Amethyst is a deep purple-tinted version of common quartz, caused by small impurities of iron in the crystal. It is chemically similar to the reddish-orange citrine, which can be produced when amethyst is heated and oxidized. Its crystals naturally form a hexagonal prism and pyramid. It has a mineral hardness of 7.
In early Greece, drinking from an amethyst cup was believed to protect one from inebriation -- probably because water could be substituted and still have the same purple color as real wine. In fact, the name for the gem derives from the Greek word amethustos, meaning "not drunken". Greek mythology attributes the origin of amethyst to Dionysus, who one day was angered by an insult from a mortal and swore to kill the next mortal who passed by with vicious tigers. That next mortal was a young maiden named Amethyst, on her way to pay tribute to the goddess Diana. Diana turned Amethyst into pure quartz to protect her from harm, and Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse, staining the quartz purple.
Other ancient and medieval cultures believed amethyst would neutralize poison, stop nightmares, induce serenity and sharpen the mind, encourage celibacy, assist in hunting, and protect against harm in battle. Even today it is popular among practicioners of magic to amplify spiritual energies and psychic powers. It has also been popuar among royalty because of the symbolic nature of its color.
Amethyst is most frequently found in Brazil, Uruguay, Russia, Africa, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and India. In the United States the premier location for mining amethyst is on a mountain called Four Peaks near Phoenix, Arizona. However, it can also be synthesized with little difficulty and with very little detectable difference from a natural gem.
Amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February, the state gemstone of South Carolina, and is the symbolic gemstone for the 6th wedding anniversary.