The Secret Life of Rubies

Rubies...I'm one chapter away from Victoria Finlay's finale in Jewels: A Secret History, and I got to spend one whole delicious hour discovering a gemstone that ranks high on my mental list of romanticism. A symbol of the heart -- our source of life giving energy -- rubies set my mind racing towards clandestine love affairs, distant lands, Valentines Day, and some very famous, flashy, red shoes!

Nevertheless, once I started reading the chapter on rubies and learned Finlay's search for a story would take her to Burma (Myanmar), I couldn't stop thinking about a strange book I read this past year called Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan. It wasn't the best read and the critics seemed to have agreed, but for some reason I felt compelled to immerse myself in the unfamiliar jungle landscape of Burma (Myanmar).

One of the themes weaving its way through Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning as well as Finlay's chapter on rubies is the Burmese animist belief in nats -- guardian spirits most often associated with elements in nature such as trees, air, rocks, and mountains. Nats protect not only people but places such as a ruby mine.

One of my favorite stories about rubies in Finlay's book Jewels: A Secret History concerns her visit to Kyauk Pyathet Rock Pavilion Pagoda -- a Buddhist temple located in the gem rich area of Mogok, Burma (Myanmar). To Finlay's surprise, this sacred site is loaded with topnotch rubies, yet they aren't being mined. According to one of the Buddhist trustees of the pagoda, the British did attempt to mine this sacred site but found themselves having to leave soon afterward. It sounds like a simple tale of a failed venture, but after reading Saving Fish from Drowning the story behind the story definitely smells of a nat!

Finlay goes on to relay another story about illegal excavations at the Buddhist site that ended in the the deaths of some local miners. Rather then remove the bodies from the collapsed tunnel the officials decided to let their spirits become the guardian nats of the pagoda.

Reading this chapter on rubies in Jewels: A Secret History cemented a concept about animist spirits that I hadn't quite grasped when reading about nats in Saving Fish from Drowning -- inner peace is experienced when knowing that everything is taken care of accordingly. When you live within a belief system where the Buddha looks after the land and everything will measure out in the end exactly as planned, nothing feels like it needs to be saved from its true nature.

For more gemstone stories see my whole blog series The Secret life of Gems.


  1. You are not going to believe this, but I'm wearing rubies (and crystal quartz) right now, waiting to go out to dinner with my hubby!

  2. Very intriguing! Nats - something to think about...

  3. mmmmm....there is such a richness to rubies. I love the very soft fire that is in these gems. And I did love that chapter. I think that it would have been so fascinating to have been with Ms. Finlay on her travels. I still cannot believe that she did all of this. So brave and courageous. There is a velvety softness to rubies that belie their heat and passion. Thank you for sharing. I finished the book and might reread it since there is so much fascinating history and background there. Thank you for continuing to inspire me! Enjoy the day! Erin

  4. You're describing my favorite part, too. The description of the Rock Pavilion Pagoda sounds unbelievably beautiful and holy. The stupa with its whitewashed secret was tantalizing. Am intriqued with the idea of the mind searching for enlightenment amongst glittering gemstones (:

  5. Ohhh you lucky dog! Rubies to wear out on the town. I hope it was a fun date with your hubby, Pretty Things!

    Stregata, you'll be seeing nats all over the place now! Have fun :)

    Erin, so glad you loved this chapter too. And I'm equally as glad Ms. Finlay is the traveler instead of me. I definitely see this book as a reread to put me in the mood for seeing something new in a gemstone. What a wonderful treasure to have! Thanks for sharing the read with me, Erin.

    Catherine, I wanted to see more of that Rock Pavilion in pictures, but couldn't find it online. It sounds wonderful and I hadn't thought of this metaphor of searching for enlightenment among gems. Fantastic connection!


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