Onyx and obsidian are two of the most popular black stones, and both are associated with protection and grounding in different ways, but which is best?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions from customers, and for good reason. It's easy to mix up onyx and obsidian, especially since both are often black, glossy stones, in a similar price range, often used in jewelry, and with similar properties. So, what's the difference?
What is Onyx?
Onyx is a chalcedony mineral with parallel bands of alternating colors, similar to agate. Where agate has curved bands that tend to form circles or lacy patterns, onyx's bands are parallel. It forms in layers, added on one by one over long periods of time, usually in the form of stalactites and stalagmites in caves. It can be found all over the world , including, and has been used by humans for both sculptures and its metaphysical properties for thousands of years.
Contrary to popular belief, onyx is not usually black in its natural form. Most black onyx offered on the market has been dyed black. Wondering if yours if natural? Check for bands of different colors. Natural black onyx usually has small bands of white, brown, or light grey. Dyed black onyx will be a consistent black color. Natural onyx comes in a rainbow of (usually somewhat muted) colors, such as red, brown, white, pink, orange, blue, and green, usually with many colors in the same piece. Sardonyx is a form of onyx with bands of "sard" (red), and usually includes, black, white, and sometimes yellow bands as well. "Onyx" is also sometimes used as a descriptive term for the pattern of banding or color in alabaster, marble, calcite, obsidian, and opal.
What is Obsidian?
Unlike onyx, obsidian is not actually a mineral, but instead a natural volcanic glass. It is formed when lava from a volcano with a high content of silica cools rapidly, usually after sudden contact with water or cool air. In its raw form, obsidian is hard, brittle, fractures easily, and tends to have very sharp edges. In the past, these edges were used for cutting and piercing tools, arrowheads, and even surgical blades. (In fact, it can have a cutting edge many times sharper than a steel surgical blade, so be extra careful when handling raw obsidian.)
Obsidian is usually somewhat transparent, though thicker pieces may only show this property near the thin edges of the stone. It is almost always black or a very dark brown, caused by inclusions of magnetite, an iron oxide. Some obsidians include small white clusters of cristobalite, producing a snowflake appearance (known as snowflake obsidian). When tiny gas bubbles were present in an inner layer that cooled at a different rate than the surface, this produces a sheen appearance (known as silver or gold sheen obsidian). If the magetite inclusions form in a film on an inner layer, this creates a red and yellow refraction (known as or fire obsidian). When this film is formed by hedenbergite inclusions, it forms a rainbow sheen (known as rainbow obsidian). If hematite or iron are trapped inside, this forms bright reddish brown streaks (known as mahogany obsidian).
The properties of onyx and obsidian are often mixed up or blended together, and this is understandable, as the end result after use is similar.
Onyx is known as the "warrior's stone," and is believed to bring about courage, power, and personal growth. Ancient Romans wore onyx amulets engraved with Mars, the god of war, into battle. In Renaissance Europe, midwives used sardonyx to bolster mothers during childbirth. Helping with grounding, bolstering resolve, and removing fear, onyx can help one to remove or ignore negative influences or energies.
Obsidian is sometimes called the "psychic vacuum cleaner," and is thought to cleanse your mind of negative emotions and thoughts, such as fear and anxiety. It is also thought to work as a shield to protect against any new intrusions of negativity. It may help you identify thoughts, behaviors, or habits that are causing negativity in your life, and is recommended for those who are sensitive or strongly empathic to avoid these unintended influences from others.
So, which is best?
When a client approaches and asks for a protection stone, onyx and obsidian are first in my mind, but my recommendation will depend on what is causing a need for protection.
If you're looking for shielding from an outside force of negativity, perhaps another person, such as a family member or co-worker, or from a difficult situation, interpersonal or otherwise, I will recommend onyx. Its ability to provide courage, calm, and resolve will serve best in these situations.
If you suffer from negativity from internal sources, such as fear, anxiety, bad dreams, depression, self-doubt, destructive habits, or addiction, I am likely to recommend obsidian. It will help to cleanse the mind and aura of these thoughts and feelings, and keep them at bay with consistent use.
Sometimes, the lines between internal and external influences are blurred, and one causes the other. For example, someone living with a toxic person may be drawn into and internalize the negative energy, expressing as self-deprecation or insecurities. For situations like this, a person may need both courage and to be cleansed of their own negative energy. Obsidian and onyx work very well together, and both may be more potent than one on its own.
Also keep in mind that crystals and stones will affect everyone differently. Similar to popular smells, some are commonly thought to be "good" and others "bad," but each person will have their own opinions and perspective. Experiences with crystals will be just as varied, depending on your own level of vibration, which changes all the time. You may experience onyx or obsidian differently than what's common, so take time to get to know the two and choose what's best for you based on your own observations.
The Book of Stones by Robert Simmons and Naisha Ahsian