obsidian Forms
4. Obsidian Healing Properties
5. Article Pictures
6. Shop Obsidian

What is Obsidian?

Obsidian, which is volcanic glass, is one of the sharpest naturally occurring materials.

It breaks in the same way as window glass, with a conchoidal fracture.  A conchoidal fracture is a typical characteristic of many brittle, non-crystalline solids.

When obsidian breaks, it has a razor-sharp edge.  During the Stone Age it was widely used for knives, spear tips and arrows.
close up of a piece of broken obsidian showing the edge has broken with a conchoidal fractureMore recently, surgical scalpels have been made from obsidian instead of conventional steel.  These blades create a finer incision, so wounds heal faster with less tissue damage and scarring.

A steel scalpel has a cutting edge similar to a saw due to the metal's crystalline structure.  The edge of a non-crystalline material is completely smooth, so the incision is cleaner and more precise.

The problem with using obsidian for this purpose is it's not particularly hard and is also brittle.   

Different types of obsidian can be found in many locations around the world.  Oregon has many gem-grade varieties including mahogany, red, black, rainbow and snowflake obsidian.

The colour of obsidian is determined by inclusions and/or impurities present.  Tiny bubbles caused by water vapour, air or gas can also produce different types of sheen.

A golden sheen is known as sheen obsidian, while iridescent material with circular-like patterns is known as rainbow obsidian.

Hematite causes the red and brown varieties, whilst inclusions known as spherulites (spherical bodies) cause the whitish-grey markings in snowflake obsidian.

Iron and magnesium produce black obsidian, which is the most well-known variety.

snowflake obsidian mineraloid

The spherulites in snowflake obsidian are difficult to see in detail without powerful magnification.  They're known to have radiating fibrous needle-like crystals

The inclusions tend to be quartz and feldspar.

The word 'vitreous' is widely used to describe the surface of a stone whose surface interacts with light in a similar way to glass.  Spherulites often have a duller lustre than the host rock.

On the Mohs scale of hardness, obsidian grades 5 to 5.5.  Being natural glass, it's brittle, so must be handled carefully.  Most obsidian comes from countries with extensive volcanic activity.

Polished black obsidian was used as a mirror by the Aztecs and Greeks.  It was widely traded by many ancient cultures.  This was primarily because of its sharp edges which made it ideal for blades and tools.

Obsidian continued to be used in the ancient Middle East for thousands of years after the introduction of metals. 

Meaning of Obsidian

The meaning of the word 'obsidian' (Latin obsidiānus) is said to have come from a misreading involving the word 'obsiānus'.

'Obsiānus lapis', meaning Obsius's stone, refers to a stone found by Obsius.  'Lapis' is Latin for 'stone'.

Pliny the Elder Roman author, naturalist and philosopher [23 AD - 79 AD] wrote in his works Naturalis Historia in reference to obsian glass and obsian stone;

Among the various kinds of glass, we may also reckon Obsian glass, a substance very similar to the stone which Obsius discovered in Ethiopia.  The stone is of a very dark colour, and sometimes transparent; but it is dull to the sight, and reflects when attached as a mirror to walls, the shadow of the object rather than the image.  Many persons use it.   (Naturalis Historia chapter 67) (Note).

exclamation mark in a red triangle(*)The word 'amorphous' is also used to describe a material that's non-crystalline. 

The meaning of 'amorphous' comes from the Greek 'a' meaning 'without' or 'not' and 'morphē' meaning 'form' or 'shape.' When combined, 'a' and 'morphē' create 'amorphos', which translates to 'shapeless' or 'without form'.

The word amorphous is used in various scientific fields to describe a substance that lacks a definite crystalline structure or well-defined shape.

Crystalline solids (made up of crystals) have a highly ordered (well-defined) repeating arrangement of atoms.  In non-crystalline solids, atoms do not come together in this way; instead, they're disorganised with no definitive structure.

piece of red obsidian volcanic glass isolated on a white background

How Obsidian Forms

Obsidian forms when a specific type of magma cools and solidifies.  The magma often cools so rapidly that crystals do not have time to grow. 

Magma is molten rock from beneath the Earth's surface.  Once spewed out from the vent of a volcano, it becomes known as lava.

Lava initially cools quite fast, but the process slows down due to its insulating properties.

If lava cools very fast, as in hours to days, crystals have insufficient time to grow. They may form after a few weeks but will only be 'sub-micron'.

Sub-micron means a crystal is smaller than one micron or one-millionth of a metre.

There are many different types of volcanic glass.  The type that forms depends on the nature of the volcanic eruption, the chemical composition of the magma, the presence of gases and the speed at which the lava cools.

Other varieties of volcanic glass include pumice, apache tears, perlite and pitchstone, but there are many more.  Perlite is hydrated obsidian.

The magma that forms obsidian has low gas and water content. 

A naturally occurring non-crystalline solid is a rock, not a mineral. These materials are correctly known as mineraloids. The term 'amorphous' is also used.

Some of the finest obsidian forms beneath the surface of the Earth as magma seeps between fractures in rocks.  This tends to occur close to the volcano's vent.  The glass that subsequently forms is often free from dirt, ash and other impurities.

Obsidian is rarely older than about twenty million years, which is relatively young compared to many rocks and minerals.  

Most magma contains at least 70% silicon dioxide which is the main constituent of obsidian.

Although obsidian is often called a stone, some geologists argue that it's not an accurate description.  The problem however, is coming up with something more suitable. 

One respected geologist describes obsidian as "a congealed liquid with impurities of rock and a limited number of microscopic crystals".
green obsidian natural stone

Obsidian Healing Properties

Obsidian cuts to the heart of the matter.  It brings issues to the surface and can be very confrontational to the user.  Those who use obsidian for healing should be prepared for a full onslaught.

Obsidian has exceptionally powerful healing properties.  During the Middle Ages it was used to drive out evil spirits and demons.  Today, it can be used to clear unwanted energies from the aura or from within the home.

Obsidian acts like a shield repelling negative or harmful energy.

It can help you deal with difficult situations clearly and directly. It works hard to resolve issues so you can move on and start afresh.

Obsidian encourages open and honest dialogue regarding family matters and can improve communication by allowing thoughts, feelings, and concerns to be expressed respectfully and constructively.  

Black obsidian supports and comforts those who are grieving or temporarily separated from a loved one. It can also be used to sever unwanted ties or to distance yourself from those who are a drain on your energy.

Sleeping with black obsidian deepens sleep and enhances the experience of astral journeys.

Meditating with or carrying obsidian helps one to remain centred and grounded.  It connects with Earth's energies to promote balance, clarity and focus.

It enhances intuition, psychic ability and spiritual growth.

Obsidian provides a clear channel for receiving insights and messages from higher realms.

Article Pictures

The first picture in this article is a piece of obsidian showing a conchoidal fracture.  The last photo is of green obsidian from Oregon.  Both photos are courtesy of Stan Celestian. 

The snowflake obsidian is courtesy of James St.John.  These three photos are all clickable and redirect to the original image.

The red obsidian was once part of our collection.

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