Cinnabar Meaning and Properties

Cinnabar History

Cinnabar is an ore and a crystal, a variant of quicksilver--what medieval alchemists called the element mercury.

The name "cinnabar" is said to derive from an Eastern Indian phrase meaning "dragon's blood." The part to remember is that Eastern dragons were long considered helpful, beneficial creatures--not the fire-breathing destructive tyrants they are in the West. The stone's bold red color (frequently natural, although sometimes dyed) supports the "dragon's blood" description! Other sources say the name comes from ancient Greek or Persian.

During ancient times, cinnabar was mined to be turned into mercury. Medieval alchemists (trying to turn lead into gold), would use the changeable "quicksilver" in their efforts (often resulting in mercury poisoning and madness). Renaissance painters such as Titian would grind the non-gem form into powder for a color called vermilion or "China red." The red dust was used in Central America by the Olmec and Mayan peoples in their burials, dusted over the dead. In medieval China, cinnabar was added to lacquerware as a colorant.

Cinnabar Metaphysical Properties

Cinnabar is considered a powerful stone and, due to being a mercury variant, that quality is both physical and metaphysical. Unsealed natural cinnabar needs to be worn and used carefully--do NOT ingest cinnabar in any way! Do not soak it in water--avoid wearing the stone against the skin in humid or perspiring conditions. Wash your hands and skin if they do come into contact with a natural, unsealed stone.

All of those warnings aside, cinnabar is thought to be a stone of manifestation: it brings things into being. (It is especially popular among those seeking wealth, assertiveness and romance.) For wealth generation, it is recommended to keep cinnabar close to the register or check-out--wherever the business takes in money. Sales people are encouraged to wear cinnabar, as it lifts their self-assurance and persuasive power. Cinnabar is said to aid those who seek love as well, making them manifest their best and most attractive selves--and breaking through inhibitions and self-doubts.

Although not a birthstone, cinnabar is affiliated with the zodiac sign Leo. It is often associated with the base and sacral chakras.

Cinnabar Geological Properties

Cinnabar is a form of mercury and has been known to be poisonous since ancient Rome. This mineral ore is formed from volcanic activity interacting with geothermal activity. Currently, cinnabar has been observed being deposited along vents and on the edges of hot springs in California and Nevada. Mercury poisoning--sometimes called "mad hatter disease"--can be caused by long-term exposure to cinnabar and more purified materials.

Crystal cinnabar is found in numerous locations in China and the United States, as well as Slovenia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt and Mexico. In the U.S., cinnabar is found primarily in California and Nevada, with smaller deposits Texas and Arkansas.

Mineral Information Mercury sulfide
Chemical Composition HgS
Color Bright red, violet-red, scarlet-red, brownish-red, dark metallic-red and pale blue
Hardness 2 to 2-1/2 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 8.0 - 8.2
Refractive Index 2.91 - 3.25 (birefringent)

Proper Care of Cinnabar

Mineral cinnabar is a very soft material and was popular for carving. Most of what is currently sold as cinnabar is either lacquerware or resin with a synthetic colorant to get the right hue. Natural cinnabar should only be wiped with a soft, damp cloth while wearing rubber or latex gloves. Lacquerware is similarly soft. Avoid using steam or ultrasonic cleaners. Imitation cinnabar--which is all Fire Mountain Gems and Beads sells--is a resin that can be cleaned with a soft brush if needed. Avoid steam, as resins can melt.

To learn more about cinnabar and other gemstones, order your copy of Walter Schumann's revised and expanded edition of Gemstones of the World.

Designing with Cinnabar

Rich black, bold red, turquoise blue or creamy white--imitation cinnabar is carved or molded with interesting patterns that give an Eastern air to jewelry and decor designs. The bold red version most strongly echoes the appearance of historical Chinese lacquerware, offering a strong visual to design around. The stylistic influences are very strong, so be aware when you design what images and connotations this material brings to your creations.

View design inspirations featuring cinnabar in the Gallery of Designs.

Shop for Cinnabar Items

**Please note that all metaphysical or healing properties listed are collected from various sources. This information is offered as a service and not meant to treat medical conditions. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads® does not guarantee the validity of any of these statements.

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