The first thing I saw when I entered The Magick Bookstore in National City, California was a hand-drawn placard with a blue votive candle next to it. The placard was an advertisement for the day's speaker, John Burchard (who bills himself as "Mr. Crystal"), and it said he offered "crystal card readings," "aura cleansings," and "energy balancing." But this day his topic was "the laying on of gemstones for healing."
He began his talk by noting his mother was descended from Seneca Indian medicine women. "When I was seven, my mother said, 'I want to tell you about your heritage.' She took me to a learning cave in the Allegheny Mountains." There and elsewhere his mother taught him the secrets of crystals.
Burchard wore a tee shirt sporting a drawing of three wolves, and he sat behind a folding table covered with a purple cloth. At the front of the table were four pie pans filled with polished stones. Three clear crystal balls shared the middle of the table with two opaque balls. Miscellaneous uncut crystals occupied the rest of the space.
Indians believed in five elements, said Burchard--earth, air, fire, water, and spirit--so one's personal stone collection consists of five stones. He took out a leather bag and spilled the stones he most values into his hands. "You can look at these, but you can't touch them," he said.
"Why can't we touch them?" asked one of his listeners.
"That would contaminate the stones," said Burchard. The stones pick up forces from anyone touching them, and contamination would have to be removed by "clearing" the stones--by removing all the forces that have been built up in them. That would mean eliminating the forces his late mother added over several years. He doesn't want that to happen, so Burchard keeps these stones to himself.
He defined a crystal as "a mineral substance which can direct, focus, amplify, and store energy." There are many types of energy, he explained: "electrical, psychic, magnetic, nuclear. You can find this in science books under the piezoelectric effect of crystals." He pointed out it doesn't matter if crystals are in their natural state or have been cut or polished. Their properties remain unaltered.
Hematite Burchard found to be a particularly interesting stone. "If you're laid back, it makes you calmer. But if you're high strung, it makes you more violent." He discovered this when, in a bad mood, he wore hematite and ended up punching out someone. "The Indians found hematite has healing powers when laid on wounds," he said.
"When my daughter was a teenager, suffering from acne, she happened to read my notebook and learned about hematite. She started rubbing pieces of hematite on her skin after washing her face. Her acne healed and left no scars at all."
Then Burchard turned to the light box, made of wood and large enough to hold a standard bulb. In the top was a hole, and into the hole was inserted the base of an obelisk-shaped piece of quartz about six inches long. Passing under the crystal were colored filters, spliced together like a filmstrip.
"We'll go through the seven colors of the rainbow," said Burchard, turning off the room lights. As he turned a crank, the filters moved under the quartz. First came red, and Burchard's face looked sunburned in the glow from the crystal.
"What's your favorite shade of red?" he asked none of his four students in particular.
"A deep red, like maroon," said Peggy, a quiet woman of retirement age. "If I have a red with yellow in it, I want to fight, so I avoid yellowish red."
"My favorite red is an apple red," said Burchard, changing filters.
When the crystal turned yellow, Jurgen blurted out, "It's like wow!" He threw his arms wide, as though to catch the rays. When blue came, he cried, "Stop right there, John!" He ooh'd and ahh'd, as did the three women sitting with him.
During the break, Laura confided she carries crystals to calm herself. "I was over-sensitive, but now I'm calmer," she claimed. She has been carrying crystals for six months and says she has noticed a change in her personality.
"How old are you?"
"How would you answer someone who says your greater calmness is due to normal maturing, not to crystals?"
"All I can say is that, if you don't believe in the crystals, it's because you don't want to believe." She said her mother and brother also have an interest in crystals, but her father just laughs at them for it.
Jurgen went outside for a smoke. A Marine, he said he wears crystals next to his dogtags, but he doesn't want his buddies knowing about them. It would cause too many problems, and Jurgen doesn't want problems.
"All energies come from the planets," he explained. "I've had reincarnation experiences. Once I was an Egyptian." He said he was "interested in tarot and the occult. I trust intuition." Christianity and other traditional religions he finds "too boxed, too rigid."
Lori, who wants to be a psychotherapist, walked up to him. She wore an aquamarine at her throat, saying, "I wanted to take command of my communication skills. I see crystals as a tool for focus."
Back in the bookstore, Burchard said it was time to demonstrate healing with gemstones. He placed on the floor "a special Indian blanket from Pic 'N' Save." Lori was to be the subject, and she stretched out on the blanket, her head to the north.
But before the demonstration could begin, Burchard had a test for Peggy, who was a newcomer to crystals. He handed her two rough amethysts, one natural, one synthetic, and asked to her identify which was which.
She held the stones and switched them from one hand to the other. "This one," she said.
"That's right," said Burchard. "And how did you know?"
"When I switched it to my right hand, I just knew."
"That's because the right hand is the energy hand. When the natural stone was in your left hand, you weren't able to tell." Natural stones, formed over centuries, have absorbed forces, but synthetic stones, made in hours, haven't, explained Burchard.
Then to the demonstration. First he placed the "grounding stones," one on each of Lori's ankles.
"They draw off any unwanted vibrations and shunt them to the ground, where they're dissipated," he said.
Other stones were placed on her knees, elbows, chest, throat, nose, eyelids, and forehead. A carnelian was placed at her navel. A total of 28 stones were put on her body. Six quartz crystals were placed on the floor around the blanket, and a seventh on Lori's abdomen. "This will cause an overall healing of every part of her body," said Burchard.
He then sat at her feet. On a table near her head was a large crystal of smoky quartz. This was the "energy source." In his hand Burchard held the obelisk of clear quartz, the "power crystal." He concentrated so energy from the "energy source" would pass through the "power crystal" and into the stones on Lori's body.
"Do you feel that?" he asked.
"Uh-huh," said Lori.
"It's powerful!" interrupted Jurgen.
"How do you feel?" asked Burchard.
"Wonderful," Lori said. When the stones were taken off, she looked woozy. "I think I'll get up slowly." She thought the healing had been a success.
I thought it had been a joke. But Lori believed it all right. She wasn't Burchard's shill. He didn't need a shill. Anyone who attends a crystal demonstration is either a prying reporter or a true believer. Few reporters bother to attend, and true believers are legion.
There's a kind of innocence about these New Agers--and a kind of jadedness. You have the feeling they know, simultaneously, too little and too much about life. They are credulous and wary at once, and they speak a language different from ours.
They know nothing about Christianity, even though most of them were brought up in nominally Christian homes. They are unable to handle syllogisms. Their minds aren't geared to logical processes. They think with their feelings, not with their brains.
This means they're almost impervious to standard evangelistic techniques. The Fundamentalist's "You gotta get right with God!" means nothing to them.
First of all, they don't believe in personal sin. Second, they are their own gods. Prayers? Some of them pray, like Shirley MacLaine, to themselves. Church history? Forget it. These people don't even know who John XXIII was, let alone Gregory the Great.
Before the Christian message can be given to them they need to run the New Age thing into the ground. They need to see it's a dead end. And many of them are discovering just that. Crystals are nearly passe now. (For all I know "Mr. Crystal" has chucked it all and sells insurance.)
Soon people will tire of the other elements of the New Age. It took seven decades for communism to be thrown off, but its subject people were soured on it after about seven days. The New Age has no secret police to keep people in line. When their interest goes, they go, and they're going.
Not all of them, of course, and, so far, not most of them. But we need to look ahead and see the trends. The New Age movement will corrupt and disappoint millions more before it too is relegated to the dustbin of history, but it is already yesterday's fad. It's the wave of the past. Christianity, ever resurrected, is the wave of the future. New Agers will someday be ex-New Agers, hollowed out and ready to be filled with something, anything. And why not with the fullest form of Christianity, Catholicism?
Man is a thinking reed, said Pascal. As a reed he bends with the wind--sometimes he even snaps--and New Agers always have one finger in the air. They want to go with the wind because they're faddists. Under the guise of novelty and independence they seek security and conformity.
They are the latest Lost Generation. Many of them will stay lost for the rest of their lives, even though almost all of them will abandon the New Age movement over the next few years. (Many lost souls flit from one fad to another for decades, never finding peace.)
This isn’t to say the movement will disappear soon. New people will join up as old hands leave, so the problem will continue, and we can expect the New Age movement to garner more headlines in the nineties than it did in the eighties.
Still, it's probable the movement will be, overall, a short-term phenomenon--it will last a few decades (which is short, historically) and then become a footnote in anthropology books. Why? But the New Age movement never will satisfy--it never can satisfy--and because thinking reeds think. No matter how slipshod the thinking, still, some thinking is there. Communism was done in by its record. So will the New Age movement be done in. Its promises won't be kept, so it won't keep its adherents.