(I really wanted to call this post “Everybody must get stoned” but that seemed too irreverent, even for me. Anyway…)
A lot of Pagan and Pagan-adjacent folk work with stones and crystals as part of their spiritual practice. This has perhaps become especially prevalent since the rise of Instagram witches and mail-order witchy or Pagan supplies.
I make use of stones regularly myself. Now, I don’t believe that the stones have innate magical properties, I see them more as tactile reminders of certain qualities that I want to invoke in myself. For instance, I have a small piece of jade shaped with a smooth concave surface, that I keep in my pocket and gently hold when I need to feel calm. It works. Not because jade has some mystical ability to radiate calmness, but because the coolness, weight and most importantly the personal relationship I have with this particular stone give me a moment to reconnect, breathe and be still, making me feel more calm.
But this post isn’t about whether stones and crystals are magic or not (I have no issue with people believing they are, as long as they’re not claiming rose quartz can cure cancer or anything). This is a step back, a moment to reflect.
Where do your stones come from?
Unless a supplier tells you where they come from, and is willing to discuss their sourcing and ethics with you, it’s a bit of a red flag. In The New Republic (2018), Emily Atkin writes:
I tried to track down the sources of crystals sold on popular websites. I found that some were mined in countries with notoriously lax labor and environmental regulations, and some came from large-scale U.S. mines that have contaminated ecosystems and drinking water. The impacts of extracting crystals are admittedly low compared to those of industrial gold, copper, granite, or rare earth mining, but crystals have gone from a new-age fad to a multi-billion dollar industry. And given that crystals can be used to “make a promise to mama earth,” it would seem important to know how they were extracted from mama earth.
There is a deep irony in this. Pagan-y type folk often use stones and crystals to connect with the earth, to honour the spiritus mundi, the world-soul. Yet, frequently these stones themselves have been industrially yanked out of the earth without any consideration of the spirit of the place where they were mined, and often without any consideration of the humanity of the exploited workers toiling in hellish conditions. Atkin writes:
It’s not difficult, however, to prove that some crystals come from mines that are decidedly unfriendly to the Earth. For example, this large blue chrysocolla—a “supportive goddess energy stone”—is from the Tyrone Copper Mine, and this $48 pyrite stone to “promote positive thinking” is from the Chino Copper Mine. These are the two largest copper mines in New Mexico, and according to the environmental group Earthworks, they “will generate an estimated 2 billion gallons of acid and metals contaminated seepage every year, requiring water treatment in perpetuity.”
Cyndi Brannen at Keeping Her Keys (2019) discusses how, as well as the obvious environmental damage caused by large-scale stone mining, a shallow engagement with healing crystals can have other toxic effects.
From the exploited laborers to the raping of the earth, through the many toxic hands that pass the crystals onto the retailers, and the greed driving the whole mess, it all dishonors the spirits of the stones. When we purchase a stone of unknown origin, the minimum we should do is to heal it through cleansing and communication before getting into our selfish uses.
Not only this, but it can lead to a lazy, quick-fix approach to witchy or Pagan practice that avoids the hard work involved in truly *practicing* your craft: Brannen writes:
This reflects a very toxic approach to energy work that’s rampant in New Age practices: quick, easy and pretty…Another problem is that the “healing crystals” approach can be like Kardashian witchcraft – they only care about appearance and not what’s underneath. I feel bad for the stones they have since they are being neglected for who they are, and for those who have such a tertiary approach to stones.
From an animist perspective, these stones have a “spirit” that should be honoured and worked with, they are not merely lumps of inert matter to be torn from the earth, their home, packaged up, shipped around the world and used without care or consideration of their stories, their homelands, their journeys.
So what to do if you do want to continue to work with stones? Brannen suggests being informed is the first step. Know about the problems of industrial stone mining, and learn about the science of stones themselves:
Witchcraft is both an art and science. Geology and mineralogy speak to the scientific side of stone spirit witchery. Learn the basics about the different type of rocks and delve into crystalline structure if you’re so inclined. Those structures correspond to various sacred geometric shapes which is fascinating.
Perhaps, as Atkin writes,
[M]ost buyers and sellers of healing crystals don’t see a problem with sourcing stones from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, or from industrial-scale copper mines in America.
But from the point of view of a Pagan practicioner working with stones as sacred entities connected to the earth, such knowledge should give us pause for thought.
With the exception of a few stones, like my jade piece, which I got from reputable, ethical suppliers (one local geologist and some from a short time of subscribing to Witch Casket, who ensure in their FAQs that all materials are sourced “ethically and in a way that causes as little harm as possible to our earth”), the best connection I’ve found with stones has been from simple found ones.
A pebble picked up on the beach at sunset, a slate shard from the mountains, a simple stone dug up when turning the soil to plant flowers, a river rock from a favourite spot. These stones may not be as pretty as colourful polished jades and quartz, labradorite and malachite, but they represent a real connection to place – to the spirit of land, sea and sky, to the real living world around you rather than the world of Insta-filtered fantasy.
You don’t even need to remove these stones from their habitats. Just pick them up, connect with them, whisper your intentions, and place them back again, knowing that they remain connected to their land, touched by your hands, a tangible memory-point to travel back to in meditation and dream.
And if you like surrounding yourselves with pretty things, as I do myself, ask your stone sellers where they come from before buying them. Or just visit your local geology museum instead!
[Edit: In the comments Yewtree mentioned the importance of also giving back to the communities impacted by mining, who often are exploited by wealthy companies and left with pollution and cleanup. So, if you happen to have some old, unethical crystals hanging around, perhaps a donation to a cause like the Gaia Foundation, who work to “revive bio-cultural diversity, to regenerate healthy ecosystems and to strengthen community self-governance for climate change resilience”, or to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society who “work to ensure the safety and well-being of First Nations youth and their families through education initiatives, public policy campaigns and providing quality resources to support communities” might help to give back.]
Atkin, E. (2018). “Do you know where your healing crystals come from?”, The New Republic, 11 May, accessed 5 February 2019, https://newrepublic.com/article/148190/know-healing-crystals-come-from
Brannen, C. (2019) “The toxicity of crystals and ways to practice real stone spirit magick”, Keeping Her Keys, 8 January, accessed 5 February 2019, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/keepingherkeys/2019/01/why-crystals-are-problematic-ways-to-practice-real-stone-spirit-magick/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Pagan&utm_content=37