Every year, an old woman shuffles past the booth.
The gem show bustles to varying degrees at different times of day, so she is just one of the anonymous horde: asking questions, listening to answers, moving on. But because she is an old woman, she moves on slowly, and with difficulty.
Infirmity in every step, she stops, and then she poses a question. My colleague repeats it to me: do we have any covellite?
Covellite, for the non minerally-inclined, is a copper sulfide mineral: the chemical composition essentially consists of one copper atom for every one sulfur atom. Crystal structure is determined by the angles of ionic bonds: in this case, covellite crystallises on the dihexagonal dipyramidal system. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We don't have any covellite. It's at that moment that I see the list in the woman's hand. It's covered in spidery handwriting, and I can clearly read the name "covellite". Above it, underlined, is another word. The word is "cancer". In her other hand, there is the inevitable book describing the mystical powers of "crystals". You get to be able to recognize them, if you read enough mineral books. I don't recall which one, maybe it was The Book of Stones. Maybe it was some other one. It hardly matters.
I want to tell this woman that she needs to see a doctor. That if she's seen one, she needs to see another. Or to consider palliative care. Or to do anything, but to stop following the path that she's on right now, and to look for real answers or real relief.
But I don't. It's too personal. It's too far beyond the limits of propriety. And I am not, in any way shape or form, a medical professional. So I put on my best, most solicitous manner, the kind that I use for dealing gently with people. I apologise, and she goes on her way.
And now the seething with rage begins.
Let me explain why.
I've lived around minerals all of my life. My grandfather was a collector, who travelled all around the country, often buying from miners who would set up stands at the side of dusty roads that week-ends. My father was a collector - my childhood home still has a basement full of minerals from all over the planet. And I collect as well. I've studied mineralogy, and read about minerals and the science surrounding them for twenty-five years, give or take.
Crystal healing types like to make claims about minerals. Claims like "clinochlore minerals have extensive healing properties", or "covellite connects strongly with physical reality and earth energies and at the same time carries much of the higher spectrum of vibrations from the etheric plane and beyond".
Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
For all of those minerals being all over my childhood home, it never seemed to make any medical difference, oddly enough. They didn't stave off cancer, heart disease, hypertension, pneumonia, influenza, broken bones, chicken pox or even premature baldness in my family. They also failed contribute in any material way to the amelioration of those conditions. Nor have I ever once heard, read of, or spoken to a proper collector or mineralogist who went from a complex scientific discussion of his subject to add “oh, and they cured my diabetes, which was a boon.” No, when you don't get ill, or when you get better if you fall ill, that's the province of medicine. Real medicine. The kinds that works, if anything will.
There is reality, and there is the world of ghosts. There is knowledge, a candle in the darkness, and then there are the remains of things left over from the millennia when human beings didn't have answers to questions like "what is that made of", or "where did we come from", or "why does that make a spark", so early humans tried to invent stories and gods and monsters and mystical objects in an attempt to make sense of the world. It was only with the invention of science, though, that the world really did make sense.
I don't know why it is that, consciously, some people choose to live in a world of phantoms. Maybe school was too hard. Maybe their made up knowledge makes more sense to them, or it's comfortable, like a ratty old cardigan on a cold autumn night. Maybe they've never been exposed to any real answers. Pick a reason, it doesn't really matter. They are now the prey.
Somewhere among those people are cynical, opportunistic vermin whose sole interest is in making a quick buck. To do that, they write knowing articles, make ridiculous claims, encourage people to wave their hands over minerals and pretend to feel some “energy”, suggest outlandish and expensive purchases and practises, and then vanish under the guise of "I wasn't really prescribing medicine, so the laws surrounding licensing and malpractise don't apply".
This, too, is bullshit.
Because as far as I can tell, they know that they're talking out of their fundaments. They are cynically and deliberately taking the money from people, promising health benefits, and delivering – well, delivering a pretty crystal and a headful of nonsense , and not much else. And at worst, they kill. They take the last shiny copper coin from these unfortunately people, and then leave them to die.
And honestly, I don't just find that unethical, deceptive, or morally offensive, although it is those things. It is more. It is wrong, and it is evil.
Medicine doesn't always work. At times, palliative care is all that remains. When cancer strikes down a big, strong man in the span of three, or maybe six months, then that is a tragedy, and one which we cannot yet solve. But that does not mean that it is time to send in the crystal wavers. That means it's time to redouble our focus on education, research, and scientific innovation: the only things that actually work.