Though scientists argued about the origin of amber for years, ordinary people were sure it was all about magic. There are quite a few legends that tell us interesting stories about how amber could appear. I will share some of them with you.
Amber: the legend
Legend about Phaeton
We can read about Phaeton's life and death in Ovid's Metamorphosis. Here is a brief story. Phaeton was the son of Helios, the god of Sun. Once he asked Helios to let him ride his chariot for a day. His father tried to persuade Phaeton that it was a bad idea, but Phaeton wouldn't listen. Helios warned him that the chariot first goes up to the Sun and rides so high in the sky that even he gets scared when he looks down at the Earth from the chariot. And when the chariot goes down it travels so fast that without an experienced person driving it the chariot could fall down and break to pieces.
But Phaeton wouldn't listen to his father's advice. Finally Helios let him climb the chariot and watched him speeding away. At first everything went great, but soon Phaeton noticed that the chariot was going off-course. He tried to control it, but he was too weak and inexperienced to do anything. So at first the chariot went too high and then the horses raced towards the earth. The earth couldn't handle the chariot being so close to it. Large parts of the earth burned out and that's how deserts appeared. The gods knew that they had to stop Phaeton from destroying everything, so Zeus finally struck the boy out of the chariot with a thunderbolt. The burning body of Phaeton fell into the waters of the river Eridanos. The chariot broke to pieces.
Phaeton's sisters, the Heliades, gathered on the banks of the river and mourned for their brother for days. Finally they turned to poplar trees and their tears transformed into amber. That's why there are so many pieces of amber that have a shape of a tear drop.
Jurate and Kastytis (Lithuanian legend)
The legend actually comes from Lithuania. It says that Perkunas, God of Thunder, had a beautiful daughter Jurate. Jurate lived deep in the Baltic Sea, in a wonderful palace made of amber.
At that time there lived a fisherman whose name was Kastytis. He really liked that part of the sea where Jurate's kingdom was. So he came there to cast his nets. Though Jurate sent some of her servants to tell Kastytis that he couldn't fish in her kingdom he persisted and caught a great number of fish. Jurate got angry, so she decided to talk to him in person and tell him that it was forbidden to fish in her waters.
But at the moment when she appeared before Kastytis they both fell in love with each other. Jurate even brought to her amber palace. And they lived happily… until Jurate's father, Perkunas, found out about their love. He got furious because Jurate was betrothed to Patrimpas, God of Water. It was a big disgrace, so angry Perkunas sent a bolt of lightning which killed Jurate's lover and destroyed the palace. Jurate was chained inside of the ruins forever.
According to this legend, the storms of the Baltic Sea sometimes carry out little fragments of what once was a beautiful palace where Jurate lived. Many of the amber pieces also resemble the shape of tears, so people say that when Jurate cries for her lost love her tears also turn into amber. And these pieces are the most precious of all.
There's even a fountain in Palanga, Lithuania, with a statue of Jurate and Kastytis.
Gauya and Koso (Latvian legend)
Deep in the forest, there lived a wonderful bird called Gauya. It had a unique amber necklace in its nest. When you looked closely at the necklace you could see 70 wonders of the world there. Looking at one side of the necklace you could see beautiful cities, different countries and people in various parts of the world, while the other side revealed the beauties of the sea, forests, rivers and mountains.
The king of Tuscany heard about this wonderful necklace. He obviously was a greedy person and he wanted that necklace no matter what. He called a hunter named Koso. He gave him the order to steal the necklace. The hunter managed to steal it, but on the way back Gauya caught him, took him up in the sky with the necklace and then threw him into the sea. Since then nobody saw the necklace again. They say that the necklace thrust the roots in the ground and turned into a tree. And that tree is always crying, missing Gauya. And each drop of tears turns into a piece of amber.
Pieces of the sun (the Baltic legend)
Long ago, there were two suns. One of them was very huge and heavy. It was too heavy for the sky to hold it, so finally it fell down and sank into the sea. While it was falling down it became colder and colder until it solidified. When it reached the bottom of the sky it broke into lots of tiny pieces. And since that time the waves sometimes carry small or big pieces of amber out to the shores…