Iolite History & Mythology: The Viking Compass

Iolite is a gemstone used throughout the ages by shamans and seafarers alike for visions and voyages. Iolite’s properties, both physical and metaphysical have made it a sought-after piece to wear as jewelry and to act as a guide for humankind.

Raw Iolite
Iolite has been known as multiple different names such as Cordierite, named after French geologist Louis Cordier, a founder of the French Geological Society. Iolite has also been called Dichroite, due to a property known as 'pleochroism', whereby the color changes depending on how the gemstone is viewed. Usually appearing as a blue/violet color, the name iolite, is derived from the Greek 'ios', meaning "violet".

The Viking Compass

According to legend, the seafaring Scandinavians today known to us as 'Vikings' used iolite as a navigational aid. Using it as a polarization filter, the sailors were able to determine the exact location of the sun, providing them guidance as they traversed the Atlantic Ocean to discover The New World. This is where the term 'The Viking Compass' originated from!

Leif Eriksson and his crew were purportedly the first European voyagers who set foot in North America. Having been blown off course en route to Greenland to Christianize the locals, the Saga of Erik The Red records that Eriksson made contact with the 'Red Indians' (distinct from the Inuit people).

This trading hub became a settlement, which the Icelandic Sagas refer to as 'Vinland' (Wine-land) due to the grapes growing there. Initially disregarded as mere mythology, some now believe that settlement at Vinland corresponds with an archaeological discovery in Newfoundland, Canada called L'Anse aux Meadows. Could it be that Leif and his men managed to not only survive the treacherous ocean, but also made settlements on the land they discovered, with tiny pieces of Iolite serving as their GPS?
Iolite Pendant
In ceremony and rituals, shamans would use little pieces of iolite to help them have visions and communicate with the spiritual realms. Iolite is said to increase one’s ability to communicate clearly and get your message out into the world correctly. Shamanic ceremonies would vary from culture to culture, but the usage of iolite did not, serving as a 'looking glass' for this world and beyond.

If you'd like to get your own unique piece of iolite jewelry, check out our made to order section here.