Amethyst enjoys a long association with Bacchus (Roman) or Dionysus (Greek), the god of wine. The ancient Greeks and Romans often made drinking vessels from amethyst, in the belief that the stone prevented one from becoming drunk. The word “amethyst” itself means “not intoxicated” (from Greek a- “not” + methystos “intoxicated”).
The earliest reference to amethyst in Greek mythology comes from the late 4th or early 5th century epic poem, Dionysiaca, by Nonnus. In it Nonnus states: “To Dionysos alone had Rheia given the amethyst, which preserves the winedrinker from the tyranny of madness.”
A 16th century poem “L’Amethyste, ou les Amours de Bacchus et d’Amethyste” (Amethyst or the loves of Bacchus and Amethyste) by the French poet, Remy Belleau, created a “back myth” for amethyst’s color. Bacchus pursues Amethyste, who prays to the goddess Diana to keep her chaste. Diana obliges by turning Amethyste into a white stone. Humbled, Bacchus pours wine over the stone (or in a variation sheds tears on it) turning it purple.
Historically, amethyst has been believed to bestow financial wealth, spiritual wisdom, and healing upon its wearer. It is sometimes known as the “dream stone,” due to its supposed power to cure insomnia.
Because of its purple color, amethyst has also had a connotation with royalty and religion. In the Old Testament, it is one of the 12 stones God commands Aaron to put in his breastplate to represent the tribes of Israel (Exodus 39:10-14). In the New Testament, amethyst is the one of the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19-20).
Amethyst is a variety of quartz, and was once considered as valuable as diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Since the discovery of extensive Brazilian deposits in the 18th century, however, it has lost a great deal of its value. The highest grade of amethyst is known as Deep Russian, and is exceptionally rare. Other important amethyst deposits can be found in Africa and the Americas, including the United States (Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, and Maine).