29 Oct Drops of Gintaras: the Teary Legends of Amber
The Norse story of the origin of amber (When the Goddess Freya wept for her lost husband, her tears turned to amber as they touched water) – has become very well-known with the worldwide growth and interest in Asatru and Northern Myth. But this is far from the only amber legend on record, nor is it the only one which includes tears.
The Greeks tell us that Amber comes from tears shed by the Heliads, sisters of Phaeton. Phaeton, the son of Helios the Sun God, died riding his father’s fiery horse-pulled chariot across the sky. His burned body fell into the Eridan River. The Gods turned the inconsolable Heliads into Poplar trees, but even that didn’t stop their crying…they continued, their tree-sappy tears turning into amber as they fell into the Eridan.
Echoing this story in so many ways is another tale, this one of Apollo, the Sun God, who cried tears of amber for the death of his son Asclepius, who had been visiting the far northern Hyperboreans, where the Eridan River flowed.
The Lithuanian Sun Goddess, Saule, weeps at all injustices, and especially when a Zaltys, (a snake, her sacred companion) is hurt in any way. Her tears always turn to amber, which serves as a reminder to humanity to be always compassionate.
Another Lithuanian legend incorporating amber and tears is the story of Jurate and Kastytis. Jurate was a mermaid-Goddess, betrothed to Patrimpas, the god of water. Kastytis was a fisherman who dared fish in the watery kingdom of Jurate, even though mermaid after mermaid had been dispatched to warn him off. Angered, Jurate decided to get rid of him herself…but when she saw him for the first time, she fell in love with him and he with her. She brought Kastytis down to her Amber Palace, beneath the waves. When Perkaunas, the God of Thunder (and also Jurate’s father), found out, he was doubly angered that Patrimpas was betrayed and that his daughter loved a human. A bolt of Perkaunus’ lightening destroyed the Amber Palace, killing Kastytis. Jurate herself was chained to her wrecked palace, there to remain for eternity. Her tears for her lost love flowed from her in stones of amber, which are still washed ashore to this day. As a matter of fact, the clearer/purer the piece of amber found on the shores of the Baltic, the more likely that it is one of Jurate’s own tears of pure clear love.
As a testament to the loving tears legends say it is made of, Amber is considered a symbol of eternal love and fidelity. In many parts of Northern Europe, brides traditionally wore beautiful necklaces of Amber beads, and in Latvia, wedding rings were made from it. Amber is used today in ceremonies that rededicate and reenergize marriage bonds, as well as in traditionally-fashioned weddings themselves.
And, making this essay a timely one for readers with birthdays coming up in the next four weeks, Amber is the modern gemstone of November, replacing the older traditional Topaz.
Eternal love and compassion, distilled and held in a honey gold stone that is not quite a stone but no longer part of a living tree—Amber ever serves as a host of joy and protectiveness to the world and to its wearer. Which is fitting, for the Lithuanian word meaning Amber is ‘Gintaras’: that which will protect and defend.
Photo by Hannes Grobe