A common practice within pagan and magical traditions is the use of natural materials. In our spells, rituals, offerings and general magical practices, we utilise a lot of ingredients. Be this herbs, essential oils, or crystals, etc., we enjoy them for their inherent magical qualities. Whilst magical traditions, such as witchcraft, do not need to (and arguably, shouldn’t) break the bank, it is quite clear that our community has a market for these sorts of items. Crystals in particular are a favourite of many pagans, witches and occultists, but many are seemingly unaware of how these beautiful minerals are sourced from the Earth. The ever-growing wider spirituality movement across the West has meant that there’s big industries for things like crystals, to the point where they’ve become a multibillion dollar industry. Because of this, dangerous and abhorrent working conditions have arisen in attempts to meet the demands of the industry.
Many journalists have investigated the unfortunate reality of the healing crystals trend, going to the source location of these crystals and minerals, and what the start of their commercial journey looks like. Examples include investigations into the rose quartz extractions in Madagascar, where children as young as 14 years old work in the mines. A news story from 2014 tells of a similar situation, where underage miners start at the age of 15 in Tanzanian mines. On top of child labour, these miners have inadequate worker’s salaries, for example with 60% of the world’s cobalt coming from Congo, these miners work in desperate conditions, only earning an estimation of “$2 to $3 on a good day”. There are also extremely hazardous working environments across global mines, where the sharp rocks and mineral dust particles can prove to be fatal for the workers.
Kathleen Borealis, a geologist by education and trade, produced an invaluable two-part series on her podcast Borealis Meditation discussing the ethics of crystal extraction and consumption. Here, she gives an insight into the industry and how we as pagans and magical practitioners can be better crystal buyers. Borealis states how 70% of crystals or mineral specimens are mined through secondary mines, which means that they’re mined as by-products through commercial mining. Therefore, it’s not just specific crystal specimen mines that we should be focusing on. Mining is a huge industry, with mining practices, extraction and regulations all varying depending upon the material being mined and location of the mine itself. The materials gained from the mining industry are entrenched into a lot of aspects of our daily living. But what perhaps isn’t commonly known, is the large-scale corruption within mining industries, such as Myanmar’s jade trade. Further information can be read in Global Witness’ ‘Conflict Minerals‘ campaign, where they address that minerals have “funded some of the world’s most brutal conflicts for decades”, a further example being lapis lazuli as a conflict mineral funding the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Looking more broadly, the mines themselves are an environmental disaster. Open pit mines are “the most common type of industrial metal mine“, and these sorts of mines create permanent landscape damage. These mines can create pipeline spills, pollute drinking water, destroy wildlife habitats and threaten public health. Earthworks has a campaign “Preventing Mine Tailings Disasters“, identifying that mines are producing increasing amounts of waste, stored in industrial-scale tailing dams, which often collapse and destroy communities and ecosystems.
All of this information creates intense doom and gloom, which understandably sparks anxiety for many, but it serves an important purpose. Becoming aware of the unethical sourcing of crystals and general mining practices is crucial as we navigate increasingly commercialised spiritual communities. We can still enjoy nature’s gifts and appreciate the beauty of crystals. As animists, we can still enjoy relationships with crystal spirits and as magical practitioners, it is still valid to incorporate the use of them in your craft. However, what’s important is just to stay aware and educated on such matters.
It is easy to fall into the trap of guilting oneself for all the previous purchases made that indirectly supported these unethical practices, though allow yourself some understanding in that you didn’t know. On some level, we are all passively leaving marks on the Earth just by living in these industrialised societies and in many cases, it is unavoidable. My motto is do what you can, and what you can do will look different to everyone. So, if you have the means to, be more choosey with where you spend your money; make an active choice to double-check the place you’re buying crystals from and see if they ethically source their products. Ask the seller what mines their crystals come from, and if you aren’t satisfied with their answer, perhaps that’s a sign to find a new crystal seller. Shops that ethically source their crystals can be found online with quick Google searches. You can also get crystals second-hand from online websites or go rockhounding in local mines! These smaller mines have far less of an environmental impact.
Self-collecting is far simpler and more exciting than one may think too – quartz is a highly common crystal, which can be found on most UK beaches if you spend some time looking through all those lovely stones and rocks. I myself grew up as an avid mineral collector, ignorant and unaware of the horrors of the mining industry. But years ago, when I learnt and educated myself, I made changes to where I spent my money and any new crystal beauties that come into my life are locally sourced and self-collected. I’ve personally found many quartz pieces on the beaches of both Essex and Cornwall and they hold a dear place in my heart and practice. Not to mention that any old stone, pebble or rock you find on the ground can be just as meaningful and useful in a magical practice, it doesn’t have to be a sparkly crystal from a country halfway across the world.
Overall, yes, crystals are beautiful and fascinating, but the commodification of them is causing more harm than healing. A great way to honour our Earth and respect our land spirits is to stay eco-conscious, and step one of that is doing your research.