Can crystals heal you? The belief in the power of healing stones is practically as old as time.

Whether encased in water bottles, strung on chains, or displayed on tables, interest in crystals and their healing potential continues to grow in the world of alternative medicine. Depending on how you use them, believers say the colorful bursts from mineral deposits can radically change your life. Amethyst, for example, is believed to eliminate addiction and enhance intuition. Clear Quartz, on the other hand, is believed to boost self-love and boost immunity.

But these are great powers attributed to rocks. If that’s not enough of a warning sign, there’s also a curious lack of negative side effects whenever proponents discuss crystal use, says Christopher French, a psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London. These are red flags that hint at what many people may already know: there is no scientific evidence that crystals can accomplish any of these claims. But since quartz sales explode during the pandemicit may be worth unpacking their healing appeal.

Back to the “Stone Age”

Even in the ancient and medieval periods, people attributed certain crystals with special powers. Some could protect people from thunderstorms or ward off the evil eye, according to archival texts that Stanford University medievalist Marisa Galvez has combed through. As someone who tried to untangle the various meanings that older civilizations placed on crystals, Galvez gets a lot of calls from people today who are interested in the healing powers of crystals. “They are often surprised that there are these bodies of knowledge and studies that go back to antiquity,” she says.

From the way ancient writers describe crystals, it’s clear that much of what people thought the material could accomplish was based on how the stones looked. Reflective surfaces shimmer like water and is the visual ambiguity liquid or solid? — seemed transformative, Galvez says. The texts could even describe crystals grouped around a religious relic, which would seem to shine in a haze of luminous reflections and take on a halo worthy of the spiritual value of the object.

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Today, crystal enthusiasts tend to place more authority on the physical aspects of stones, such as the temperature difference someone can detect by holding one, or the the “vibration” crystals emit. But the attraction people have for crystals tends to transcend time periods, says Galvez.

The versions people seek out for healing or spiritual purposes are usually rougher around the edges – nothing like a cut diamond or the particles of computer screens, both of which are also sorts of “crystals” in the sense scientific of the term, stresses Galvez. . Something raw and unpolished highlights its origin under our feet and carries an otherworldly beauty. Whether a medieval person was looking for a closer connection with God or someone today is looking for another spiritual presence, crystals connect people to another realm. “This idea that it’s something from the earth but it’s also something spiritual that comes from heaven – something invisible, something divine,” says Galvez, “I see it in all cultures and at many different times.”

Why people believe in crystals

Today, those who might be more inclined to believe in the healing power of crystals might also be more likely to subscribe to other fringe therapies. In some of his own research, presented at the European Congress of Psychology, French and his colleagues handed out “crystals” – some of which were taken from the earth and some of which were fake – to study participants to see who felt the effects. tingling, mood enhancement, or other changes the stones were meant to convey. Those who held artificial crystals were just as likely to report new sensations as those who held real ones, and those who experienced these changes were also more likely to believe other supernatural theories, French and his team found.

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In order for someone to have a unique experience with crystals and turn it into their preferred form of therapy, certain things must first happen. It is possible that someone begins to believe in the power of these stones because of a false correlation. In other words, because they had the crystal with them when something positive was happening, someone might start thinking that the gem created those circumstances.

This single event can trigger a placebo effect. If a person believes they are receiving effective treatment – ​​like someone who thinks they are on medication but it is actually a sugar pill – symptoms may improve. This the phenomenon plays out in pain management research, and it’s possible that the power of belief can impact crystal healing for some people, too, French says.

Ultimately, a deep-seated belief in the transformative powers of crystals is unlikely to cause much harm — as long as people don’t deny other proven medical interventions for the stones, French says. And techniques such as grinding the stones and mixing them into drinks to stimulate lactation – one of the medieval treatments encountered by Galvez – are best avoided.

Ultimately, French says scientists often view people’s relationship with crystals as a devotion not worth examining. “I think that’s a mistake,” French said. “From a psychologist’s point of view, if they don’t work, why do people think they work? A better understanding of why people seek self-improvement through a stone might say more about the social circumstances that led to that choice than the belief itself.

Wendy R. Taylor