Get a lode of this!
One of the most useful items in Minecraft is the compass – an item we featured about a year ago in our Taking Inventory column. “They serve a single purpose – pointing to the world spawn point,” we wrote. “If you’re planning on wandering off into the wilderness, then it’s highly recommended to take one with you so you can actually find your way back home again.”
But compasses have a downside – they only work in the Overworld. The same mysteries of Minecraft physics that cause blocks to stay suspended in the air when you mine out the block below them also cause compasses to go haywire in the Nether and the End.
So in the most recent patch, the Nether Update, we added something new. Lodestone is a block that lets you alter the place compasses point to, and it can be used in all three dimensions, making it suddenly worth taking a compass with you again.
You’ll often find lodestone in chests in bastion remnants, but you can also make it yourself with a netherite ingot surrounded by chiseled stone bricks in a crafting grid. To make netherite, you’ll need gold and netherite scraps, which in turn are smelted from ancient debris. You’ll need a diamond pickaxe to collect ancient debris.
Once you’ve got a lodestone block, plop it down on the group, whip out your compass, and mash the “use” button. You’ll know it worked if the compass gets an enchantmenty sheen to it. If the lodestone gets broken, or is in another dimension, the compass won’t work at all.
In the real world, lodestones are another name for naturally-occurring magnets. These rare finds, made of the mineral magnetite, attract both pieces of iron and curious onlookers.
Most magnetite isn’t actually magnetic, and if you magnetise it then it doesn’t stay that way for very long. But occasionally impurities in their crystalline structure allow them to stay magnetised for much longer. This leads to the question of how they become magnetised in the first place. This is something science doesn’t have a very good answer to yet. The leading theory is that they capture the extreme magnetic fields generated when lightning strikes the ground, which is supported by the fact that lodestones are only really found near the surface of the Earth, not far underground.
However they’re formed, humans have been using lodestones since at least the 6th century BC, when Ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus wrote about them. Independently, Chinese scholars wrote about them in the 4th century BC “Book of the Devil Master Valley”, and were using them for geomancy by the 2nd century BC.
The discovery of a lodestone artefact created by the Olmec people of what is now Mexico suggests they may have been using them for more than a thousand years prior to that too, but history doesn’t record what they were used for – perhaps to orient their temples, dwellings or tombs.
So next time you set off on a journey through the Nether, do yourself a favour and set a compass on a lodestone next to your portal so you can find your way home again. You’ll be glad you did.