Popular Delusions X: Crystal Power

To mark the tenth installment of Popular Delusions, I’m turning my attention to one of the most common and enduring superstitions among the New Age set: the belief that naturally occurring crystals have some sort of special power to store, concentrate, or focus vaguely defined “energies”.

A web search readily brings up hundreds of sites discussing the magical potencies of various crystals, most of which have to do with their supposed healing powers. Here’s an entirely typical example:

Bloodstones are believed to have mystical and magickal powers, thought to be able to control the weather and have the ability to banish evil and negativity and to direct spiritual energy. It heightens the intuition and stimulates dreaming. It is a powerful revitalizer of your body and your mind. Bloodstone calms the mind, dispels confusion and aids in the decision making process. As the name suggests, they are very good at cleansing the blood and are known to be a powerful healer. It is used for an energy cleanser and immune stimulator for acute infections. It aids the circulation and reduces the formation of pus, neutralizing over acidification. It cleanses the lower chakras and realigns their energies.

All that in one stone! Others even discuss the supposed side effects or dangers of improper crystal use:

If a woman is trying to get pregnant or is in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, she should avoid any direct contact with Green Tourmaline…. Manipulating a woman’s male energies by wearing Green Tourmaline could upset her endocrine system and could compromise the pregnancy or possibly harm the fetus.

Who knew ordinary crystals could be so dangerous? If this was true, one would think the many sites that sell green tourmaline should come with warnings. They might be exposing themselves to serious legal liability by selling those stones to just anyone! (I have to admit, I would just love to see that lawsuit…)

On the other hand, other crystal-boosting sites seem to shrug off these dangers. For example:

RULE NO. 1 – There are no rules for use of crystals or minerals in healing.

Now how could this be? If crystals do anything at all, there must be correct and incorrect ways to use them. If all methods of using crystals work equally well, the only possible explanation for this is that crystals are completely useless.

As with the green tourmaline example, one of the most ironic things is that different crystal-hawking sites often disagree about what the crystals they sell are supposed to do. One site says, “Fluorite’s ordered crystalline structure brings stability and order into the wearer’s life.” But a different site advertising purple fluorite explains that it is for “Change. Helps one get out of ruts.”

And how exactly do crystals work their magic? Do they have their own power? Apparently not:

There are a lot of people who think that crystals have power. They don’t… Crystals are only tools which extend the power of intent of the healer and a medium.

On the other hand:

…we have proof that all crystals have power. The Power of love, from deep in the earth.

This flood of conflicting claims presents the sincere believer with a variety of serious dilemmas. Is there a right way or a wrong way to use crystal power? Which crystals are most effective for a given aim? Can crystals be dangerous? Is it possible that some crystals are dangerous in ways not yet recognized? Plainly, all of these are important questions, especially the last two. But how is the crystal enthusiast to go about answering them? There are a multitude of conflicting answers. What answer should we believe, and why?

As with all cases of religious confusion, these conflicting claims have come about because there is no evidence whatsoever that crystals have any supernatural or magical abilities. As one pseudoscience site puts it:

…no instruments can pick up these vibrations or record any difference in energy around a crystal as crystals are things of Mother Earth not of man.

But if this alleged energy can’t be measured or recorded, then how does anyone know it exists in the first place? What is the basis for all these grandiose and fanciful claims about the ailments and maladies that specific types of crystals can solve? The above mentioned site calls it a “hard and fast intuitive fact”, which is just another way of saying that all of this is made up. Crystal use can be rescued from danger and chaos, but only by consigning it to irrelevance.

As often happens, New Age misunderstandings are built on a kernel of genuine scientific fact. Some crystals, such as quartz, display a useful property called the piezoelectric effect: they generate an electric voltage when stretched or compressed. This property has led to their use in a wide variety of industrial applications, including sensors that measure pressure, vibration and frequency. They’re also used to build miniaturized motors, record player needles, radio transmitters and receivers, and even loudspeakers. The piezoelectric effect is a well-understood and precisely measurable phenomenon, however, and has nothing to do with meaningless handwaving about healing powers, chakra points or positive energies.

There’s no doubt that crystals are an elegant example of the beauty that arises from the laws of physics. Fantastic formations like those of New Mexico’s Lechuguilla Cave prove the point. But we don’t need to believe crystals have any kind of magical power to appreciate their beauty. Such superstitions cheapen and undermine what there is of genuine wonder in the world. We need no supernatural add-ons to place between us and nature.

Other posts in this series:

Weekend Coffee: CRISPR
Book Review: 1491
Blood Moon Lunacy, or the Virtue of Vagueness
The White Man Non-Culpability Squad
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.