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hematite - stone of mars, death & war

red powder remedy

hematite amulet, egyptian roman 100-500 ad
photo: cavafy's world

Ancient Egyptians placed hematite amulets, representing pillows, in tombs to help mummies arise and move on to the afterlife.
Believing that death was simply a temporary interruption, rather than a complete cessation of life, eternal life could be ensured by piety, mummification, and the provision of statuary and other funerary equipment.

pliny, historia naturalis; scuola tedesca, sec. xii. firenze, biblioteca laurenziana

A reference to hematite by Theophrastus in his On Stones (~315 BC), is the earliest known reference to what is thought to have been hematite. The name he uses translates to "bloodstone," apparently based on the fact that its red powder was thought to be coagulated blood.
Some four hundred years later, Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), Roman historian and author of the world's first encyclopedia, used h?matites, the Latin equivalent, in his widely cited Historia Naturalis, citing its use for blood disorders and as protection against bleeding.
According to Pliny, Zachalias of Babylon stated in his books about precious stones (dedicated to Mithridates the Great, King of Pontus [d.63 BC]), that hematite had wide-ranging powers: it was believed to cure diseases of the eyes and liver, aid those in battle, and even help petitioners in trials.

assyrio-babylonian hematite seal, 1500-800 bc
photo: barakat gallery

In The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, author George Frederick Kunz states:

"Azchalias, as cited by Pliny, taught that human destinies were influenced by the virtues inherent in precious stones, and asserted that the hematite, when used as a talisman, procured for the wearer a favorable hearing of petitions addressed to kings and a fortunate issue of lawsuits and judgments....

"As an iron ore and hence associated with Mars, the god of war, this substance was also considered to be an invaluable help to the warrior on the field of battle if he rubbed his body with it. Probably, like the loadstone, it was believed to confer invulnerability."

red skins and armaments
Many Native American tribes used red ochre, the powdered form of hematite, extensively as a face paint for religious and war-related ceremonies. Early Norse explorers who reached Newfoundland (L'Anse Aux Meadows) around 900 AD described natives "obsessed with the color red" in their Sagas - a combination of genealogies, histories and legends written during the 1100's through to the 1300's.
In particular, the Mi'kmaq, of Maine, Newfoundland, and Labrador; and the Beothuck of Newfoundland decorated themselves so extensively with red ochre they became known as the "red paint people" -- from which the epithet "redskin" is derived.
Hematite also played an important part in American history. In pre-Revolutionary War times, iron ore (hematite) was discovered beneath the peat bogs of Cape Cod and mainland Massachusetts. This discovery permitted American colonists to develop their own iron industry, independent of Mother England, and became the source of metal for weapons of the Revolutionary War. New Jersey, Kentucky and Virginia played a similar role in the Civil War.

buckeye furnace; ohio's 'hanging rock region'
photo: buckeye furnace

Throughout most of the 1800s, charcoal blast furnaces Ohio's "hanging rock iron region" used hematite iron ore to produce industrial iron. During the Civil War these furnaces became major producers of iron for Union weapons.
One Ohio furnace is reported to have cast the famous cannon, "Swamp Angel," used in the siege of Charleston Harbor. And tradition has it that yet another Ohio furnace produced the iron used to cover the famous Union gunboat, Monitor.