Recently I’ve wanted to expand my crystal collection. It currently consists of about 10 crystals, all bought when I was a child/teenager, and all from different places. When I cast my mind back, the majority of them were plucked from a large tub of identical looking crystals in gift shops or wildlife parks for a few pounds, and of course at the age of 9 you don’t really consider what this means.
Shopping around for sustainably harvested, ethically sourced crystals has proven a bit of a challenge. I think I probably went into this task with the naive belief that anyone who runs a crystal shop clearly cares for Mother Nature and other people, and has done their research to ensure the crystals they sell aren’t harming anyone in the process of being mined to end up on their shelves. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and I am yet to find a shop that I wholeheartedly trust. Upon asking several shop owners where their crystals have actually come from, I’ve often been met with the email equivalent of a blank stare. One reply actually started with “oh gosh” and proceeded to say “I don’t know if they’re ethically sourced” with no further explanation. This makes very little sense to me; the perceived western purpose of crystals is to ‘heal’, and to carry positive energy. In fact, most of these shops’ bios talk in depth about the importance of positive energy and the meanings behind each crystal, and yet they haven’t even bothered to find out where these crystals have come from in the first place.
While crystals were once seen as a purely spiritual object, they are now seen as more of an aesthetic consumer item for lots of people, or for those jumping on the wellness wagon. A combination of these factors has meant demand for crystals has grown exponentially over the past 10 years or so, and the trade is now a multi billion dollar industry. What was once part of indigenous practices, mined ethically and on a small scale, is now mainstream in the western world – a classic example of cultural appropriation that has somehow been largely overlooked. Indigenous communities use precious stones for a multitude of things, including (and not limited to) weapons, surgical instruments, windows, pigments, objects of worship, means of divination, medicinal use, and musical instruments.
There is still no official fair trade certification or transparency schemes for crystals, meaning people are being exploited somewhere down the line, and nothing is being done about it. The crystal supply chain also has almost no traceability. Mines that are being dug to meet demand are usually improvised, operated off the books and without permits, and it’s not unusual for people to die mining, but they continue to do it because they need the money. Many of the workers risking their lives every day in tiny tunnels, often not finding anything for months, are children. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, children as young as 7 work in mines to source precious stones that end up as our “wellness” tools.
Miners aren’t sure where the crystals go after they literally slave away to harvest them, they just know they go overseas somewhere. They are paid enough money for a cup of rice per kilo of crystal – and that’s split between all of the workers. Sickeningly, the value of each piece only multiplies with each stage of its journey until it reaches the consumer. Many of the people at the bottom of the chain of this billion dollar industry are living under the $1.90 per day poverty line, and in one major area in Madagascar for crystal mining, Anjoma Ramartina, around half of parents have lost at least one infant child to illness or hunger. Gemstone mining has also been linked to growing cases of malaria in places such as Sri Lanka, as the stagnant water around mines attracts mosquitoes. What kind of “good energy” can possibly come from something that is contributing to this suffering?
Aside from ethical mining practices for workers, environmental damage is a huge problem too. Billions of tonnes of contaminated byproduct around mines seep into surrounding areas every year. The mining of one gemstone believed to bring “supportive goddess energy” into someone’s life is culpable for leaking 2 billion gallons of acid and heavy metals into ground and water supplies in New Mexico. Of course, the carbon emissions from extensive shipping of such a heavy product around the world are also hugely problematic. Other environmental impacts include landscape destruction, soil erosion/loss, and habitat loss. In the Madagascan rainforest, new mining sites are often set up in protected areas with threatened local species that are not found anywhere else in the world.
Through this search for sustainable crystals, I’ve started to question whether anything with this much ethical ambiguity can really be that vital in my personal spirituality. I can’t speak for everyone as perhaps some people wouldn’t think it’s an issue that the history of a crystal’s life is a bit of a grey area, but for me, it’s made me wonder why I believed I needed to buy objects to enhance my own spiritual practice. I have always loved the idea of objects bringing magic into my life, and find the introspective quality of things like tarot cards really valuable. But the concept of buying more and tapping into consumerism in order to reach some kind of other-worldly self awareness seems counterproductive to me, especially if it is contributing to severe human rights violations and environmental damage. It is heartbreaking that everything, even something that is supposed to be healing and “pure” is actually driven by greed. Unfortunately, if you dig deep enough into anything that is sold for profit, you will find exploitation and suffering.
But to end on a positive note, I want to highlight the fact that you do not need anything to broaden your own spirituality; as cheesy as it may sound, everything we need is already inside our heads and bodies. There is something far more magical about connecting with the earth as your bare, unembellished self without the use of outside influences than listening to people who tell you you need to buy something to have a relationship with nature. However, I do not want to belittle sacred and traditional indigenous practices – I am mainly talking about westerners who want to adopt these spiritual activities. And if we really want to engage in them, we need to start by learning about and respecting those who have been using them over generations, and ensuring the large scale mining of crystals is safe, fair, and transparent.