Magatama are comma-shaped beads, or jewels, in a shape like that of one-half of a “Yin and Yang” symbol (though not necessarily related to it). This jewel has quite the history behind it, the origin is a bit of a mystery, but similar designs can be found in Japan on pieces of ancient Jomon artwork. Some of the Jomon artwork dates to 1000 BCE, potentially making the Magatama design nearly three thousand years old!
[In Picture from left to right: Tiger-eye, Man-made Obsidian, Sodalite, Marble, Hematite, & Onyx]
Originally made from simple stone or clay, they had more of an inconsistent shape then the examples shown here. The original shapes have led to some Archaeologists to surmise that the ancient creators of Magatama may have been emulating the shape of a fang or tooth in the design (often seen as a symbol of strength). Although, it has also been suggested that it may have been modeled after the shape of a fetus (a symbol of fertility), or the soul itself which is often portrayed as a sort of flame spiraling in on itself. Eventually the shape was adjusted, and they were made from additionally materials such as crystals, gemstones, or even precious stones.
Over time the Magatama was adopted further into Japanese Lore and Legends, where it became one of the “Three Sacred Treasures of Japan” and a representation of virtues attached to them. These treasures were a Sword representing Valor, a Mirror representing Wisdom, and the Magatama (or jewel) representing Benevolence. Because of this, the Magatama has been intertwined closely with Japanese spiritual and religious belief. So, it’s no surprise that you can often find Magatama for sale in shops in and around temples such as those in Nara or Asakusa. But, it’s also possible to find them in stores with jewelry or rocks & mineral shops (which is where those shown in the photo were primarily purchased).
While the Magatama may be an old design, it is far from forgotten. In present day the design can be found in many more places including modern art, film, and anime. So, keep an eye out and you may spot one of these sacred treasures, and if you find yourself at a Japanese temple, perhaps you’ll bring a sacred treasure of your own home with you.
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