Crystals are not magic! vanadinite edition

Introduction:

Vanadinite crystals (red) on a grey rock.
Figure 1: Vanadinite crystals (red) on a grey rock. (Public Domain)

Vanadinite is a beautiful crystal (Figure 1).  However, some woo practitioners, who are inspired by its attractiveness and inhibited by their own ignorance, think that this mineral has magical powers.  This is not the case.

Vanadinite background:

Firstly, vanadinite is a mineral.  That means that it’s a naturally-occurring, inorganic solid with a characteristic chemical composition that results in a specific crystalline structure.  That’s all geology speak for “a natural group of chemicals that’s not made from living things and isn’t a liquid or gas.”

Vanadinite is made from only four elements, so it has a relatively simple chemical composition.  Here’s it’s chemical formula: Pb5(VO4)3Cl.  That means that it’s composed of lead (Pb), vanadium (V), oxygen (O), and chlorine (Cl).  By mass, it’s about 73% lead, 14% oxygen, 11% vanadium, and 2% chlorine.

Because of the way these chemicals bond together (and how light then interacts with it), they make red, hexagonal crystals (Figure 1).

What the woo-pushers claim:

One website claims that it will:

  • “stimulate you mentally”
  • “improve your energy levels”
  • “help you to get things done”
  • [help] “you to awaken feeling energized”
  • “stimulates your creativity and prompts action”
  • “fills your auric field”
  • “aid your self expression [sic] and help you to be more effective”
  • “It promotes thrift”
  • It is “good for breathing difficulties such as asthma or other lung problems”
  • “and it aids fatigue by giving you extra energy”

Another site claims that vanadinite “is a crystal of focus and action,” and it:

  • [helps in] “attaining ones [sic] goals”
  • “clears the mind of distraction, allowing clear thinking when one is focused on achievement”
  • [allows] “expanded consciousness and quelling the monkey mind”
  • “stimulates sexual desire and the creative flow of ideas”
  • It enhances stamina (for the aforementioned sex and creativity)
  • [helps] “bring order to those prone to the chaos”

I know; we’re all much stupider now for having read that shite.  I’m sorry; but sometimes you just have to look the woo in the eye.

Discussion:

Rant on the woo claims:

Before moving on, I need to rant about these claims.  Firstly, these assertions are vague to the point of being completely meaningless and they are all utterly baseless.  Furthermore, some are absolutely ridiculous on their faces.  A tiny amount of consideration completely strips them of any credibility:

  • Saying that something magically helps you wake feeling energized is an open call for confirmation bias. Every morning that you feel well, you credit the lump of mostly-lead under your pillow.  Every morning you feel shitty, you either forget about the woo-claims, or explain away the ineffectiveness (e.g. ‘my head must not have been directly over the crystal’ or ‘my blocked sinuses must have inhibited the magic crystal waves,’ etc.).  After all, at this point the victim—I mean customer—has already purchased the dumb, lump.  They’re literally invested in the idea!
  • Stimulates creativity, see above.
  • If someone tells you they can help fill your auric field, back away slowly. (We could talk about how there’s no evidence for such a thing, but that’s more than the claim deserves.)
  • It helps you “be more effective”. Really?  If you truly are effective, how do you know that it’s because of the crystal?  Maybe you’re just kicking ass?  There’s no control.  Also, and more importantly, more effective at what?  The abject vacuousness of the claim means that anything can be credited to the magic, undetectable, undemonstrated, and unreasonable connection between the crystal and the user.  You’re not lazy and depressed, the crystal’s helping you get better at meditation!  You don’t have diarrhea, the crystal’s cleansing you!  You didn’t get your fingers caught in the paper shredder because you hate your boring job and you were daydreaming desperately about some magical thing that can make your life better, the crystal’s helping to make you more effective with your other hand!
  • “It promotes thrift.” It promotes thrift?  By having stupidly purchased a nonsensical, mystical panacea?
  • It’s good for asthma and lung problems? Prove it or stop saying this right now.  This claim is dangerous misinformation.
  • It aids fatigue by giving you energy? Aids fatigue?  My fatigue is fine, thanks.  You go help your own fatigue—I hear shark wrestling is good for that.
  • Helps attain your goals; see confirmation bias again.
  • It allows you to think clear when you’re focused? They’re just openly telling you that they’re taking credit for what you’re already doing!  I can’t tell if they’re stupid or having a laugh.

This ambiguity and nonsense is a common theme amongst woo-practitioners.  They are the result of either a conscious effort to deceive easily-persuaded people without committing to any real—and thus accountable—claim, or the deep, crippling ignorance of the practitioners themselves.

The constituent chemicals of Vanadinite:

Lead is a toxic metal and is relatively abundant on this planet’s surface (Figure 2).  It enters your body through digestion or inhalation.  Your body stores lead in bones and teeth, allowing it to accumulate over time.  Lead poisoning attacks the nervous system, lowers intelligence, and can be deadly, especially to children.

A plot of elemental abundances on planet Earth's upper continental crust.
Figure 2: A plot of elemental abundances on planet Earth’s upper continental crust. Note that lead (Pb) is not rare and oxygen (O) is the most common element. Credit: Gordon B. Haxel, Sara Boore, and Susan Mayfield. Via the USGS. License: Public Domain.

Oxygen is the most abundant element on Earth (Figure 2).  We need it; probably because we evolved on the Earth, where it’s the most abundant element.  The converse, that the Earth evolved around us or was designed to be a good fit for us, is wildly less likely—in fact, it’s just factually not the case.  Douglas Adams lampooned this notion best in his book ‘The Salmon of Doubt’:

“This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

Vanadium is another toxic metal that can be absorbed or inhaled.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets extremely low tolerable exposure levels for vanadium.

Chlorine, when not part of a chemical compound such as vanadinite, is a toxic gas.  The National Institutes of Health set an exposure limit of less than 15 minutes at a concentration of less than 1 ppm (part per million).

Conclusion:

Vanadinite is a beautiful mineral.  And minerals are cool.  It’s fascinating how a bit of chemistry can transform a group of toxic things into a relatively inert thing that’s pretty to look at.  But woo-practitioners, who are driven by their own gullibility, ignorance, or greed, try to pass these natural wonders off as mystical cure-alls.  This detracts from the actual beauty of nature that a real education can provide.

Don’t fall for their ridiculous fairy tales.  These silly, unfounded beliefs are not harmless.  They effectively steal from well-meaning people and promote a dangerous culture of ignorance.

Jared Peters

Jared Peters

Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.
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Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.