Obsidian is a type of volcanic glass created when lava rich in silica (Quartz) comes into contact with water and is cooled quickly, resulting in dark glassy sheets with colors ranging from green to brown and black. Individual rounded nodules of Obsidian are known as 'Apache Tears', 'Obsidian Drops' or 'Obsidian Pearls'. These glass stones are usually pebble sized (roughly 1-2 inches) and are found within masses of rhyolite lava. At one point these lava fields were completely glassy, but time, water and erosion combine to change them into a soft gray rock known as Perlite. Patches of this lava that are better protected from the elements or slower to absorb water remain glassy, somtimes weathering out of the Perlite as it erodes. These are the nodules that we know as Apache Tear Obsidian.
Apache Tears appear to be black but display a smokey gray-brown translucence when held to the light. Composed of about 70% Silicon Dioxide (Si O2) with various impurities they are chemically similar to Granite and Rhyolite, but are amorphous, without any defined crystal structure. Specific gravity ranges from 2.3 - 2.6, refractive indices are 1.4 - 1.6 and hardness is about 5 - 5.5 on the Moh Scale. All forms of Obsidian are hard but brittle and fracture conchoidally (in shell-like flakes), making it useful for creating arrowheads and blades. Although Obsidian is an excellent material for knapping Apache Tears can contain considerable internal pressures and there is a risk they will explode into flying shards if they are sawn, cut or drilled.
Obsidian is found in Italy, Scotland, Mexico and the western United States, with notable deposits in Oregon, California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas and Utah. Arizona provides the majority of Apache Tears on the market, many coming from deposits in the foothills of Apache Leap Mountain. Although Obsidian is plentiful it is rare in geological terms, only found in areas that have seen relatively recent volcanic activity.
The name 'Obsidian' is derived from a Roman called Obsius who, according to Pliny, discovered the volcanic glass in Ethiopia. There are several versions of the legend about how 'Apache Tears' got their name, but all agree that the crystal formed when the tears of the dispossessed and persecuted Apache peoples hit the dry earth. One legend says that the tears were shed by Apache women mourning the death of their partners, sons and fathers. Another says that the tears were shed by the survivors of the Apache tribes when they were driven from their homelands. According to folklore anyone who carries an Apache Tear - especially one given as a gift - will never have to cry tears of grief, because the Apache have cried tears enough for all peoples.
Perhaps because of this legend Apache Tear Obsidian is associated with the cleansing power of grief and is used to help heal the emotional and physical problems that can manifest when grief is not properly expressed. Working with Apache Tear Obsidian in this way is not always easy. While it is healing to release feelings of grief, guilt and bitterness, in order to release them we often have to experience them again, to concentrate on suppressed emotions and memories we would rather ignore. It is important to be gentle with yourself when working with Apache Tears, and if possible work with a close friend or a crystal healer who understands the emotional process and can help you express your grief in a healthy way.
Apache Tears tend to be very personal magical stones and the longer you work with one crystal the deeper the bond with it becomes. They are useful for meditation, spiritual journeys and prophetic dreaming, and regular meditation with Apache Tear Obsidian is said to help you develop a sense of acceptance and inner peace. The crystal is said to balance and regulate the emotions and intellect, keeping the mind clear and thoughts logical even under great emotional stress. Meditating on a specific issue while gazing into an Apache Tear can help you see the bigger picture, and often to find an inspired solution or new ways of tackling old problems.
Magically, Apache Tears are linked to the healing power of elemental Earth and the cleansing power of Fire. They can help you find the strength to examine your feelings without being overwhelmed by them, bring hope in times of despair and the patience to endure, knowing that time does heal all pain. Apache Tears are associated with the Root Chakra and the volcanic energies of Earth and Fire; meditating with them out of doors (especially with your bare feet in contact with the earth) can help you to ground excess energy, release tension or draw in power from the Earth. Astrologically these Obsidian nuggets are said to be especially good for those born under Aries and Sagittarius and also have an affinity with Scorpio and Capricorn.
Obsidian has been used to make knives, arrowheads and surgical blades since the Stone Age, when it was highly valued and traded over long distances. Over the centuries it has become magically linked with protection, healing and the provision of basic needs, which isn't surprising considering it was such a vital part of many early human tool kits. In many ancient cultures Obsidian was treated as a sacred stone and used mainly for ceremonial and magical purposes. Several pre-Columbian American tribes wore Obsidian in ceremonial jewelry, used it as a seer stone or crafted it into razor-sharp blades used for bloodletting rituals and human sacrifice. In Egypt it was used as a surgical blade for the ceremonial disembowelment of Pharoahs as they were prepared for mummification. Aboriginal Australians believed it to be a stone of luck and good fortune that protected against sickness, accidents and ill-wishing.
Obsidian can be polished to a shiny mirror finish (a friend tells me that brass polish and elbow grease works best) and Obsidian mirrors have been considered powerful magical tools for many centuries. According to some sources Dr. Dee, Queen Elizabeth's infamous court magician, used a polished Obsidian mirror for crystal gazing, though other sources say his scrying sphere was made from Smokey Quartz. Some people find Obsidian easier to scry with than Quartz, though Obsidian is sometimes considered less 'friendly' because it is a true mirror, reflecting your situation and your inner self stripped of comforting delusions and wishful thinking. Seeing yourself as you truly are is a valuable experience, but not always a comfortable one.
Used magically, Apache Tears can help you protect yourself against subconscious doubts and fears that can manifest as self-defeating behaviors. In meditation it is said to help you look deeply into yourself, understand your emotional responses and habitual behavior patterns and find your own inner truth, your true purpose in life. Obsidian will show you your faults and flaws as well as your strengths and talents, and usually seems to give very direct, unvarnished answers to questions you may be meditating on. It can help you begin the journey of discovery that leads to your own unique spiritual path, and can also help you relax and open you heart to spiritual energy while you are still searching for your purpose in life.
Crystal healers use Apache Tears to help relieve muscle spasms and tremors, to remove toxins from the body and for general energy cleansing. A good way to clean out your system - physically and spiritually - is to use an Apache Tear gem elixir while fasting or following a cleansing diet. Some healers also use Apache Tears when working with addictions and obsessive compulsive disorders. All black forms of Obsidian are said to bring to light that which is hidden in the darkness of the subconscious mind, and by bringing these suppressed memories and thoughts to light the stone helps to reduce their power, making it easier to replace habitual negative behavior with a new, positive attitude. Although the stone is not always gentle, it can help people to recognize the blocks, negative patterns and past experiences that caused them to turn to addictions or compulsive behaviors in the first place. It is said that once you recognize why you use a certain addiction for comfort you realize that you no longer need it, and it falls away as gently and easily as autumn leaves.
In the Middle Ages Obsidian was believed to drive out demons and expel poison from snakebites, and the stone is said to allow no negative energy within its sphere of influence. Magically, this black Obsidian gem is said to hold secrets safe and grant invisibility, as well as protecting the occultist from negative energies, mischievous spirits and malevolent intent.
All forms of Obsidian are considered to be protective stones. It is said that if you give Apache Tears as a gift you give friendship, good luck and magical protection that will stay with the recipient all of their life. Apache Tears are sometimes recommended for sensitive or naturally empathic people who may need additional protection against the influence of thoughts and feelings from the people around them.