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So, How Do Crystals Work Anyway?

Updated: May 20, 2022

Oomph. This article took me more than a month to write, because there are infinite answers to this question, and sorting out the taboo from the trendy from the "truth" was a process. My goal starting out was to stick to facts only, and let the reader decide. While I'm still on this mission, I found a real lack of science-based research on this topic, likely because it's considered too magickal a topic for most researchers to invest in studying for fear of retribution from peers. Anyone who knows me knows that I firmly believe magick is just science we haven't figured out yet, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. So, here's what we know...

Crystals Vibrate

Atoms, one of the smaller building blocks of matter, make up everything, including crystals. One of the defining characteristics of of a crystal is the repeating pattern in which the atoms are lined up. When the atoms in a crystal vibrate, the vibrational motion affects to neighboring atoms, which leads to wavelike vibrations throughout the crystal. (It's kind of like people doing the wave in a football stadium. The packed-in, ordered way people are seated makes this work really well in crystals.) Clear quartz vibrates at such a predictable and steady frequency, it's been used in devices like watches, radios, inkjet printers, sonar, and even medical implants.

So, even though everything technically vibrates, crystals do it very well, and very predictably, when compared to other materials.

The Materials in a Crystal Affect How It Vibrates

When other materials like iron, titanium, or manganese, exist in the crystal, or when the number of electrons around the atom varies, the way in which these natural vibrations travel through the crystalline structure changes. (These differences also change the color, creating varieties like amethyst, rose quartz, citrine, etc.) The speed at which each kind of crystal vibrates is the frequency. Slower, or lower frequency crystals have really long wave patterns. Crystals that vibrate quickly, or high-frequency stones, have very short wave patterns.

Overall, the kind of material the crystal is made from affects the way the atoms are packed, and the number of electrons around each atom. This gives us the huge variety of crystals and stones we all love.

But, How Do These Vibrations Affect People?

Here's where there's a few competing (or possibly complimentary) ideas...

Harmonizing Wavelengths

Since people also vibrate (though much less strongly and less predictably than crystals), it makes sense that the crystals' vibrations would affect or combine with our own, like two vibrating guitar strings harmonizing to form a chord. When different vibrating things come close to each other, they will often sync up, and begin to vibrate at the same frequency. Scientists call this the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.

Though this has yet to be seriously studied, it's an interesting idea, especially since human thoughts and consciousness are made up of vibrations, or waves, such as gamma, delta, and beta waves.

Electromagnetic Fields

As it turns out, everything is made up of electromagnetic fields. This is because atoms, the building blocks of all matter, are essentially a tiny spec inside a field of mostly empty space, created by electrons that encircle it. When you touch something, like a crystal, your hand does not pass through because the electrons of the crystal repel the electrons in your hand. This works just like two magnets pushing each other away.

Specialized electrical signals then pass along your atoms, from your hand, to your arm, to your brain, creating a special pattern of electrical impulses that compose a thought about what the crystal feels like. (If you're feeling like a magickal, electrical being right now, you're pretty much spot on.)

Humans also appear to have somewhat of a geomagnetic sense. Scientists have been studying the ability some people have to unconsciously, sense electromagnetic fields.

So, how does this tie back to crystals? Well, crystals have a unique property that other materials don't. When heated up or put under pressure, they generate electricity, known as the piezoelectric effect. (This is another reason they are used in watches, sonar, and medical implants.) In 1880, the Curie brothers conducted an experiment on the electromagnetic effects of crystals, and proposed that they may have a minor effect on the human body.

The Placebo Effect (AKA, Manifestation?)

Here's one idea where the science already lines up, but not in a way the scientists may have expected. There's only been a few studies on how crystals affect humans, and they have all been severely limited and are now dated.

One study by C.C. French in the 1990s, which was presented but never published, provided 80 volunteers with real or fake crystals. Only six reported feeling nothing, while the rest reported a change in energy.

While more studies are absolutely needed, this one suggests that the power of crystals may not stem from the crystal itself, but from the human mind. Scientists call this "the placebo effect," but many of the spiritually minded understand the power of human intent, sometimes called "manifestation." After all, countless studies have shown how powerful the placebo effect can be, sometimes coming close to matching the intended medical outcome of the study.

If you hold a crystal, focus on it, and receive positive effects from this interaction, then hasn't it worked?

Closing Thoughts

As the New Age movement settles in, humankind is experiencing a revitalized curiosity in the mysteries of our world, our brain, and our spirituality. It's unlikely that science will catch up anytime soon, but it also has plenty of hints to offer.

If you're looking for the right crystal to help you with a physical or mental struggle, remember that they are only one tool in the box, and that they should always be used in combination with proven methods like professional therapy, medical advice from a doctor, and prescribed medications.

Scientific American. The Hippies Were Right: It's All about Vibrations, Man! A New Theory of Consciousness.
Healthline. Healing Crystals: What They Can and Can't Do.
Caltech. Evidence for a Human Geomagnetic Sense.
Time. You Asked: Do Healing Crystals Actually Work?
Brookhaven National Laboratory. Scientists Pinpoint Energy Flowing Through Vibrations in Superconducting Crystals.

Image Attribution:
'Soundwave Frequency Spectrum Audio' Creator: MaxPixel's contributors | Credit:

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