If you know a witch, or anyone even slightly New Age-y, you'll probably already be aware of their slightly unhealthy love for shiny rocks. Semi-precious stones, tumbled or uncut, are mesmerising to the eye, but their visual assets are only part of the charm.
It's pretty difficult not to be attracted to crystals even if you don't believe they have mysterious healing properties; after all, we've adorned ourselves in precious stones the likes of diamonds, rubies and sapphires for thousands of years, valuing them higher than most objects in the world for their rarity and beauty.
For the witch, though, the more modestly priced semi-precious stones that can be found at spiritual stores are just as valuable. Generally speaking, while the monetary value for certain uncut gems (such as emeralds) is much lower than their cut state, when it comes to their value in healing it really doesn't make a difference.
The idea behind crystals as magical tools is that they, like all natural things, absorb and transmit energy. A lot of people find this difficult to comprehend; sure they agree that certain herbs and roots have healing properties when ingested, absorbed into the skin or the aromas inhaled, but how would someone tackle an ailment simply by holding or being around these little rocks?
It sounds far-fetched to the uninitiated, but when you learn to respect and trust these fascinating objects, you'll discover some extraordinary results. Call it a placebo effect if you like, but that doesn't change the fact that many people feel better - both physically and mentally - when they are in possession of certain crystals.
So how does it work? All crystals are different and all have the alleged power to give out certain types of energies associated with the mind, body and soul. Take amethyst for example, which is thought to be both calming and stimulating for the mind and is highly valued for its ability to improve psychic powers. Physically, it is thought to aid metabolism, cleanse the immune system, alleviate pain and treat insomnia among many other things. Similarly, crystals have the power to absorb the negative flow of energy that may be adversely affecting you, much like a bandage might absorb fluid and block toxins from reaching the wound.
Because of this, any expert will tell you that it is vitally important to regularly cleanse your crystals. This is more of a spiritual cleanse rather than a physical one, although water, salt and smoke are usually utilised to do the work. Cleansing crystals stops them becoming saturated with different energies, both positive and negative, after which you can then meditate on them and "program" them into performing the task that is required.
Of course, the scientific consensus on crystals is that they don't actually work. It's true that there's no crystal powerful enough to cure cancer or heal broken bones, but the power of positive thought and a strong faith has a proven affect on health. It would be pretty immoral to try and convince someone that they're wrong for using crystals to help with their everyday struggles, if indeed the results are effective.
Traditional medicines usually work more or less instantaneously for the average person, but to reap the benefits of crystals, it takes a lot more practise. It requires concentration, conviction and intuition, and it's almost a mutual understanding between the rock and the person. Inanimate they may be, but lots of inanimate objects have the power to evoke different energies, which is why we become sentimentally attached to jewellery, stuffed toys and clothes. We've applied a value to them based on how they make us feel, not their monetary worth. Crystals are much the same.