Dravidians: In “The Book of Pearls,” Joan Younger Dickinson writes of the Dravidians in south India in the age of prehistory: “WE can see from the early Dravidian legend of creation…a legend as splendid in its way as our legend of the garden of paradise…how closely the pearl was associated with the heart, with love, gentleness, and compassion. It is told in that legend that in the beginning the great deity created the four elements: air, fire, earth, and water…and in their joy of life, each gave a gift to the god. The air gave a rainbow to halo his head, the fire, a meteor to light his way, the earth, a ruby to shine from his forehead, and water, a pearl soothe his heart.
Hindu: In Hindu legends, the fish-god of Vishnu was believed to have brought the Word to the Hindus from the depth of the sea where it had been in a shell, like a pearl. By the deity, pearls were also associated with Krishna the Adorable, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, who discovered it when he drew a pearl form the sea as a gift from his daughter on her wedding day. Indians wore pearl necklaces and rings because of the gem’s astrological power, which was connected with the Zodiac sign of Cancer.
Chinese: The pearl is the oldest known gem and represented preciousness to the ancient Chinese. Its milky luster symbolized purity, while its secret birth within the humble mollusk was a sign for hidden genius. Many fantastic theories regarding pearls are found in ancient Chinese literature. They were used as charms against fire and other disasters. Some writers credited them as originating in the brain of the fabled dragon; others noted that they were especially abundant during the reign of illustrious emperors, whose bodies were wrapped in shrouds ornamented with pearls and placed in coffins of jade.
Israelites & Jews: While the Israelites did not ascribe holy powers to pearls, there is a rabbinic story that when Abraham was entering Egypt, he hid his wife, Sarah, in a chest, because of her great beauty. At the border when challenged to the contents of the chest, he said he would pay customs for clothes, gold, the finest silk, even pearls. The customs officer could think of nothing of greater value than pearls. According to this tale, they demanded that Abraham open the chest. When he did, the land was “illumined with the luster of Sarah’s beauty.” In Proverbs, we find (8:11): “For wisdom is better than pearls; no goods can equal her.” And in its final verses (31:10): “An accomplished woman who can give; Far beyond pearls is her value. Her husband’s heart relies on her and shall lack no fortune. She repays his good, but never his harm, all the days of her life.”
Egyptians: The gold breastplates of the pharaohs and their families were studded with pearls. Immanuel Velikovsky a scholar of ancient history, notes that in records of the voyage of Queen Hatsheput of Egypt to an unnamed king, she took “precious woods and pearls.” According to Velikovsky, Queen Hatsheput and the Queen of Sheba, who came bearing great gifts to King Solomon to win his love, probably were one and the same.
Greeks: To the Greeks, pearls held all the charms of the love goddess Aphrodite. When she stepped from the sea at birth, she shook droplets of water from her, droplets that hardened into pearls as they fell back into the ocean. Wherever she went, she brought light and beauty, laughter and sensuality.
Romans: In Roman mythology Aphrodite was named Venus and held to be the daughter of Zeus. After Rome’s victorious Punic Wars with Carthage and the capture of the Persian treasures, the Romans dedicated a great temple studded with pearls to this goddess of beauty. When Julius Caesar became ruler of the Roman Empire, he claimed descent from the gods and was crowned with a pearl diadem.
Christians: In the parables as revealed in Matthew 13:45-46, Christ says, “The kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all he had, and brought it.” In the Sermon on the Mount, according to Matthew 7:6, Christ declared, “Give not that which is holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your peals before swine, lest they trample them…”
European Royalty: While the power of myths and legends faded after the fall of the Roman Empire, the attraction of pearls did not. By the eighth century, the gold circlet with pearls came into fashion among European royalty as the one and only true crown. King Henry VIII of England, and King François’s son, wore six ropes of pearls, which were later the pride of the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots, and two great pearls which François had given her. Elizabeth I was renowned for her showy clothes and masses of pearls, including those of Mary Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth had put to death. Napoleon celebrated the birth of his son by rewarding his wife with a necklace, earrings and brooch, studded with 408 pearls and diamonds. At King Edward VII’s coronation in 1902, his wife, Queen Alexandra, was literally yoked with pearl sand Edward decreed that only members of the royal family could wear crowns with pearls; lesser nobility would have to settle for silver beads in their crowns.
The Present: Today, pearls are owned and worn by much wider circles of society throughout the world but are still prized by royalty and nobility, as always. In modern song, the gates of San Francisco may be golden, but when John described his vision of the kingdom of heaven in the New Testament, he wrote: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls.”