Realgar is an arsenic monosulfide mineral. The gem’s name comes from the Arabic word “powder of the mine”. It is also known as ruby sulphur, red arsenic or ruby of arsenic. Realgar resembles cinnabar.
In nature the transparent brittle mineral with metallic luster mainly occurs as granular masses, streaks and specks, very seldom forming prismatic crystals. Minor realgar streaks are found in the lead, silver and gold mines. The stone is toxic. There are red, orange and crimson specimens. When exposed to sunlight, the mineral disintegrates to yellow powder.
Realgar is a widespread mineral. Its deposits are found in the USA, Greece, Japan, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. In Russia the mineral is mined on Elbrus in the Transcaucasia. It is sometimes found in nomadic burials in the South of Russia.
In ancient times realgar was used as a dye. In Plinius‘s writings the gem was mentioned under the name of “sandarac”. Nowadays realgar is used as an orange pigment in tempera. Alchemists believed that realgar helped to turn copper into gold. Realgar is used for the production of arsenic metal which is used in lead shot fabrication and for copper smelting. The mineral is also used in the production of sparklers.
Collectors are fond of realgar. Beautiful crystals that can reach 10 cm long are brought from China. Jewelers do not use the gem because of its brittleness and instability. There is an interesting way of making figurines and amulets of realgar in the East. The mineral melts easily. By adding sand and soda to the molten mass you get plastic mixture that can be used for shaping different goods.
The gem’s mystic properties helped lunatic women to get rid of nightmares. It was used as an amulet to protect its owners from danger and harm. It also possessed a rejuvenating effect. There is no information about realgar’s connection with the Zodiac signs.
Traditionally all the peoples used to believe in the healing properties of poisons. In the Renaissance Paracelsus, a Swiss German physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist, was an advocate of arsenic. In India arsenic was used to treat skin diseases, in China it was used to cure intermitting fever. Arsenic is widely used in homeopathy. In Southeast Asia sweets are still decorated with paint made of realgar.