Pipestone (Catlinite) Meaning and Properties

Pipestone (Catlinite) History

Natural pipestone, also called catlinite, is a mudstone (or argillite) found in central North America. It gets its popular name from its use by some Native American or First Peoples tribes for making ceremonial smoking pipes. Catlinite is not the only stone material used in pipemaking (plus, some groups have historically used their regional clays, instead of carving stone); however, catlinite is the material most commonly referred to as "pipestone" in discussions of the art.

The red form of pipestone is still quarried in Minnesota in the United States and in Ontario, Canada. The traditional quarry locations in the United States are preserved at Pipestone National Monument (outside Pipestone, Minnesota). Catlinite was named after American painter George Catlin, who visited the Minnesota quarries in the 1830s, and wrote his interpretation of the stone's origin story:

''At an ancient time the Great Spirit, in the form of a large bird, stood upon the wall of rock and called all the tribes around him, and breaking out a piece of the red stone formed it into a pipe and smoked it, the smoke rolling over the whole multitude. He then told his red children that this red stone was their flesh, that they were made from it, that they must all smoke to him through it, that they must use it for nothing but pipes: and as it belonged alike to all tribes, the ground was sacred, and no weapons must be used or brought upon it.''

To prevent confusion with other materials also called ''pipestone''--such as bluestone, salmon alabaster, etc.--this Gem Note refers only to the catlinite type (aka ''Minnesota red pipestone'').

Pipestone (Catlinite) Metaphysical Properties

Catlinite pipes and figures are powerfully connected to the histories, cultures and practices of many Plains tribal groups. These rich traditions are best consulted independently, as different cultural groups assign different meanings to the stone and items created from it.

Modern crystal practitioners have stated that catlinite is a stone of interconnectedness between body and spirit. It is believed to also promote the ability to see all things as sacred. It is not affiliated with any zodiacal sign or chakra.

Pipestone (Catlinite) Geological Properties

Red Minnesota catlinite is a silicate form of mudrock--a finely grained rock formed by tiny particles cemented together by silicate materials. These argillites often contain quartz, feldspar and mica, with a range of other materials which exist locally.

Mudrocks such as catlinite are somewhat similar to slate and shale, although they do not split and flake as those materials do. Mudrocks' low Mohs hardness, small deposits and vulnerability to wind and water erosion make them difficult to study in the field. Mudrocks are classified by the size of the grains or particles they contain, creating subdivisions such as siltstone, claystone, etc.

Red Minnesota pipestone is a soft stone which occurs between layers of Sioux Quartzite (a cream-and-pink metamorphic quartz-based sandstone used for public construction in the American upper Midwest). Catlinite is smooth to the touch, is easily carved and takes a high polish.

Red Minnesota catlinite is primarily found at Pipestone National Monument. There it is traditionally quarried using only hand tools, with site access limited to authorized tribal members to prevent over-mining.

Mineral Information Metamorphic argillite composed of sericite and hematite
Chemical Composition R2O-5Al2O3-12SiO2
Color Pale pink to brick or blood red with lighter spots--sometimes referred to as ''stars''--scattered throughout
Hardness 2-1/2 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 2.6
Refractive Index 1.53

Proper Care of Pipestone (Catlinite)

Natural catlinite is an extremely soft material--slightly softer than malachite, slightly harder than amber--and is easy to scratch, nick and scuff. It is easily scratched (watch your fingernails!) and affected by chemicals, abrasives, acids, caustic solutions, alcohol and perfume.

Steamers, hot water and ultrasonic cleaners can damage natural catlinite. To clean, use mild soap, room temperature filtered water and a very soft cloth. Remove natural catlinite jewelry when doing heavy work that might scratch it such as gardening or mechanics.

Fire Mountain Gems and Beads currently offers imitation pipestone, which is made using powder mixed in plastic. Treat this material like a resin and avoid using steamers, hot water and ultrasonic cleaners.

Designing with Pipestone (Catlinite)

Brick red pipestone offers many of the same design opportunities as red jasper, which is similar in color. It looks stunning mixed with turquoise, obsidian, white shell and bright red coral--especially when paired with silver. Yet pipestone also shines when used with bright yellow gold, along with sunstone, carnelian and other yellow-orange stones in a medley of fiery hues.

Shop for Pipestone (Catlinite) 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.

How did you like this resource? Your feedback helps us provide resources that matter to you most.