What Are Crystals?

Crystals, minerals, rocks, stones and more…to understand how crystals work, we must first understand what crystals are.


That the mineral kingdom has inspired humankind since the beginning of time will surprise no one who has spent time marveling over any crystal. Mother Nature’s rocks and gems elicit awe, stimulate the imagination, and please the eye of anyone who takes notice of them. Stones were among the first tools, adornments, pigments, and ritual objects used by humans, and they have been woven into the fabric of human society ever since. In present times crystals and gemstones are celebrated for more than just their beauty and mystery; they have been accessed by countless people around the globe for their healing gifts and spiritual blessings.

To better understand how crystals work, we must first understand what crystals are. A crystal is defined as a (usually) solid substance with a homogeneous composition and a repeating symmetrical structure. In other words, crystals have a predictable and regular list of constituents, and those components are arranged in repeating geometric patterns. Crystals can be found in everything, from every rock and mineral of Earth’s crust to the human body. There are crystals in our food, our walls, our electronics, and almost everywhere else we look.

When crystals are naturally occurring and inorganic in origin, we call them minerals. The vast majority of the tools we colloquially refer to as crystals and healing stones are minerals. Some may be polished, tumbled, or otherwise shaped in ways that obscure their original crystal form, or their constituent crystals may be so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye. Common examples of minerals include quartz, calcite, hematite, gypsum, and topaz. The same mineral may take many forms, each with its own name. A prime example of this is quartz, which under varying conditions may be called amethyst, citrine, smoky quartz, agate, chalcedony, or jasper.

When minerals aggregate, or come together, we call the resulting formation a rock. Rocks have variable textures, structures, and compositions. Although they are usually formed from minerals, which are crystalline, we cannot always see the component crystals with the naked eye. A rock may be composed primarily of a single mineral, such as limestone (mostly calcite) or quartzite (mostly quartz), or it may consist of many different minerals. Common rocks include granite, marble, gneiss, slate, and schist. Some popular healing stones, such as lapis lazuli and dalmatian stone, are actually rocks rather than single minerals.

There are times when geologic forces come together to form something that doesn’t quite meet the definition of rock or mineral. Sometimes it lacks the necessary crystalline structure, or it might be the result of organic processes. In these instances, the material is called a mineraloid, meaning “mineral-like.” Obsidian, opal, moldavite, amber, and the calcium carbonate in shells and pearls are common examples of mineraloids.

The word stone is more nebulous in definition. It usually connotes any hard substance of geologic origin, particularly if it has been shaped or changed in any way by human hands. Similarly, any of the above terms — crystal, mineral, rock, and mineraloid — can be transformed into gemstones when used for ornamental purposes. Gems can be drilled into beads, faceted like precious stones, or otherwise prepared to be worn or displayed.

What ties all these meanings together is their relationship to the concept of crystallinity and their geologic origins. Crystals are the outer form of a mineral’s inner order, so to be crystalline is to have a perfect or near-­perfect inner order. This regular, repeating, rhythmic structure is called a crystal lattice, and this lattice is largely responsible for the way in which crystals heal. There is a relationship between crystal energy and the structure and formation of crystals, and that energy can improve our lives.

The Power Of Color

Color presents one of the most personal and meaningful sets of correspondences that inform our relationship with crystals. Many crystal healers and collectors begin their understanding of crystals’ effects around the perceived meaning of color, especially with regard to the chakras. While color is often deeply meaningful to practitioners, it represents only a tiny fraction of the measurable energy of crystals — not much more than 7 percent of their total energy. In spite of this, color has an impact on our psychological state, not just the energetic, so it continues to serve as a useful tool for many crystal lovers. Here is an overview of the properties of the most common colors found in the mineral kingdom:

Red: grounding, vitality, strength, determination, courage

Orange: energy, creativity, passion, stamina, optimism

Yellow and gold: happiness, charisma, will, letting go, focus, wealth, joy

Green: growth, regeneration, healing, balance, love, abundance

Blue: connection, serenity, communication, clarity, hope, cooling

Indigo: intuition, introspection, calm, memory, structure, rest

Violet and purple: transformation, spirituality, psychic development, dispel illusion, meditation

Pink: emotional balance, reassurance, self-esteem, love, romance, inner child

White and colorless: purification, protection, clarity, fresh perspective, amplify intentions

Black: grounding, protecting, strengthening, self-reflecting, detoxifying

Gray and silver: balancing, dreams, cloaking, impartiality, intuition

Brown: stability, support, grounding, earthy, regeneration, connection to nature

It is important to remember that since color plays only a small part in the energetics of crystals, the above associations can be highly mutable and your personal relationship with a certain color can supersede the textbook definitions. Also bear in mind not to limit a crystal’s effects to just the meaning of its color; just like you, each and every stone is a dynamic entity composed of many levels of existence.

Excerpted from Crystal Basics Pocket Encyclopedia by Nicholas Pearson © 2023 Destiny. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com

Nicholas Pearson has been immersed in all aspects of the mineral kingdom for nearly 30 years. As one of the leading voices in crystal healing today, he offers a unique blend of science and spirituality alongside a grounded, practical approach to working with crystals. The author of several books, including Crystal Basics, he lives in Orlando, Florida. https://theluminouspearl.com/

Join Nicholas at Circles of Wisdom in Methuen, MA April 20, 2023 for a 2-hour interactive workshop on Protection Crystals: Gems for Psychic Self-Defense.

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