Have you ever noticed how crystals, herbs and other magickal objects have a tendency to mysteriously pop up exactly how and when we need them? For me, that is especially true for Black Obsidian, a powerful “stone” that has commanded my attention on several occasions.
Black obsidian is a hard, beautiful mineraloid that has been used for magical and practical purposes since ancient times. Formed when molten magma or lava from a live volcano comes in contact with air or water and cools quickly, Obsidian is actually not a stone at all, but reflective black glass that is said to have fashioned the first mirrors used by humans. It’s found all over the planet wherever volcanic activity occurs. In its natural state, Obsidian has extremely sharp, razor like edges and throughout history has been used to fashion knives, arrows and deadly weapons. Nowadays obsidian is used to make some surgical scalpels, and for us spiritual folks, makes beautiful scrying mirrors, jewelry and ritual knives.
Magically, black obsidian is believed to bring our shadow self to the surface to be faced. It can drag up the harsh, cutting truth of a matter, forcing it out into the open. Considering these qualities, obsidian is clearly not a fluffy kind of stone; it cuts, it can be harsh, and it can reflect reality back to us in shadow form. For this reason, some people prefer to work with its gentler relatives, like apache tears or snowflake obsidian. Black obsidian has an energy that is no-nonsense, transformative and final. If black obsidian turns up in your life, things are about to get real.
The harsh truth-telling aspect of the stone was especially clear for me when it showed up to guide me during one of life’s big lessons: the illness and death of my Mother. The death of a loved one, be it parent, partner, spouse, family, friend, or pet, is a difficult, transformative rite of passage that most of us will have to work through at some point. It’s one of those cataclysmic milestone experiences that mark us for life. When viewed this way, losing someone is a form of initiation: you will never be the same. Death tests us to our very core, requiring every bit of strength we have to endure it.
Leading up to my mother’s death, my family and I kept vigil at her bedside for several months as cancer slowly claimed her life and took her from this world to the next. During this time I went home to get a change of clothes and was reaching into my sock drawer when I noticed a white envelope stuffed in the back. I curiously opened it. Inside were 3 chunks of black obsidian. I hardly remembered purchasing them, but here they were. I paused in what I was doing to examine them and was struck by their deep smoky blackness, their razor-sharp edges.
The knowledge that these smooth black shards resting so easily in my hand were once deadly blazing hot lava was a powerful realization. These rocks were once liquid fire inside of a volcano! They began as molten destructive fire energy, a disaster, an inexorable unstoppable force of nature… much like death. While in liquid form, they swarmed and devoured a mountainside, burning up and obliterating plants, animals and habitats. And after this destruction, they hardened into a beautiful but incredibly strong, sharp glass. A glass that beguiles us with its dark beauty yet can cut like a knife.I decided that since these chunks of obsidian showed themselves to me so assertively, I should meditate with them to see what exactly they were trying to tell me. Here’s what I learned.
When death comes for one we love, we too experience an unstoppable, life shaking phenomena much like a volcano. We boil over with fiery emotions like rage, sorrow and grief, sometimes burning those around us with our pain. During these hard times, our deepest personal feelings explode to the surface like lava, feelings we’ve buried from our pasts from so deep inside we maybe didn’t even know they were there. As the reality of loss crashes our perspectives and demolishes our illusions all we know seems to be burned down and destroyed. Yet afterwards we discover, much to our own astonishment, that we’re still standing. Grieving from loss, but still here.
More experienced, wiser and having seen more than ever before, we are fundamentally changed. Enduring hardship and loss brings wisdom, along with a broadened perspective, strength and inner beauty as we are forced to bear up and go on. Once time has started to heal the pain, we can apply this wisdom and experience to all areas of our lives and especially in understanding and assisting others. Once we’ve survived a huge disaster or loss, we are gifted with a more stable, realistic perspective. It gives us strength to handle the small stuff. Hardship refines us in a way that nothing else can.
Volcanic glass has been through a lot to become the enchanting and strong material it is. It can be beautiful as a jewel or deadly as a weapon. Because of what it has survived, it has unique and contrasting qualities as fascinating as its mystical black surface. As a survivor of grief, disaster and loss, we too can take the same path. The experience can give us strength and the inner beauty that comes with wisdom. Once the dust has settled in our lives, our spirit becomes tough as an arrow head and beautiful as gems. Knowledge and experience give a person the depth of a scrying mirror or a night sky. We can be of value and support to others going through similar hardships as our own, acting as protectors and guides.
After my mother’s passing, I gave each of my sisters a piece of the obsidian and kept one for myself. My obsidian shows itself to me at moments that I need a prompt to be strong, or to remind me that I should trust myself. I also find that wearing my obsidian around my neck is useful at times which require a solid, nonviolent resolve. When entering a situation where I know I will have to stand up for myself in some way, or earn the respect of others, my black obsidian reminds me that I’m strengthened by life experience and have something positive to offer, but also that I can defend myself if need be. The power of black obsidian is steady, uncompromising and dominant, and serves to remind us that we’re able to survive some of life’s harshest realities, and let those experiences make us better, with a better understanding of our own spirit and life on earth.
Black obsidian is a symbol of transformation, wisdom, experience and survival. It’s been through the worst and come out strong and amazing. If you stumble across some, perhaps it’s telling you that you can too.