In this post, we reveal everything you need to know about crystals, including what they are made of, how they are formed, and whether they have healing energy. Let's get started!
From materials used in making exquisite jewelry to molecular substances that are believed to affect energy and mood, crystals really are more than just pretty little things to put on display around the house.
Crystals have long straddled the line between science and pseudoscience, as interesting even to the most skeptical of scientists as they are to the most avid believer of Wiccan practices. Find out why crystals continue to captivate the human mind in this complete crystals guide that will delve into the different facets of what some people consider the tangible and physical manifestations of Earth's energy. In this article we will discuss:
- What is a Crystal?
- Crystal Definition
- What is Crystal Made of?
- How are Crystals Formed?
- What is a Crystal Lattice?
- What is a Crystal Structure?
- What are Crystal Types?
- What are Crystal Points?
- What is a Crystal System?
- What are the Different Crystal Systems?
- What are the Different Crystal Types?
- What is Crystal Energy?
- Do Crystals Have Energy? Do Crystals Really Work?
What is a Crystal?
The word "crystal" comes from the ancient Greek words krustallos and kruos. Krustallos means ice while kruos means icy cold or frost.
What is Crystal Made Of?
Crystals are special molecular substances: every crystal comes with a unique crystal structure. This means two things: first, no two crystals are alike since every crystal has a unique set of chemical elements such as silica or calcium that determine its shape; and, second, the molecular arrangement found in a crystal repeats itself so it maintains its shape and structure even as it grows bigger. It is this repeating pattern that stands as the defining feature of a crystal. The Smithsonian Education website writes,
Every crystal has an orderly, internal pattern of atoms, with a distinctive way of locking new atoms into that pattern to repeat it again and again.
How are Crystals Formed?
Crystallization is often a naturally-occurring process wherein liquids cool then start to harden and stabilize. This includes ice and salt (they're crystals, too!) along with the minerals and diamonds you've probably been thinking about while reading up to this point.
Ezmeralda Lee from Sciencing.com offers a succinct explanation:
What [crystals] are made of determines how [they] will form. Some crystals can be made from salt--these make cubed-shaped crystals. Some are derived from other elements and form completely different shapes. Some examples of these are diamonds or rubies.
Crystallization can occur both in the natural world or in a carefully-controlled environment afforded by a laboratory.
This process occurring in nature usually comes about in three ways:
- When liquid starts to cool and harden much like how a snowflake forms;
- When magma cools and hardens much like how emeralds, diamonds, and rubies form;
- Or when water evaporates from a mixture much like how salt forms.
There is also a way to artificially produce crystals. Leading materials production firm, Alineason, listed five ways to do this. These include:
- Czochralski method. Named after the Polish scientist Jan Czocralski who developed it in 1971, the Czochralski method is a process that involves heating and freezing in a controlled atmosphere. Here, you can achieve desired dimensions by controlling the axial and radial temperature gradients through pulling and rotating the seed simultaneously.
- Bridgman Technique. Also known as the Bridgman-Stockbarger method, this promotes crystal growth from cooled molten material. Here, molten material is heated along a high-temperature zone and a low-temperature one.
- Verneuil Method. Created by French chemist Auguste Verneuil, this process was initially put in place for the sole purpose of producing synthetic gemstones. Currently, this is used to grow crystals including corundum, strontium titanate, and rutile. The Verneuil process requires a furnace with an abundant supply of oxygen and hydrogen, starting or source material such as highly fine powder, and a support rod with or without a seed crystal.
- Kyropoulos Method. Considered to be one of the most advanced techniques for creating artificial crystals, this method originally developed by German scientist Spyro Kyropolous is known to create large single crystals such as a large sapphire.
- Floating Zone Technique. Developed by W.G. Pfann in 1951, this method involves translating polycrystalline crystal through a heater and the so-called floating zone which is a narrow region of the crystal that is molten. Silicon crystals are commonly made through this process.
So, each kind of crystal has its own unique crystallization process on a chemical level. What isn't varied though is that each crystal has a unit cell. This is the most basic group of particles that form the crystal, much like an atom is to the molecule.
This, then, seems as good a time as any to go into the more technical aspects of crystals. As we dive into this next section, we must first learn some terms as they will be used repeatedly throughout this article.
What is a Crystal Lattice?
This is the three-dimensional arrangement of particles as points in space. Lattices and lattice points define a unit cell, as they are the connecting points for neighboring unit cells.
What is a Crystal Structure?
This refers to the arrangement of ions, atoms or molecules in the material. As this arrangement occurs, the particles eventually form repeating symmetrical patterns. The unit cell shows the pattern of the crystal structure repeated over and over again along the crystal’s principal axes until it achieves optimal growth. Given enough time and the right conditions, the crystal can and will grow into the shape of its crystalline structure.
What are Crystal Types?
This is a categorical method in which the crystal is defined according to the bonds between atoms. This will be discussed in its own section.
Facets - In crystallography, facets are simply the flat faces on geometric shapes that fascinated the field's earliest students.
What are Crystal Points?
These occur when facets are joined forming a physical tip at the end of a crystal. While crystal points are natural-occurring parts of crystals, their configuration is considered by many as the focus for energy that helps humans re-balance and heal. Crystal points are usually mentioned alongside chakra which are the spiritual energy centers within the human body.
What is a Crystal System?
Also known as the lattice system, a crystal system is a different categorical method for crystals as this refers to the relative lengths and inclinations of the crystal axes. These six categories will be the first set that we will dive into.
What are the Different Crystal Systems?
Crystals grow when the molecular arrangement repeats itself over layer after layer of the same elements outside the unit cell. As crystals grow, they form different kinds of shapes and are classified according to six general crystal systems. These include:
- Cubic. This crystal shape is similar to a box that can have as many as 12 sides. Here, all three axes have the same length and when they intersect they create right angles. Cube, octahedron, rhombic dodecahedron, icosi-tetrahedron, and hexacisochedron are all considered cubic. Some examples that fall under the cubic crystal system are diamond, pyrite, lapiz lazuli, magnetite, and sphalerite.
- Hexagonal or Trigonal. This is a crystal with 3 or 6 sides. A hexagonal crystal has six sides while a trigonal crystal will have three sides. Rhombohedra, three-sided pyramids or prisms, and scalenohedra are all categorized under this crystal system. Some of the crystals that are considered hexagonal or trigonal are amethyst, citrine, jasper, quartz, rose quartz, ruby, sapphire, and tiger’s eye.
- Monoclinic. This resembles a box that has multiple sides. Each of its three axes are of different lengths with two forming right angles while the third is inclined. Its inner structure forms a parallelogram. Crystal shapes the fall under this category are pinacoids and prisms that have inclined facets. Common monoclinic crystals include azurite, gypsum, lazulite, moonstone, epidote, chrysocolla, and howlite.
- Tetragonal. This also looks like a cube but with one side longer compared to the others. In this crystal system, there are two axes with equal length but the main axis is shorter or longer. When all three axes intersect, they form right angles. Its inner structure is rectangular in shape. Crystal shapes that fall under this category are eight-sided or double-side pyramids, trapezohedrons, four-sided prisms and pyramids, icosi-tetrahedron, and hexacisochedron. Common tetragonal crystals include rutile, wulfenite, anatase, chalcopyrite, scapolite, zircon, scheelite, and apophyllite.
- Orthorhombic. This resembles two pyramids attached to each other. This means all three axes, while of different lengths, form right angles when they intersect. It has a diamond-shaped or rhombic inner structure. Among the crystal shapes categorized as orthorhombic are double pyramids, rhombic prisms, pyramids, and pinacoids. Common orthorhombic crystals are andalusite, celestite, dumortierite, iolite, tanzanite, chrysoberyl, topaz, tanzanite, and zoisite.
- Triclinic. These are the most abstract among crystals. They come with random proportions since all three axes have different lengths and are inclined towards each other. Some of the crystals that are considered triclinic are kyanite, labradorite, turquoise, amazonite, aventurine feldspar, and rhodonite.
There are different types of crystals based on their chemical bonding. As explained by LibreText Libraries, the four types of crystals are:
- Ionic crystals. This crystal structure is made up of alternating negatively-charged anions and positively-charged cations. With ions that can either have one atom or multiple atoms, this type of crystal is hard, easily breaks off, and has high melting points. It only conducts energy when submerged in molten or aqueous solution. Table salt is an example of an ionic crystal.
- Metallic crystals. This type of crystal thrives in mobile valence electrons making them a potent conductor of electricity. This type of crystal has varying melting points ranging from as low a 371°C (Sodium) to as high as 3410°C (Tungsten). Gold nuggets are examples of metallic crystals.
- Covalent crystals. Hard and brittle with high melting and boiling points, they are more atoms than ions. Diamonds and quartz are examples of covalent crystals.
- Molecular crystals. As the name suggests, molecular crystals are made up of molecules found at the lattice points of the crystal. Again, lattice points are where the different crystal lattices intersect. This type of crystal is held together by intermolecular forces such as hydrogen bonds. Ice crystals and dry ice are common examples of molecular crystals.
What is Crystal Energy?
Many people are fascinated by complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). This includes popular practices including yoga and meditation as well as pursuing the healing energy of crystals. More and more CAM believers have fully embraced the concept of crystals that provide healing energy. They believe that each type of crystal has a different effect on a person’s body, mind, and soul. Crystals create a better flow of energy that help expel negativity from the body and the mind. The belief resembles that of acupuncture, in which the body's energy flows (chi or qi) are guided by inserting needles into specific points.
Specific crystals are chosen to help quell specific ailments. Well-respected physical and mental health online source, Healthline, wrote in-depth about 12 healing crystals that are currently the most popularly used among CAM supporters:
- Rose quartz. This pink stone is associated with trust, harmony, and comfort and peace of mind during times of grief, suffering, and sorrow. This crystal also encourages trust, respect, and self-worth.
- Clear quartz. Considered a master healer, clear quartz is said to help strengthen the immune system and promotes balance. It is also known to boost energy and improve memory and concentration.
- Obsidian. Considered a protective crystal, obsidian keeps physical and emotional negativity at bay. It is commonly associated with self-love and compassion.
- Jasper. This crystal is known to be very empowering especially during crunch time. It promotes wisdom, confidence, courage, and quick thinking.
- Amethyst. This is yet another protective crystal. It protects the mind from negative thoughts and promotes humility and spiritual wisdom. It is thought to help relieve stress and counter insomnia.
- Citrine. Citrine is the crystal happy pill. (Not to be ingested, of course.) It is commonly associated with joy, excitement, optimism, motivation, warmth, and enthusiasm.
- Turquoise. Its calming blue hue is known for its healing properties. It helps balance emotions and is considered a good luck charm.
- Tiger’s Eye. A great motivator, this crystal helps you counter self-doubt, fear, and anxiety. It is also known to help a person achieve personal and professional aspirations.
- Moonstone. If you need to reset, the moonstone is the crystal for you. It promotes strength, inner growth, intuition, inspiration, and optimism.
- Bloodstone. As the name suggests, this crystal is known to improve circulation. It encourages creativity, idealism, and selflessness while helping get rid of impatience, irritability, and aggression.
- Sapphire. This crystal represents wisdom and royalty. Associated with prosperity, peace, and happiness, the sapphire also has health benefits including countering depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
- Ruby. This crystal boosts one’s vitality in life. Known to improve intellect and sensuality, ruby has been used to remove toxins from the blood, enhance blood circulation, and promote self-awareness and self-love.
Do Crystals Have Energy? Does Crystal Energy Really Work?
Crystals are huge in the world of alternative medicine. Most CAM believers hold on to their unwavering belief that these special substances harness energy and possess properties that are beneficial to the human body physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Crystals are commonly associated with the concept of chakras. As more and more people delved into an alternative, more non-invasive way to achieve optimal health and wellness, chakras also grew in popularity. Though being a recent addition to mainstream consciousness, chakras were first mentioned in India’s ancient sacred texts of spiritual knowledge called Vedas as early as 1500 to 1000BC.
Known as Cakra in Sanskrit, "chakra" literally translates to wheel. The wheel represents the rotating disks of energy points in the human body. These energy points, at least scientifically, correspond to our major organs and nerves that affect our overall well-being. To achieve optimal health and wellness, these chakras (seven main ones in all that run through our spine), must remain open and aligned.
So where does crystal energy come in the picture? This cannot be answered without briefly discussing the seven main chakras that run along our spine. It is widely believed that each of the seven chakras directly affects a corresponding part of the body or emotional well-being.
For example, an open and well-aligned root chakra which is found in the base of the tailbone or spine helps prevent colon problems, constipation, bladder issues, and arthritis while promoting stability, self-identity, and grounding. An open and well-aligned solar plexus chakra found in the upper abdomen improves digestive health and boosts one’s self-esteem and confidence. An open and well-aligned heart chakra found right in the center of the chest counters heart problems and weight issues while promoting love, friendship, and compassion.
This is where the power of crystal energy comes in. This energy is thought to positively interact with the body’s energy field. In other words, the energy that crystals harness help keep chakras open and well-aligned. Elizabeth Palermo from LiveScience.com describes a typical session:
During a treatment session, a crystal healer may place various stones or crystals on your body aligned with these chakra points, roughly in the regions above the head, on the forehead, on the throat, on the chest, on the stomach, on the gut and on the genital area. The stones used and their positioning may be chosen for the symptoms reported by the patient.
Now this may seem like a whole lot of hokum as indeed there is no proven direct link between holding a crystal and actual medical benefit, but the chemists and pharmaceutical researchers might have missed something that the psychologists and neurologists did not.
Many journals have delved into the fact that the mind is a powerful healing tool in itself. Even science seems to embrace the idea that, under the right circumstances, believing in alternative treatments does have its advantages. The placebo effect is a verifiable phenomenon, after all. An unpublished study conducted in 2001 and presented at the European Congress of Psychology put 80 people in a room, had them fill out a questionnaire to gauge their belief in the paranormal, then asked them to meditate while holding what they (the subjects) believed to be real quartz. In reality, however, they had a 50/50 chance of being given either a real piece of quartz or a convincing glass replica.
Regardless of whether or not they were holding real quartz, participants reported, says Christopher French, Professor at University of London, "that they could feel odd sensations while holding the crystals, such as tingling, heat and vibrations, if we'd told them in advance that this is what might happen." The power of suggestion, it seems, is to some extent a force that needs to be accounted for.
Certain areas of the brain are activated when a patient performs actions which they believe to be effective. These areas of the brain can then trigger the release of endorphins and dopamine. Ted Kaptchuk, director of the Placebo Studies program at Harvard Med is quoted in a WebMD article which discusses the power of the placebo effect in crystal healing saying that this "…is a real biological process, not something you are just making up."
Taking this phenomenon to its logical extent, while it may not remove a tumor or lower blood pressure, the mind that believes in crystal healing may be powerful enough to be effective in addressing stress-related insomnia, fatigue, nausea, and pain management.
And considering the ever-growing popularity of crystal healing and its believers, one can imagine this healing effect (albeit, likely a placebo) to only grow stronger over time.
We hope you enjoyed this article! If you are interested in incorporating crystals into your life to help combat anxiety, you should consider a mindful breathing necklace made of a crystal that resonates with you. Mindful breathing jewelry made of crystals not only help provide the benefits of the crystal you choose to wear, but they can also be used to help slow your breath, leading to a greater sense of calm and serenity. Also, if you are interested in reading more about anxiety and crystals, check out our comprehensive blog post on the 15 Best Crystals for Anxiety!