March’s Mineral: Cinnabar [HgS]

Posted by : Emily | On : March 8, 2014


Specimen purchased from ‘The Russian Stone Mineral Gallery’ at PDAC 2014. Photo taken by Emily Halle.

This soft, highly refractive, bright scarlet to brick-red mineral has been mined since the Neolithic Age for use as a pigment (vermillion) and for the ore of mercury. Because of its mercury content (86.2%), Cinnabar can be highly toxic to humans, historically causing shaking, loss of sense, and death to those working with it. Notably, artisans in the early 19th century used mercury for shaping felt hats and were often considered ‘mad’ due to the related development of tremors and mood swings – alluding to the possible origin of the infamous saying “as mad as a hatter”.

Despite its potentially toxic qualities, mercury sulphide has been used for decorative art over millennia, including that in ancient South and Central American cultures as well as in Chinese carved lacquer-wear originating in the Song dynasty. More recently, Cinnabar has been used to recover placer gold, as dental amalgams, and has also been added to candy as a colourant. Today, Cinnabar is used in the making of fluorescent lights, electrical controls, and instruments. It is also still used as an antiseptic and fungicide, as well as in many traditional medicines. Cinnabar is relatively insoluble and stable, and is therefore considered non-toxic in short-term, therapeutic doses – provided that mercury vapour is not allowed to escape through heating it in air.

Cinnabar is generally massive and earthy although it can be found in extraordinary, transparent crystal form displaying perfect cleavage in three directions. It typically occurs as epithermal vein infill, associated with recent volcanic activity and alkaline hot springs. Quicksilver (liquid mercury) is produced when crushed cinnabar ore is roasted in rotary furnaces, allowing the mercury to separate from the sulphur and condense into a liquid metal.

Metaphysically, mercury is said to have a positive effect on the blood and immune system. It can also stimulate psychic abilities and enhance perception as well as assist in releasing buried resentment. Cinnabar works with the lower chakras, and helps in the grounding of energies. The mineral is considered beneficial to business owners and creative types who can use it to actualize dreams and create prosperity.