The Crystal

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


What the spiritual eye sees inwardly in the world of thought and mind, it sees outwardly in the world of crystals.

Friedrich Froebel

 The cave is very dark, my son, and yet it is lit by the light within the crystal form." The old lama pointed to the almost transparent source of the glow with a reverential gesture of benediction. Affected by this, the younger man paused respectfully and raised his eyes slowly from the darkened path they had traversed to the radiant figure that sat atop a large chiselled stone in the centre of the cavern just ahead. He was dazzled by the glow, not because it blinded his vision with its brightness, but rather because its steady luminosity seemed to fill his mind with a sense of the mystic power of its source. Diffused through the soft curves and folds of the figure, the fire that must have given birth to such radiance was unseen. Only the soft brightness of its aura breathed out through the fine crystal surface revealing the outer contours of Buddha's face, his shoulders and his resting hands. "From whence comes the light, O Holy One; how is it sustained?" The younger man turned questioningly to his old guide. The play of light and shadow on the lama's aged face anticipated the enigmatic nature of his reply, whilst a calm and infinitely peaceful wisdom flowed forth from his eyes and speech. "The light is within Buddha and it is within the stone", he said. "A perfected crystal and a perfected man both embody the flame of pure Spirit, but it comes alive in the crystal because of the perfection of the man. There is a great mystery in this, my son."

 A great mystery, indeed. One might well wonder if a crystal buried deep within the earth would be so affected. Are all crystals repositories of Spirit? Is every atom of matter infused with it? How could one great crystal glow with light and is it the light of Spirit? One of the Masters of Wisdom wrote that everything in the world was analogous and corresponded to archetypal patterns in the world above. He asserted that in every mineral the flame of eternal spirit is present. "Every grain of sand, every boulder or crag of granite is that Spirit crystallized or petrified." On our globe in this manvantaric chain, matter is in its grossest condition. The fire of the sixth principle of the eternal light does not ordinarily appear in its pure objective shining. It seems, instead, dense and dependent upon material fuel. Are there conditions which would permit the pure Buddhic light to beam forth even from a rock-hard crystal?

 If we link it more closely to man, the crystal is a symbol of intellect associated with Spirit. Venerated by mystics, it is an object of contemplation, offering neither hardness nor resistance nor pain. Perhaps it is in its transparency that its greatest fascination lies. Evidently, not all crystals are transparent, but those which are seem to be in a condition displaying a most effective and beautiful conjunction of opposites. In such a crystal matter exists, even though one can see through it as if it did not exist at all. In tales and myths crystal boats or slippers or towers embody these opposites and symbolize a transfer from one plane to another or a change of state: outer to inner, inner to outer. The princess sleeping in the crystal tower is about to awaken and find herself transported to another world. Cinderella in her 'glass' slippers will be transformed from a drudge to a reigning queen. Like the crystal itself, such heroines and heroes must be pure of heart and mind in order to experience the transfer. Any flaw in their nature would inhibit the marvellous possibility as surely as a flaw in a crystal ball would render it useless to a magician. It is said that, in order to become emancipated from the bonds of earthly consciousness, the human mind must become as pellucid as crystal. The Voice of the Silence teaches that the "mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of Soul-wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions. Seek, O Beginner, to blend thy Mind and Soul." The clarity needed lies always within and requires only to be induced to express itself through the material vestures. If there is an analogy between the mind of man and the crystal, does it also mirror from within the Divine Wisdom which can provide the key to spiritual emancipation? Is this why mystics of every land have gazed into crystals for so many millennia?

 As an object of contemplation, a crystal ball has been viewed by Buddhists as the sphere of spiritual knowledge, of pure mind and perfect insight. Christians similarly identified it with the world of the Light of God. To the Zuni and other Indians of the American Southwest the crystal was simply the symbol of light itself, sometimes taking the form of a cosmic serpent with a crystal globe on its head. The idea of a world of light and a sphere of wisdom suggests a sort of pure matrix within which the highest ray of Spirit is expressed, an upadhi or vehicle through which it manifests. In such a matrix the active aspect of Spirit moves and plants its fecundating seed. If we link this to the Arthurian mythic cycle, the crystal itself can be seen as the 'passive' aspect of will, whereas the fabled sword that penetrates it signifies the active.

  Perhaps the practitioner peering into a crystal ball while seated in a darkened room hopes to effect that sword-like penetration with his or her gaze. Owing to its association with all sorts of pseudo-spiritual trickery, crystal-gazing or scrying, as it is called, is frequently scoffed at and regarded as a means to separate the gullible from their hard-earned cash. Scrying or crystallomancy is, however, a very ancient and universal practice, one which has been considered in all seriousness by mystics and philosophers. In more recent times, some 'crystals' have actually been made of glass or even acrylic and still been reported to 'work'. These, like the true crystal balls, must be without a speck or flaw, highly polished and contained on a stand of ebony or some special wood draped with black velvet. Traditionally, elaborate preparation was always prescribed both for the practitioners themselves and the paraphernalia they used. Devotion and reverence were deemed essential to the proper state of mind and heart, and self-purification might involve ablutions, prayers and fasting. The time for auspicious crystal-gazing was often chosen according to astrological indications and all articles to be used were consecrated accordingly.

 Many crystal-gazers traditionally did all of these things and took care to seat themselves within a protective magic circle, facing to the east. Paracelsus declared that such elaborate ritual preparation was unnecessary and that the magnetic principle within man was sufficient to achieve results. But he did prescribe certain other practices and stressed the importance of mental and magnetic purity. He would not, however, have explained the effects of crystal-gazing in the terms used by more modern apologists, who surmise that the purpose of crystal-gazing is to induce a self-hypnotic trance. The more recent explanations centre upon the notion that such a trance produces 'visions', the reflection of light in the crystal simply forming points de repère for such. Lost to these thinkers is the older idea that the invisible electro-magnetic fields of human thought and that of a crystal may resonate in such rapport with one another as to enable spiritual energy stored on a higher plane of vibration to manifest in signs and visions to the gazer through the crystal. The distinction here is a subtle one, pointing to inherent powers existing within the crystal which are not to be found in a swinging bright object or some other aid used to induce an hypnotic trance. Such possible results lie far beyond the grasp of most mediums, who generally describe their experiences as being very passive. They advise others to gaze deeply, but not until fatigued, and with as little mental concentration as possible. Some pick up 'communications' through the crystal which manifest in automatic writing, 'hallucinatory' auditions or even multiple personalities. They seem to be opening themselves to a world not of light but of astral flowers and coiled serpents. It may be that, for this sort of effect, an acrylic sphere is quite adequate after all.

 To look more closely at the crystal as it exists in Nature is to contemplate the forces of order operating in the universe. For crystals and organisms are vivid examples of the capacity of matter to organize itself, so to speak, in particular and limited ways out of an infinite number of possibilities. One can speak about the organizing 'forms' of matter which are inter-atomic and inter-molecular attractive forces. The carbon atom possesses an intensely positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. When atoms are covalently bonded together, such electrons interpenetrate one another and lose their separate identity to some extent. In terms of the organization of matter, such an arrangement may remain intact for thousands of millions of years. This 'faithful' bonding makes possible the elaborately durable sub-microscopic machinery of life forms. Ionic bonds between oppositely charged atoms and molecules and metal bonds account for less durable but strongly organized arrangements, intermolecular forces depending for their strength and range on subtle features of the electronic structures of the molecules concerned. These ordering forces are of great importance in determining the ways in which molecules pack together to form crystals.

 According to Gupta Vidya, the two opposites in cosmic Nature (fire and water, heat and cold) "begin their metrographical manifestations, one by a trimetric, the other by a hexagonal system". Thus snow crystals are double or treble six-pointed stars, offering an example of molecular structure based upon the double triangle of Spirit and matter. If one thinks of a flowing body of water, the energy in it is fiery. A crystal forms in it by the accumulation of atoms only if these atoms lose some of their fiery energy. With cooling, the atoms slow down and get closer until they lock together. Crystals in the mineral kingdom likewise form where there is a concentration of natural resources forming a matrix of the mineral material. If a sufficient number of atoms accumulate, they go through a series of energy and position changes that will ultimately produce a structured solid. With dissolution, the whole thing works in reverse. A sort of 'ungrowing' takes place when energy is added to atoms already part of a structure. This occurs in a highly predictable manner, for, just as a crystal's growth is precisely controlled by its particular structure, so too the 'pitting' or 'etching' of dissolution follows the same pattern in undoing the work.

  The two great arcane forces operating in manifested life emanate as the Great Breath, expanding and contracting, repulsing and attracting, centre-flying and centre-gathering. The force of dissolution and entropy sends atoms flying apart, to be distributed as thinly in space as possible. It is the force ever tending towards chaos which is countered by the force of structure and order that causes atoms, through attraction, to become as closely packed together as possible. Most systems in Nature are unstable or off balance. Flames, rivers and whirlpools all exchange energy with their environment and are, therefore, open systems. Left to themselves, systems generally tend towards equilibrium, and relatively steady states persist because they are in an ever-compensating imbalance with an environment which is in itself a maintained state of unbalance. In this great stream of dual action, worlds are born and die and crystals are formed to tantalize the human eye with their chiselled symmetry. In a universe of hidden structures, they leap out with the blueprints of some vast inner design.

 The formation of a crystal involves an invisible, slow process of starting, followed by a visible, fast development. The example of the formation of an ice crystal out of water illustrates the stages well, for it, like any crystal, requires a 'seed' in order to make its beginning. A nucleus composed of a clustering of atoms in the liquid becomes the point around which other molecules can gather. The thermal agitation of molecules in the water will cause some of them to fly off, but as the water becomes colder, more will begin to adhere to the nucleus. As long as the temperature remains above the melting-point, there is a balance between the agitated flying off and the tendency to adhere. Shiva and Vishnu preside with equal strength in this scheme of things. But as soon as the temperature drops below freezing, the aggregate increases until it is big enough and well organized enough to grow spontaneously. Its melting-point rises as it becomes more stable and chances of dissolution more remote. Then the whole of the liquid crystallizes and the temperature at which this starts corresponds, not to the melting-point of the bulk crystalline material, but to that of the critical 'seed'-nucleus. Thus does highly organized form, in the realm of what is called 'inorganic matter', come into being.

  The electronic structures of types of molecules play a critical role in determining how those types pack themselves together in forming a crystal. To anthropomorphize the process, one could borrow the characterization of one imaginative scientist, who suggested that "five different chemists could well have five different theories as to how some newly discovered molecule should pack itself in a crystal. But five different batches of the molecules themselves would (probably) agree quite quickly as to precisely the best answers." Close packing is inevitable and the most important factor enabling the prediction of crystal structures which are subsequently observable by X-ray crystallography. But the growth of a typical crystal requires the proper placement of around sixteen trillion atoms an hour, a process in which a number of defects in packing are possible, though the margin of error would still fall below one one-hundredth of one percent. Because of these 'imperfections', atoms are allowed to move around and chemical reactions take place. Some crystals would not have grown at all but for this, and, certainly, rapid growth is dependent upon at least three kinds of defects: point defects involving a vacancy due to the absence of a molecule, line defects being an extension of vacancies in one dimension, and plane defects involving an interface between two differently oriented crystals. Vacancies invite chemical substitutes and such impurities tend to congregate on the faces where the greatest growth activity is. These impurities then interfere with growth here, giving the slower growing faces a chance to compete and (usually) dominate the crystal's final shape.

 Such formation is termed growth by accretion, a growth involving additions of layer upon layer to the surface of the forming crystal. Unlike the ancient observers of cyclic life and death, modern science has chosen to pin-point accretion as a mode of growth separating 'non-living' objects from the living, a categorical decision that has rendered the crystal even more inexplicable, in some ways, than it already was. There have been, however, many revelations concerning the crystal's atomic and molecular make-up. It has been learnt that the positions the atoms take depend on their size and the amount of attraction they have for one another. They form a three-dimensional network of repeating lattices, of which there are fourteen fundamental patterns. The requirements of symmetry limit the number of possible lattices and, therefore, crystal structures, for lattice type is completely specified by crystal symmetry.

Force works in crystals to make the internal external and the external internal and represent both in harmony and union.

Friedrich Froebel

 Symmetry can be understood with respect to axes, planes and centres. There are one, two, three, four and sixfold possible axes, each dictating factors of congruity and right proportion and including corresponding parts that are correspondingly placed. These types are recognizable in crystal form as isometric, tetragonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic, triclinic and hexagonal. The clear quartz crystal, which has played such an important part in mystical traditions, has an hexagonal form with legs sixty degrees apart and horizontal axes equal. If any of these types of crystal were to grow in an environment of radial symmetry (i.e., the same in all directions), the symmetry of the crystal's surface would be limited only by the symmetry of the crystal pattern. Thus the limits of growth of a quartz or lead or sulphur crystal can be traced back to the atomic level, where atoms surrounded by varying electron orbitals, enabling them to 'hook up' to other atoms in varying frequency and strength of bond, joined together in more or less complex lattice patterns. To form a three-dimensional structure, these fourteen different patterns must conform to the laws of symmetry dictated by the six possible crystal forms mentioned. Thus even when crystals are badly formed, the underlying organization remains the same and the outer faces are still at the same angle to one another. There is a translation that takes place between the atomic structure and the three-dimensional level of form involving the numbers 7 and 6 which reminds one of the distinction made between the greater Cosmic cycle and that of manifest time.

 First there is Spirit (three), and matter (four), added together in the seven principles of the cosmos. Then there is the multiplication of the three by the four, producing the three-dimensional world. Twice seven gives the fourteen which marks out the below as above. This corresponds to the fourteen fundamental lattice patterns. Then there is the twelve, halved, to produce the six of the manifest world, so well illustrated in the hexagon of the quartz crystal and by the overall number of possible crystal forms. The limits determining crystal formation contain profoundly mysterious keys which might be turned very slowly and after long years, perhaps lives of thought, in a door beyond which lie the secrets of cosmic geometry. But this will never happen unless the mind is as pure and clear as unblemished crystal.

A grey rock, said Ruskin, is a good sitter. That is one type of behaviour. A darting dragon-fly is another type of behaviour. We call one alive and the other not. But . . . to make 'life' a distinction between them is at root to treat them both artificially.

Sir Charles Sherrington

 Whatever their atomic structure, crystals all have in common periodic repetition by translation. This is responsible for the formation of the lattice and then the space lattice in three dimensions. Given such a lattice, any 'motif at a lattice point will appear in a corresponding position, in the same orientation, at all lattice points. It is this which is so faithfully mirrored in the symmetry of the various crystal forms. The similarity of this 'repetition' to the process of replication involving DNA in living organisms has struck more than one original thinker. Along with John Ruskin, there have been an open-minded few who have explored the similarities and come to the conclusion that just as packing factors create forms by accretion, so also they work to organize what could be termed 'sub-crystal' forms, such as the water, methane or DNA molecule. Bonding, dispersion forces, ionic and polar interactions, as well as purely geometrical factors restricting the space within the helix lattice, function much as they do in organizing the lattice of a crystal. The hypothesis made by some is that the primitive genes, which must have been ancestral to genes as we know them, were not merely like crystals but were crystals of some kind.

  With this hypothesis the more imaginative in modern science move closer to the occult point of view, which reminds us that evolution had to proceed in the mineral kingdom before materials could be made ready for higher forms. This also echoes the teaching of The Secret Doctrine wherein H. P. Blavatsky asserted that "the transformation of the mineral atom through crystallization . . . bears the same relation to its inorganic (so-called) upadhi (or basis) as the formation of cells to their organic nuclei, through plant, insect and animal into man". She was well aware that there was much resistance to the idea that one intelligent Life has streamed through and is streaming through every form in existence. She lamented that "neither physiologists nor pathologists will recognize that the cell-germinating substance (cytoblastema) and the mother-lye from which crystals originate, are one and the same essence, save in differentiation for purposes".

Man in his external manifestation like the crystal, bearing within himself the living unity, shows at first more one-sidedness, and only at a later period rises to all-sidedness, harmony and completeness.

Friedrich Froebel

 Man, as the microcosm of the macrocosm, embodies on all levels of his being these same designs that generate structure and form from the atomic to the visible surface of things. The electronic structure in molecules which dictates their organization finds its analogue in how man translates thought into manifest effects as well as how he inherits the remarkably complex genetic code with which he begins life on the physical plane. One can trace the different kinds of bonds through every level of physical, astral, mental, individual and social life, and one can see the dual forces of fire and water, heating and cooling, expansion, contraction, formation, dissolution and all the other dual progeny of the Great Breath operating at each point. In man the spiritualized mind is the key which is capable of mirroring and understanding the greater whole. This is the crystal ball into which each human being must gaze long and deeply. In the words of The Voice of the Silence, "All is impermanent in man except the pure bright essence of Alaya. Man is its crystal ray; a beam of light immaculate within, a form of clay material upon the lower surface. That beam is thy life-guide and thy true Self, the Watcher and the silent Thinker, the victim of thy lower Self. Thy Soul cannot be hurt but through thy erring body; control and master both, and thou art safe when crossing to the nearing 'Gate of Balance'."

 To grasp fundamentally the nature of his true Self, an individual must divest himself of the last lingering tendencies to mistake the world of appearances for reality. He must see other human beings as rays of One Oversoul and realize that their differing degrees of self-awareness are as mayavic as the separation that seems to exist between them. Likewise, it is necessary to perceive the fundamental unity of Spirit and matter which abolishes any possible distinction between what could be called 'not-living' and 'living' forms. Everything in the manifest cosmos is suffused with Spirit: it is intelligent and alive and participating in the mighty motion of Mahat. And there are some blessed forms that seem to display for us wonderful clues to the inner workings of the whole. Like a cryptogram, the crystal holds out for man a code which, if unravelled, will illuminate the link between the microcosmic and macrocosmic work of evolution as it occurs on all spiritual and mental as well as physical planes. It also offers a mirror capable of doing more than merely reflecting back man's hopes or fears. In the hands of a true benevolent Magus, the beam of the crystal can unleash the highest cosmic forces which are echoed in those that facilitate the formation of the crystal.

 To the aspiring chela, the crystal is an ideal of clarity of mind and purity of heart. It can always rest at the forefront of the mind like a wondrous portrait of pellucid white light into which one would not wish to introduce a single impurity or defect. As one gazes into this crystal, one is gazing into one's own mind and, by extension, as it were, into the Mind of all. All Nature would, in time, slowly reveal herself there; first, in fleeting glimpses and flashes, like ghosts fluttering at the corner of the eye, then, in more deliberate ways, in patterns and growths and waters rushing. Within that crystal, larger designs would emerge and one would think one was gazing at the heavens until one found oneself to be seeing within things to their lattice-core, to their atomic patterns and beyond. In this pure and clear sphere of mind there would be no limit, but things would develop to fulfil their innate symmetry as part of an ever greater symmetrical possibility. Things would develop in smoothly flowing balance, fire wedded to water, heat to cold, and motion to stillness - all in harmony with a great and holy Logoic design.

The world of crystals proclaims
In every angle of their chiselled faces,
In every beam of their refracted light,
The laws of human life.