‘Healing’ Crystals are Having a Pandemic Moment

The Washington Post's Amanda McCracken recently wrote about the impact (or not) of crystals. You can decide for yourself.

When my friend, a massage therapist, learned I was pregnant last winter, he gifted me a stunning large, clear piece of quartz he had bought during a recent crystal-foraging trip to Brazil. I welcomed the gift and the positive protective energy my friend said he could feel with his hands. I even placed it on the dinner table the night of my induction. It couldn’t hurt, could it?

Although the market for diamonds has seen a decline during the pandemic, “near-gemstones” (crystals and minerals) have maintained their appeal among consumers, making it a $1 billion business. Even classy art giants Sotheby’s and Christie’s have joined the mom-and-pop incense-burning shops in selling crystals. Katy Perry claims her rose quartz helps her attract men, and Adele swears crystals decrease her anxiety onstage. According to trends on Google, there has seen a steady climb in searches for “crystal healing” in the past year, including “crystal healing shops near me.”

Purchasing crystal merchandise is not just a basic shopping trip anymore; it’s an experience. You can sign up for a crystal-mining adventure at Sweet Surrender Crystals in Arkansas, or attend a crystal altar offering to Mother Earth (Pachamama) led by a shaman at the Sumaq hotel before ascending to Machu Picchu. Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop, offers a “medicine bag” complete with crystals to encourage clarity, creativity and emotional strength. Perhaps you prefer your water with youth-energizing crystals: VitaJuwel’s Forever Young Gem-Water bottles have you covered.

Crystals aren't just having a moment

For centuries, these enigmatic rocks have captivated artists, writers, healers and religious leaders, many of whom believed the crystals contained a certain concentration of the earth’s energy. Egyptians sometimes carved crystal sarcophagi to protect the body from evil spirits on their way to the afterlife. The word “crystal” comes from the Greek “krystallos,” meaning ice. Crystal divination was described by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and naturalist, in the 1st century A.D. 

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Physical healing powers?

Science does not back the idea that crystals have special powers. “I am not aware of any [National Science Foundation]-supported studies into the healing powers of crystals,” Peter Heaney, a mineral sciences professor at Pennsylvania State University, said via email. “Such a proposal would frankly never survive peer review, because there is not any theoretical reason to expect crystals to have healing powers.”

Heaney recounted a story from his days as a graduate student, when his adviser was asked whether crystals have energy. “It is a tricky question,” Heaney wrote, “because the answer is ‘yes’ with respect to Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence (e=mc^2) or with respect to thermodynamic conceptions of free energy in crystals. But as my advisor noted, crystal healing posits that there is an energy transfer between crystals and people . . . and there is simply no scientific foundation for those assertions.”

Mineralogist Jeff Post, the Smithsonian Institution’s curator-in-charge of gems and minerals, said in an email: “The simple fact is that there is no scientific basis for any kind of crystal healing. No doubt, beautiful crystals can bring joy and some happiness just by looking at them, like looking at beautiful art or beautiful flowers, but I think that is the extent of their power.”

Stuart Vyse, behavioral scientist and author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition,” said “there is no evidence that there’s a mechanism by which [crystals] could heal that’s understood by science. It doesn’t make logical sense from a scientific viewpoint.” He attributes the uptick in crystal interest to a desire to believe that crystals have some special power.

But believing in the healing benefits of crystals can be harmful to your health — and your wallet — if, for example, you depend on them to cure you of cancer instead of seeing a physician, or if you choose to carry a clear quartz crystal, known as the master healing stone, rather than wearing a mask to protect yourself and others from the novel coronavirus.

The placebo effect

Many psychologists attribute perceived crystal healing to the placebo effect, according to Thomas Plante, professor of psychology and religious studies at Santa Clara University and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

 

Your belief in anything you think might help you — whether it be crystals, herbal supplements or experimental medical treatment — may do so, even if there’s no active ingredient involved. “When these beliefs are supported by friends and family or various social media blogs, they become more powerful,” Plante said.

“It’s hard to argue against people who believe in the psychological effects of crystals,” said Zhuo Job Chen, a professor who specializes in the psychology of religion and spirituality at Clemson University. “Those are genuine experiences we have to respect.” His research looks at how people around the world use spirituality to enhance their well-being. “We have to separate the difference between the stone’s symbolism and the material,” Chen said.

So people who wear a necklace strung with tourmaline stones to decrease anxiety might feel a sense of peace, not because the stone itself is physically endowed with power, but because they believe in the stone’s meaning. In a similar example, rosary beads facilitate prayer, but people don’t necessarily believe the stones themselves have power, Chen said.

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Role in spiritual development

Like rosary beads, crystals can help cultivate personal spiritual development. During an era in which our brains are burned out by digital distractions, having something to hold can help you focus during meditation, said Marisa Galvez, a professor of French and Italian at Stanford University studying the use of crystals in medieval poetry. “A crystal combines the earthly with the spiritual. It helps you reflect on yourself and your place in the world while also helping you transcend the world,” Galvez said. “This found object refracts light, which lends itself to reflection. Its brightness and weight endow it with a presence, but its transparency allows it to disappear.” This paradox is part of crystal fascination, Galvez said. “It belongs to the common earth, but also can be personalized depending on how you interact with it.”

Crystal community

At the same time that you might be cultivating your individual spirituality with crystals, you can join a greater community of those who believe in the healing powers of the earth. “The social connections that people create and maintain through these associations may be far more important than the beliefs themselves,” said Phil Stevens, an anthropology professor at the University of Buffalo. Based on his research on New Age thinkers, Stevens argues that people persist in these scientifically unfounded beliefs largely because of their social associations: “People are clinging to whatever will connect them to other people.”

Research shows that people who believe in paranormal phenomena, including crystals, demonstrate a higher level of patternicity: a tendency to detect patterns in randomness. This can be a boon or a curse, Chen said. Studies show these individuals are better at word associations and facial recognition, but they’re also more likely to believe in conspiracy theories or see ghosts.

Crystals and covid

The Terror Management Theory says that when individuals are confronted with the threat of mortality, they develop new ways to cope, and for some Americans, that way may be by turning to crystals.

“During times of uncertainty, people seek clues that will give them a sense of being, seeking ways to create coherence and make meaning out of the world — transcend the person to something greater. Crystals can be a source for some,” Chen said.

People’s fears, anxiety and depression are “through the roof,” Plante said. “We are talking about a mental health tsunami. People want to be consoled.  They are clutching whatever brings them solace.” This is especially true of those unaffiliated with religion, he said, a number that is growing in the United States. “Religions tell you what to do, and people don’t like that, especially Americans,” Plante said. “Those who don’t come from religious traditions are more susceptible to unregulated things like crystals or tarot cards, because you can do with them as you wish.”

The pandemic also is forcing people to reinvent themselves, and as they do so, they also may be changing what provides them solace. Some people might find pandemic comfort in turning to swirling agate for rebalancing, for example. 

And, finally, while our suitcases gather dust, crystals allow us to travel. Galvez describes crystals as a “passport” to a higher spiritual plane. “They give you permission to go somewhere else,” she said. “And if people can be more meditative or develop a spiritual practice, that’s a good thing.”


Word of the Day - Pishogue

I like to improve my vocabulary with interesting words for this blog. The latest is

pishogue

PRONUNCIATION:
(pi-SHOHG)

 

MEANING:
noun: Sorcery; witchcraft; spell.

 

ETYMOLOGY:
From Irish piseog (witchcraft). Earliest documented use: 1829.

 

USAGE:
“You have totally glamoured me with your pishogue.”
N.E. Tovell; Tides of the Undead; iUniverse; 2011.
 
 
Thank  you Word A Day by Anu Garg

Makeshift Subway Shrine to Mercury

Subway-shrine-nyc-untapped-new-york1Mercury, the planet of communication is also one for travelers. Now during the pandemic, a shrine to Mercury has been spotted in Brooklyn in a subway station. Let's hope this helps us get to our destimations safely and on time.

Untapped City reports -

When you are running late and waiting for the subway, you may find yourself praying for it to arrive quickly. Well, it looks like one subway rider has taken their plea for timely service to the next level by creating a cardboard subway shrine. This makeshift ode to the god Mercury was spotted by straphanger Russel Jacobs in the Utica Avenue A/C stop in Brooklyn.

 


Spirit Homes in Thailand

 Hannah Beech writes for the New York Times about Thailand's spirit homes:

IMG_5277In Every Corner of Bangkok, Spirits Need a Home and Maybe a Strawberry Fanta

BANGKOK — These spirits were not wearing face masks. They appeared well fed, untroubled by the hunger pangs that have afflicted some Thais during the lean times of a pandemic.

But despite the spirits being so coddled — or perhaps because of it — the spiritual adviser accompanying them looked nervous.

These spirits, or at least the pair of figurines representing them, were too tubby to fit through the door to their new spirit house at the Baan Pitak condominium in Bangkok.

For the next hour or so, incense and incantations swirled. A gong pierced the steamy air of Bangkok.

Then, holding his breath just a little, Kitsana Phattharasirisap, the spiritual adviser, rose to his tiptoes and nudged the statues through the intricately carved entry to their new abode. Magically, they fit. A diet of prayers had slimmed them down in under 60 minutes, he said.

“If you don’t believe,” Mr. Kitsana said, “then it won’t work.”

Many Thais do believe in such spirits, and Mr. Kitsana, 47, thinks this may help explain why the coronavirus pandemic has so far largely bypassed the country. Thailand, a nation of 70 million people, has recorded only about 3,130 cases of the virus, with 58 deaths, despite having had the first confirmed case outside of China.

“Thai people respect ghosts and spirits,” he said. “Every day we pray and, you will notice, our country has not had many cases of coronavirus. The spirits listen to our prayers.”

In every crowded corner of Bangkok, whether by a tin-roofed shack, a glass-plated skyscraper or a marble-pillared government hall, there are said to be spirits who need placating. A coronavirus lockdown is no excuse.

The spirits also require spirit houses, which look like dollhouses mounted on pedestals. These range from a few pieces of plywood hammered together to create a miniature bungalow to gilded structures with ornate spires that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The figurines, sized to live inside, typically fit easily in the palm of a hand.

Spirit houses are common throughout Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, although the architecture differs by country. While not everyone believes, the practice is widely respected and the houses are an ordinary and integrated part of Bangkok’s cityscape, like church spires in an American town.

All these spirits expect sustenance, like a bunch of bananas, a cooling coconut or a mound of sticky rice. The offerings are usually placed at the front of the spirit houses in the morning by homeowners or building staff members, along with incense and garlands of marigolds and jasmine. Ants or rats may raid in the afternoon.

The spirits are not unreasonable, said Nongrak Puwasawadi, a self-employed spirit communicator, who enters a trance and advises people on the spirits’ druthers. In times of economic crisis, they will scale back their expectations.

“Like now, with the coronavirus, they will be happy with a glass of water for refreshment,” said Ms. Nongrak, 75. “But if it’s a more fortunate time, Kuman Thong would like a remote-controlled car.”

Kuman Thong, a young boy with a topknot and pantaloons, is one of the more popular spirits. Today, he is represented in spirit houses and on family altars by plastic dolls with cherubic features.

In an earlier era, his worship used to involve the preservation of stillborn babies with layers of lacquer. The practice of using fetuses in rituals has been outlawed but has still been seen in recent years.

Like many spirits, Kuman Thong favors certain brands, and he is especially fond of strawberry Fanta, according to Ms. Nongrak.

“Red is a nicer color than the brown of Pepsi,” she said.

In their houses, many spirit figurines come with entourages of servants, dancers and bestiary. There are the elephants and tigers that are native to Thailand, but also zebras. No one seems to know for certain why zebras, although some theorize it has to do with the safety associated with zebra-striped pedestrian crossings.

There are spirits that organize other spirits, and there are spirits that are standoffish. There are spirits that are evil, and it’s worth ensuring that the good spirits are on your side.

Some spirits live in trees, and the mightiest ficus trees are wrapped in multicolored sashes, with incense and sweetmeats placed among the roots.

The cosmology of spirits in Thailand — a Buddhist-majority nation with crosscurrents of Hinduism, Chinese ancestor worship and animism — is vast. Some spirits are family forebears. Others are demigods in the Hindu pantheon. Still others come with the land and stay on the land.

And this shared occupancy is something that developers and homeowners must contend with each time they build on the land.

It was early this year, as construction progressed, when the spirits of the Baan Pitak condominium made their unhappiness known. The former owners of the land — the human ones, that is — had built spirit houses. But they were, frankly, a bit plain. And they faced in the wrong direction.

The construction workers, who were living on-site, began receiving nightly visitations, they said. Two of them got sick and were convinced the spirits were to blame. The workers talked to the forewoman, the forewoman talked to the building manager, and the building manager talked to the landowners.

“I don’t believe in this stuff but my wife does,” said Pitak Nopprapun, who owns the land with his wife. “I listen to my wife.”

The $1,100 ceremony to sanctify the new spirit houses took place on a particularly sticky day in late May. Most everyone was dressed in white, even the spirits, although one spirit overlord figurine was decked out in gold, clutching his usual sword and pouch of money.

The spread laid out for the spirits, to ease their transition from one set of houses to the others, was sumptuous: papayas, bananas, tangerines, pineapples, watermelons, mangoes, coconuts, corn, taro, sweet potatoes, rose apples and, at the center of it all, a pair of pig faces.

After the ceremony, the pigs’ faces were given to the construction workers to eat, minus a chunk of one ear, which was sliced for an offering.

“I believe in science,” said Nutthikan Bunthanalaksamee, 29, the building manager, who was recording the ceremony with her cellphone. “But I respect people who have their beliefs.”

Mr. Kitsana, the master of ceremonies, is a one-stop spirit shop. In addition to communing with the spirits, he sells spirit real estate. His priciest cement spirit houses cost more than $12,200 in a country where the average yearly income is about $8,000.

After the ceremony, the pigs’ faces were given to the construction workers to eat, minus a chunk of one ear, which was sliced for an offering.

“I believe in science,” said Nutthikan Bunthanalaksamee, 29, the building manager, who was recording the ceremony with her cellphone. “But I respect people who have their beliefs.”

Mr. Kitsana, the master of ceremonies, is a one-stop spirit shop. In addition to communing with the spirits, he sells spirit real estate. His priciest cement spirit houses cost more than $12,200 in a country where the average yearly income is about $8,000.

“Young people have forgotten about the spirits but maybe with the coronavirus they will slow down and worship more often,” he said.

Their obsession with social media, all that careful tending of virtual spaces, he said, came at the expense of nurturing the spiritual realm.

“If you take care of the spirits,” Mr. Puvisit said, “they will take care of you.”


Find Your Astrological Demon

Hakim Bashara writes in Hyperallergic about a book on Persian Mysticism located in Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. It is an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology from Iran that includes 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels.

Demons, genies, and evil spirits permeate ancient occult traditions in Iran and neighboring countries. An early 20th-century Persian manuscript on magic and astrology held at Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections provides a glimpse into this mystical world with dozens of watercolor illustrations of demonic, otherworldly creatures.

Dated to 1921, Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Wonders of Creation) includes an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology, a book of spells listing incantation and talismans, and 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels. Several texts accompanying the illustrations in Arabic and Farsi are dated from 1911 to 1921.

A closing line at the end of the book suggests that it is composed of two main texts. It reads, “The book of the ‘Wonders of Creation’ and ‘The Seventy Two Demons’ have been completed.” It is not entirely clear which text is which, but Ali Karjoo-Ravary, an assistant professor at the Department of Religious Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, tells Hyperallergic that the illustrated book of demons is most likely the second.

An early 20-century depiction of a demon from the Persian manuscript Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Images courtesy of Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections; all images are from Princeton Islamic MSS 3rd. Series No. 349)

Demons, genies, and evil spirits permeate ancient occult traditions in Iran and neighboring countries. An early 20th-century Persian manuscript on magic and astrology held at Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections provides a glimpse into this mystical world with dozens of watercolor illustrations of demonic, otherworldly creatures.

Dated to 1921, Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Wonders of Creation) includes an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology, a book of spells listing incantation and talismans, and 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels. Several texts accompanying the illustrations in Arabic and Farsi are dated from 1911 to 1921.

A closing line at the end of the book suggests that it is composed of two main texts. It reads, “The book of the ‘Wonders of Creation’ and ‘The Seventy Two Demons’ have been completed.” It is not entirely clear which text is which, but Ali Karjoo-Ravary, an assistant professor at the Department of Religious Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, tells Hyperallergic that the illustrated book of demons is most likely the second.

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Taurus

“This text describes the different demons associated with each zodiac sign and the ailments associated with each and some remedies,” Karjoo-Ravary, who published a blog post about the manuscript in 2017, says.

The zodiac demons are introduced as a series of menacing (although somewhat endearing) beasts, some multi-headed. Each is depicted with cuffs on its clawed or hoofed limbs, suggesting that these creatures had been bound or confined.

Other illustrations show the monstrous demons in action, attempting to inflict harm on humans with inscriptions of spells and incantations in Farsi. These latter drawings, according to Karjoo-Ravary, describe ailments and the demons associated with them, together with instructions on how to exorcise them. For instance, one inscription instructs sorcerers to take a handful of soil from underneath the feet of the possessed person and repeat the following sentence seven times: “God of the heavens and the earth, hurry, hurry, bring back, bring back, bring back the love for virtue.”

By contrast, the manuscript also includes illustrations of winged angels like Michael and Gabriel, who are summoned to expel demons and malign spirits.

The author of the demonology book attributes his knowledge to the court of Biblical King Solomon, who was believed to possess power over demons and spirits. However, the author’s identity remains a mystery. “We don’t know much about this figure other than the fact that he wrote this book, that he had some artistic skill,” Karjoo-Ravary says.

The author signs the book as “Rammālbāshī, the son of Ja’far.” However, “Rammālbāshī” is not a name, but rather a profession derived from the Farsi word rammāl (healer, sorcerer).

“A rammāl was a type of occult expert to whom people would frequently turn in the event that they had problems that couldn’t be solved by normal means, such as sicknesses that appeared incurable,” says Karjoo-Ravary. “They could do many things, primarily divination (which their name alludes to), types of magic, breaking spells, exorcisms, spirit summoning.”

Persian demonology has a long tradition that predates Islam. The Shahnameh (“Book of Kings”), a 50,000 verse epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, is teeming with descriptions of battles between humans, devils, and demons.

Practicing rammāls still exist in Iran, typically performing palm-reading, faith-healing, and exorcism, but they have been outcast to the fringes of society.

“Rammāls are ridiculed by a good chunk of society,” says Karjoo-Ravary. “The official clerical establishment is mostly against them and magic, and even recently conservative critics of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [former president of Iran] accused him of associating with rammāls and magicians.”

In his book, The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny, Islamic studies scholar Alireza Doostdar writes that secularizing officials and intellectuals in Iran of the early 20th-century disparaged rammāls as charlatans, and blamed them for Iran’s “backwardness” in comparison to the developed West on superstitious beliefs.

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This negative attitude towards rammāls continued throughout the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Shi‘i clerics found the sorcerers’ use of the Islamic notions of the “world of the unseen” (Gheyb) and of genies (Jinn) as a threat to their spiritual hegemony.

And yet, these occult practices continue to thrive not just in Iran, but also in neighboring countries, according to Karjoo-Ravary. “Magic, the world of the jinn, demons, and exorcism are still around in most Muslim and other societies, even if they’ve been pushed into the peripheries by polite society.”

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Inscriptions in Farsi include instructions to cast out the demons
Occult practices continue to thrive not just in Iran, but also in other societies