FROM SHAMANS TO KINGS
Stones encode the story of the planet – the energetic processes of earth, fire, wind and water, the great alchemical story of the birth and evolution of the planet. Melted minerals, compressed rock, flow and seepage of water all play a part in the morphing, growth and crystallization of the wondrous variety of the mineral kingdom. Each stone and mineral is a unique embodiment of chemical combination and physical processes. History reveals that crystals, gems and stones have long been of interest and use to humanity.
The history of mankind’s relationship to and beliefs about stones provides a context to understand contemporary interest in the metaphysical properties of stones. Shamans have served as intermediaries between the two worlds, the world of the known and the unknown; the light and the dark. Shamans, as holders of wisdom, knowledge and healing, have been seen as embodiments of light. Quartz crystals are intimately tied in with the symbology and rituals of shamanism. In Australia, Siberia, the Americas and Africa, quartz crystals were used as ceremonial tools for rites of initiation, protection, healing and communication with the spiritual realm. Quartz crystals were regarded as solidified light providing a rainbow bridge to knowledge and power, and they were considered to be living beings. The quartz crystal was often considered to be the most powerful spiritual ally or helper of a shaman. Crystals could act as windows for the inner sight to see sickness within someone. Northwest Coast shamans used crystal-filled rattles to extract disease. Some initiation rites had candidates swallow crystals or had crystals inserted in their bodies as an enactment of the death of the earthly body into the crystal-body or the body of light.
Moving through the ages to the time of the Greeks, the root word for crystal is krystallos, “ice.” For many centuries it was believed that crystals were ultra-frozen water, so hard that they could not melt. One legend tells that crystals are holy water dropped from the hand of god and touched by angels to stay in solid form for the protection and blessing of man. Another story from this time period is about Amethyst and the God of Wine, Bacchus. Bacchus is insulted and in the grip of his anger decrees that the first person he meets will be eaten by tigers. The poor unfortunate is a young woman, Amethyst, who is on her way to worship at the shrine of Diana. Just as the tigers are closing in on their hapless prey, Diana transforms Amethyst into a clear, transparent crystal. Bacchus in his remorse sheds tears of wine turning the crystal a beautiful purple; hence the name Amethyst for the purple form of quartz. From this myth, amethyst was believed to be a protection against intoxication and enchantment.
The mythical and mystical connotations of crystal continued to manifest throughout the world’s cultures. Crystal balls have long been part of mythology and lately featured in film The Lord of the Rings. Such crystallomancy, or crystal gazing, has shaped the actual course of human events for millennia. Based on crystal divinations, military and political events of far-reaching consequences were undertaken — wars were launched, battles lost; marriages were arranged and murders committed; kingdoms rose and fell. King Solomon by gazing at one of his rings, said to be either amethyst or garnet, could see whatever it was he needed to know.
Amethyst came to be the stone most associated with royalty, who were seen to be representatives or incarnations of divinity. The purple stone was thought to enhance communication with the gods. Not only the stone but the color became synonymous with royalty. Royal purple became the color of robes and banners, and amethysts ubiquitous on crowns, miters, scepters, and rings of kings, queens, and popes up to the present day.
OF ATOMS AND ANGLES
In the alchemical cauldron of the play of elements, individual stones, gems and crystals were formed. Colored by minerals – the greens of copper, the reds of manganese, the purple of iron, and wrought by the interaction with the elements – the seepage of water, the furnace of volcanoes, the compression of earth, each mineral encodes these chance combinations of minerals and elemental energies. From this primordial forge are birthed the members of the mineral kingdom. Each crystalline structure has a mathematically precise and orderly lattice arrangement of atoms, which give rise to the unique properties of stone.
Crystal is the most common stone on the planet. By looking in some depth at the scientific characteristics of crystal, the basis of metaphysical beliefs about all stones can be discerned. The mineral kingdom is comprised of “seven systems of symmetry” defined by the lengths and numbers of the axes and angles that govern shape – isometric, hexagonal, monoclinic, tetragonal, orthorhombic and triclinic. Quartz crystal is of the hexagonal system that is defined by four axes. Three axes are of equal length and lie on the same plane, and the angle between each axes is exactly 120 degrees. The fourth plane is perpendicular to these three planes. The hexagonal system therefore can be seen as one of dynamic equilibrium and balance.
Our modern “age of communication” is based on the physical characteristics of crystals for their ability to act as components for reception, modulation, storage and transmission of electromagnetic energy. Modern science values quartz crystal for its “piezoelectric effect,” a property discovered in 1880 by Pierre and Jacques Curie, who also discovered radium. In their exploration of the electrical conductivity of crystalline substances, they discovered that when mechanical pressure was applied to a crystal, an electric charge was produced. Conversely, when electrical voltage was applied to a crystal, mechanical movement was produced. Further, opposite charges developed on alternate prismatic sides. The oscillating charges produced a well-defined frequency that could then be used in crystal radio tubes and phonograph needles, transmission of radio and television signals, radar and sonar and numerous other technologies. Quartz has 4 oxygen atoms and one of silicon. It is the element silicon, which is key to its electronic capabilities, hence the name “Silicon Valley,” to describe the hub of communications technology in the United States.
In the medical field, too, the piezoelectric effect has been noted. The body can be viewed as a field of continually flowing electromagnetic energy, a flow of interacting positive and negative charges.
FROM THE PHYSICAL TO THE METAPHYSICAL
Understanding the physical properties, the scientific realm of facts and intellectual knowledge, provides a springboard into the metaphysical, a realm of intuition and human experience. Metaphysical thought and practices utilizing the mineral kingdom are based on the perceptible qualities and energetic principles of minerals, crystals and gemstones. The metaphysical properties of stones are an evolving exploration into how these physical properties, the uniquely encoded qualities of energy, can be used for healing and spiritual attunement. If crystals can be used to channel and transmit radio signals, can they not channel the healing energies of balance and light to an area of disease in the body?
The past several decades have witnessed a tremendous upsurge of interest in the metaphysical properties of stones. A dizzying array of businesses and books has arisen. There are healers using stones. There are stone channellers and crystal vendors, stone chakra pendants and stone wands. There are birthstones and stones for protection. There are stones for dreamwork and spiritual attainment and stones for love. And of course there are pet rocks.