(Investigator 42, 1995 May)

Sharmans used crystals for healing and other purposes thousands of years ago and crystal pendants have been unearthed from Neolithic sites dating back more than 80,000 years.

In 300 BC, Theophartus in his book, On Stones, mentions quartz more than any other mineral in that ancient work indicating its popularity, and the ancient Egyptian Book-of-the Dead advocated heart shaped amulets made from quartz to be laid in the chest cavities of mummies to thwart heart snatchers. In medieval Europe, amethyst was in great demand to prevent bacchanal excess, and the finest crystal, prized for its clarity and lack of surface blemish, was shaped into balls for scrying or crystal gazing, a popular art form for entertainment and divination well before its traditional association with the gypsy fortune teller.

The 1980s have seen a resurgence of belief in the powers attributed to crystals. There has been a proliferation of literature available on them and their commercial exploitation has been enhanced by some extraordinary claims, among them, that crystals have an energy field extending 30 centimetres beyond them, possess an elemental spirit, will improve a vehicle's fuel consumption if attached to the carburetor, purify water, help plants to grow, make dreams come true, amplify ESP powers etc: ad nauseum. There are also many legendary claims too numerous to list, all of which lack a modicum of substantiation.

Part of the evidence purporting to be scientific, evolves from the belief that a quartz crystal can power a radio. Quartz possesses an unusual property known as the Piezoelectricity effect which enables it to amplify, transform, store, focus and transfer energy. If squeezed, it generates a potential. When an alternating electrical current is passed through it, it swells and shrinks alternatively and this phenomenon is called oscillation. When cut into precise thicknesses and a potential applied, the quartz vibrates at a specific frequency and is used in electromagnetic circuits which can then be propagated as radio or television signals.

Another application is in computer memory circuits, where thin slices of quartz are used to store large amounts of data and transmit information within the computer. It is claimed therefore, that crystals, being able to generate and radiate power, can also be harnessed for beneficial purposes in a variety of ways. It is also claimed that crystals can be charged with energy and stored for later use, and experiments are being carried out to see whether they can be used to record and recover thought forms.

One of the major New Age uses of quartz crystals is in the field of alternative medicine, where it is claimed that they can focus healing powers. It is alleged that the crystal amplifies the energy and it flows to the pain area, the theory being that as pain is simply a signal from the brain telling you that something is wrong and that energy is being sent to the cells to correct the problem, the technique of using the amplifying ability of a crystal to give us extra energy to be directed to a specific area speeds up the natural healing process.

Ironically, all the foregoing is based on an erroneous understanding of simple physics. The New Agers' belief that crystals can amplify, store, transfer, focus and generate electricity is completely unfounded and once the reason is made obvious there will be no need to refute individually the claims made on their behalf.

Quartz is simply oxidized silicon or silicon dioxide (Si02). Its chemical name is silica. It is softer than diamonds and zircons and has little ability to reflect and scatter light. It is also available in quantity and compared with other gem stones, relatively cheap. The value of quartz lies in two remarkable properties, it is highly resistant to temperature change and it changes shape when an electrical potential is applied. It is around the latter ability, known as the piezoelectricity effect, that the misconceptions of the New Age crystal fad have grown. As well as the slight change in shape when a voltage is applied to opposite faces of a quartz crystal, the converse takes place if it is squeezed in a vise – a voltage appears across the electrical contacts.

Depending on the frequency specifications, crystals are precision cut from high-purity quartz and used in electrical circuits to regulate and stabilize frequency vibrations such as those in radio transmitters, clocks and watches. As a supposed power source one need only remove the battery from a quartz clock and ask oneself why it stopped working. Further, while it is true that a voltage can be produced by squeezing a quartz crystal in a vise, it is not manually possible to exert the same pressure or as rapidly as when an electrical potential is applied.

To suggest that electromagnetism supposedly generated by crystals can be used for healing purposes (when in fact they do not of their own accord generate anything), is simply a reiteration of a long discredited belief in the healing powers of magnetism. A quartz crystal is an inanimate mineral which simply does not have the mystical, magic or healing powers attributed to it. Any perceived efficacy in respect of healing can only be a placebo effect.

The dangers in promoting this false concept as a healing therapy should be apparent to any prepared to give it a few seconds thought, for it is on a par with the cure-all elixirs sold by the travelling snake oil merchants of old.

(From: Skeptoon an illustrated look at some New Age Beliefs, 1994, H Edwards.
Published by Harry Edwards Publications.)

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