Obsidian is a varied and beautiful stone. Many believe it has certain cleansing powers, likely due to its interesting formation. Due to its odd nature, obsidian has been often cut and used in unique ways. An obsidian knife, for example, is a cut above average for decoration! But it also has some practical use. Historically, obsidian weapons were not uncommon in Mesoamerica.
Ever wonder how obsidian forms? Well, it starts with the volcano. Not too many stories start like that. Obsidian forms from cooled lava and is actually volcanic glass. That's pretty awesome, and this means it is an igneous rock.
Well, what about obsidian as a mineral? Well, it does not qualify as one. However, obsidian does fall in the camp of stones that people call "honorary minerals" or "mineral-like," even if it is technically not a mineral.
But just because it isn't one doesn't mean we should stop making fabulous pendants, rings, and knives with them. Obsidian can take on various forms and colors. Like with almost every other stone, this is due to inclusions.
Obsidian, at the most basic formation, is a deep black stone. However, depending on the inclusions present, it can be like snowflake obsidian, rainbow obsidian, or mahogany obsidian.
Obsidian has few to no crystals, and as a result, it has conchoidal fractures. The most common variety with some crystal formation is snowflake obsidian. These fractured surfaces can be extremely sharp. This sharpness was noted in ancient times and has been used since the Stone Age. While metals have long surpassed obsidian in usefulness, it has modern uses.
All obsidian has some water, though it is often very little. Sometimes, you can see the tiny bubbles in the glass. Most can be seen with a magnifying glass or microscope. Over time, obsidian changes from glass to rock (devitrification). Quartz crystals appear through devitrification, causing the "snowflakes" in snowflake obsidian.
Ancient people recognized obsidian's utility. Many artifacts made from obsidian exist around the globe. Sometimes, it is nearly impossible to distinguish obsidian artifacts from one locality from another. As a near-universally used material for millennia, this is to be expected. But with a keen eye and some context, it isn't too difficult to tell where an artifact may come from.
Additionally, some cultures thought hammers and knives were more than tools: they were art pieces. In ancient times, Central and South Americans worked with obsidian, leaving behind a wealth of knives, spearheads, arrowheads, and art like masks, whistles, amulets, mirrors, and vases.
Obsidian artifacts are widespread throughout the world, wherever it is available. Obsidian, like the nephrite in Maori tribes, was traded like a commodity while still being an instrumental material for construction. Many Mexican obsidian blades and artifacts were designed with mosaic engraving. In the Andaman Islands in South Asia, obsidian had only two purposes: shaving and tattooing. They used shells, not stone, to make tools.
Crystal System: N/A
Etymology: From "obsidianus" and "obsius," the supposed Roman discoverer of the stone.
Location: Global. Anywhere with volcanic activity.
Obsidian use varies when it comes to metaphysical properties. Many believe that obsidian can cleanse negativity and draw energy into the three bodies. Others see it as a protective stone.
Obsidian carries many meanings and values to those who use it for meditation and metaphysical purposes. It is an exceptionally popular stone that comes in many flavors!
Obsidian is an undoubtedly widely beloved stone that people use to spice up a collection! Looking to add to your obsidian set?
Archaeological Obsidian Studies: Method and Theory. Germany, Springer US, 2013.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe. West American History. United States, Bancroft Company, 1902.
Obsidian Reflections: Symbolic Dimensions of Obsidian in Mesoamerica. United States, University Press of Colorado, 2014.