Like many gemstones, malachite possesses a number of different symbolic meanings.
Malachite’s green coloring is due to the presence of copper, and the stone itself can sometimes be found near copper mines. A principle trait of malachite is its characteristic circular “banding”. Many types of gemstones can display inclusions of lighter or darker colored material, but malachite is one of the few examples where these inclusions form a distinctive pattern, and this patterning is a significant factor in the stone’s symbolic meaning.
The use of malachite, for both ornamental and practical purposes, stretches back thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians not only carved the stone into jewelry and other objects, but also crushed it into powder to create pigment for makeup. Like most gemstones, malachite was once thought to possess important medicinal properties, and during the Middle Ages it was used as a remedy for vomiting.
On a more esoteric level, one of malachite’s most common uses was protection against evil spirits, disease, and negative influences, especially for children. This association is primarily due to the aforementioned banding; throughout the ancient world, amulets carved in the shape of eyes were said to offer protection against evil, and the circular shapes produced by malachite’s coloration- which have been compared to the “eye” markings found on the feathers of peacocks- was thought to make a protective amulet carved from malachite even more effective in this capacity. Even after Christianity became the dominant religious force in Europe, malachite never really lost this protective quality, and an early 17th century painting by the Spanish artist Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (entitled “La Infanta Maria Ana con Sonajeros”) shows a child adorned with many pieces of protective jewelry, including a malachite amulet.