Reclaiming the Operculum
On the last new moon I went to a gem and mineral show that I try to catch every year if I can. I was unwell for most of Labor Day weekend and was very glad to make it to the last day of the show, and appreciated that that fell on the new moon which felt like an ideal time to find some new and hopefully particularly meaningful natural treasures. I wasn’t disappointed.
For a long time now I’ve been wanting something called a cat’s eye operculum and I happened upon several that I liked at the show, noting that they were much more abundant than I had noticed at shows of previous years but also that they featured the flat backside instead of the dark, round side I was accustomed to seeing. I bought three different jewelry pieces made with opercula. I was somewhat amused when I bought the first one, a pendant, from a beaded, braided and bedazzled vendor who was confused when I asked her the price of “this cat’s eye operculum”. She said “A what? Oh that’s a Shiva stone!” Apparently she somehow didn’t know that, biologically, it was called an operculum and that “cat’s eye” was its original common name. “You learn something new every day!” she said.
She obviously also didn’t know, like most, that this operculum actually, traditionally and historically, has nothing to do with the Hindu god Shiva. It has only very recently been referred to as such in an obvious marketing ploy by the commercialized, capitalist “New Age” sect which has long since proven to have an unfortunate knack for venturing into snake oil territory, if you will, or simply making certain spiritual and historical connections and claims that are just not there.
An operculum, meaning “little lid”, is the lovely little trap door created by several species of both marine and land gastropods, which is attached to the mollusk’s foot and covers the aperture that most other species leave open. The particularly beautiful one specifically referred to as “cat’s eye operculum” (due to the outer side resembling a cat’s eye with a wide open pupil) comes from the turban gastropod Turbo petholatus, also known as a tapestry turban or cat’s eye turban.
Several websites, mostly and unsurprisingly those selling these objects and the poorly written and profusely misspelled blogs that parrot them, now call this “Shiva’s eye”, a “Shiva stone” or “Shiva shell” and declare it was so named because of a resemblance to Shiva’s third eye and claim all sorts of related uses and energies for it, but not a single one of them offers any resource, context, background, details, history or citation whatsoever. In fact, the Wikipedia page on the operculum even states that a citation is needed for the claim that these are referred to as a “Shiva stone”.
That’s because this is a brand-new western name and idea appropriating a Hindu name and idea in order to make sales, ultimately. This practice is unfortunately pervasive throughout (for want of an easier umbrella term) the “New Age” world and popular modern paganism. Too many people swallow these pretty ideas and marketing gimmicks hook, line and sinker and take for granted that they are any kind of true or traditional.
Cat’s eyes do have their interesting uses, energies and history though. In the Victorian era, these opercula were very popular as cabochons for jewelry and were believed to ward off the “evil eye”, a concept known and believed in by almost half the world’s cultures, at least. The evil eye is a curse cast by a malevolent glare, unbeknownst to the recipient. Some of the most common charms to ward it off have been in the shape of an eye. The eye-resembling operculum was logically oriented and used in jewelry settings in the same way it was in the shell – with the dark, glossy, convex side, the watchful eye, facing out.
Now people set and wear it backwards (there’s a telling analogy for you), with the flat, spiraled side facing out. The white side with the spiral is pretty, but this negates the idea of wearing it as a protective talisman against the evil eye in the same way that the mollusk used it as a physical protector. That seems to me rather like putting the moat inside the castle.
Someone in recent years, probably to simply sell more since more people these days probably find the spiral side more attractive than the dark, rounded side (I personally do not), decided to flip it over and equate it with the “Third Eye” instead, a religious/spiritual concept most usually linked to Hindu, and furthermore with the now popular and highly marketable Shiva, who had a particularly powerful third eye.
Ever since the late 19th century, thanks to globetrotting theosophists like Charles Leadbeater and Helena Blavatsky, Hindu and other far eastern philosophies and spirituality have become exceedingly popular (and exceedingly misrepresented) in the west among certain “new agers” and “hippie types”, etc. That particular popularity has been, as we see with the so-called “Shiva stone”, exploited and cashed in on ever since.
Many liberties with interpretation, application and even original content have been taken by westerners who cherry-pick and reinvent certain aspects of popular alternative religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. For example, the rainbow color system of the chakras is not at all traditional but was invented in the 1970s by British new age author Christopher Hills, but it is now widely accepted and understood in mainstream western culture and new age spirituality as an original part of that system.
Such beliefs have simply become trendy, and I see this as a massive folly which usually leads to and encourages problems like spreading misinformation, toxic positivity, spiritual bypassing, cultural and spiritual appropriation and (more importantly and problematically) misappropriation, not to mention muddled, phony energies and intentions, showy affectations, and simple ignorance which stunts one’s spiritual growth rather than assist it.
So, if you want to use a cat’s eye operculum (at least for anything other than pure aesthetic, as you may well prefer the look of the spiral side) I recommend doing so in the Victorian configuration, which I was disappointed not to find at the gem show. I think these days it is particularly appropriate to reclaim and use the operculum as protection not only against the evil eye, but against falsehood, misinformation, pseudo-spirituality and general bullshit, particularly that which exists only to make sales. This is the energy and message that I personally now attach to the dark, lovely, ever watchful and protective cat’s eye operculum.
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