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Obsidian Meaning, Properties, Facts and Photos

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

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

What is Obsidian?

Obsidian is natural volcanic glass that forms when a specific type of magma cools and solidifies.  

This burning hot material often cools so rapidly that crystals do not have time to grow. 

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

Lava initially cools fairly rapidly but due to insulating properties the cooling process quickly slows down.

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

Sub-micron means crystals are 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 include pumice, apache tears, perlite and pitchstone but there are many more.  Perlite is hydrated obsidian.

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

A naturally occuring solid that's non crystalline 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 Earth as magma seeps between fractures in rocks.  This tends to occur close to the vent of the volcano.  The glass that subsequently forms will often be free from dirt, ash and other impurities.

Obsidian is rarely older than about twenty million years.  When compared to the age of many rocks and minerals that's relatively young.  

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

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

One respected geologist describes it as "a congealed liquid with impurities of rock and a limited number of microscopic crystals". 

Obsidian Geological Properties

The way obsidian breaks is very similar to glass.  The correct term for this type of break is a conchoidal fracture.

This characteristic is typical of many brittle, non crystalline materials.

When obsidian breaks it has razor-sharp edges.  This is because of its amorphous (non crystalline) structure.
Obsidian is one of the sharpest of all naturally occuring materials.  It was widely used during the Stone Age for knives, spear tips and arrows.
In recent years scalpels used in surgery have been made from obsidian blades instead of conventional steel.  They create a finer incision hence 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 that 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 whilst 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.

The presence of iron and magnesium produces black obsidian which is the most well known.

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

These tend to be composed of 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 tend to have a duller lustre than the host rock.

On Mohs scale of hardness obsidian grades 5 to 5.5.  Being a natural glass it's brittle so must be handled carefully.  Most material 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 its sharp edges 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 obsidian (Latin obsidiānus) is said to have come from a misreading involving the word "obsiānus".

"Obsiānus lapis" meaning Obsius's stone was a reference to a stone found by Obsius.  "Lapis" is Latin for "stone".

Pliny the Elder Roman author, naturalist and philosopher [23 AD - 79 AD] stated 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).

The word "amorphous" is also used to describe non crystalline solids. 

The meaning of "amorphous" comes from the Greek words "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".

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

Solids that are crystalline (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 and are instead disorganised with no definitive structure.

piece of red obsidian volcanic glass isolated on a white background

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 using it for healing purposes should be prepared for a full onslaught.

Obsidian is an exceptionally powerful healing crystal.

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.

It acts like a shield repelling negative or harmful energy.

Obsidian can help you deal with difficult situations in a clear and direct manner.  It works hard to get issues resolved so you can move on and start afresh.

In regards to family matters it encourages open and honest dialogue.  It can improve communication so thoughts, feelings and concerns can be expressed in a respectful and constructive manner.  

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

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

Meditating with or carrying obsidian helps you remain centered and grounded.  It connects with Earth's energies to promote a sense of balance, clarity and focus.

It enhances intuition, psychic abilities and spiritual growth.

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

Article Pictures

The picture of the snowflake obsidian is courtesy of James St.John. The photo is clickable and redirects to the original image.

The red obisidian in the second photo was once part of our collection.

shop now explore our collection of obsidian
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