Crystal healing – pretty stones all in a row

Crystal healing is an alternative medicine technique that uses semi-precious stones and crystals as healing instruments. The crystals are placed on various parts of the body, often on chakra points, or around the body to create an energy matrix which is alleged to surround the patient with healing energy. One genius even goes as far as to claim that “all stones, crystals and gems have magnetic powers in varying degrees…”, which is patently untrue. The only mineral that exhibits strong magnetic properties is magnetite. It is possible, though, that magnetite is sometimes sold under the name of hematite, which is not magnetic, though it is an iron oxide.

Crystals have attracted humans since prehistory. This is not surprising, as naturally occurring crystals are very different from ordinary stones, and any polishing makes them even more attractive. Some varieties have been used as jewellery for at least 20,000-18,000 years as stone beads have been found in archeological excavations.

What about using crystals for healing, then? How far does it go back in history? If you read through some of the practitioners’ websites, you’ll get a load of taradiddle about Atlantis and Lemuria, ley lines and other claims that amount to a consignment of geriatric shoemakers. There is not a shred of evidence that any of these ever existed as New Agers like to portray them. The slightly more reality-based practitioners try to derive their practices from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, but there is no evidence for that either, as we shall see.

The first historical mention of gemstones used in healing comes from the Ebers Papyrus, which is dated to circa 1550 BCE. However, the “blood stone of Elephantine” – most likely hematite – is ground up and cooked in olive oil and honey with d3rt – possibly carob or colocynth – and fed to the patient instead of being placed on him as a whole piece like the modern practitioners do. In fact, nowhere in the recipes and treatment prescriptions of the Ebers Papyrus, are the gemstones used in the modern way, they are all crushed and mixed into either potions or ointments.

Gemstone amulets were commonly worn by the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians. This use, however, does not correspond to modern practices either, since they believed the disease was caused by an annoyed god. The amulets were worn to keep the god’s hand away, and not as healing stones.

The Roman writer, Pliny the elder, (23 CE – August 25, 79 CE) is the first ancient writer I have been able to find who makes a specific mention of a gemstone – amber – being worn as a cure instead of an amulet to ward off evil. Even in his other mentions of gemstones used in medicine, they are most commonly again crushed and mixed into potions and ointments.

The earliest mention of placing a crystal on a person to cure a condition comes from a 1609 book by Anselmus De Boot, Gemmarum et lapidum historia (quoted in George Kunz: The Curious Lore of Precious Stones). In it he states:

 That gems or stones, when applied to the body, exert an action upon it, is so well proven by the experience of many persons, that any one who doubts this must be called over-bold. We have proof of this power in the carnelian, the hematite, and the jasper, all of which when applied, check hemorrhage. … However, it is very necessary to observe that many virtues not possessed by gems are falsely ascribed to them. [This use of the stones is an example of sympathetic magic, since all of the mentioned stones are red in colour.]

However, the use of gems or stones in this way was rather limited. Most gemstones were still worn as amulets or talismans for protection or magical purposes or being ground up and fed to the patients.

I cannot trace modern crystal healing practices any further than late 20th century, and the first practitioner to use the modern ‘crystal layouts’ appears to have been one Katrina Raphaell, who in 1985 published her book Crystal Enlightenment. So much for the ancient origins of crystal healing.

Practitioners often place the crystals on chakra points, some claiming that this is an ancient practice. However, the oldest Indian text that can be considered a medical treatise, Atharvaveda, says nothing about either crystals or chakras. Nor are such practices mentioned in the Sushruta Samhita or Charaka Samhita, which are medical encyclopedias compiled in between 500 BCE and 500 CE, and are the foundational works of Ayurveda. Late 20th century seems to be the origin of this “ancient practice” once again.

Practitioners often claim that the alleged healing effect is due to the frequency the crystal resonates with. While it is perfectly true that some naturally occurring crystals produce piezoelectricity, not all crystals have this property. The crystals with piezoelectric qualities are berlinite, quartz, topaz and tourmaline. Any centrosymmetric crystals are not piezoelectric. Moreover, the crystals produce piezoelectricity only when mechanical stress is applied, so just plunking a piece of crystal on a person won’t do anything, even if it has piezoelectric qualities.

There is no scientific evidence that crystal healing has any real effect. In part, this is because crystal healing is so obviously pseudoscientific that not even NCCAM has bothered to do any research on it. Any effects that crystal healing may have can be attributed either to the placebo effect, or to the cognitive bias of the believers in crystal healing, who will remember only the positive results.

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