Lara Williams | Contributing Writer | Monday, 10 July 2017

Unpicking The Rise And Rise Of Crystal Culture

Unpicking The Rise And Rise Of Crystal Culture

The Debrief: Say crystals think 1960s, Woodstock, patchouli and Fleetwood Mac. But, from crystal facial rollers to healing crystal dildos, crystals, it seems, are having a moment.

A recent survey, conducted by Joshua James Jewellery, found 83% of respondents were aware of their birthstones and 35% believed in their regenerative powers. Lena Dunham is ‘deep’ into crystals, wearing amethyst around her neck. Katy Perry told Cosmopolitan she carries a lot of rose quartz, which ‘attracts the male’. Gwyneth Paltrow advocates we put jade eggs into our vaginas. A search for crystals on Instagram returns over 5 million images. Detox crystal salt baths, crystal facial rollers and even healing crystal dildos are, recently, very much a thing. Crystals, it seems, are having a moment. 

While healing crystals and birthstones were once the preserve of a specific kind of baby boomer - one prone to patchouli oil, embroidered mirror bags and Fleetwood Mac - there seems to be a revival among female millennials. But beyond crystal jewellery infiltrating the high street and the very Instagramable qualities of a twinkling piece of rose quartz - there is a genuine movement and engagement with crystals and crystal culture: a belief that crystals contain healing and energising properties, with different crystals for different needs. I wanted to find out more about their appeal. 

Alix Morleigh is a project worker at a homelessness charity in Manchester, and has always been into crystal jewellery; she’s always worn crystal necklaces and fingers laden with crystal rings ever since she was a child. In her late twenties, she took up yoga as a method for coping with anxiety and depression. A girl in her yoga class commented on the crystals in her rings; noticing she was wearing mainly darker coloured crystals. 

‘Anything black, dark or dark red is associated with your root chakra,’ she tells me. ‘Which manages anxiety and depression. There’s a belief that even if you don’t know anything about crystals, you will pick the crystals you need. And so there must have been a reason I was attracted to those dark-coloured crystals.’

Morleigh uses crystals in a number of ways: she wears them as jewellery, she places them around her house and she meditates with them, placing different crystals at different chakra locations on her body - chakras being the seven spiritual points in the human body, in Indian spiritual thought. 

‘I also carry them with me,’ she tells me, taking out a small satin pouch and emptying a number of crystals onto the pub table over which we are talking.

‘This one’s moonstone, which is for healing,’ she says, pointing towards a dreamy, shimmering blue stone. ‘This is amethyst, which is best for anxiety and depression. And this is citrine, which is a happy, chirpy crystal.’

Morleigh has an encyclopaedic knowledge of crystals, their healing properties and their chemical make-ups - riffing reams of information about every stone or crystal she gestures towards or mentions. She admits she has a bit of an obsessive personality and is currently working on a project cataloguing the chemical compounds and minerals of each of her crystals. It is currently at 150 entries.

‘And you have to be careful to cleanse your crystals,’ she says. ‘There are specific ways to cleanse each crystal. Moonstone can be left on the windowsill overnight. Amethyst can be run under water.’

Crystal cleansing essentially means neutralising the crystals or restoring their former energies. Other ways of cleansing crystals include ‘smudging’, where you burn incense sticks and hold the crystals in the smoke, - or you can soak them in salt water.

I ask Morleigh where she might advise someone looking at experimenting with crystal healing to begin. She tells me she would start with amethyst and rose quartz. She also advises being wary of buying online, as you won’t know exactly what you’re getting. She suggests going to shop and seeing what you are drawn to - and warns of poisonous crystals, such as serpentine, which can contain asbestos.

‘It might be a placebo,’ she admits, then throwing up her arms. ‘But if it works who cares?!’

Michelle Layden is a Crystal Therapist based in Glasgow. She decided to study crystal therapy as a channel for relaxation and because of a childhood preoccupation with them.

‘I would always have a little box with crystals in it - and there was a magazine you could collect which gave you crystals with each issue.’

Layden now conducts ‘crystal treatments’. A full session with Layden includes practising some relaxation techniques, a chakra balance and an aura cleanse. A chakra balance is a process in which a harmonious flow of energy between your chakras is restored. An aura cleanse could involve unwanted energies being removed from your aura, the energy field many New Age mythologies believe shrouds the human body. Crystals might be placed on the body during these processes. 

‘People can fall asleep during the treatment,’ Layden tells me. ‘They can have out-of-body experiences and can feel quite emotional.’

Layden believes young women are recently drawn to crystal therapy as it is broadly more accepted these days, with less of a stigma; more mainstream and no longer considered an activity exclusive to ‘hippies’. 

‘I think some of it could be the placebo effect. If you believe something is going to work then you are going to benefit from it. And women tell me they don’t know what to expect before a treatment but are surprised at how relaxed it makes them feel. They will normally come back for another session.’

‘I would advise anyone to give it a try,’ she finishes. ‘Even if they are sceptical.’

Sue Hartley-Smith works at Light On The Horizon, a shop based in Sale, Manchester, which specialises in crystals and other healing products. Smith has noticed an upsurge of interest in crystals; however, notes this interest is coming from all sorts of people, of differing ages and genders.

‘We’ve always had our regulars,’ she tells me. ‘But lately, we get a really broad mix of people. Whereas once we just got what you might call the hippie community, now we get, say, men in business suits - and not just looking for jewellery for their partners, but buying individual slabs of healing crystals.’

Smith sees this re-engagement as a product of the mainstreaming of mindfulness. She sees mindfulness as a widely-accepted form of meditation - and once people engage with an activity once reserved for people within the New Age community, they’re drawn in to explore what else might be out there. She also notes an intersection with social media and how we use the internet - that we are interacting with people we ordinarily might not have met. And that there is so much information freely available.

Smith echoes previous sentiments about people dismissing the validity of healing crystals.

‘It might be a placebo effect - but what’s the harm if it makes you feel better? Plus, medicine legitimises the placebo effect. Why dismiss something that has been proven to work?’

There seems to recently be a broad re-engagement with New Age spiritualities. Astrology is growing in interest. There is a current aestheticisation of witches and witchcraft. And now, healing crystals. Carole Cusack, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney sees this engagement with crystals, as being particularly driven by the impact of celebrity. 

‘The power of celebrity is at work here. Crystals have been around since the dawn of the "New Age" in the early 1980s. I think that the current involvement of younger women is likely the result of the impact of celebrity.’ 

Cusack invokes the Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent and heavily-reported lifestyle newsletter Goop’s expo - In Goop Health - in which crystals and crystal healing were prominently endorsed. Writer Lindy West attended the festival; remarking of the irony of an event themed on “wellness” attended primarily by wealthy, white middle-class women - who were already roundly “well” already. Cusack sees this engagement as an extension of the culture of individualism, many millennials are accused of embodying.

‘People want to be seen as original, daring, innovative,’ Cusack believes, ‘and devise a personal philosophy or spirituality, derived from the labels they wear, the politics they espouse, the food they eat.’

I ask whether there might be an element of the decline of religion; whether engaging with crystals and crystal healing could be an instance of DIY spirituality.

‘Since the counterculture of the 1960s,’ Cusack tells me, ‘people often say they are “spiritual but not religious”. What they mean is that they are not atheistic materialists and they are not callous. They care about the environment, about optimising their lives. About being mentally, physically and spiritually healthy.’

‘People can be dabbling and consumerist and others can be sincere and spiritual. Most oscillate between the two and all are seeking meaning that is other to both traditional religion and also science, to materialism…’ 

Emily Nicholls, a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Plymouth, echoes this assertion. ‘This could be a more individualised way of 'doing' spirituality through consumption,’ she believes. ‘Young people are generally less orientated towards organised religion. And women are associated with the spiritual and healing whereas masculinity has been linked to science and rationality.’

And, I think there can be a certain amount of macho posturing when it comes to aggressively demanding logic and evidence in these practices; a sexism innate to doggedly dismissing women who engage in what might be termed ‘New Age’ beliefs. Scientism is the needless application of science in situations in which it is unwarranted - and I think there is an element of that, too.

Like Lindy West comments in her piece about In Goop Health, I don’t think there is anything sophisticated or interesting in mocking people for it. All of the women I spoke to were sincere in their engagement and brightly self-aware; aware of the criticism that might be levelled against them, all responding with the same, if it works for me, then why not. And you know, why not? I’m getting myself some rose quartz.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

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Follow Lara on Twitter @Lara_A_Williams 

Tags: Mental health, Health, jewellery