The Seeing Stone . . . or Rock Crystal
Quartz seems a good stone to begin with, partly because it's one of this planet's most abundant minerals. According to Bruce J. Knuth, it's "found in nearly every exposed rock on the earth's surface." There's an almost democratic quality in quartz, which I love. While diamonds and sapphires and the "precious" gems are often accessible only to those with a disposable income or an inheritance, nearly anyone can have a piece of quartz grace their life. Although there are many different types of quartz -- including rose quartz, smoky quartz, and amethyst -- for simplicity's sake, this entry will deal only with transparent colorless quartz, aka rock crystal.
Because quartz is so ubiquitous, nearly every culture has had some sort of belief about it. It's been thought to be petrified ice or solidified primordial light. The ancient Mexicans believed that souls were contained inside rock crystal and their shamans could send the soul of the crystal out into the world for healing or other purposes. In China and Japan it was associated with victory. The ancient Egyptians [5th Dynasty, Old Kingdom] gave their statues quartz eyeballs, to both "gaze into eternity" and in burial sites, "to guide the soul on its way to the land of the dead." [Sylvie Raulet, Rock Crystal Treasures]
Quartz has also been said to "contain the history of the world." In Rock Crystal Treasures, Raulet mentions the Perrault fairy tale, "Gracieuse et Percinet" (a variant of the Psyche and Eros story) in which the princess Gracieuse becomes lost in a dark forest, collapses, calling out to Prince Percinet, "Have you forsaken me, too?" She then catches sight of a palace "made entirely of crystal, sparkling like the sun. She is shown into this enchanting palace and led into a great hall, which has walls made of rock crystal. She discovers that the story of her entire life, down to the very least of her daily deeds, is engraved on the walls of the hall. In the fairy tale the hall acts symbolically as a receptacle for all the images in the subconscious, transfiguring individual destinies to represent the history of the world." (pp. 24-25)
While I'm not sure I agree with leap to Gracieuse's life story representing the history of the world, there are many beliefs about crystal containing history, and visions of past, present, and future -- a medium for clairvoyance. Crystal gazing balls are one of the most common examples of this. And in contemporary metaphysical belief there are crystals known as record keepers, which can be recognized by the perfect triangles etched on one or more facets, which are said to contain "wisdom consciously stored by other beings." Crystals have also been used as doors into other realms and as a means of contacting other beings -- a kind of psychic radio bringing in messages from other dimensions.
Shamans all over the world have incorporated crystals in their ceremonies. According to Raulet, in Borneo shamans used them to communicate with a person's soul; in Melanasia they were diagnostic tools, used to identify the cause of illness. According to Mark Bahti's, Spirit in the Stone, Native American shamans in the southwest also used them to locate missing objects or an enemy's trail, and in the Tiwa pueblo Isleta, crystals were believed to "invoke the power of the moon." Many cultures, including tribes in Queensland, Australia, used quartz crystals as "rain stones" in rain-making ceremonies. And the folklorist Maria Leach writes, "In early British folk-belief quartz pebbles were called star-stones and were constantly sought for their curative properties."
Contemporary metaphyscial beliefs recommend quartz crystals for meditation and healing work, with the stone often being an aid to moving blocked or negative energy. The metaphysical guides distinguish between different shapes of the crystals and their faceting, with specific types of crystals being suited for specific types of healing.
So going back to the rock itself: There is something quite amazing in holding a piece of perfectly clear stone, as if what you're holding are the qualities of light and clarity somehow made solid. It seems completely natural to me that humans have connected clear quartz with visions and clairvoyance. Rock crystal almost invites you to gaze into it and allow it to reveal a vision of its own.
Raulet's book was written in collaboration with the French jeweler Alain Boucheron, and it's the extraordinary Boucheron crystal collection that provides many of the photgraphed pieces in the book. It was just recently that I noticed the preface to the book, written by Boucheron, which is one of the most beautiful tributes to the mineral that I've seen:
"Some zones of rock crystal are so immaculate and completely transparent that the eye sees straight through them and seemingly on toward infinity. Others are 'occupied,' enclosing frost or fine filaments of mist whose undulations catch the eye. A rock crystal represents at once both turbulence and limpidity, and its dual, even ambiguous nature is the very essence of the mineral's magic. It conjures up all that is finite and yet never ending, instantaneous, though eternal; both heat and cold, immobile yet changeable. This explains why George Sand said that it represented the limit between 'the Visible and the Invisible.' It hovers between the dream and reality . . . "
Okay, that's it for now. More to come soon. Please let me know if you have questions, a stone you're particularly curious about, or gem lore you'd like to share.