Understanding the connections humans have had with crystals throughout history helps us understand why we continue to be so drawn to them in modern times. The uses and beliefs around crystals have been found to be documented as far back as 7000 BCE, spanning nearly every ancient culture around the globe.
The most notable and well-documented are the uses of crystals by the ancient Egyptians, Indians, Romans, Greeks, Sumerians, Britons, and Native Americans. Though the specific uses and practices may vary between cultures and across time, many themes remain constant.
The Egyptians mined semi-precious and precious stones for many purposes. They used them both as adornments in jewelry and cosmetics such as eyeshadow, as well as spiritually. Lapis lazuli scarabs were placed in the wrappings of mummies to offer protection in the afterlife. Rubies were associated with sexuality, and worn in the belly by dancers. Priests filled cylinders with crystals and strategically placed them to balance "Ba and Ka" energies. Most commonly, turquoise, carnelian, emerald, and clear quartz were worn as talismans, often carved into the images of deities to represent their properties.
Crystals were a vibrant, forward piece of Egyptian culture, most often available to the wealthy and royalty due to the rarity of the materials.
Still prevalent in Indian religious culture today, crystals and their properties are outlined in the religious Vedic texts in the story of Vala, a demon tricked into being sacrificed by his fellow demigods. Vala was dismembered, and the parts of his body that fell to Earth became the crystals used in Ayurvedic Hindu and Sikh religious and spiritual practices. Rubies were his blood, pearls his teeth, yellow sapphire his skin, hessonite his fingernails, diamond his bones, cat's eye his warrior death cry, and the list goes on.
The parts of Vala's body associated with the stones align with Chakra points, a major part of Hindu and Buddhist practices.
Greeks and Romans
The ancient Romans and Greeks kept extensive documentation on their philosophies and uses for various crystals. In fact, the word 'krýstallos', meaning 'coldness drawn together' or 'ice', is where the modern term 'crystal' is derived.
Most of the writings on crystals are from a Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, who described precious and semi-precious stones, their origins, and their qualities in his text, Natural History. Greeks and Romans used crystals, stones, and metals as protective talismans, and to bring about good health, prosperity, good fortune, or sway the outcome of a battle.
Ancient Greeks believed amethyst would prevent drunkenness, being derived from the tears of Dionysus, the god of wine and rituals. In one version of the story, he becomes enraged with a young virgin named Amethyst, who seeks out the goddess Artemis for protection, Artemis turns her into a white stone to save her from Dionysus's wrath. Feeling guilty, Dionysus cries into his wine goblet, overflowing it onto the stone, and staining it the purple color of amethyst today.
The ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia (4500-2000 BCE), now modern day Iran, used crystals and crystal powders in magical rituals.
They created sealed cylinders containing powders, such as gypsum and hematite. Thought to have protective properties, these cylinders were inscribed with images, phrases, and depictions of events, and placed in temples or used during spiritual ceremonies.
Britons, like many other cultures, tracked the stars in the night sky. For them, astrology and crystals went hand-in-hand, an association that lives on to this day for modern pagans and spiritual followers of these traditions.
Many metals and stones were associated with the planets, stars, and constellations in the night sky, and crystal healers used this in their practices. For example, if many planetary bodies aligned with the moon at the time of someone's birth, they may be prescribed to use stones associated with the moon.
These practices persisted as commonplace until the Middle Ages, and many lapidaries, or those who cut and polish stones, kept detailed reference texts of the associations of each stone.
Native North American Tribes
Many Native American practices and rituals surrounding crystals and stones have been passed down using word of mouth, and though some have been lost to time, many have been preserved.
Two important principles are consistent between many tribes - meditation and respect. Stones are thought to be a gift from Earth, and are considered an entity that must be shown honor. They are carried by practitioners to benefit from their healing vibrations, or used to make tinctures that can be ingested for internal healing. Though several crystals may be worn simultaneously, they believe they should not touch.
The meditation practices are strangely similar to those used by Tibetan Buddhists, and some speculate that they stem from the same pre-historical cultural background.
The Modern New Age Movement
Taking traditions from many of the cultures from our past, humanity has entered a time of renewed spiritual awakening. Modern crystal meditation, cleansing, associations, and beliefs mirror those of ancient European, Asian, and Native American peoples.
Many have raised the concern of "white-washing" and cultural appropriation, and while these are very valid and real issues, a distinction must be made between appropriation and spiritual appreciation. For example, a non-member using a closed Native American practice for profit is a clear overstep. However, a spiritual knowledge seeker connecting with and using a form of crystal meditation for personal health reasons is what shared human knowledge is all about.
Throughout our history, we curious, inventive, intuitive humans have learned from the Earth and tapped into its natural wisdoms. Often, the lessons and practices are eerily the same, no matter how far separated by time or distance. It's clear that our souls see something special in crystals, stones, and certain metals, and that's something worth exploring.