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Mythology of sterling silver jewellery

Mythology of sterling silver jewellery

Silver jewellery is steeped in mythology by all of the cultures which have used it in their cultures. Part of many religious ceremonies, offerings and symbols, silver has been used for thousands of years. Much of the jewellery today is made out of sterling silver, due to the softness of silver, but it remains one of the most highly revered materials.

The name itself already provides us with some of the earliest impressions of the precious metal. One of the earliest English terms for silver is “seolfor”, which was used between 450 and 1100. This term originates from the earlier proto-Germanic terms including “silubra”, and possibly the earliest term for the metal comes from the Akkadians, who it is believed coined the terms “sarapu”, meaning refined silver, and “sarapu”, meaning to refine or smelt. This tells us that cultures, even thousands of years ago, had realised the beauty and versatility of the metal as well as the benefits that could be gleaned through smelting.  The chemical symbol for silver, Ag, comes from the Latin argentum, meaning “white” or “shining”. This could indicate that the ancients likened it to the stars or held religious significance from its glow.

Many cultures have built up their own mythologies about silver due to its highly reflective, characteristic shine. One of the first cultures to use silver in their own mythology was the Ancient Greeks. Hesiod was a poet and is believed to have lived during the 8th century BC. In his poem Works and Days, Hesiod set out the five ages of man. The Silver Age is the second period, between gold, the first age, and Bronze, the third age. The poem is partly based upon the characteristics of the metals – gold – very soft, silver – harder, bronze – harder still and the mythology is still continued to this day in the Olympics. The gold medals are said to represent the age when men were among gods, the silver medal represent the age where youth lasted 100 years, and the bronze medal signifies the era of heroes.

Another source of the rich mythology of silver comes from Mexico, one of the biggest producers of silver in the world. Around 500 years ago, the Aztecs used silver in their jewellery and dress. One of the reasons the Aztecs used silver is the reflective nature of it. Mirrors found in Mexico which were made of highly polished minerals were symbols of portals to the spirit world. Indeed, the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, translates as “Smoking Mirror” and shows the importance of the material to the Aztecs.

Silver is even also seen in the ancient chakra system – the system setting out seven sacred energy centres of the body. Silver is associated with the sixth chakra, also known as the “third-eye”. In this sense, silver certainly represents the concept of reflection, both physically (as reflective substances are silvery), and as an internal exercise of self-analysis. The recent upsurge in popularity of practices such as chakra shows us that the mythology of the properties of silver is still active, and that our interest in the precious metal will live on for centuries to come.

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