"A bird ran up the onyx steps of night
Seeking the moon upon her silver throne;
But insolent stars confused him with their light
And left him in the friendless skies, alone."
~ Fantasy, Louis Untermeyer, (1885-1977)
Onyx is the Greek word for “claw” or “fingernail” because these veins resemble the colors of a fingernail. According to legend, the goddess Venus was resting on the banks of the Indus River. As she slept, Cupid used the point of one of his enchanted arrows to give her a manicure. The parings of her nails then fell into the waters of the sacred river. Since the nails were of heavenly origin, they sank to the river bottom and were metamorphosed into onyx.
Although the traditional birthstones of December are usually reckoned as Turquoise, Tanzanite, or Zircon, December's "mystical" birthstone is the Onyx.
There are actually several different birthstone lists of different origin. What we think of as the modern birthstone tradition, is actually one that became popular in 15th century Poland.
Birthstones have been attributed special significance since the time of Josephus, a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who believed there was a connection between the twelve stones in Aaron's (brother of Moses) breastplate, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Rather than wearing their personal birthstones all year round, people believed the gems were most powerful when alternated monthly—each stone worn in its corresponding month:
The mystical birthstone list comes from 11th century Tibet and may have origins in Buddhism:
Onyx is a chalcedony quartz that is mined in Brazil, India, California and Uruguay. It has a fine texture and black color; however some onyx also displays white bands or ribbons against a black or brown background and this variety is known as sardonyx.
The name comes from the Greek word onyx which means nail of a finger or claw. Legend says that one day while Venus was sleeping Eros/Cupid cut her fingernails and left the clippings scattered on the ground. Because no part of a heavenly body can die, the gods turned them into stone which later became known as onyx.
For more on the various birthstone lists, click the black onyx.