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...rediscovering an ancient window on the sky...

By John Townley, November 2012

Back in the 1980s when I was developing maritime music and culture programs and exhibits for The Mariners' Museum, my mentor, sometime performing partner, family friend, and ancient mariner Stan Hugill told me about a special stone that the Vikings used to guide their ships before the compass came to Europe from China. By looking through it, they could tell where the Sun was, even behind a cloud bank or below the horizon, and they used it to navigate their course to Iceland, Greenland, and ultimately America (Vinland, as they called it). It was widely thought to be a seaman’s myth, but Stan claimed he had actually seen one, embedded in the capstone of the entrance to the seaman’s church in his town of Aberdovey, Wales. It seemed a wonderful story, and that was about all, at the time, nothing possible to pursue. We were both too busy touring, recording, and taking advantage of the momentary revival of sea songs on both sides of the Atlantic, of which Stan was the acclaimed doyen, being compiler of the most definitive collections of traditional maritime music and the last real shantyman to have actually sung aboard working sail in the 1920s..

But for the sailor, the sea and its lore never dies, and though Stan passed in 1992 and later the shanty revival did, too, the fascination with the life at sea and its mysteries remained. And, over the years, I had also become increasingly interested in talismans and symbolic pendants – a topic familiar to many fellow astrologers and followers of the generally ineffable. So in that double vein, wife Susan and I were shopping with a friend in November of last year, and as we poked around a local jewelry store looking for something new, it occurred to me that the ultimate sailor’s talisman/pendant would be a legendary Viking Sun stone! Of course, why not? Why hadn’t I thought of it before, and why was I thinking of it now? And, of course, where would I find one?

Vikings found the Sun behind clouds by matching double images from crystal (l.), researchers created a modern version (r.)

A quick Google search uncovered the answers. It turned out that only the week before two French researchers had published a paper of their research that revealed the Viking Sun stone (actually, a crystal of transparent Iceland spar, or optical calcite), was probably used exactly as the “myth” (which included actual Norse manuscripts) depicted, and they had experiments and archaeological evidence to back it up. I guess I must have picked it up from the atmosphere. So my next Google was to find a Sun stone pendant for myself, a perfect talisman for the astrological mariner. Surely there were some out there somewhere to be had.

But really, there weren’t. After exhaustive searching, I found only two – one a rather unattractive, squarish thing, unprepossessingly wrapped in a silver coil, and the other a tiny diamond-shaped charmer, artistically wrapped in brass, so I ordered the latter from the pendant-maker on eBay. It shone like a star, especially worn on a black turtleneck, and, more important, it seemed to have palpable (if only symbolic) compass power. It made me feel like I knew where I was going (even if, perhaps, I didn’t), spearheaded by this miniature headlight leading me on, hovering in front of my heart chakra.

Only one, tiny pendant could be found (far l.) so more have been prepared to fill the gap, supply an eager audience.
Want one? You can buy them here...

I won’t go into that part too much further, not being one to hype the spiritual power of precious stones (although, I admit, Kunz’s 1913 Curious Lore of Precious Stones is the only book I borrowed from the library as a teenager that somehow never made it back), but suffice to say that I was, and am, really impressed by how it feels to wear this legendary rock.

And, since this marvelous talisman for guidance was simply not available, I reckoned it was up to me to correct the situation. After six months of seeking out raw stones (now more available than in Viking times) and learning to neatly fracture the ungainly larger specimens into sharp-edged, wearing-size, rhombus-shaped crystals – and then devising a brass-wire wrap that would safely enclose and display them – it was off to the races. The “races” were a series of lectures in Houston, at the height of the 100+ degree burning summer heat, where to my delighted surprise, everyone wanted one. By the last lecture, the audience featured a flock of “sisters of the Sun stone” who were feeling rather the same way about it I was – totally entranced. And when not actually being worn, these newly-acquired stones quickly found their way to use as divining pendulums, a logical next development.

So here they are, in varying sizes and proportions of the always-rhombus shaped, diamond-like crystal. The angles are always 103 degrees (a biseptile) and 77 degrees (half a triseptile), making the astrological symbolism one of the number seven, universalism, the big picture, the whole enchilada. Perhaps, with my Sun-Moon exactly biseptile, that’s part of their special appeal to me, or perhaps because of the symbolism itself, it’s just universal.


Haidinger's Brush: Polarized light falling on  sectors of the eye (l) activates pigment images that point toward its source 

How does it actually work, as a compass? Both physically, as a unique depolarizer of light, and biologically, as it trips an ocular after-image which makes its guidance doubly accurate. When looking through the Sun stone, the wire wrapping (or any object on the other side) has a double image, a unique quality of this light-splitting crystal. Move it around, and when the two images are of equal intensity, it is pointing toward the Sun.  And an inner “Haidinger’s Brush” eye image (which may take some work to locate, see the link) then makes it even more exact.

As for more magical, precious stone lore, Icelandic spar is replete with its own set of properties. These particularly include, not surprisingly, focus and clarity of thinking, grounding and centering – good for students and those on any learning path. It is also considered excellent for distance healing and for absorbing surrounding hostility and discord, hence a stone that enhances reconciliation and peace. It is said to cleanse and realign the chakras, and particular shades of it may especially favor one or another of these centers. At a higher level, this is very like what the Vikings used it for: clarifying your status and finding your way.

Anyhow, what was once a Norse legend and a mariner’s myth is now a tangible talisman you can hold in your hand, and let it guide you as it did the Vikings, as it catch the light and its glint flashes with the hidden inner and outer sunlight.  Regardless of how you view the purported power of precious stones, it is a constant personal reminder and historical inspiration: if the Vikings could make it all the way to America with only this to aid their native seamanship, then you can certainly navigate your own path in this day and age, wherever it leads.

[If you'd like a stone of your own, for the moment we are making available a limited selection I have personally hand-wrapped, with adjustable neck cords here. It's a labor of love, so it won't last forever...!]

Informative links about the history of and ongoing research into the Viking Sunstone:

Discovery magazine article                                 Haidinger’s Brush ocular phenomenon 

Science magazine wrap                                        Film on how to match the image 

NASA film on Viking navigation                            Wired magazine article 

Good explanation of the crystal’s properties       Secrets of the Viking Navigators, article and book

                                              Get Your Own Viking Sun Stone Pendant

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