The science behind crystal healing is not only fascinating, it is integral to our understanding of how crystal healing works. I am hoping to inspire you with information, not cause your eyes to glaze over with the language.
One challenge is to express this language in a way that is easily understood, but as up-to-date as possible. Science is not static, and virtually every day leads to new discoveries that change our perception of the world around us. The way in which crystal systems, and mineralogical groups and species, not to mention chemical formulae of minerals are interpreted has changed radically in the past few years, making it difficult for older chemists and geologists to keep up with, much less the poor, lay, crystal healer. For example, tourmaline was, until recently, classified as the tourmaline group (as opposed to species), as it consisted of a number of related minerals with slightly varying chemical formulae. Now it has been reclassified as the elbaite group, elbaite previously being the name for multi-coloured tourmaline. In most cases, I have opted for older, more traditional methods of expression, although I will point out to you when I know something has been reinterpreted. If you are interested in the most up-to-date science, I strongly recommend that you visit www.mindat.org. The site is worth a look for the outstanding photographs alone. Photos are submitted by collectors from around the world, and show a variety of higher quality specimens, and the science is kept up-to-date.
What is Geology?
The study of geology seeks to understand the processes that, throughout the Earth’s history, have shaped the world around us. Our understanding of geological process and how the earth is formed is constantly changing. It’s only relatively recently that scientists have begun to understand how old the earth really is. Much of our accepted knowledge has occurred during my lifetime, and I have had to re-evaluate much of what I took for granted as a child. When I was a school student, I learned about a scientist with a radical theory that the continents had at one time been joined together, and were slowly drifting apart. The expression of this idea resulted in quite a heated class discussion. Since that time, this theory has been more or less proven through numerous studies, and is now accepted as fact.
I put together my course in geology for crystal healers in 2004, and had included geology in workshops for a few years prior to that. Since that time, I have noted that around half of the students in my classes have never had any geology at school. Geology was in the publicity the first time I included it in a workshop, and I received a lovely card from a prospective student, telling me how much she and her friend had enjoyed a previous workshop, but really didn’t want to learn about geology – just about crystals! In fact, they attended the workshop, and enjoyed that section of it, too. As I see many reflections of the geological process in the way crystals work in a healing context, not mention the necessity of knowledge of basic chemistry to keep you from poisoning yourself and others, I don’t see how learning crystal healing can exclude learning about geology. These days, it is widely accepted as part of the training, and most accreditation bodies insist on it.
In the US, geology is a core natural science subject, and there are many websites dedicated to making it more accessible to schoolchildren. If you find the subject interesting, in addition to the recommended reading, it might be worth having a search on the internet. School sites will often show you new and simpler ways of looking at things.
Our Living Planet
Let’s begin with the big picture. When looking for life on other planets, scientists look first for the existence of two things: water and oxygen, which together are strong indicators for life. Oxygen is an extremely chemically active molecule. It combines easily with other elements, and could quickly disappear from the atmosphere unless there is a process of replacement. That process is most likely to be the photosynthesis of living cells, especially those of plants. Water is considered to be vital for life. Both water and oxygen are abundantly available on Earth.
We have a living planet through an incredible series of “coincidences”, The Earth is large enough to retain heat, unlike Mars, and is further from the sun than Venus, so it is able to cool. We have a large satellite, the Moon, to hold it in place on its axis. Venus, which has no moon, has been influenced by other planets as well as the sun. Scientists now believe it has actually flipped upside down at some point in its history. Mar wobbles significantly on its axis.
The existence of life on a planet is dependent on that planet having an atmosphere. When we hear the term “greenhouse gases”, we immediately think of something damaging to our planet. However, these gases are essential to the existence of life on Earth. Early in Earth’s history, it is believed that the atmosphere had a much higher amount of carbon dioxide (one of the greenhouse gases) than it does at the present time. This would have kept the planet warm, and prevented the oceans from evaporating (oceans are only able to exist within a very narrow temperature range). These same gases keep the atmosphere cool even though the sun is burning brighter than when Earth first formed. Carbon dioxide is drawn down from the atmosphere by living organisms, which is in effect like opening the windows of a green house to prevent overheating.
The Earth has been likened to a giant engine, converting heat into motion. Many scientists now think of the Earth more as a living organism, which needs to maintain homeostasis, or the regulation of its internal environment, to sustain a constant condition. This idea originated with James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, and has been argued and expanded on by other scientists over many years. As an example, carbon is one of the building blocks of life, and contained in all living things. Marine organisms, from microscopic plankton to enormous creatures like whales, die and decompose. Their constituents, including carbon, are carried down to the ocean floor, and are eventually dragged into the molten mantle of the Earth through subduction (the process of one tectonic plate sliding beneath another). Gases, such as carbon dioxide, are held in the magma and solidified rocks nearer the earth’s surface, to be later released again through volcanic eruption. In effect, the Earth is breathing. There is a symbiosis between life and the geological process that maintains the homeostasis of this planet.
Our Earth’s geological formation is in constant motion, an ongoing cycle of creation and destruction. Only a planet with so much activity is able to sustain life. Life on Earth is inextricably linked with the geological process of our planet. Without life, the Earth would be a cold, dead rock; without geological process, life could not exist. It is important to remember this when we are horrified by the loss of life from an earthquake or volcanic eruption.
Compositional Layers of the Earth
A Basic Summary
Our knowledge of the Earth and how it is formed changes with advances in science. In this section we explore the compositional layers of the Earth, which is based on current scientific understanding, and of course is subject to change as new discoveries are made. Much of our knowledge comes from the measurement of the speed of seismic waves (caused by earthquakes, not to mention nuclear testing) as they travel through the Earth. Because the speed of these waves changes at different depths, we are able to determine that the density of the Earth also changes at different intervals. The largest earthquakes can make the Earth “ring like a bell”.
The Earth consists of five layers in an onion-like structure: the Crust, the Upper Mantle, the Lower Mantle, the Outer Core, and the Inner Core. Between the Upper and Lower Mantles there is a transition zone. The compositional differences between the Crust and Upper Mantle are relatively small, and the most abundant elements of both are silicone and oxygen, the compound of which is silica, more commonly known as silicate, or quartz. The composition throughout the mantle is thought to have the chemical composition of peridotite (olivine). This makes the mantle both solid and fluid, through the disruption of the periodotite crystals under heat and pressure. There is a fundamental compositional distinction between the core and the mantle, as it is believed the core is made up mainly of iron and contains no silicate at all. Illustration: peridotite
The Inner Core is solid iron with a small amount of nickel. It is solid, not due to cooling, but due to extreme pressure. The Outer Core is also made up of iron with, possibly, sulphur. The Outer Core is molten and in constant motion through a process of convection, and it is this complex motion that generates the Earth’s magnetic field. Overlying this is the solid Mantle, which is also in constant motion. The outermost level of the Mantle together with the Crust forms the Lithosphere (from lithos, Greek, meaning rock). Rigid plates, called Lithospheric Plates, glide over the weaker parts of the mantle beneath, known as the Asthenosphere (from the Greek word for weak). We will look at this process in more detail in the next section.
The diagram below gives a cross section of the compositional layers of the Earth.
The constant Creation and Destruction of the Earth’s Surface
In 1965, Sir Edward Bullard of Cambridge University used a computer to fit the shapes of the continents together, showing only a small area that didn’t match. Most people now are aware of the widely accepted theory that the continents started as a single supercontinent, known as Pangea, which split apart to form several smaller continents. This was approximately 250 million years ago, but there is evidence of other supercontinental formations long before that. As stated before, the Earth is in constant motion.
‘Plate tectonics’ is a term used to describe the movement of the Earth’s lithosphere. In the previous section we discussed the lithosphere, made up of the Earth’s crust and uppermost part of the mantle, and its movement over weaker areas known as the asthenosphere. The lithosphere is not a single unit, but a series of rigid plates. They are usually described as seven major plates and six minor ones, each carrying an amount of continental crust (areas where the Earth’s crust rises above sea level, forming continents), and oceanic crust (the thinner area of crust on the ocean floor). Each plate is in contact with its neighbours on all sides, leaving no gaps, and all are moving relative to one another.
Earthquake zones are a manifestation of plate tectonics. Volcanoes around the Pacific Ring of Fire, another example of plate tectonics, produce almost identical rock wherever they are in the world, with basically the same compounds of quartz, feldspar and hornblend, and the richest metal and ore deposits occur where they have been brought to the surface by volcanoes.
When two of these plates collide with one another, one is thrust down below the other. As oceanic crust is denser than continental crust, which is generally thicker and more buoyant, it is usually the oceanic plate that goes under the other. This process is known as subduction, and the area where it occurs is called a destructive plate boundary. Subduction zones are visible as a trench in the ocean floor. There is an old subduction zone beneath the Lake District, Wales, and Southern Ireland, and because of plate movement, this same zone is now beneath Iceland. The global distribution of volcanoes above sea level roughly correlates with destructive plate boundaries.
If two plates, both containing continental crust, collide with one another, the edges buckle and eventually the subduction zone is jammed. Near this suture the highest mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas and the Alps, are formed.
When two of these plates move away from each other, new ocean floor is created to make up the difference. The underlying asthenosphere wells up to prevent any gaps from appearing, and as it cools, becomes part of the lithosphere. The areas where this process occurs are known, not surprisingly, as constructive plate boundaries, and form the mid-ocean ridges. Constructive plate boundaries produce a record of the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field. Periodically, the Earth’s magnetic field reverses polarity, so north becomes south and visa versa. This can be as frequently as 100,000 years, with an average of 500,000 years between reversals*. Unlike the sun, the earth’s magnetic reversals are chaotic. The reversals usually appear to take 100 – 1000 years, but there is evidence that some reversals have taken only a matter of weeks. Studies of the magmatisation of ocean floor were carried out in the 1950s through the work of Runcorn, Irving, Rutten, and Cox. They revealed a strange striped pattern, with half the stripes magnetised in the direction of the present field, and alternating stripes magnetised in the reverse direction. When the oceanic plate is newly formed, and still molten, the magnetic particles within it line up with the magnetic pole, and remain that way as the magma solidifies. This is sometimes referred to as the mid-ocean tape recorder.
The definition of rock is a naturally occurring aggregate formed of one or more minerals. There are three major classes of rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic, referring to how they have formed. Understanding how rocks form gives us insight into the constant geological process the earth is subject to, involving the formation of rocks, which then break down and are formed again into something new.
I was first introduced to the idea of using this information as part of a healing process when I read Michael Gienger’s Crystal Power Crystal Healing several years ago. In this chapter I am combining the geological information with the esoteric. Some of the detail of the sub-sub-sections comes from Gienger, as mineralogy books tend to refer only to subsections (such as vulcanites and plutonites), although I have heard reference to sub-sub-sections, such as gangue rocks, in documentaries.
When using minerals in healing, I have a sense of the process my client is going through, and how the development phase of the crystals I choose may be relating to that process. Gienger takes this a step further, and recommends travelling to a place where a particular phase of rocks has formed, such as the sedimentary area I live in, and stay for a period of four days, to strengthen and enhance that process.
Igneous rocks are formed volcanically. If the magma, from which the rocks are formed, extrudes onto the surface of the earth or the ocean floor, the rocks come under the subsection known as volcanic rocks, or vulcanites. If the magma solidifies beneath the earth’s surface, they are catagorised as plutonic rocks, or plutonites.
Magma is like the super-saturated sugar solution you get when making jam. The sugar dissolves easily in the liquid when it’s heated. Depending on the speed of cooling, the substances within, like the sugar, begin to separate out and crystallise.
Vulcanites Examples: Obsidian (volcanic glass – the quickest cooling, when the magma flow is on the ocean floor, and minerals do not have time to crystallise), rhyolites (leopardskin jasper, ocean jasper), basalt (lava rocks), pumice and tuff, the last two being very light and porous, as they are the result of pyroclastic explosion, and are frothed with gas bubbles. The most common volcanic rock is basalt.
Plutonites The most common plutonic rock is granite, formed deep in the earth’s crust, which crystallises into feldspar, quartz and mica.
Liquid Magmatic Formation – Minerals that form from liquid magma beneath the earth, at extremely high temperatures. Examples: aventurine, hyacinth zircon, peridot, rose quartz (the depth and heat is why rose quartz seldom forms defined crystals).
Pneumatalic Formation – This occurs when gases penetrate nearby rock, dissolving some of it. Examples: apatite, topaz and tourmaline
Hydrothermic Formation – When water vapour becomes liquid under high pressure, further minerals are formed from substances dissolved in this water. Examples: aragonite, fluorite, kunzite, and feldspars such as amazonite and moonstone
Gangue Rocks – As liquid magma reaches higher levels in the earth’s mantle and begins to cool, gas bubbles contained within the magma leave chambers in the cooling rock, which may vary in size from tiny to enormous. Water finds its way into the chambers, precipitating minerals, which cool very slowly due to insulating qualities of the rock. Examples are all familiar members of the quartz species: agate, amethyst, chalcedony, citrine, clear quartz, smoky quartz
Implications in Crystal Healing:
Igneous rocks begin with the magma, which is a soup of melted rock, containing all possibilities and potential in the formation of minerals. They demonstrate a crystallisation process based on cooling and solidification, and represent potential and predisposition. Igneous minerals symbolise an aspect of spiritual potential, and can support and encourage the development of that aspect.
Sedimentary rocks are formed at or near the earth’s surface through sedimentation, following the weathering and breaking down of already existing rocks through wind and water erosion. These weathered rocks may have started their journey on top of a mountain, and may ultimately be transported by water down to the seabed. Particles or grains can be cemented together through a process known as lithification (sandstone for example), or mineral constituents of broken down material is precipitated to form the soluble minerals such as halites (salt) and gypsum, some banded iron formations, such as hematite with red jasper, and limestone. Other common sedimentary rocks include flint and shale. Layering is always evident in large sedimentary formations, and is a good identification aid. Fossils only occur in sedimentary rocks.
Bear in mind that this is a representation. You will notice that many metal ores occur as sedimentary minerals, but it is also true that areas around volcanic activity are extremely rich in metal ore deposits. There are two subsections of sedimentary rocks:
Secondary Sedimentation Zones: Mineral-forming elements are released from the water to form compounds which are deposited as new minerals
Oxidation Zone – above the water table Examples: azurite, malachite, chrysocolla, dioptase, turquoise and variscite
Cementation Zone – next to the water table Examples: copper, silver, copper chalcedony and covellite
Implications in Crystal Healing: Sedimentary formation demonstrates the influences of environment, and represents the shaping of our personalities and belief systems due to experiences in our past, such as our upbringing or traumatic events. Sedimentary rocks and minerals can help us to recognise and become aware of this shaping, and gradually let go of old patterns.
I usually point out to students that I live in a limestone house on a hill where limestone has been quarried for hundreds of years. What does this say about what I might need to work on?
Just as the name implies, metamorphic rocks go through a process of turning from one thing into another. They are formed in lower part of earth’s crust under extreme heat and pressure. The metamorphic process includes the formation of mountains, and the metamorphosis and transformation of minerals into entirely new rocks. The dynamic pressure can actually fold sedimentary rocks back on themselves. There are some excellent examples around the Cornish and Welsh coasts. Common metamorphic rocks are marble, slate, schist, gneiss and quartzite. Some minerals, such as olivines, feldspar, mica and quartz, are stable at high temperatures, and do not metamorphose, but may be found contained within metamorphic rocks.
In addition to the formation of mountains, metamorphosis also occurs in the following situations:
Large Scale Metamorphosis – compression due to heavy layering. Examples: garnet, jadeite (jade), kyanite (formed in slate layers), nephrite (also considered to be jade), serpentine, tiger iron, zoisite
Small Scale Metamorphosis – in the near vicinity of extreme heat (volcanic chimney) Examples: the corundums – ruby and sapphire
Metasomatism – where an exchange of elements takes place Examples: charoite, rhodonite, gold and blue tiger’s eye (tiger’s eye is formed through the replacement of asbestos with an iron-rich solution of quartz).
Implications in Crystal Healing: Metamorphism demonstrates the spiritual process of transformation, and represents the burning off of anything that is not necessary. Metamorphic rocks stimulate inner transformation and encourage critical self-reflection.