Theophrastus (372 BC- 288 BC), a Greek naturalist, mentions the use of cinnabar as early as the 6th century BC. But early Chinese objects show traces as far back as the second millenium BC. The Romans mined cinnabar ores for mercury near the Gulf of Trieste and in Almaden, Spain (home of the largest mercury mine in the world). Several of these mercury mines are still in use today, 2500 years later.
The Chinese realized the problems of mercury poisoning early on and, during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), developed a technique that mimicked the carving of real cinnabar called “tsuishu”. The core of many pieces of jewelry was made of wood, then usually 100 to 300 layers of lacquer were applied. Each layers was allowed to dry for one day and then lightly polished. A motif was then carved into the piece. This was better than carving genuine cinnabar, but, unfortunately, to get the prized red color, the lacquer often had powdered mercuric sulfide added to it.
Source: CInnabar, its brutal history and transformation
The symbolism of cinnabar or dragon’s blood
Cinnabar was recognized as a mystical powder because it is produced from volcanic and/or hot springs activity. The heat that results in the creation of cinnabar comes from the very heart (centre) of the earth. Its red colour depicts both the heart (blood) and burning embers of a fire. As a result, it has the ability to both foster positivity and cause destruction. The ‘magic’ of cinnabar is that it opens doors of opportunity for the future while putting negative experiences of the past to rest.
The History of ‘Dragon’s Blood’
According to the website, minerals-n-more.com, the word ‘cinnabar’ comes from the Persian word for ‘dragon’s blood.’ What we know today as a powerful powder has been mined since the days of the Roman Empire and it is still ‘harvested’ and used for both practical and metaphysical purposes. However, since the presence of mercury … and its related dangers to human health were discovered a few decades ago … much more care is taken when mining cinnabar than in the past.
In both Mesoamerica and South America, cinnabar was an important trade item. The Mayan may have considered cinnabar to be sacred because of its red color. Red was considered to be the color of the east, and may also have symbolized blood as well as life, though there is no solid evidence for this. The ancient Maya used cinnabar in their jewelry, set into incised decorations, as a paint pigment and as part of certain rituals such as funeral rituals and rituals involving fire. For rituals involving fire, Mayan priests would burn cinnabar to release the mercury.