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What Is A Crystal?

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Welcome to our FREE Crystals Course for Beginners! In our first lesson, we will learn what makes a crystal different from an ordinary garden rock (and how they’re sometimes the same). It all has to do with how they formed, millions of years ago…

1. INTRODUCTION

Crystals are amazing. For thousands of years, through hundreds of civilizations, they have been used to protect, adorn, decorate and heal. But what exactly is a crystal / gemstone? How is it different from an ordinary stone in the garden?

In ‘Heal Yourself With Crystals’, author Hazel Raven explains that crystals have a mathematically precise arrangement of atoms, called a crystal lattice, which stabilizes energy. In the next few lessons, we will break this quote down into easy to understand bites:

“All crystalline structures are formed of mathematically precise and orderly three-dimensional arrangements of atoms. This is the crystal lattice, which confers a high level of stability. It also gives crystals their unique colours, hardness and physical, geometrical and energetic properties.

Gemstones and crystals have an amazing capacity to absorb, reflect and radiate light in the form of intelligent fields of stable energy that increase the flow of vital life-force within the human physical and subtle anatomy.

By applying this stable energy or crystal resonance in a coherent, focused way to dysfunctional energy systems, they holistically restore stability and balance. This results in the releasing of dis-ease bringing about restructuring and alignment”

HAZEL RAVEN – HEAL YOURSELF WITH CRYSTALS

2. DEFINING WHAT A CRYSTAL IS

It’s important to understand what we’re talking about when we say “crystal”.

In the crystal healing world, we generally use the term ‘crystal’ colloquially to refer to all minerals and amalgamations or combinations of minerals (i.e. rocks), regardless of whether in crystal or massive form. Because in general, we’re primarily interested in either the metaphysical properties of the stone, or simply the visual appeal, rather than the chemical analysis of the stone.

However, if you are talking to a qualified geologist, they will likely frown at you when you show them your “crystal” collection!

There are very set terms that describe minerals, crystals and rocks. In order to understand what a crystal is, we first need to have a basic understanding of the geological terms.

3. THE BUILDING BLOCKS

For a minute, let’s suspend the use of the word “crystal”, and focus instead on “minerals”.

1. ELEMENTS

Remember the periodic table of elements from school? Well, all minerals are made up of a mixture of these naturally occurring chemical elements.

An element is a group of atoms in a very specific arrangement.

Out of the 92 naturally occurring elements in the periodic table, only 8 of them make up about 98% of the earth’s crust.

Periodic Table of Elements
Periodic Table of Elements

THE MOST COMMON ELEMENTS:

  1. Oxygen (O)
  2. Silicon (Si)
  3. Aluminum (Al)
  4. Iron (Fe)
  5. Calcium (Ca)
  6. Sodium (Na)
  7. Potassium (K)
  8. Magnesium (Mg)
The most common elements in earth's crust. Image opengeology.org
The most common elements in earth’s crust. Image opengeology.org

2. MINERALS

There are nearly 5000 known minerals on Earth, but only about 100 are commonly found. And just 30 minerals make up the majority of all the rocks on Earth!

All minerals are classed into mineral groups, based on similar chemical element compositions, as well as similar crystal structures. If you’d like to explore the main mineral groups, you can have a look at the Crystal Tree, where we show the Dana System of Mineral Classifications. The main mineral groups include silicates, oxides, sulfates, sulfides, carbonates, native elements, and halides.

3. ROCKS

The final term to understand is ROCK. In geology, when there are two or more minerals present in a solid material, they call the material a rock. Rocks are divided into three main categories:

  1. IGNEOUS ROCK: Also called Magmatic rock, Igneous rock forms through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava. It can occur above ground (called ‘extrusive’) or below (called ‘intrusive’).
  2. SEDIMENTARY ROCK: Sedimentary rock forms through an accumulation or depositing of materials through weathering which then solidifies together, on or near the earth’s surface. Weathering occurs mechanically (e.g. sand/gravel) and chemically (e.g. liquid solution).
  3. METAMORPHIC ROCK: Forms when existing rock undergoes a metamorphosis (i.e. changes) due to an increase in heat and/or pressure. The change can be a chemical and/or physical reorganization of the material.

So atoms make up elements, elements make up minerals, and minerals make up rocks.

4. HOW CRYSTALS FORM

Crystals formed millions and millions of years ago as the Earth went through dramatic and volatile changes. Shifting tectonic plates, swirling gasses and volcanic explosions.

And they continue to form today through those same processes.

Crystals form in many different ways, for example:

  • Intense pressure
  • Intense heat
  • Gasses bubbling up and getting trapped
  • Minerals slowly dripping

The process or way the crystal formed is specific to the type of crystal.

The way they are formed affects the way they look, how they are classified and how they function.

5. CRYSTALLINE VS AMORPHOUS

Depending on how they formed, minerals can either be classified as crystalline or amorphous. It’s just a fancy way of saying the element/s formed into a crystal, or didn’t.

CRYSTALLINE: “a repeating, three-dimensional pattern of atoms, ions, or molecules and having fixed distances between the different parts.”

AMORPHOUS: lacking the repeating ordered pattern characteristic of a crystal. ‘Amorphous’ is from the Greek a, without, morphé, shape, form.”

Some minerals never crystallize, they are always amorphous. These minerals are called ‘mineraloids‘. Examples are amber, pearl and obsidian.

…6. NOW LET’S LOOP BACK TO WHAT IS A CRYSTAL

Well done for making it this far! Now that you understand the basic building blocks, and geological terms for minerals and rocks, let’s go back to our original question: what is a crystal?

A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituents, such as atoms, molecules or ions, are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in all directions.

GEOLOGY PAGE – HOW DO CRYSTALS FORM

Aside from mineraloids, minerals occur naturally as crystals. That is to say, their structure is a very precise arrangement of elements, which themselves are a very precise arrangement of atoms.

As they grow, they have a set, distinctive way of locking new atoms into that pattern to repeat it again and again. The result is that the mineral’s form (e.g. a cube of Pyrite) is a mirror of the atom arrangement at microscopic level. Cool, right?

Perfect Conditions Make Crystals

But the reason we don’t find perfectly formed crystals just lying in the back yard is because in order for the mineral to perfectly repeat that pattern over and over, it needs a perfect set of circumstances. And just like everything else in life, that seldom happens.

To grow, a crystal needs ideal conditions, such as the exact right amount of elements available, space available for it to grow into without interruptions or other elements intruding, without heat fluctuations or pressure changes, etc.

Even in these ideal conditions, minute changes in its environment lead to multitudes of fascinating changes, which is why no two crystals are ever exactly alike (and similarly why every snowflake is unique).

Less Than Perfect Conditions Make Masses

Generally, as crystals start to form, conditions vary or change. They end up getting meshed together and forming into what is called a conglomerated mass. The perfect atomic arrangement is there, but only at a microscopic level.

Most rocks consist of different groups of teensy tiny mineral crystals smooshed together.

What is a crystal vs a rock
Image: Columbia – Metamorphic Rocks

So, now when you hear that a particular stone/crystal/mineral is typically found in ‘massive’ formation, you know what that means!

Here’s an example of Azurite. The first image is of a rare, perfect crystal formation, only just bigger than a centimeter. The second image shows an in-between state. A beautiful 5cm Azurite specimen we sold a while back which has gorgeous gemmy crystalline areas. Lastly, Azurite massive, which we sell as rough pieces, where no discernable crystallization is visible.

7. IN SUMMARY

Congrats! You have completed lesson one in our beginners crystal course. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a trip into the geological world of minerals, and learned a few new things!

At the end of the day, you now know that atoms arrange themselves in a very precise, orderly fashion to make the elements we find on earth. And in perfect conditions, they are able to repeat that pattern over and over again to make beautiful crystals.

In the crystal healing world, we don’t mind including rocks and minerals under the name “crystals”. But you know now that only certain specimens actually qualify under that geological term.

…Up Next

In Lesson 2 of our crystal beginners course we are going to look at the crystal lattice – the patterns that atoms arrange themselves in to make crystals. Out of all the possibilities in the world, there are only 6 forms that occur! Find out what they are, next.

CRYSTALS COURSE FOR BEGINNERS: LESSON TWO

HOW DO CRYSTALS WORK?

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