Many of us are seeking simpler solutions, deeper roots and more knowledge of ancient ways.
As we study about crystals and healing stones, a good place to dig in is in terminology. Often the names- crystals, stones, rocks, minerals, and gems get used interchangeably. If you’re a crystal healer or a crystal lover, that can work. But to a geologist or a gemologist, that might be considered sloppy nomenclature.
Most of what we are calling crystals and healing stones are minerals in different forms. Some stones are formed from just one mineral while others are varied combinations of minerals. Some minerals form beautiful crystals. Certain crystals of specific color, clarity, and hardness are considered gemstones. These crystals, while they might appear like an ordinary rock when in their natural state can be cut and polished into the gemstones we value in jewelry. Other minerals combine into an amazing array of stones with beautiful colors, texture, weight, resonance, and energies.
What is a Crystal?
We might think of it as a beautiful mineral object with flat, regular, geometric faces. To a gemologist, the definition of a crystal isn’t about the visual but is about atoms. A crystal is solid, with atoms arranged in crystal systems. There are seven types of crystal systems, each one resulting in a different physical geometry, but they all share atoms which are arranged in tightly ordered, repeating lattice-like patterns. Any mineral whose atoms are arranged in one of these patterns is a crystal or designated as crystalline.1 When struck, these crystalline lattices will split along clean, smooth surfaces, which is how gemstones are faceted.
The Seven Crystalline Types Are:
Cubic, tetragonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic, triclinic, hexagonal and trigonal systems.2
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To find a crystal with an external appearance related to any of the shapes above requires very specific circumstances. The crystalline shapes can form if there are adequate space and an environment of certain chemicals, heat, pressure, time and space. Often these perfect environments aren’t present so crystals form in other ways. Aggregates are groups of small crystals that form together. Although an aggregate may look amorphous, it consists internally of thousands of microscopic crystals. Agates and jaspers both fall into this category.
Granite is another example of a crystalline solid, but it generally occurs in environments where all the crystalline shapes and other materials are pressed together, resulting in the beautiful material but very different from a traditional crystal.
Not all crystals are transparent, not all have sparkling flat facets. It always comes back to how the atoms are arranged. It is also true that not all sparkling clear minerals are crystals. Glass is a good example of a sparkling beautiful mineral (glass is liquified silicon dioxide or sand) but at the atomic level, it is amorphous.
Non-crystalline. While its atoms have solid bonds, they are not organized in the geometric patterns as are crystals. If struck and broken, pieces have irregular surfaces. This does not mean that amorphous stones aren’t beautiful. Amber and opal are examples of amorphous solids. Glass, both natural and manufactured, is also an amorphous material.
Crystals have natural origins. Most are formed inorganically through natural geologic processes in the earth. Others can form organically within living creatures. An example is a weddellite crystal, which forms at the bottom of the Weddel Sea in Antarctica but is also found in human kidney stones.
The human body contains many crystalline components. The skeleton is made of calcium phosphate crystals. We keep our balance because of calcite crystals in the inner ear. Our tooth enamel is made of apatite microcrystals.3 Some feel that the fact crystals are innate to our bodies is part of the attraction to crystals and the basis for some of the healing work done with crystals.
You may think of crystals as rarities but in truth, most of the stones that make up our earth are crystalline in nature. Quartz crystals are a commonly known crystal. The mineral quartz doesn’t always exist in an environment to grow these beautiful crystals and is often found embedded in other conglomerate stones. For example, the sparkly parts of granite are quartz. Quartz makes up about 12 percent of the land surface and about 20 percent of the Earth’s crust.4
More About Rock and Crystal Formation
Most healing stones and crystals are part of the Earth’s bedrock which is the lower layer of the crust. The Earth’s crust varies from 3 miles thick under the sea to 25 miles thick under land mass. Beneath the crust, at the center of the earth is the mantle made of a molten rock called magma.5
The magma contains many elements and as it cools, elements combine to form minerals. What minerals form depends on ingredients, temperature, and pressure- all which affect how the elements combine.
The area where the mantle meets the crust is a volatile place of high temperatures and pressures. Changes in this area cause movement which can produce mountain ranges, fault lines, and volcanos. This area contains fractures and cavities. Fluid accumulates in these cavities and with time, can be a place for crystals to grow. These cavities change and move, sometimes allowing one mineral-rich fluid to flow in and at another time, other minerals might be present. Changes can start or stop crystal growth and affect the color of the crystal. Pressures vary, and time goes on.
These cavities can be deep in the earth. Earth movements, earthquakes, and erosion can expose what was deep in the earth to the surface but often these healing stones and crystals are found in caves or are mined.
Make your own crystals
If scientific jargon and molecular orientation are hard for you to visualize, did you know you can grow your own crystals at home in the kitchen? It’s true. Many common household compounds form crystals- including salt and sugar. Sugar crystallizes into rock candy. Table salt, with some care, can form perfect cubes. One of the quickest and easiest crystal growing experiments is with Epsom salt. Creating a saturated solution of Epsom salt in water, then cooling the solution will form needle-like crystals in just a few hours!6
Gather together some Epsom salt, food coloring if you want colored crystals, and a cup or small bowl.
Run the tap water until it’s hot. Allow it to flow over your container just to warm it up, then shake out excess water. Measure 1/2 cup of hot tap water and put into your container along with 1/2 cup of Epsom salt. Stir for at least one minute. Some Epsom salt crystals may remain undissolved on the bottom of your container. You have created a saturated solution, meaning no more salt can dissolve in the water. Add a couple drops of food coloring if you want your crystals to be colored. Put your container in the refrigerator. Check on your container in a few hours and you should see it full of needle-like crystals. Pour off the remaining liquid to get a better look at your home-grown crystals.
Here’s what happened. Epsom salt is the common name for the chemical magnesium sulfate. In the same way that crystals form in the earth, the hot water can hold more dissolved magnesium sulfate than can cold water. So as the water cools, the magnesium sulfate atoms that cannot stay dissolved bump into each other and begin aligning in a crystalline lattice structure. Crystals grown in this way form many small, thin shapes. There are other ways to form larger crystals but that takes a bit more time. Ask Google if you’re interested in more experimentation.
Photo credits: JenovJenovallen/shutterstock.com, VictorMoussa/shutterstock.com, Nastya22/shutterstock.com