crystals, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

7 Ways to Set Up a Pet-Proof Altar

Let me preface this by saying that I love my cats. I do. But one of them has an odd obsession with getting into any plant that’s within reach (and several that aren’t), and the other will hurl things and scream if one of us fails to sit on the kitchen floor with him in the morning. I don’t know why this is, but it’s the reality of the situation.

Anyway, as you can probably tell, this makes setting up and maintaining a home altar somewhat… challenging, shall we say. Not only do I not want my altar disturbed, I also don’t want to have to worry about someone eating something they shouldn’t. So, here’s how I keep everyone (and everything) safe:

Train Your Cats to- hahahahahaha

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Couldn’t finish that thought with a straight face, either.

She might be your familiar, but that doesn’t mean she cares about your stuff.

Choose Portable Altar Decor (But a Permanent Space)

In my opinion, part of an altar’s power is in its presence even when it isn’t being used. Some of that is lost when you have to set up and take down your altar every time you need it, but that doesn’t make a portable altar any less beautiful or meaningful.

If you do have to go the portable route, however, I’d recommend keeping a dedicated altar space. Even if you can’t have food offerings out without your dog getting into them, or your cat tries to knock over all of your statuary, you can still have a specific space that’s only used for your temporary altar. Get a nice accent table and cover it with a cloth. Set it with a good-sized crystal or a vase of flowers (if your animal companions will allow for it). Save the other altar tools and decorations for when you’re actually performing a working, but keep that space as a designated altar even when it isn’t in use.

Use a Drawer

One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid my felines’ penchant for destruction is to choose a table with a nice, deep drawer, and set up an altar in that. You can still have a permanent space, and all you have to do is pull the drawer open to get to work.

Remember to close it gently, though — you’ll keep your altar tools and decorations from rattling and knocking around that way.

Use the Floor

If having things knocked over is your primary concern, why not just put them on the floor to begin with? The fact is, having chairs and tables so far from the floor isn’t a universal thing — plenty of cultures around the world use low tables, floor cushions, or nothing at all.

Designate a space for a floor altar. Set it with a small accent rug and your altar supplies. Place a comfy floor pillow in front of it, and you’re golden.

Use the Outdoors

If your interior space is too thoroughly dominated by your four-legged roommates, consider working outside. It’s a bit less convenient if the weather’s bad, but outdoor altars are beautiful, functional, and, if you work closely with your local nature spirits, immensely powerful.

The only tip I’d offer here is to choose altar decorations that are resistant to walking away. Expensive statues might disappear on you, and shiny crystals may prove irresistible to the local bird population. Materials that aren’t durable enough might end up a bit worse for wear after a few rainstorms and a couple of rounds of sun bleaching, too. Largish stones, garden statuary, candles, and — of course — plants are inconspicuous, not likely to disappear, and can handle being outside.

Watch the Center of Gravity

Few things are as nerve-wracking as a tall, lit candle. This is especially true when that candle is in the same room as a cat. If candles are part of your practice, make sure to invest in some good, heavy candle holders. If you can make sure your candles are sufficiently bottom-heavy, they’ll be less likely to tip over easily. For this reason, I also recommend tealights and jar candles over, say, long, fancy tapers.

The same is true of any statuary or other decorations. Avoid choosing items that have a high center of gravity, because they’re much more likely to tip over if, for example, a very zealous boxer puppy wags his tail too close to your altar.

Invest in Some Museum Wax

Museum wax is what helps keep museum displays in place. It comes in several types, from an opaque, gummy material to one more like clear dental wax, and can help things stay stationary if they get bumped. The only caveat here is that it doesn’t work on an altar cloth — museum wax provides a tacky surface between two smooth finishes, so it won’t really help to keep your statues in place on top of fabric.

Know Your Poisons (They May Not Be What You Think)

So, we probably all know not to let our pets get into toxic herbs or houseplants. The ASPCA has a good list of plants that can trigger adverse reactions.

I remember watching a video by a crystal worker a few years ago. In it, they mentioned being guided by their intuition to charge a piece of cinnabar(!) using fire(!!). The reason I mention this is that, sometimes, the list of things we know we should keep away from our pets isn’t as long as it ought to be.

For example, cinnabar is an ore of mercury. Some specimens even have droplets of mercury on or in them. Metallic mercury is, itself, not that toxic — organic mercury compounds are far more dangerous — but inhaling heated mercury vapor is a super bad idea. Honestly, you shouldn’t even really handle cinnabar or wear it next to your skin. If you want to work with it, use gloves, keep it in a glass container, and definitely don’t let your pets touch, lick, or play with it. Definitely definitely don’t heat it up.

Some other gemstones contain toxic materials, like lead, arsenic, or antimony.

Plants and mineral specimens aren’t the only sources of a potential poisoning, either. Some pottery — particularly very old or inexpensive stuff — may not be food safe. This means that its paint or glaze can contain toxic minerals that might leach out if you use it to cook with or eat from. While this isn’t usually a super serious concern for altar tools, it can be if you have a pet who tries to sneak a drink out of your altar’s water vessel or steal your food offerings!

The bottom line is, it’s important to know what goes on your altar. If you have pets, it’s equally important to assume that everything is going to end up on the floor or in someone’s mouth eventually.

crystals

Working with Herkimer Diamonds

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I like crystals. Even if I didn’t work with them, I’d probably collect them.

I received my first one when I was very little — about five or so, I think. It was a piece of dyed hot pink agate, shaped into an egg about as long as my thumb. I didn’t know anything about geology or crystal properties, but I knew I liked it and so, like a corvid, I kept it with the rest of my treasures.

(Most of those “treasures” were dead swamp cicadas that I’d pick up on the sidewalk in late summer. I had — okay, have — a Thing for iridescent colors.)

I still collect crystals, though now they actually get used for things. Unfortunately, the reality of the crystal market means I can’t just buy whatever I like. There’s a vetting process. Since I’m also lazy, this means that, for the past couple of years, I’ve only picked up Arkansas quartz, Herkimer diamonds, and piece or two from Brazil after making a nuisance of myself to the seller.

All of this is to say that Herkimer diamonds kick ass and they’re very easy to obtain ethically. If I could only use one crystal for the rest of my life, it’d be one of these.

What are Herkimer diamonds?

Well, for one, they’re not diamonds. They earn their name because they come from Herkimer county, New York, and are an exceptionally hard, clear variety of (usually double-terminated) quartz.

Herkimer is known for these stones, so there are a bunch of mines you can visit to get your own from the source. There’s no child labor involved, and the process of mining is pretty much you, some hand tools, and a bucket, so these crystals are also lower on the social and environmental impact scale than many others. A bunch of Etsy merchants make a point to visit Herkimer once a year or so, dig for some, then sell them, so they’re also pretty easy to obtain even if you aren’t interested in making the trip yourself. (Two of my favorite sellers are Luminous Harvest and Greengem. Bonus, Greengem is also a source of beautiful, conflict-free rings — even some really fancy alternative engagement rings.)

How are Herkimer diamonds used for spiritual healing?

Herkimer diamonds have a reputation as extremely high-vibration crystals. They’re supposedly good for purifying the physical and astral body, attuning you to another person, group, or place, removing energy blocks, and increasing the “oomph” of the other stones they’re used with.

According to Michael Gienger’s Healing Crystals, they can be used for awareness, clarity, dream recall, heightened awareness and consciousness, and pain relief. It’s also trigonal and secondary, which makes it particularly helpful for people with “trigonal personalities,” and who wish to unlearn negative behavioral patterns and live in greater harmony with their external environment. For more information, read Gienger’s Crystal Power, Crystal Healing. It’s a very interesting read that outlines his really unique approach to the subject.

(Of course, I don’t endorse the use of crystals in place of conventional medicine. They’re great as a complementary therapy, but please consult a doctor first.)

A hand holds a Herkimer diamond in clear river water.
Cleaning a Herkimer diamond in the river. Look at all of those hydrocarbon inclusions!

What are the magical properties of Herkimer diamonds?

Since they’re clear quartz, they are pretty efficient “all purpose” stones. They do often come with some neat, unique features that make them particularly useful, in a magical sense:

  • Many of them contain hydrocarbons, visible as black lines, dots, or flecks within the crystal. These bits of incredibly ancient vegetable matter connect us to our ancestors, all the way back to our pre-human family tree. For this reason, they can be very helpful for ancestor work.
  • Most of them are double terminated, which makes them helpful for simultaneously sending and receiving energy.
  • A lucky few contain deposits of water, too! “Enhydro” crystals are strongly connected to the water element, as well as earth. This makes them useful for rituals for purification and emotional healing.
  • Some of the rainbow fractures and water or hydrocarbon inclusions give them a character that’s similar to garden quartz (or shaman quartz). The inclusions and “flaws” can create beautifully complex scenes inside the crystal that are lots of fun to fall into. This makes them great as a meditative focus, or an aid to trance or journeying work.
  • They’re generally not huge. To be honest, most of the ones you’ll find in metaphysical shops are downright tiny. This makes them great for including in pouches, sachets, bottles, or whatever else your witchy heart desires.

Herkimer Diamond Clearing Spray Recipe

This is a recipe for something I whip up when I’m in a situation where salt, smoke, or other methods of clearing energy aren’t advisable. Plus, it smells really good.

You’ll need:

  1. First, make sure your ingredients are good to go — tell them what you’re using them for, and what you’d like them to do for you. Bergamot protects from evil, cuts off interference, and functions as a “power” herb. Lavender cleanses and promotes peace. Ylang ylang is calming and uplifting. Rosemary is cleansing and protecting. Vervain purifies, gets rid of negative energy, and enhances the action of other herbs in the mixture. Frankincense is purifying and energy raising.
  2. Add the dried herbs and oils first. You can go with your preference here, one is no more powerful than the other. You don’t need much — a drop or two of oil, a pinch or two of herbs.
  3. Swirl the mixture when you’re through, and speak your intention again. This can be simple. Start with, “With this mixture, I[…]” and state your intent.
  4. If you plan to keep this for a long time, fill the bottle two thirds of the way with high proof grain alcohol, like Everclear. (The Tisserand Institute has more information on preservation here.)
  5. Fill the bottle the rest of the way with lavender hydrosol or distilled water. Swirl to mix.
  6. Add the Herkimer diamond.
  7. Screw the top on the bottle and label it. You’re done!

While the sun is great for empowering things, it’s also not super great for scents. If you want to charge this mixture, do so either under moonlight, or very briefly under sunlight. To use it, simply mist the object, person, or space in need of some energy clearing.

life

Homeschooling, feat. Kuato the Martian Resistance Leader and Gwyneth Paltrow

It’s always a delightful feeling to discover new things about your partner.

Like, for example, the fact that they don’t know anything about Goop and have never seen Total Recall. (Him.) Or that they can’t stand hearing people call machines “pieces of junk” because they feel like it’ll hurt the machine’s feelings. (Me.)

This weekend, I sought to rectify these gaps in his cultural education.

I purposefully didn’t want to watch the 2012 remake, because there’s a heavy-handed charm in the original that I didn’t think would translate. Even when they’re trying to, there’s a ridiculous rubber-alien magic that modern remakes can’t really capture. Besides, I don’t know if Colin Farrell can really nail campy one-liners, you know?

Honestly, I’m kind of surprised by how well Total Recall has aged. All of the parts that look incredibly goofy and narmy were just as goofy and narmy years ago. It was a fun watch that was exactly what it said on the tin: A Schwarzenegger action flick on Mars that was just as Schwarzeneggery as it promised. We snarked. We ate kettle corn. We watched SpaceTrump get his eyeballs inflated by explosive decompression.

And then I led him down a Goop rabbit hole:

“Vagina eggs? What.”

“… That’s a lot of money for vagina eggs.”

“I keep reading the word ‘Goop,’ but it’s not sinking in as the name of an actual company. Goop. Goop.”

“There’s a very big ‘how did we get here’feeling. Like why did anyone think this was cool or a good idea?”

“Oh boy! The Goop Lab! That sounds very trustworthy.”

“Vampire facials! … Oh, your own blood.”

“I feel like these jade eggs are going to be in every article about her. Like they’re the crystal skulls to her Indiana Jones. They’re the common thread that will lead us back to the ancient aliens.”

“Oh, so you cowards aren’t gonna show me the $15k 24 carat gold dildo? You’ll show me the eggs, but not that?”

“Please stop doing that to science.”

In unrelated news, there are more birds in the trees outside my windows, and they’re singing their hearts out. Everything else is quiet around them — there’s no real traffic to shoo them away or drown them out. As much as I hate the reason for it, I love the fact that I can hear their songs like this.

Here’s hoping you’re staying safe, sane, and not succumbing to any cooter egg- or astronaut sticker-related problems.

 

crystals, life, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Cleaning House, and Don’t Try the Brown Mushrooms

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This weekend, my partner and I decided it’d be a good time to give everything a nice, solid deep-clean. Everything. The windows, the stove, the weird, hard-to-reach area behind the toilet, everything.

Cleaning house is a great opportunity to refresh the energy in a place. While there are small, day-to-day things you can do to keep the flow from going stagnant on you, nothing really beats a solid top-to-bottom scrubbing and airing out.

Due to a combination of frugality and scent-sensitivity headaches, I make pretty much all of our cleaning products. (What I save in glass cleaner and counter spray, however, I more than spend on ethanol, vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap.) I keep a canister of homemade cleaning wipes in the bathroom, and another in the kitchen. I’ve got pretty cobalt glass bottles of spray cleaner on my kitchen counter, and another of tub and tile cleaner under my bathroom sink.

Frugality and lack of synthetic scents aside, the nicest thing about these DIY cleaners is that the ingredients easily pull double-duty; the same things that keep stains from my counters and rings out of my tub also have a history of use as spiritual cleansing agents. Make them on the right day, in the right moon phase, during the best planetary hour for whatever you’re trying to do, speak your intentions as you add each ingredient, and charge them by whatever method is preferable for you. (I would, however, advise against using sunlight — depending on what ingredients you use, heat and UV light might denature them, leaving you with a concoction that’s mostly water.)

We opened up the curtains and all of the windows. We played upbeat music. We scrubbed everything.

When the physical cleaning was done and my partner was figuring out lunch, I worked on the other side.

I love tarot cards. Not only are they useful divination tools, they’re useful aids for focusing magic. Whatever you’re trying to draw in or push away, there’s a card for that. In each room, I set up a small altar with a candle or incense, a clear quartz,and three cards: The Sun, The World, and the Ten of Cups.

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Cards from the Tarot de Maria-Celia. Massive Herkimer diamond from TheElusiveHerkShop. Lavender and lemongrass candle from SweetgrassApothecary.

These three cards are among the most positive omens in the deck. The Sun speaks of radiant positivity, abundance, and optimism. The World speaks of auspicious beginnings and infinite possibility. The Ten of Cups speaks of ultimate fulfillment. Good stuff to bring into your life and home, right?

I treated them the way you might treat a crystal grid — placing them, charging them, and releasing the energy. It was a small ritual, moving room-by-room, setting up each grid, and putting them to work, but it felt more uplifting and powerful than I can say.

I definitely needed it after the day before that. Friday, I had ambitious (well, relatively ambitious) dinner plans. I made penne, a quasi-homemade mushroom risotto, and grilled vegetables marinated in balsamic vinegar and herbs. Everything came out tasty, and all was well.

You know how some people have genetic quirks that keep them from enjoying certain foods? I don’t even necessarily mean allergies. Some people are lactose intolerant, some think cilantro tastes like soap, and so on.
As it turns out, some people can’t handle boletes.
Like, really can’t handle them.

I am apparently one of them.

mushroom-1281733_640
More like “bol-eat-your-insides-apart,” amirite?

I know the mushrooms weren’t actually toxic, because they came in a prepared blend and I really hope Trader Joe’s knows better. I was lucky, though. Some pretty intense gastric pain and dehydration was the most I had to deal with, though I was legitimately concerned that I was going to need some kind of intervention if things didn’t improve quickly enough. I definitely didn’t want to need a spinal tap because my intracranial and blood pressure decided to shoot way up on me. I definitely definitely didn’t want to go to the hospital and have to explain that I was there because my dumb ass decided now was the time to try eating unfamiliar fungi.

Lesson learned. If you’re trying to avoid using ER resources, maybe stick with things you’re absolutely certain you can tolerate. Save the risotto experiments for the future.

Here’s hoping you’re safe, staying sane, and not eating anything weird.

 

crystals

Irradiated Smoky Quartz: Is it really safe?

A lot — if not most — of the colorful quartz varieties on the market are enhanced in some way, and buyers are often none the wiser. Heated amethyst gets sold as citrine, and smoky quartz might even be treated with radiation to give it an extra impressive, uniform color.

Since a lot of crystal aficionados wear the stones and use them for healing purposes, this raises a serious question: Is it safe to use or wear irradiated smoky quartz?

crystals-3129390_640

How does quartz become smoky quartz?

Before we delve into this subject, it’s important to note that all smoky quartz, natural or otherwise, is irradiated in some fashion. For natural smoky quartz, this happens due to the presence of radioactive minerals in the earth. For enhanced smoky quartz, this happens after it has been mined.

Smoky quartz gets its color from changes within the crystal produced by radiation. All quartz is made of silicon dioxide, with various colors produced by mineral inclusions within this silicon dioxide lattice. In smoky quartz’s case, this is trace amounts of aluminum, which form AlO4molecules that take the place of some of the SiO4 within the crystal. If you look at the molecules, you’ll notice that AlO4carries a negative charge, while SiO4 does not. Because of this, the crystal lattice of smoky quartz also contains small amounts of positive ions, usually hydrogen, lithium, or sodium. When this quartz is exposed to radiation, some of this silicon dioxide becomes free silicon and some of the electrons from the AlO4molecules get knocked out of place. They hook up with the positive ions, and create the characteristic “smoky” gray or brown color of smoky quartz.

Is irradiated quartz safe?

For the most part, irradiated quartz — whether naturally or artificially — is perfectly safe. Think of the color like a suntan. A person tans because they’ve been exposed to solar radiation, but that change in color means that radiation has acted on them, not that they are emitting radiation themselves.

Notice, however, that I say “for the most part.” After typical exposures to radiation, most smoky quartz is perfectly safe. Depending on the source of radiation, some crystals have a somewhat higher risk of becoming radioactive. It’s important to note that this is still a pretty low level of radiation, and decreases with time.

For a stone to become radioactive, radiation needs to add or remove a neutron from some of the atoms within the crystal. In other words, the energy of radiation striking the stone needs to be greater than the energy needed to bump a neutron out of place. The amount of energy it takes to do this varies by element.

Neutron bombardment using a nuclear reactor can irradiate stones, though this is a relatively uncommon method. Stones produced by this process tend to be very dark, and are almost always radioactive. Because of this, these stones are not released for sale until and unless the radioactivity had decayed to safe levels. Electron bombardment using a a particle accelerator streams a narrow beam of electrons at a stone. Many of these accelerators do not operate at a high enough energy to make a stone radioactive, but some do. Even so, the radioactivity of these stones decays quickly, making them perfectly safe within a day or two of treatment. Lastly, gamma irradiators use 60Co (cobalt 60) to produce energy. This does not meet the energy threshold needed to make smoky quartz radioactive. In fact, this process is also used to sterilize things like produce and medical equipment.

So, what does this all mean? By the time a smoky quartz has entered the market for purchase, it’s safe. Wearing or using natural or artificially irradiated smoky quartz is not going to hurt you. If it emits any radiation at all, it will be minimal compared to natural sources of radiation that you come in contact with every day — radioactive minerals in granite, or the potassium isotopes in a banana, for example.

How can you tell if a smoky quartz has been artificially irradiated?

Unlike heat-treated amethyst, there’s really no good way to tell. Some natural varieties of smoky quartz are very dark, like morion, so you can’t always go by color. This means that, unless the stone is labeled or the dealer tells you, the only way to tell if a stone has been artificially irradiated is by examining the matrix.

Naturally-occurring smoky quartz is found adjacent to minerals that contain radioactive material. This usually means intrusive igneous or metamorphic rocks (like granite, an intrusive igneous stone). On the other hand, radioactive material is less common in sedimentary rock like shale (with the exception of uranium, which can appear in limestone, dolomite, or sandstone, among others). This means that very dark smoky quartz with a sedimentary matrix is more likely to have been artificially irradiated, though that’s not really a hard and fast rule.

Smoky quartz is a very popular and versatile stone, and it’s easy to see why — it’s as abundant as it is beautiful. Despite its abundance in nature, some stones are irradiated to improve their color, which has made some people question their safety as jewelry or healing stones. Don’t worry, though — even after getting a radiation tan, smoky quartz is perfectly safe to handle and use.

crystals, Witchcraft

“Fake” Crystals — Opalite, Goldstone, and More.

So, fake crystals.

Some materials that make it into the gem trade pretend to be something they aren’t. They might even come complete with a list of healing and metaphysical properties, leaving buyers none the wiser.

Wait, fake crystals?

There’s a whole spectrum of things covered by the term “fake crystal.” On one hand, it can mean a gem where the trade name doesn’t reflect the mineral itself (e.g. various types of crackled or dyed quartz). It can also mean a material that’s treated like a gem when it isn’t. It might be made into towers, molded into points, tumbled into nuggets, or even shaped into palm stones and spheres.

How can you tell if a gem is actually a crystal vs a man-made material?

Honestly, the best way I’ve found is to know the various types of art glass that end up in the gem trade. If you’re trying to suss out a man-made crystal masquerading as a natural one, there are certain tells you can look for. That’s a better subject for another post, however, so let’s look at art glass that’s frequently sold as and mistaken for natural gemstones.

Opalite

640px-10-20MM_Tumble_Polished_Opalite
Photo from Albion Fire and Ice. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Opalite is a type of opalescent glass, sometimes sold as sea opal or opal moonstone. There is a natural stone called “opalite,” but you’re more likely to come across it under the name “common opal” since synthetic opalite is much more prevalent.

Some unscrupulous sellers will try to pass off opalite glass as natural opal or moonstone. Fortunately, opalite is pretty recognizable — it’s smooth, evenly colored, doesn’t exhibit any cracks or inclusions, and may occasionally contain air bubbles.

Crystal healers sometimes credit opalite with the ability to shift energy blockages, improve one’s ability to communicate, and stimulate creativity.

Goldstone

551px-Goldfluss_(Aventuringlas)
Goldstone photo by GDK. CC BY-SA 3.0. No changes were made.

Goldstone, or aventurine glass (no relation to aventurine), is a stunningly sparkly type of glass made in a low-oxygen environment. It has to be produced in a specific type of environment to allow the copper ions in the mixture to reduce to pure, elemental copper, and within a very narrow temperature range to allow the glass to stay liquid while the copper precipitates out, creating the evenly-distributed gold glitter throughout the glass.

I have seen goldstone marketed as sunstone, as well as sold in ways that obscure the fact that it’s a man-made glass. Goldstone doesn’t really look like natural sunstone, however — the color and distribution of metallic crystals is too even.

Some crystal healers say goldstone promotes energy, confidence, vitality, and ambition.

Blue Goldstone

Blue goldstone looks very similar to regular goldstone, the only difference is the color. Blue or purple goldstones use different metallic elements in their formulations, giving the stones a deep blue or purple color (hence the name) with silver glitter.

Blue goldstone doesn’t really resemble any natural stone, but I have seen it sold as “blue sunstone.”

Like goldstone, blue goldstone is said to help with vitality. It’s also credited with the ability to soothe anxiety and communication.

Fake Quartz

With a cursory visual inspection, molded glass can pass for quartz. There are a few key things to look for to be able to tell regular glass from the real McCoy:

  • Quartz is probably going to be cold to the touch, colder than glass.
  • Quartz will probably be slightly heavier — it generally (not accounting for differences in composition of the matrix, inclusions, etc) has a density of 2.65 g/cm3 while borosilicate glass is about 2.2 g/cm3.
  • Glass is likely to contain air bubbles, and probably won’t have the natural imperfections of quartz.
  • Glass is softer than quartz — it won’t be able to scratch a glass plate, but quartz will.

Some low-quality quartz crystals are ground up, melted down, and used to create reconstituted quartz. This is frequently used for scrying spheres, since it offers perfect clarity along with the other properties of quartz. The best way to tell reconstituted quartz from naturally-formed quartz is its lack of imperfections, and its price tag. A reconstituted crystal sphere of a given size and clarity is much less expensive than its natural counterpart.

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Reconstituted quartz spheres can be as transparent and flawless as glass, but natural quartz very rarely is.

Does it matter?

Eh, maybe.

If you have a piece of opalite, goldstone, or even resin or glass that you get something out of, I’m definitely not going to tell you you’re wrong. I’ll be the first to tell you that something’s origins or how natural it is don’t necessarily dictate its usefulness; I’ve used literal, actual garbage in spellwork before.

That said, it royally sucks to get mislead by an unscrupulous seller. If you enjoy opalite and find that it’s useful for you on your spiritual path, that’s awesome! Just please make sure you know what you’re buying, and don’t let someone overcharge you for their “super rare sea opal.”

It can also be important when you’re looking into making things like gem elixirs. While glass is pretty much inert, you really, really want to make absolutely certain that you’re not working with something that’s going to leach harmful compounds into your elixir. For that reason alone, you absolutely want to make sure that you know exactly what kind of minerals — natural or man-made — you’ve got.

Of course, no man-made material is going to have the exact same physical or metaphysical properties as the gemstone it’s imitating. But (as I mentioned in my post about identifying natural citrine) goldstone, blue goldstone, and opalite can have a legitimate use, even in a very traditional magical system. Color magic is a viable aspect of witchcraft, and goldstone being made in a factory instead of underground doesn’t make it any less orange and sparkly.

 

If you try to use nature-derived material in your spellwork, you might want to familiarize yourself with the man-made stones that occasionally make their way into the crystal and gemstone market. If you don’t really care, or feel drawn to these stones for their own sake, there’s no reason to avoid them. Opalite, goldstone, blue goldstone, and reconstituted quartz are all beautiful and useful in their own ways. If you find a piece that resonates with you, enjoy it and treasure it — no matter whether it came from the earth, or from a laboratory.

Books, crystals

Crystal Power, Crystal Healing

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting writers and this site!

cpchI recently picked up a copy of Crystal Power, Crystal Healing, by Michael Gienger, based on a recommendation by the lovely people behind Dreaming of Avalon. What really intrigued me was the idea of a more “scientific” guide to crystal healing — that is, one that’s based on trials and a definite system, as opposed to some of the very vague information circulating on the internet.

While I can’t necessarily say that the information in Gienger’s work adheres to the scientific method, it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. He breaks crystals down by their structure, mineral class, elemental composition, color, and method of formation. This yields some very interesting ways to choose a stone for your particular purpose. For example, halides have a dissolving property, chlorine-containing minerals break down tension and stress, and green minerals help release emotions. By cross-referencing your lifestyle with the specific chemical properties that would be the most helpful to you, you can find a stone to try working with — or, perhaps most interestingly, get advice for the next geological formation you should visit or move near.

A fair amount of Gienger’s advice runs contrary to what I’ve seen in numerous other crystal guides, which I rather liked. (You won’t find dodgy claims of curing cancer or reversing heart disease, for one. Any physical healing properties are discussed in a supporting sense, not a curative one.) If you’re meditating or working with one of the handful of usual suspects recommended by crystal expert and not getting anywhere, you may want to see what Gienger suggests. Even if you aren’t into working with crystals as a healing tool, the sections on lifestyles, crystal formation, and chemical properties make for a fun, intriguing read. (I learned that I’m rhombic.)

Overall, I recommend this to anyone who uses crystals, even just in a crafting or jewelry-making sense. It’s an interesting book, dense with information, and probably has something to teach even veteran crystal-workers.

crystals

Natural Citrine vs. Heat-Treated Amethyst — Does it matter?

From what I have seen, citrine is like wasabi or olive oil — it’s entirely possible for someone to love it without ever having actually used it. That’s not to say that a lot of citrine crystals on the market are fake, as in made of resin or glass, just that not everything labeled as citrine is actually what it says it is.

What is citrine, really?

Citrine crystals are best known as a bright, sunny yellow variety of quartz. Nobody is really sure where the color comes from. Some suggest that it’s caused by iron impurities in the crystal’s structure, while others say it’s more likely caused by aluminum or irradiation. From what I’ve been able to gather, there are probably several varieties of yellow quartz created under different conditions, all of which have been lumped together for the gem trade under the name “citrine.”

Metaphysically, it’s a stone often used for prosperity, luck, and success spells. Its sunny color lends well to everything relating to the yellow, gold, and orange areas of color magic. As a healing stone, it brings positivity and optimism.

How is citrine faked?

Real citrine is pretty rare. It doesn’t seem so when you walk into a crystal shop, though — chances are, there are tons of clusters of bright orange crystals, usually at a very reasonable price. So, what gives?

While citrine is uncommon, amethyst is not. It’s not at all unusual to take amethyst, subject it to heat treating, and get something that can pass for citrine — in the sense that it’s a crystal, and yellowish.

Heat-treated amethyst
Heat-treated amethyst.

How can you tell if a citrine is real or heat-treated?

To put it bluntly, if you’re used to seeing heat-treated amethyst, real citrine is… Well, disappointing. Most of it looks closer to a smoky quartz than the vibrant orange hues of the heated stuff. It’s like looking at a glass of orange juice next to a glass of orange soda. Compared to a glowing yellow heated amethyst cluster, the real stuff looks almost anemic.

There are other ways to tell, too. Real citrine:

  • Does not often have the same growth habit as amethyst. While we’re probably all used to seeing clusters of low-growing amethyst crystals that look almost like grape jelly, citrine usually appears with longer, straight crystals or as individual points, more akin to clear quartz.
  • Tends to vary between a light yellow, like white Zinfandel, to a smokier, apple juice color. It doesn’t naturally have that bright orange appearance.
  • Tends to be very clear.
  • Is pricier than heated crystals.

By contrast, heat-treated crystals:

  • Tend to have a very milky base, or be cloudy throughout.
  • Often show up as pieces of geodes, usually with a very white base. Individual points usually have a very triangular, almost toothlike appearance.
  • Are extremely brightly colored.
  • Don’t cost much.

There’s one other way to tell a citrine from a baked amethyst — pleochroism. It’s not something the average crystal-buyer can really use to their advantage, but it’s much less subjective than determining how clear a crystal is, or exactly where it falls in the range of natural and artificial colors. Pleochroism describes an optical phenomenon where a mineral appears to change colors when viewed from different angles, particularly when using a polarized light source. Amethyst, citrine, and smoky quartz are all pleochroic. Heating amethyst to alter its color causes it to lose this property, so it is consistently yellow (or orange, or brownish) regardless.

Interestingly, citrines created by heating smoky quartz do continue to exhibit pleochroism. These citrines also become pale when they are heated further, and turn yellow when exposed to radiation.

Citrine.jpg
Yellow citrine crystals.

Does it really matter?

Well, yes and no.

Some argue that heat treating a crystal is just exposing it to the same effects that would happen naturally, so the end product isn’t actually any different from a genuine citrine. Others say that that isn’t the case, and the natural circumstances of a crystal’s formation influence its properties.

If you’re looking for a bright yellow or orange crystal because you want to tap into the magical properties of those colors, it probably doesn’t matter how the crystal was made. If using things in a raw, unadulterated form is important to you, you probably want to shy away from artificially colored crystals. The choice is ultimately up to you.

It matters to me because, under the right conditions, you can tell the difference between a heated amethyst and a citrine. Pleochroism is an empirical way to tell which crystals are baked amethysts, and which are not. I feel like this is an important distinction — magic is transformative. Natural citrine takes in light, and shifts its color based on how its viewed. A crystal that’s supposed to be pleochroic and isn’t wouldn’t be as useful to me as an unaltered stone.

From a practical standpoint, it can also matter because heating a stone affects its durability. High heat can alter the matrix, especially of crystal clusters, making it chalkier and more prone to crumbling.

 

Color magic is a deep and fully developed magical system of its own. If the color is all that matters to a spell, it doesn’t really matter whether a stone is natural, heated, dyed, or coated. For witches who prefer to work with stones in an unaltered state, the distinction between natural and heat-treated citrine can be an important one.

 

 

 

Witchcraft

And so I made a safe travel charm (since the gremlins were already handled).

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“Hey, mind doing a tarot reading real quick?”

I’m kind of used to this — my S.O. and I swap readings on the regular. If he has a decision he’s unsure about, he asks me to pull a few cards. I do the same if something’s bugging me. It’s a helpful way to get some insight that we can’t really get by reading for ourselves.

See, he’s wanted a motorcycle for basically ever. He’s taken riding classes, shopped around, and kept his eyes open for deals. This time, he was messaging me from a dealership. He’d found a used bike at a decent price, but wanted to know more before making the commitment and dropping the dosh.

I pulled a few cards — strangely enough, one of them reversed itself before I could flip it to see what it was. (I often arrange my deck so it’s all upright, and watching the card slowly spin in place until it was perfectly upside-down was super bonkers.)

Temperance reversed, and The Magician.

Buying the bike wouldn’t be sound judgment or a good monetary decision, but it would be the manifestation of something he’s wanted for a long time. The cards he’d pulled before asking me indicated that buying the bike would take a load off of his mind, but waiting would offer a new, better opportunity.

He decided not to buy. (I was pretty relieved, gotta say. I trust his skills, it’s just everyone else on the road I’m concerned about.)

Sure enough, not long afterward, he was hit with the perfect opportunity to get a great bike. Its last owner bought it new last winter, but now he has to move overseas. So, my S.O. managed to snag a nearly-new bike in fantastic condition, with the exact specs he was looking for.

… Which meant that I had to make a charm for safe travel. He’s got a bell, but there are worse things on the road than gremlins.

Historically, travel was always fraught with peril. If there weren’t highwaymen, there were rough roads, storms, injured animals, broken axles, and worse. Even today, it’s not exactly a breeze — most accidents happen within a few miles of home, and longer journeys have their own set of problems. (Trust me, I know. I managed to get run over less than a block from my house as a kid, and someday I might type out the story of how I got stuck on a stranded train in the Utah salt flats seated behind a guy who was on the lam after shooting a dude.)

Long story short, there are a ton of magical measures to help keep you in one piece on the road. Since this is a bike he’s planning on using to commute in the city — weather permitting, of course — I thought this charm was the best way to help keep him safe. Hopefully, it’ll also keep his bike safe, so we don’t have a repeat of the time our car got hecked apart by bad gas in Mississippi!

travelcharm.jpg

 

 

An Amulet for Safe Travel

For this, you’ll need:

I performed this spell on the full moon, during the equinox. Travel doesn’t always leave us room for picking the most auspicious day for spellcasting, so feel free to put this amulet together whenever you need to. Good timing is nice, but not required.

Set up your ritual space as you usually do. Hallow the space, cast a circle, open the gate, call the quarters, you do you.

Combine the herbs, using your projective (dominant) hand. As you do, visualize them filling with energy — enough to extend beyond the amulet itself, to surround whichever vehicle it’s placed within. Place the herbs in the center of the fabric.

Empower the stones as you usually do. If you don’t have a preferred method, hold them in your projective hand. As with the herbs, visualize them filling with warm, protective energy. Place them on the herbs.

Hold your hands over the herbs and stones. Say whatever words are appropriate for your situation — it doesn’t matter if they’re fancy or feel magical, what matters is that they come from the heart. State your intent for this charm. What kind of vehicle do you want to protect? What kind of hazards do you want to protect it from?

Draw the corners of the fabric up, so it forms a bundle. Tie the string or ribbon around the opening (I usually use a miller’s knot) to keep everything in place. If you have any other travel charms, tie them on as well. For this charm, I used a holed stone and a safe travel bindrune (made of raidho and algiz) burned onto a small slice of pine.

Keep the safe travel amulet in the vehicle or, if you’re traveling by public transportation, in a pocket or bag. Before an especially long or risky journey, take a few minutes to hold it in your hands and channel the protective energy.

crystals, Environment

Unethically Mined Crystals: What can you do?

Last Friday, I posted about some of the ethical concerns surrounding the use of crystals. If that has you feeling a way about your own collection, you aren’t alone. The stones are already dug up, so there’s no putting that horse back in the barn — so what can you do to help remedy the situation?

It’s important to look at this from a few angles. On one side, there’s the human cost of bringing crystals to market. On the other, there’s the environmental impact. On the other other, there’s the energetic impact on the stones themselves.

The Human Side

Mining is difficult, hazardous work. Sometimes, it’s even done by children whose families have limited options for survival — you don’t put your kids to work like that unless the danger of starving is bigger than the danger of a mine collapse. Contributing to humanitarian causes to help lift families out of poverty is one way to reduce child labor, by eliminating the need for kids to have jobs in the first place.

Supporting ethical crystal suppliers is another key. As I touched on in last Friday’s post, altering market pressures to disincentivize unethical gemstones is one thing we can all begin to do on an individual level. If people don’t buy crystals from questionable suppliers, it won’t be worth it for them to stay in business. It takes a long time to do, but it’s currently the best weapon we have against the unethical gemstone trade. (There are other, very complex issues tied up in supporting exploitative businesses, but those are outside of the scope of this post.)

The first step to correcting any problem is being willing to surrender the benefits that came with it. In this case, that’s an abundance of inexpensive and readily-available crystals. From an energetic standpoint, look at things like donation as a sacrifice — you give up your time or money (a tangible representation of the energy it took to earn) to try to bring balance back to the world.

The Environmental Side

Healing the environmental scars left behind by crystal mining is similar to working on the human side — removing the incentive for environmentally-destructive practices. Businesses are run by humans, and humans respond pretty predictably to the removal of extrinsic motivation. So, by refusing to buy from high-impact mining operations, it’s possible to (eventually) disincentivize environmental destruction.

Sun rising over mountains.

In some cases, doing this may limit the kind of crystals you have available to you, but that’s not really a bad thing. There are even mines that allow you to visit and gather your own crystals, which is a brilliant means of fostering a connection to them in a low-impact, ethical way.

There are also environmental initiatives and conservation efforts that work to combat some of the destruction caused by mining. Though these are less direct at addressing the problem itself, they are no less integral to helping mining-affected areas recover.

The Crystal Side

Lastly, you have the stones themselves. Sure, you can cleanse them, but is some incense smoke or running water enough to heal the wounds of their origins?

Sometimes, stones take more than a one-off cleansing to prepare them. It can take months of regular cleansing and handling to bring them back to equilibrium. I don’t necessarily recommend going through this before you ever work with a crystal, though. If your work and intentions are pure and focused, just using the stone is a form of recalibration in itself. Magic has a residual effect on the things it touches. Just like other tools are affected by regular work, stones are the same.

heart-3243179_1280

I have known witches and lightworkers who obtained crystals from people who got in over their heads, magically speaking — jumping into baneful things and spiritwork they weren’t prepared for, and leaving all kinds of energetic dross behind in the process. The crystals’ new owners ended up doing things from rolling them in wet leaves, to stashing them in the forks of trees, to singing or playing music to them every day. Feel out the energy of your stones, and do whatever calls to you. This is a pretty heavy energetic burden to bear, so work on lightening it, even if it feels a little (or very) silly. A lot of magic involves being playful, uninhibited, and occasionally ridiculous. Get weird, if that’s what resonates. Be the airbrushed t-shirt unicorn you want to see in the world. 

In a perfect world, all of this would never be an issue. There would be no incentive for child labor, unsafe working conditions, or environmental harm, and we’d all know exactly where everything we buy comes from. Unfortunately, that isn’t the world we live in right now, but there are ways we can try to offset the impact of crystal mining and begin to heal some of the scars it leaves behind.