odestones, also known as magnetite, magnetized hematite, tzuh shih – which means “loving stones” in Chinese, or simply natural magnets; have been a fixture in sacred arts for thousands of years.
They are one of my personal favorite talismans to work with because a single lodestone has so much to teach us about ourselves, the way desire works, and our world.
History, Science, and Spirit
Lodestones are the first magnets. They are in a very real way the talismans that have taught us throughout the ages about the magnetic and then electromagnetic fields that surround all objects. A lodestone and an iron needle most likely created the first compass, an event that would, centuries later, allow us to “discover” that the earth itself is a giant magnet.
The physical properties of these stones are pretty basic. They are geologically described as magnetite and are made up of iron and oxygen with a chemical formula of Fe3O4. Hematite is an iron oxide and sometimes in rock shops you will come across “magnetized” hematite – hematite that has been artificially magnetized by running an electric current through it and usually sold in sets that have a very satisfying “click” when they come together.
Naturally occurring lodestones are mostly made of magnetite but have many other oxides and materials in them as well. How they form is still a mystery but the best guess is lightening strikes that send an electrical current through the rocks. There are places in the world that have a greater amount of lodestones as well as places that seem to have none.
The word lodestone came into use around 1500 A.D. when these natural magnets were commonly used for navigation (the word lode is old English meaning “to lead” or “to guide”). Before they were called lodestones these rocks were simply referred to as magnets. The word magnet comes down to us from the ancient Greeks – some scholars believe the stones were found frequently in Magnesia and thus the name magnet but I prefer the folk tale of the shepherd Magnus who found that the iron nails in his sandals stuck to certain rocks when he walked the fields and so discovered magnets.
We don’t know exactly when lodestones were discovered but it is a good guess that as soon as we began smelting iron around 1200 B.C. in the Western world we started working with them because we were able to observe that lodestones could attract iron. However, the ancient Chinese have the earliest traditions of working with lodestones – a thousand years earlier than those in the West did – and they worked with them for magical purposes.
These ancient Chinese magicians carved a long ladle-like spoon out of lodestone and placed it on a bronze plate at which point the spoon would magically move of its own volition with the narrow end of the spoon finally coming to point South. Some scholars think the shape of the lodestone spoon was deliberately shaped to resemble the Big Dipper, which of course contains the North Star, Polaris (also known as the “lodestar”) an essential navigation point. Though these Chinese magicians had effectively made a compass, they understood their tool to be an effective form of geomantic divination, and considering the fact that this descendants of this tool would much later give us deeply essential information about our planet, I would say they were right on the money.
Fast forwarding through a thousand years we come to the ancient Greeks. They knew about lodestones and worked with them in scientific experiments, philosophical works, and magical ritual as well. From that point on the lodestone would become a common fixture in all fields interested in comprehending and understanding invisible forces or spirits.
Before we get into the lodestone specifically, I invite you to pause and think about magnetism. It was not until 1600 with a scientific treatise called De Magnete by William Gilbert – physician to Queen Elizabeth I – that we realized the planet earth functions as a great magnet. But long before that treatise was written, ancients were observing the power of natural magnets and discovering that “something deeply hidden had to be behind things” as Einstein said after his own childhood experiments with magnets centuries later.
I suspect that this was a less a shock for our ancestors than it is for us today, for our ancient people understood natural objects to be inspirited and animate in a number of different ways. Not only were forces and spirits often unseen by the naked eye, some of the most important forces and spirits were understood to be simply invisible – why wouldn’t they dwell in rocks, rivers, trees and plants?
Lodestones were seen as special and unique because the patterns they made in iron filings or the way that they could magnetize a needle started to show the invisible tracks of the unique spirit inhabiting them, much in the way that we can find all kinds of animal tracks on a mountainside after a fresh snowfall – even though we probably won’t see the animals themselves. Magnets and the fields they create, are one of the doorways opening up to the Otherworld and lodestones are, if you like, the doorknob.
Typically today when we consider lodestones from a magical or alchemical perspective we find pretty simple advice: magnets draw things to them so work with a lodestone to draw the things to you that you want in your life. That’s not terrible advice, but it does not really help us to see what a lodestone actually is, what unique properties it possesses, and how we might come into a real relationship with it. And a real relationship is exactly what we want because lodestones are not just loving stones but living ones too.
The understanding of a lodestone as a living being has been passed down from the ancient world into our modern age relatively intact. When working with lodestones (as opposed to “using” a lodestone which we would not do just as we would not “use” a person or an animal), we handle them with care, “feed” them with iron filings, and in some traditions will even give them the occasional “drink” of fresh spring water or whisky. We also talk to them but more on that in a bit.
Of course, magnets do draw and attract and so our sympathetic magical understanding is not incorrect – we can work with lodestones to accomplish something similar. But there is more to the story. Consider this blues song from the 1930’s:
“Way down in Charleston lives old Geechie Joe
I’m going down to Charleston to dig old Geechie Joe
Got a good ol’ Geechie urge, can’t do nothin’ else but go
Got misery, misery I can’t lose
Got misery, misery, nothing but bad news
Gotta dig old Geechie Joe to voodoo these jimson blues
I gotta get back to Charleston if I walk down those railroad tracks
Gonna rub my hand on a lodestone blue as black
If Geechie Joe can’t get it, I just ain’t ever comin’ back
Geechie Joe, comin’ home, Geechie Joe” — From the song “Geechie Joe” recorded by Cab Calloway in the 1930’s, written by Leon “Chu” Berry.
Obviously the writer and singer of the song were familiar with the magical properties of a lodestone but the choice to “rub his hand on a lodestone blue as black” is not merely one of wanting to draw something to himself (most likely good luck, given the context of the song), but it is also a protective act to ward off the misery that our poor songster is experiencing.
So, if attraction is only one of many magical qualities inherent and evoked by lodestones what are the others? Here is what I have found in my own practices and years of working with these talismans.
Sources of Inspiration and Potency ~
If you look up lodestone spells or rituals you will usually find that they work like this: you create a petition for whatever it is that you wish to draw to you, you give your lodestone a name (because remember, the lodestone is living), you either speak the petition aloud over the stone or your write it down and place it under the stone, and then you feed the stone with some iron filings.
If you got into the mechanics of this set up you would find that the understanding is that the lodestone creates a kind of bridge of magnetism between the petitioner and their desired object so that the object shows up in their life – hopefully in a timely manner.
But if we pay attention to the way a lodestone actually works we discover that one of its most compelling properties is not just that it is magnetic and can draw other materials to it, but that it can also confer its magnetic properties onto other materials, especially iron. In fact, this is one of the ways that lodestones were worked with through the centuries – sailors would take a lodestone, cap it on either end with iron which would become magnetized from by the lodestone’s field and then use the iron caps to magnetizing needles or nails for working compasses.
There is much to work with here. First of all, iron, described as the “blood of the earth” is a deeply magical substance. Iron is understood as protective and those who work with the substance (blacksmiths) are, throughout myth, legend, folklore, and modern history, considered the most magical of artisans due to their proximity with the metal.
And then there is the ability of the lodestone to “inspire” other objects with its spirit of magnetic force. In his short dialogue on poetry, The Ion, ancient Greek philosopher Plato described it this way:
“There is a divinity moving you, like that contained in the stone which Euripides calls a magnet, but which is commonly known as the stone of Heraclea. This stone not only attracts iron rings, but also imparts to them a similar power of attracting other rings; and sometimes you may see a number of pieces of iron and rings suspended from one another so as to form quite a long chain: and all of them derive their power of suspension from the original stone. In like manner the Muse first of all inspires men herself; and from these inspired persons a chain of other persons is suspended who take the inspiration.”
Here we see a much deeper understanding of one of the core magics of the lodestone. Something (magnetic force) moves within it and lends itself to other objects just as something can move within us, allowing us to inspire and in turn be inspired.
Magically speaking at the very least this means that when you work to attract something to you vis a vis a lodestone and that object comes, you would be well served by ritually understanding that this new object is now magnetized as the lodestone is and can be worked with as such.
So for instance, if I work with a lodestone to draw a rare and expensive book to me, and the rare book does arrive at a price I can afford, I can now see that book as functioning as its own kind of lodestone – it has become an inspired and inspirited object itself and I might work with it to draw other objects. Obviously this leads to a consideration of what you are trying to draw into your life – are the things you desire really inspiring? Do they help you in turn inspire others?
Going deeper into this first point, I would suggest that more than thinking of your lodestone as a kind of magnetic bridge, you can see yourself as a lodestone. This isn’t really that weird or far out. You do have an electro-magnetic field around you after all. Here are the steps I recommend for this ritual approach:
- Become aware of what you tend to attract for example do you draw bad luck or good, do you attract kind people or those who are cruel? Consider what the patterns are without judging, just observe.
- Define True North. For physical magnets this field is already determined but you are a magical magnet so you get to decide. What is your True North? Why do you do what do you? What are you really after? What really matters the most? (Those of you who are my Spinning Gold students will recognize these questions in the North Star Rite we learn). I like to phrase the understanding of one’s personal True North in this way:
“As a magnet is turned to the North, I am turned to (fill in the blank with your True North).”
- Re-orient yourself. Once you know what your True North is, bring it into your life in some concrete way. I would recommend honoring it in your daily practice.
- Call in your allies. Now you are a lodestone, pointed to your True North, and able to attract the things, opportunities, and situations you need to allow you to do whatever it is that you wish to do. You can still have a physical lodestone present – I do, but it will begin to function less as an active magnet and more as a reflective mirror.
This is the petition I use when working in this manner:
“As a magnet is turned to the North, I am turned to (fill in the blank with your True North)…And as a magnet can draw iron to it, I now call and draw upon (fill in the blank with whatever it is you would like to call to your side).”
So let’s say that you need a car in order to get to work. Spend some time with the first step and consider what your experience with cars has been up until this point in your life.
Learn from this.
For instance, if cars break as soon as you buy them and you do not know how to repair them and don’t have a lot of money to spend on repairs maybe you do not need a car at all, maybe you need a good bicycle.
Then state your True North in this situation. It might look like this:
“As a magnet is turned to the North, I am turned to the ability to continue advancing in my job and bringing in enough money to take care of my family.”
With a True North statement like that, there are many things you can do to support your focus – I would probably recommend incorporating a personal blessing into your daily practice so that you are blessed with abundance on the job site and off.
Then put it all together like so:
“As a magnet is turned to the North, I am turned to the ability to continue advancing in my job and bringing in enough money to take care of my family. And as a magnet can draw iron to it, I now call and draw upon a dependable, affordable, new vehicle that can carry me safely to that job and back home again.”
At this point if you have a physical lodestone you can sprinkle it with some magnetic sand, if you do not then take a good long drink of fresh spring water and go on with your day. When the dependable and affordable new car arrives remember magnetic transference – now it too is like a lodestone and can inspire others through its presence.
Coercive and Compelling ~
For the ancients and modern scientists alike, one of the most fascinating aspects of lodestones is that they are not only naturally occurring magnets; they are naturally occurring permanent magnets. When it comes to magnetism there are two unique qualities that we consider. The first is saturation, this basically measures how strong a magnet is, how saturated the material is with magnetism. Typically lodestones have small saturation points – they are not going to win prizes for their ability to pick up big chunks of metal.
The second quality is coercion and this is where lodestones shine because they are highly coercive magnets. A coercive magnet is very difficult to de-magnetize. The more coercive a magnet is the greater a magnetic field moving in the opposite direction must be in order to make the magnet lose its magnetism. This means that lodestones make ideal permanent or long lasting magnets.
In magical practices folks often make the mistake of thinking that their lodestone is “dead” when it no longer exerts much magnetic pull – for instance, when a lot of the iron filings fall off the rock. (Typically they will stand up straight on the stone like little bits of hair). But in reality one may have a lodestone with a pretty weak saturation point that still has a high amount of coercion and can magnetize other objects. A good way to test is to place an iron nail on your lodestone and see if the nail becomes magnetic. Likewise, those who test their lodestones by seeing how much material the lodestone can lift are missing the point, the nature of the lodestone is not one of saturation but coercion, or, as I like to think of it, lodestones are more concerned with quality over quantity.
While the technically coercive nature of lodestones is a relatively new discovery, the stones themselves have been understood to have a compelling quality for a long time and put to use in all kinds of ceremonies where one object, situation, or individual was to be compelled towards another. In my experience the coercive nature of the stone makes it ideal for accomplishing multi-layered goals.
For this process you can work with an actual physical lodestone or you can work with yourself as a lodestone as we saw above. The idea is relatively simple. You’ll take a large goal and break it down into component parts. To use our example above, let’s say that you need a new car to get safely to and from work. You could break this down like so:
Goal #1: Save up enough money to make a down payment on the car.
Goal #2: Come into contact with a legitimate and fair car dealer.
Goal #3: Have a clean credit check and a dealership willing to give you good terms.
Goal #4: Purchase the car in an easy and effortless manner.
Begin by writing your first petition for goal #1. Given the nature of our example you could even break goal #1 down into further bits and pieces – maybe you need to get a promotion in order to save up that money or perhaps someone who owes you will deliver on their debt – you see how this can go forward.
Once the first goal has been accomplished turn your attention to the next. This time when you are working on goal #2 you have the coercion of the lodestone and you have the coercion of the first accomplished goal – your iron rings are starting to connect.
Besides general attraction work, lodestones are often called on to bring lovers closer together. 11th century devoted Muslim and Islamic scholar Ibn Hazm understood this quite well:
“My eyes find nowhere else to look but at you,
Like what happens with the lodestone (and the pieces of iron)
Changing direction to right and left in accordance with where you are.” – Ibn Hazm from his love poem Ring of the Dove
Sometimes lodestones are sold in matched pairs to facilitate workings for love and romance. The stones might be gently nudged towards each other over a number of days as the would be lovers also come together, or they might be placed in a sacred vessel like a medicine bag or prayer bowl to encourage fidelity and blessing in a relationship. Both are lovely methods but again the specifically coercive nature of the lodestone is overlooked.
For instance, one could take a lodestone, dedicate it to a blessed union, take two iron nails or pins, place them on the lodestone, and then draw those pieces together allowing them to finally come to “rest” on the lodestone which is the physical equivalent of keeping a steady flow of loving energy and attraction flowing through the channel of the relationship.
Navigation Tool ~
“For what is more strange than this stone? In what field has Nature displayed a more perverse willfulness? She has given to rocks a voice, which as I have explained, echoes that of Man or rather, interrupts it as well. What is more impassive than the stiffness of stone? And yet, we see that she has endowed the magnet with both senses and hands.” – Pliny, Natural History
The nature of lodestones is one of direction and way marking; they are the stones above all that you want to have with you when you go on any kind of a pilgrimage. And yet, when people do work with them they are often left up on a shelf to collect dirt and dust and not really related to. Pliny was right to recognize that underneath the apparent stiffness and impassivity of the stone there are “senses” and “hands” both qualities that help us find our way. The only thing that is required is a slightly different relationship to the stone itself; I’d recommend that we stop looking at it as another tool and instead start seeing it as the natural talisman that it really is.
And, as is the case with all talismans, there are certain things that a talisman has a natural resonance to and others that it does not. So it is for any lodestone. If you are working with one in any capacity and not getting the results you desire consider what it is that you are after and before burying the stone or giving it away, ask if the stone is perhaps leading you in a different and more useful direction? Remember, they were the first compasses.
As a final note, lodestones are most usually worked with to gain some kind of material good. But as I have noted elsewhere, all magic has an inner and outer component. This means that you can work with your lodestone to gain a new car but you can also work with your lodestone to gain more clarity in your divinations or dreams. You can judge which will be most useful to you in the long run.
The Basics of Working with your lodestone
Keeping all of the above in mind here is how you can begin working with your lodestone.
- Get a lodestone. You can purchase them from spiritual supply shops or from geological and mining supply companies. Or you can find one! Check not so much for magnetic saturation but magnetic coerciveness.
- Ask your lodestone what it would like to be called.
- Ask your lodestone how often it would like to be fed.
- Ask your lodestone if it would like to receive a drink and if so, what kind and how often.
- Ask your lodestone if there is anything else you should know as you begin working with it.
- As you work with your lodestone remember not to declare it dead if its magnetic pull seems to weaken, check its level of coercion.
- If your lodestone does seem dead then tradition indicates burial to be the most respectful manner of disposal.
- Decide (hopefully with your lodestone) on a work rhythm. For instance, I remove all magnetic sand from my stone, wash it down with water, cense and oil it, once a month on the New Moon.
Keep learning from your lodestone and discovering new ways of working with it. Magnetism is a very old magic that we are still just starting to understand, and these little humble rocks have much to teach.
Sources for this article include:
Livingston, James D. Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets. (Cambridge: Harvard UP 1996.)