The noble Onyx is a most ancient stone, known and utilized by even the earliest civilizations for its powerful energy and somber beauty. This deep black stone ribboned with white was highly prized for use in ceremonies and burials, scrying and magical work, and as amulets on swords, shields and armor to protect and strengthen warriors in battle. Many cultures, including the Greeks and Romans, utilized Onyx and its counterpart, the brownish-red Sardonyx, to carve figures of the gods and heroes in cameos and intaglio engravings, to make stamps and seals, stone inlays and tiles, and as handles and bases for goldwork. Onyx is referenced in numerous historical manuscripts and sacred texts, and is the first precious stone named in the Bible, described in Genesis as an element of creation. It resided with gold and the fragrant resin bdellium in the land of Havilah, an area surrounded by the Pishon River that flowed from the Garden of Eden.
While Onyx was revered in many cultures, it was feared in others, considered to be “a bad luck stone” that caused black bile to circulate, especially within the mind. It was believed to invoke sadness and despondency, abrupt changes in mood, and make one angry and difficult. It could separate lovers, sow family discord, and expose one to the assaults of demons, bringing dreadful visions by night, quarrels and lawsuits by day. It was so feared in China, only slaves and menial laborers with no other way to make a living would go into the mines to extract it, where it was then carried out of the country and sold in other lands. The only preventative to these calamities was to also wear a Sard stone, most notably a Sardonyx, to neutralize the influence of the Onyx.
Over the centuries, metaphysical practitioners have come to appreciate the contradictory powers of Onyx and have learned to harness even its negative traits to achieve positive results. It integrates dualities within the Self, and is perhaps the best talisman of Strength and Self-mastery on the planet. This stone connects to the body, to belonging to the earth and family, and putting down roots. It is grounding and stable, taking aggressive energies and using them to build up physical and mental strength, persistence and endurance, helping one to be master of one’s own destiny and to keep one’s own counsel. Yet Onyx also provides the centering and alignment of one’s total being in order to connect to a higher power for guidance, and absorb from the universe that which is needed. Onyx is reputed to hold physical memories of the wearer within its structure and, if worn too long, can generate depression or re-living the pain of old injury or trauma. However, with work and proper intent, it can be called upon to banish grief and release pain from physical or emotional wounds, and to draw in happiness and good fortune. It is a marvelous stone for wise decision-making and amplifying intuitive gifts, especially instinctual sentience.
Onyx is a black and white banded variety of Chalcedony, a cryptocrystalline form of Quartz with dense, fibrous layers and a hardness of 7. It is also defined as a black and white banded Agate, also a variety of Chalcedony. They differ only in that Onyx’s alternating layers are parallel to one another while Agate’s layers are curved and more chaotic. While many think of Onyx as a solid black stone, the term refers to the Chalcedony banded black and white. A variant form in which white layers of Onyx alternate with Sard (a reddish-brown Chalcedony) is called Sardonyx. Both have been known and utilized for over 4,000 years for hardstone carving, stone inlay, and jewelry, treasured most for their use in intaglio seals and cameo engraved gems where the white bands are carved away to make the image contrast with the dark background. In some specimens black Onyx may be layered with Sard, and in many cases material may be a combination of all three.
References to Onyx and other closely related stones are found in many ancient cultures and their texts, including the Bible, at times with conflicting definitions and an overlap in terminology. The following is meant to help clarify their meanings and provide additional information:
Onyx – a layered Chalcedony with black and white parallel bands, or a wide band of solid black. Reputed to be the eleventh, or Shoham stone in the breastplate of the High Priest inscribed with the tribal name of Gad. Onyx comes from the Latin and Greek words meaning “claw” or “fingernail” for its resemblance to the human nail, and is referred to by the Arabic term el jaza meaning “sadness.”
Sardonyx – an Onyx with a reddish-brown base where white bands of Onyx alternate with Sard. The name may have been derived from ancient Sardis, or the Greek word Sarx meaning “flesh.” Also called Sardinius in antiquity. Some scholars say this stone could be the first in the breastplate of the Hebrew High Priest, though most agree it was the Sard.
Sard – not Onyx, but dark-hued Carnelian, a translucent brown Chalcedony with red to orange overtones. Also called Sardius in the ancient world, designated as the first, or Odem stone in the breastplate of the High Priest inscribed with the tribe of Reuben. Sard was regarded as a protection against incantations and sorcery, used to sharpen the wits, and made one fearless, victorious, and happy. Sard stones, including Sardonyx, were often worn with an Onyx to neutralize the latter’s negative influences.
Chalcedonyx or Banded Onyx – Chalcedony with stripes of white Onyx where the layers are banded opaque and translucent, usually white with streaks of black, gray, brown or cream. White banded Onyx is often found as broad bands with black Onyx.
Artificial treatments to enhance the color of Onyx, or to produce artificial Onyx from Chalcedony and Agates, have been around since ancient Egyptian times and are still in use today. The 1st century naturalist, Pliny the Elder, claimed all gems are brightened if boiled in honey, and wrote about techniques that were being used in Roman times. To produce black or other colors, the stone was first soaked or boiled in sugar solutions, then treated with sulfuric or hydrochloric acid to carbonize the sugars absorbed in the porous layers. This greatly heightened the contrast between the white and black, or brown, layers of the stone. Dye techniques, as well as heat treatments with nitric acid, have become an accepted practice and most of the “Black Onyx” sold on the current market today is dyed gray Onyx or artificially treated Chalcedony. These treatments are not considered to hinder the stone’s natural powers.
In recent times, the name Onyx has been incorrectly used to describe any banded gemstone with parallel banding, as well as a variety of banded Calcite formed in cave systems such as the material mined in Mexico, Pakistan, and other areas. It is often carved and polished into bowls, bookends, or chess sets, etc. and constitutes the majority of carved “Onyx” sold on the current market. This carbonate material is softer than true Onyx and far less valuable. The following describes some of the materials inaccurately labeled as Onyx:
Onyx Marble, Mexican Onyx, Brazilian Onyx, Limestone or Cave Onyx – comprised of calcite or aragonite, travertine or tufa that exhibits color banding from layer deposition that can be polished and dyed and used for ornamental stone.
Green Onyx – often refers to unbanded Chalcedony dyed a deep green color, but may also denote banded light green and white banded Agate; sometimes used incorrectly as green Onyx Marble. There is also a lot of dyed unbanded Chalcedony labeled as Red Onyx and Blue Onyx.
Onyx Opal – banded, dark colored Opal.
Rhodochrosite Onyx – parallel banded Rhodochrosite.
Uses and Purposes
Wear or carry Onyx as a personal amulet of protection to keep senses keen and instincts sharp, whether traversing a desolate street at night, fighting fears associated with bullying or terrorism, or as a protective shield during psychic endeavors. Place an Onyx in the workplace to deflect others’ negative thoughts or criticism, and for effective defense against those who are manipulative or argumentative. Rest an Onyx on a nightstand with the intent of protection against nightmares and fears associated with the dark. Sardonyx may be used to grid around one’s home or garden, or apartment building in urban areas, to prevent crime.
Draw on Onyx for physical strength after a long illness, prolonged work project, demanding exercise or weight loss program, or any situation that depletes one’s resources. It aids the retention of energies rather than allowing them to dissipate, enabling one to build up vigor and vitality, stamina, and focus. Onyx boosts self-confidence and assertion while bringing reason to passion, and is an excellent stone to carry into conflict situations where a cool head is needed.
Onyx is an excellent stone for stimulating intuitive powers and furthers the quality of sentience. It is highly effective for magical work, such as scrying, and because it retains memories of its wearer, is an excellent stone for psychometry, holding an object for a reading. Onyx is particularly empowering for those working to develop their telekinetic abilities. White Onyx can enhance spiritual vision and dream experiences, and facilitate connection with lunar energies.
Sardonyx is a “stone of virtue” and stimulates honesty and strength of character, as well as bringing lasting happiness and stability to marriage and partnerships. Use it in the search for a meaningful existence, and to attract friendships and good fortune based on good moral ethics.
Physical Healing Energy
Onyx and Sardonyx are reputed to improve function of the nerves and enhance the sensory organs, especially those associated with the ear. They are believed to sharpen hearing, assist in problems or diseases of the inner ear, and aid in treatments for tinnitus.
Both Onyx and Sardonyx are credited with strengthening the immune system, providing stamina and vitality to the body, and preventing relapses after illnesses. They are thought to improve cell regeneration and the regulation of fluids, and to aid in the absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes.
Onyx is considered beneficial for the teeth and bones, and supports disorders relating to bone marrow and soft tissue structures. Onyx is particularly invigorating for the feet, and supports their connection to the Root Chakra. This may be helpful for those who suffer from weak legs, or have difficulty grounding excess energies.
Emotional Healing Energy
Onyx grounds and stabilizes the emotional body, bringing strength in difficult or confusing circumstances and during times of tremendous mental or physical stress. It calms nervousness, quells anxiety and fear, soothes tempers and restores rational thinking and self-control. It emanates the energy of self-mastery, imparting self-confidence, focus, ease in one’s surrounding, and the gift of wise decision making. It lets flighty personalities move into a more stable way of life, and helps one explore new ideas, as well as to carry out even dreary tasks to completion.
Onyx is a stone of separation, and can be helpful in recognizing old habits or relationships that need to be re-evaluated or released, and brings the inner strength needed to let go. It is a support stone for grief and denial, and assists one during the emotional processes of mourning, acceptance, and moving forward.
Sardonyx alleviates depression and improves the way one perceives the world. It helps one to better absorb and process information, and is a great talisman for overcoming hesitancy.
Chakra Healing and Balancing Energy
The black and reddish-brown hues of Onyx and Sardonyx stimulate the Earthstar and Base Chakras. The Earthstar Chakra is located between and slightly below the feet. It holds the soul into carnation and creates a solid connection to the planet Earth, allowing excess and out-of-balance energies to flow from the body. The Base, or Root Chakra, is located at the base of the spine, and controls the energy for kinesthetic feeling and movement. It is the foundation of physical and spiritual energy for the body. When the Base Chakra is in balance, the physical body gains strength and stamina, and spiritual energy is rekindled in the form of security and sense of one’s own power. It often leads to independence and spontaneous leadership.
White Onyx activates the Crown Chakra, located at the top of the head. It is the gateway to the expanded universe beyond one’s body, and controls how one thinks and responds to the world. It is the fountainhead of one’s beliefs and the source of spirituality, and when the Crown is in balance one’s energies are in balance. It inspires one’s place in the universe and to see things as they are.
Onyx teaches the appropriate use of power and focusing one’s energy and will into a positive force. It is an excellent tool for grounding and connecting with the electromagnetic energy of the Earth, as well as facilitating alignment with higher powers for guidance and strength. Onyx may be used to stimulate the psychic senses and engenders a protective shield for those who offer spiritual counseling, tarot readings, channeling or mediumship, automatic writing, or any endeavor that opens one to psychic influences. It encourages one to feel safe in its presence and is a remarkable aid for past-life and between-lives regression to heal old wounds and physical trauma affecting the present life. White Onyx amplifies telepathic connection to one’s higher Self, and assists in tapping into the Akashic Records and opening to the angelic realm.
Black Onyx deepens our connection to the physical, natural world. It brings power and strength, relieving fears specifically associated with the physical existence here on Earth. Black Onyx offers protection and a retreat, the safety of being hidden from your enemies.
The reddish-brown layers of Sard reflect scarlet energy, the color of strength and vitality, both physical and spiritual. Scarlet stones are amulets of protection from physical harm. They help overcome fear and improve self-reliance, and are the crystals of victory, success, and skill.
White Onyx reflects the color of cleanliness, purity, unity and innocence. The timeless, natural powers of the white rays are those of the moon, the color we see when the moon reflects the sun’s light to us. It is the color of natural cycles, birth, and regeneration – the feminine gender, manifested as the Goddess in many cultures. White talismans are of the spiritual world that is sensed but not seen.
Onyx is an excellent aid for grounding and centering during meditation, and for connecting with higher powers. It may be used to cleanse the mind in order to be more receptive to intuitive guidance, and provides a grounding influence when working with high-energy stones that produce extraordinary visions and insights but may over-activate one’s energy field. Sardonyx is a wonderful tool for warding off distracting thoughts, sounds or interruptions, and is a stone of great discipline. Sardonyx also aids the meditative aspect of yoga, tai chi, or chi gung. Using a combination of both stones is ideal.
Onyx honors Hecate, the Thracian Goddess of Wisdom, Crossroads and Ghosts. She is also Goddess of the Occult and the Dark Moon, the side we are unable to see. She has power over heaven, earth and the underworld.
Onyx honors Bean Sidhe, the Irish Fairy of Mourning, and Manat, the Arabian Goddess of Time, Destiny and Death. She is honored because time brings us all a transition we call death, but in life she can bring a world filled with magic, wisdom and protection.
Onyx honors Cybele, the Roman Earth Mother and Goddess of Wild Animals. She was originally Phrygian, the Goddess of Caverns because they are dark and hidden. She embodies the fertile Earth. Her festival is the first on the Roman calendar, the Festival of Joy.
Onyx honors Themis, the Greek Goddess of Justice and Order. She is known as the Divine voice who instructed mankind in essential laws, rules of friendliness and good governance. She is also known for her tokens of shields and defenses.
Talismans and Amulets
Onyx has long been used as an amulet of protection and strength, and a talisman for self-mastery. Sardonyx is a talisman of happiness, honesty and virtue.
Both Onyx and Sardonyx are Seeker Transformer crystals. Seekers contain a crystal energy structure that aligns the natural energy of the crystal to the natural power of the human mind in finding the way to new horizons and new capabilities. They’re pointers, directors, and compasses; the fresh start crystals. These are talismans of the scientist, the adventurer, the hunter, wanderer, and explorer. They’re also crystals of the student and the researcher.
Transformer crystals enhance efforts to change our situations, prospects, health, outlook or relationships. By transforming ourselves we transform our lives. We learn to dance, speak a new language, grow stronger, or become a better spouse or child. Seeker crystals with the earth power of the Transformer are excellent talismans to aid our efforts to grow, develop new capabilities and change our lives.
Onyx utilizes Water energy, the energy of stillness, quiet strength, and purification. It embodies potentialities unrealized. It is yielding, formless, yet powerful. The Water element brings power of regeneration and rebirth, and is the energy of the circle of life. Use black crystals to enhance any space that you use for repose, calm reflection, or prayer. Water energy is traditionally associated with the North area of a home or room. It is associated with the Career and Life Path area, its flowing energy assuring a balance of energy as your life unfolds and flows.
Ancient Lore and Legend
Onyx is the Greek word for “claw” or “fingernail,” and has been called the “Fingernail Stone” for having a white portion similar to a human nail. The legend of Onyx claims the goddess Venus was resting along the banks of the Indus River, and as she slept, Cupid, with the point of his arrow trimmed her nails. The clippings fell into the river, and being divine, sank to the bottom where they were metamorphosed into Onyx. Some versions say the clippings fell to the ground and the Fates immediately transformed them into stone, believing nothing that comes from a goddess should perish.
From antiquity through the Middle Ages, Onyx was reputed to arouse sorrow and anxiety, render the soul stubborn, and make for angry and difficult moods. Worn at the neck or on a finger, it made one sad, pensive, and melancholy because it was believed to cause black bile to circulate, especially in the head. A wearer of this stone would be exposed to the assaults of demons, bringing dreadful visions by night, and the affliction of quarrels and lawsuits by day. The only preventative was to also wear a Sard stone, most notably a Sardonyx, to neutralize the influence of the Onyx.
Onyx is referenced in ancient lore as being used in dream necromancy. By wearing an Onyx around one’s throat or on a finger at night, it was believed to allow one to speak to a dead friend. Upon wakening, one would remember what the deceased wished to communicate.
The ominous reputation of Onyx is noted in Arabic tradition where the stone is called el jaza meaning “sadness.” In China it was so feared that only slaves and menial laborers with no other way to make a living would go into the mines; a free man would not expose himself to the dangers of this “bad luck stone.” After it was extracted, it was carried out of the country and sold in other lands. Men of the Magreb, in northern Africa, would not wear an Onyx in any fashion, nor place it in their treasuries. It was believed anyone who kept it in their homes, placed it in a vessel or put it in food or drink would suffer loss of energy and capacity, experience fearful dreams, doubts and apprehensions, disputes and lawsuits. It was also reputed to be fatal for pregnant women.
The Persians and Indians of antiquity held the opposite belief; they believed wearing Onyx protected them from the evil eye, and placing it on the stomach of a woman in labor would reduce pain and bring on an earlier delivery. It was also utilized as a cure for epilepsy. The ancient Romans considered it a protective stone when facing adversaries of any sort, and entered battle carrying amulets of Onyx or Sardonyx engraved with Mars, the god of war, or the hero Hercules to bestow courage.
In the ancient world, Onyx was considered a “gem of Saturn,” not for embodying metallic lead of which he was the deity and symbol, but because of the gloomy blackness of Onyx’s broad bands that were reputed to induce mental heaviness, stupor, and despondency (symptoms of chronic lead poisoning). In reality, the black color of Onyx comes from minute particles of iron incorporated into the silicon base and should bring the wearer a boost of energy and exhilaration.
Onyx and Sardonyx were often carved as amulets or talismanic gems and were highly regarded for this purpose.
An Onyx carved with a camel or two goats among myrtles has the power to summon, assemble and constrain demons. Worn on one’s person, it will cause terrible dreams.
An image of a man standing and holding a weapon in his hand on an Onyx has the power to win for its owner the esteem of all kings and princes.
A stag or a viper carved on an Onyx gives its owner courage, calls demons together and sends them fleeing; it also calms evil winds.
Solid black Onyx is useful for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding; it should be carved with a three-headed Chnoubis, a coiled serpent with a lion’s head.
A Chalcedonyx that is white and translucent should be carved with a Chnoubis and carried or worn to prevent stomach pains.
A tri-colored Onyx that is honey, black and white will give one beautiful progeny if engraved with the image of Apollo and Artemis; it also provides consideration and prosperity to its owner as he passes through a crowd.
An image of a ram and Athena holding a heart carved on a Sardonyx makes an excellent phylactery for the body; it also grants success.
Of old, Onyx was alleged to be of two sexes, presumably for the close union and yet strange contrast between its layers of black and white. As it encouraged abrupt changes in mood, it was believed to provoke discord, especially between lovers. Worn on the neck, it was said to cool the ardors of love and could be counted on to reduce sexual impulses.
Onyx is listed in the Bible as the eleventh (Shoham) stone in the breastplate of the High Priest, and Sardonyx is listed in the book of Revelation as the fifth foundation stone in the walls of the New Jerusalem. In the Christian Lapidary, Sardonyx represents those who suffer the tortures of the Passion of the Christ in their own hearts, who have pure souls even though they consider themselves sinners, black and vile. In the writings of Andreas, the Bishop of Cæsarea, the foundation stones were associated with the apostles and he claimed the Sardonyx, with its transparency and purity the color of the human nail represented James, seeing that he bore death for Christ before all others, and in similarity, the nail may be cut off without any sense of pain. Rabanus Maurus, the Archbishop of Mainz, claimed Sardonyx represented the humility of the saints in spite of their virtues. In his poem Anulus, Konrad von Hamburg describes Sardonyx as the symbol of the Virgin’s suffering at the foot of the cross, and includes it as one of the twenty stones on the ring he offers to Mary in his text.
Onyx is the anniversary gemstone for the 7th year of marriage.