Roger Weller, geology instructor
The Mysticism of Silver
Silver ore has been mined, refined, smelted, and crafted since approximately 3000 BCE. Since that time, silver has been reputed to have mystical powers and has played significant roles throughout the world’s mythologies. These mythologies have varied throughout time and cultures, but the basic beliefs regarding the powers of silver remain the same. “The Crystal Handbook”, a New Age guide to minerals and crystals, describes silver as, “…a good metal for healing purposes because it is in tune with the energies of the body”.
a silver cluster, roughly 0.5 cm across
Whether or not one believes the mystical properties of Silver, it has held a prominent role in different cultural mythologies and religions. The Mycenaeans and Minoans of Ancient Greece were among the first to attribute both auspicious and remedial properties to the metal. These ideas may have, in part, led to silver’s value as an international monetary article of exchange A belief of Ancient Egyptian lore was that while an Egyptian’s skin was made of gold, his or her bones were made of silver. Egyptian is filled with both mythical and actual artifacts made of silver. One such mythical artifact was one of the containers for the Book of Thoth, a spell book so powerful the gods would punish any mortal who read it.
In ancient Judaism, silver trumpets were sounded during the sacrificial
ceremonies of the Hebrew’s. Nowadays, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and
Lutheran Churches perform sacraments using chalices of only three metals: Gold,
Vermeil, or Silver.
Silver played a key role in early Celtic mythology in the story of Nuada, the first king of the Tuatha De Danaan (a race of gods said to have descended from the goddess Danu). During a fierce battle with the bitter enemies of the Tuatha De, the Fir Bholg, King Nuada lost his hand. Tuatha Dean laws dictated that a ruler must be without physical defect, and so abdicated his throne to a far less popular king, Bres. It was at this point that the master Druid Dian Cecht approached Nuada, explaining that he could replace his hand with one made from silver. The former king eagerly accepted and was thenceforth known as Nuada Argetlamh, or "Nuada of the Silver Hand". Physically restored by his magical silver hand, Nuada was able to reassure his role as the king of the Tuatha De Danaan.
Perhaps the most well-known magical silver item in mythology is not one that was created by an ancient culture or wielded by a legendary king, but something far more modern: the silver bullet.
The fear of shape-changing, monstrous lupines, or lycanthropes, has been present in Europe for at least two millennia. In 60 CE Gaius Petronius narrated the tale of a man turning into a wolf in his novel, “Satyricon”. However, it was during the 12th century CE that Gervase of Tilbury connected the phases of the moon- most specifically the full moon- to the transformation of a lycanthrope.
So, where does silver enter the picture?
alchemical symbol of Silver
Many ancient civilizations drew a connection between metals and astrology. They believed that Gold is the metal of the Sun and Silver the respective partner of the Moon. Even today, the medieval alchemical symbol for silver is associated with the moon by astrologers.
And although werewolf legends differ according to time and culture, werewolves are never described as allies of the moon; rather they are helpless to its powers, forced to enter a night of unbridled hunger and aggression: raping, eating, and destroying those that would cross their paths. Thus, the idea of a weapon against these fearsome beasts arose. Werewolves, the unwilling servants of the moon were helpless to her earthly material, silver. A sword or dagger fashioned from silver became a powerful bane against werewolves, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the idea of using silver bullets against the creatures appeared. (Granted, the idea was not a common one; few people could afford to have bullets smelted from silver. Using a silver bullet was not a common slaying-method until publicized by fiction writers and Hollywood).
Silver’s value goes beyond its monetary worth; it extends into the mythology, religion, and spiritual aspects of many cultures.