Abalone are small critters in the same snail family as oysters. Scientists believe that there are nearly 130 species of abalone, but because our oceans are so vast and diverse, it is difficult to know just how many types actually exist. They are fragile that resemble other mollusk families. Their flesh is widely considered desirable, so they can be consumed raw or cooked. Abalone have several spindly arms which help them scuttle along the ocean floor and away from predators. Some common names for abalone are ear shells, sea ears, or mutton shells. 

These beads are made from the inner layer of the snail’s shells, the nacre, which is a calcium-based material built up like tiles to create strong tiers. The shells are exceptionally strong and are made of microscopic calcium carbonate tiles stacked like bricks. Their shells are flat in comparison to oysters and other mollusks, and are equipped with respiratory holes that allow their arms to drag themselves around. 

The colors of abalone range from blues and greens to soft pink and white. While most pearls that are white bleached to get their color, the blue-green color of our abalone is untreated and occurs naturally. There is no added process to enhance the iridescent appearance of these shells, either-- they really are this shiny. If you’re a seashell collector, odds are you have stumbled across these shells because they simply are so numerous! 

Abalone is considered to be some of the most iridescent nacreous shells, which may explain why they were even used as currency in come cultures.  Abalone has meaning associated with solace, a connection to the ocean, the cycle of life, protection and ancient travel. Abalone jewelry, masks and decorative bowls have been used by many ancient cultures, and are thought to have meaning associated with solace and connection with the ocean. 

In some Native American cultures, the abalone shell has been used as a smudge bowl to burn sage in. They can hold the belief that the abalone and sage together will carry their messages up to the heavens as well. In the Apache culture, abalone is used in the Sunrise Ceremony, a ritual that marks a girl’s passage into womanhood. According to Apache myth, The Sunrise Ceremony celebrates the White Painted Woman who survived the great flood in an abalone shell, and came to land to be impregnated by the Sun and the Rain. The son born from her communion with rain creates water, while the son born from her communion with Sun is the Killer of Enemies who defeats the White Painted Woman’s enemies. Victorious, she bestows a puberty rite upon all Apache women. This is why the journey into puberty honors the White Painted Woman in the abalone disc worn on the forehead of Apache girls as they perform the ritual. 

While these beliefs are not held by all indigenous cultures to the world, it is not uncommon for seashells (or simply just the sea) to hold feminine connotations. Delicate beads made from pearls and abalone shells have often adorned jewelry and buttons worn by women, as they have been a cheaper alternative to precious stones or metals. 

The belief that abalone has healing properties today are very similar to the ancient beliefs of the shell. Abalone carries healing energies that promote emotional balance. It may bring a natural shield with it that blesses the person holding it. Through it’s soothing energy, it provides a layer of protection that perks up the spirit with the confidence necessary to view situations from a new, understanding perspective. If you think of abalone as representative of water, like many cultures do, it is the water that will tame the flames of one’s emotional strife.


Sharon Redgrave

Date 1/27/2020

Super interesting piece! I've love abalone ever since being a small girl on the beach in Santa Barbara. I still have the shells 60+ years later. These are on my "must buy" list! Thanks!

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