The name “pyrite” is after the Greek “pyr” meaning “fire.” This name was given because pyrite can be used to create the sparks needed for starting a fire if it is struck against metal or another hard material. Pyrite has a nickname that has become famous – “Fool’s Gold.” The name fool’s gold comes from when novice gold prospectors mistook tiny pieces of pyrite for gold when panning for it during old mining days.
Like so many ubiquitous minerals, pyrite – with its attractive gold glow – has been used in religious practices as well as ornamentation from man’s earliest days. In particular, the Incas of Peru as well as the Aztecs of southern Mexico were known to use large slabs of polished pyrite for mirrors as well as for the practice of divination.
The medicine people of many Native American peoples in North America also used pyrite for divination as well as for healing tools and in amulets. Widespread belief in pyrite’s magic power is attested to by its presence in the attire and miscellaneous objects that medicine people were known to have used.
Before the 1800’s, pyrite was highly favored as a decorative stone. Its hard nature holds sharp edges and fine shapes for many years. Rosettes, shoe buckles, rings, snuff boxes and other personal ornaments were carved from pyrite. Pyrite’s biggest use occurred during World War II. Sulfur was in demand as a strategic chemical and North American native sulfur mines were drying up.