Crystal Gazing (or Crystallomancy)

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Crystal Gazing (or Crystallomancy)

A mode of divination practiced from very early times with the aid of a crystal globe, a pool of water, a mirror, or indeed any transparent object. Divinations by means of water, ink, and such substances are also known by the name of hydromancy. The crystal gazer is often known as a "scryer" and the operation of gazing known as "scrying." Crystal gazing may be a very simple or a very elaborate performance, but in every case the object is to induce in the clairvoyant a form of hypnosis, so that he may see visions in the crystal.

The "crystal" most in favor among crystal gazers is a spherical or oval globe, about four inches in diameter, and preferably a genuine rock crystal. The crystal may be white, blue, violet, yellow, green, opalescent, or transparent. Blue or amethyst colored crystals are less tiring to the eyes. As a genuine rock crystal of this size and shape is necessarily expensive, a sphere of glass is frequently substituted, with very good results. It must, however, be a perfect sphere or oval, free from speck or flaw, highly polished, and traditionally based in a stand of polished ebony, ivory, or boxwood. Precious stones were also used by crystallomancers of the past, the favorite stone being beryl in pale sea green or reddish tints. Among the Hindus, a cup of treacle or a pool of ink was made to serve the same purpose.

Crystallomancy was practiced by the ancients to invoke spirits, and elaborate preparations and ceremonials were considered necessary. A practitioner had to first be a man of pure life and religious disposition. During the days immediately preceding inspection of the crystal, he made frequent ablutions and subjected himself to strict religious discipline, with prayer and fasting.

The crystal and its stand were inscribed with sacred characters, as was the floor of the room in which the invocation was to take place. A quiet spot where the gazer was free from all disturbances was suggested. The gazer's mental attitude was no less important than the material preparations. Perfect faith was an essential condition of success. If the magician wished to be accompanied by one or two of his friends, they had to conform to the same rules and be guided by the same principles.

The time of the invocation was chosen according to the position in the heavens of the various planets, all preparations having been made during the waxing of the moon. All instruments and accessories to be used in the performancethe sword, rod and compasses, the fire and the perfume to be burned thereon, as well as the crystal itselfwere consecrated or "charged" prior to the actual ceremony.

During the process of invocation, the magician faced the east and summoned from the crystal the spirit he desired. Magic circles were inscribed on the floor, and the crystallomancer remained within these for some time after the spirit had been dismissed. It was essential that no part of the ceremonial be omitted; otherwise, the invocation would be a failure.

If the person on whose behalf the divination was to be performed was not clairvoyant, he or she sought a suitable medium, the best being a young boy or girl, born in wedlock, and perfectly pure and innocent. Prayers and magic words were said prior to the ceremony, and incense and perfumes were burned. Sometimes the child's forehead was anointed, and he himself provided garments suitable to the impressive nature of the ceremony.

Some early writers mention a formula of prayers, known as the "Call," that preceded the inspection of the crystal. After the crystal was "charged," it was handed over to the medium. The first indication of clairvoyant vision was the appearance of a mist or cloud in the crystal. This gradually cleared away, and the vision appeared.

Paracelsus and others declared that such elaborate ceremonies prior to crystal gazing were unnecessary, and that the magnes microcosmi (the magnetic principle in man) was sufficient to achieve the desired objective.

Modern crystal gazing is carried on in much the same manner as in ancient times, although the preparations are simpler. The crystal is spherical and of the size of an orange. When in use it may be held between the agent's finger and thumb, or, if the end is slightly flattened, placed on a table; alternatively, it may be held in the palm of the hand against a background of black cloth.

The operation is more readily carried out in a subdued light. A medium or clairvoyant acts as the seer and if the divination is made for anyone else it is advisable that he or she be allowed to hold the crystal in his or her hand for a few minutes before it is passed into the hands of the clairvoyant.

The object of crystal gazing is the induction of a kind of self-hypnotic state giving rise to visionary hallucinations, the reflection of light in the crystal forming points de repère for such hallucinations. The value of elaborate ceremonials and impressive rituals thus lies in their potency to affect the mind and imagination of the seer.

It has been widely reported that the appearance of a crystal vision is heralded by a milky clouding of the ball. This clouding is a kind of picture in itself. It depends on no optical conditions and is not the result of a strain on the eye; it persists and will be visible even after the scryer turns his head away. After the first pictures it acts as a kind of drop scene. It has been compared to the cloud in materialization séances; phantasmal figures reportedly emerge.

The pictures to which the cloud gives way may be small or may fill the sphere. The visions are often symbolic, and the pictures are either vague images or they have a clear sense. Lifelike visions are comparatively rare. In the majority of cases, crystal gazing is only an amusing psychical entertainment provided by the subconscious self.

According to Charles Richet, about one person in 20 may succeed in the experiment but perhaps one among 20 successful experimenters will receive genuine impressions that could not have been obtained by normal means. F. W. H. Myers considered crystal gazing a form of automatism by which the sub-conscious self may send messages to the conscious self. Misplaced objects may be found through the use of the crystal ball; forgotten dreams may be revived, and a systematic exploration of the subconscious mind may take place.

Margaret Verrall, a lecturer at Newnham College, England, concluded from personal experiences that the picture is created from the bright points of light reflected in the crystal. Once formed, she said, the picture has a reality and spontaneity quite unlike an imaginary scene called up voluntarily with closed eyes. The pictures are mostly colored but occasionally resemble black and white sketches. She was successful in tracing most of her visions to recent memories.

"Miss X" (Ada Goodrich-Freer), author of Essays in Psychical Research (1899) and an experienced crystal gazer, said the best way to begin scrying was to look about the room and observe some brightly colored object, close the eyes, and try to transfer the picture to the ball. If this is successful, the next stage should be an attempt to recall a vivid memory picture and to transfer it into the ball in the same way. After this it is very likely that spontaneous images will also appear. Miss X often traced her visions to forgotten memories, which she used the crystal to re-call. Occasionally, she could see in the ball the characters of a work of fiction she was writing. If she did not know how to proceed with the plot she looked into the crystal and watched the figures enact the next steps of the story.

She also related a curious instance showing how unconscious observation may become externalized in the crystal:

"I saw, as if in a cutting from The Times, the announcement of the death of a lady, intimate with near friends of my own, and which I should certainly have regarded as an event of interest and consequence under whatever circumstances communicated. The announcement gave me every detail of place, name and date, with the additional statement that it was after a period of prolonged suffering. I had heard nothing of the lady resident in Americafor some months, and was quite willing to suppose the communication prophetic or clairvoyant. Of this flattering notion I was soon disabused. An examination of the paper of the day before soon showed that the advertisement was there, just as I had seen it in the crystal, and though at first I was inclined to protest that 'I had never looked at yesterday's paper' I presently remembered that I had, in fact, handled it, using it as a screen to shade my face from the fire, while talking with a friend in the afternoon. I may add the fact that we have since discovered that the lady in question is alive and well, and that the announcement related to someone else of the same name, by no means a common one."

The range of such unconscious observation may be very wide. "I have," stated Goodrich-Freer, "for example, occasionally been able to reproduce in the crystal the titles of books in a bookcase or of engravings on a wall, which after-experiment has shown to be beyond my range of vision." She also noted the play of possible thought transference in the origin of crystal images:

"We were talking of a house she had never seen, and I was describing the entrance hall. Presently she said: 'Wait, I see it; let me go on. Is there a curtained archway opposite the front door? And is there a gong in a recess by the stairs?' This was perfectly correct, and knowing my friend to have psychic faculty, I wondered how far this might be clairvoyance. On the other hand, so keen is my own power of visualizing, that I had all the time a vivid picture of the scene in my own mind. I looked into the crystal and planned my little test. 'Go into the dining room' I said. A correct description followed. 'The table is laid for lunch,' she proceeded, 'but why have they lighted the candles in broad daylight?' The fact was that, as soon as I saw that her attention was fixed on the table, I lighted the candles in my crystal picture. Hers followed suit, proving some, at least, of her impressions telepathic."

The most arresting question, of course, is whether the pictures are ever objective. There have been a very few instances in which the pictures have been reported to be reflected in a mirror, seen by several persons, and even photographed. There are, however, no verified cases of these reports.

A series of experiments and observations on the physiological changes in the eye that accompany crystal vision were recorded by Hereward Carrington in his book Modern Psychical Phenomena (1919). He found, for example, that the seer sometimes looks at a point in space nearer or further off than the crystal, and if the scene is distant the focus of the eye adjusts itself to the apparent perspective.

One of the most famous gazing crystals was that of the Elizabethan magician John Dee (1527-1608), kept for many years in the British Museum, London, but recently transferred to the Museum of Mankind in London. This "shew-stone" appears to be of polished coal. It was only one of several crystals possessed by Dee, one of which he claimed was brought to him by angels.


Besterman, Theodore. Crystal-Gazing: A Study in the History, Distribution, Theory and Practice of Scrying. London: William Rider, 1924. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1965.

Frater Achad [Charles Stansfeld Jones]. Crystal Vision Through Crystal Gazing. Chicago: Yogi Publication Society, 1923.

Melville, John. Crystal-Gazing and The Wonders of Clairvoyance. London: Nichols, 1897. Reprinted as Crystal Gazing and Clairvoyance. Wellingborough, England: Aquarium Press, 1979.

Pelton, Robert W. Ancient Secrets of Fortune-Telling. South Brunswick, N.J.: A. S. Barnes, 1976.

Sepharial [W. G. Old]. How to Read the Crystal. London, 1922.

Seward, A. F. The Art of Crystal Gazing or Secrets of the Crystal Revealed. Chicago: A. F. Seward, 1873.

Thomas, Northcote W. Crystal Gazing: Its History and Practice, with a Discussion of the Evidence for Telepathic Scrying. London: Alexander Moring (The De La More Press), 1905.

X, Miss [Ada Goodrich-Freer]. Essays in Psychical Research. London: George Redway, 1899.