Certain objects whether because of their physical properties or because of the purpose for which they are used are often endowed with symbolic meaning. A mirror is an example of the former while a key is that of the latter. These objects acquire great significance in occult and magical practices as a way of helping a person ‘see’ something special or divine some hidden meaning. One of the most widely-depicted images of this practice in popular media is that of a gipsy woman wearing a headscarf and telling fortunes for her clients by means of a crystal ball. Though the garish details may have been recent additions, the practice actually refers to a very old form of divination known as crystallomancy.
Crystallomancy or crystal-gazing is a form of divination that uses a crystal to carry out readings and predictions. Strictly speaking any crystal on which the seer is properly focused can be used for divination and it need not be in the shape of a ball. During the act of crystal-gazing the seer may perceive images or shapes which are supposed to provide answers to questions that the seer him/herself has or someone else has on whose behalf the seer has been performing crystallomancy. In this sense crystallomancy is a form of scrying which involves looking into any polished surface and gleaning hidden meanings from the reflections or images. Scrying however can take on many forms, ranging from looking into a pool of water, or a mirror to gazing on a crystalline surface. Crystallomancy though is a more refined and specific form of divination. The energies of the crystal resonate with the energies of the reader till his/her psychic abilities are sharpened and he/she can look into the past, future and present.
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In common practice, a crystal ball is most often used. The size of ball preferred varies greatly among those who practice crystallomancy with some gazers using a "palm ball" of a few inches in diameter that is held in the hand and others choosing a larger ball mounted on a stand. Also there are various rules about how to keep a crystal ball. Most experts recommend buying it in person, and steeping it in moon light overnight or during a period of a full moon cycle. And when not in use, the crystal ball should preferably be covered with a black cloth and stored away. And yet there are some who steep the crystal ball in sunlight and keep them displayed out on their tables or altars to disperse the crystal's energy throughout the room.
Some experts suggest that the ball used should be perfectly spherical that is, without a flat bottom and should be supported in a wooden or metal stand. If made of glass, for instance from lead crystal, the ball should be free from air bubbles but may be colored. If carved from natural crystalline stone - such as quartz, beryl, calcite, obsidian, or amethyst - it may display the natural coloring and structure of the mineral from which it was fashioned. In fact the composition of the crystalline element may have a bearing on the divination too. Some crystals are said to have special powers and are used for their own purpose. Sunstone, for example, is reputed to be an excellent conduit for those seeking knowledge of future matters of a sexual nature, while rose quartz has the reputation for helping those seeking advice on how to mend quarrels especially with those close to them.
Another important aspect of crystallomancy is the ambience. Experts believe that lighting and mood are very important in getting a good reading from crystallomancy. Most crystal gazers prefer a quiet candlelit area, free of distractions, so as to be able to foster visions and more easily allow the onset of a trance state.
Then again, the methods of crystal gazing too may differ; thus some crystallomancers may gaze for hours on end in low lighting while others may be quicker to open their third eyes and actively seek out their quarry. The ultimate purpose seems to be to get into a trance like state which makes the seer more susceptible to psychic vision. As he/she gazes on the crystal, they may find images or pictures showing up on the surface of the crystal, or in the holograms created by inclusions. The seer then interprets the visions or images as way of answering pertinent questions, conducting character analyses, predict distant or future events, or more commonly in a professional context, helping a client make choices about current situations and problems. Some crystallomancers also adopt a rule using the position of the image in the ball to find out whether the image relates to the past, present or future. Accordingly if an image appears at the centre the ball it represents the present, if it is at the back, it shows the past and in the front, the future. The very back of the ball is the distant past, the very front the distant future with progressions in-between.
Practitioners and believers of crystallomancy claim that crystal gazing engenders visionary experiences and supernatural insight which enables the seer to look into the past, present and future. However critics of the practice claim that the supposed visions are either fiction or arise from the subconscious mind of the crystal gazer. Some experts on the subject have tried to resolve the conflict by claiming that the two positions as not mutually incompatible and it is possible that the psychic insight of the gazer is transposed on the crystal during a trance-like state and which he/she then uses to find answers to pertinent questions.
The history of crystallomancy goes back to scrying which existed in some form or other in almost all ancient cultures of the world, including the Babylonians, Ancient Egyptians, Hindus, Greeks, Mayans, Incas, North American Indians and Australian Aborigines. the crystal ball has been known to exist in Britain as early as 2000 BC and here the Druids were the first people to use crystals in divination. Later, during the medieval period in central Europe, seers, sorcerers, wizards, psychics, fortune tellers, gypsies and many other types of diviners also used crystals to see in the past and predict the future. And even though the Christian church tried its best to stamp out the practice on the charge that it propagated un-Christian occult practices, crystal-gazing was still continued by some till during Renaissance interest was renewed in the art. One of its practitioners was Dr. John Dee, a noted British astronomer, mathematician, geographer, astrologer and consultant to queen Elizabeth I. Dee believed crystal would act as a communication device between angels and him and the smoky quartz ball that belonged to Dee can be viewed in the British museum even today.