History of the Crystal Ball
We’ve all seen mysterious women peer into crystal balls in movies. Crystal balls have a long and colorful history beyond the silver screen and are still used by many people today for feng shui, healing, and divination, also known as scrying.
The use of crystal balls for scrying, which is a form of divination that uses reflections in water, metal, or reflective stones goes back to Celtic Druids who served as priests, philosophers, judges, and counselors in the British Isles and France around 800 BC. They typically used beryl stones, which often resembled glass when polished into shape.
By the Middle Ages and up through the Renaissance, a variety of people referring to themselves as wizards, oracles, seers, and sorcerers were now using crystal balls made out of quartz and selling their divination services to wealthy people. Divination was used as part of religious practices by Christians, Gnostics, Hermetics, and Kabbalists and as Christianity continued to spread in Europe, the knowledge attained from the readings was increasingly credited as “heavenly knowledge” to the chagrin of theologians who decried magic. Many Christians opted to be buried with their crystal balls.
By the 1900s, the image that lives in our collective imaginations was born. The Romani people, who moved from place to place as they often encountered hostility from Europeans, needed to set up businesses that were easy to set up and to break down, and so they became known for things like fortune-telling booths. The popularity of these booths prompted magician Claude Alexander Conlin to incorporate fortune-telling into his act, and his habit of wearing elaborate turbans became fused into the image of “a fortune teller.”
Today, many people who practice scrying do it alongside tarot reading, palm reading, and studying astrology. Diviners often use different types of crystal for trying to address different kinds of feelings and issues. While some say they see visions in the ball, others say that gazing into the ball helps them clear their minds so that truths and future events can become known to them. Many people appreciate crystal balls for their aesthetics, and purchase varieties made of emeralds, rose quartz, and jade.
Want to buy one yourself? You can pick up a laser cut glass ball for about $30. A ball made of genuine polished crystal might run you around $150. Also, please don’t keep your crystal ball in your window sill, it could start a fire.
More reading on crystal balls:
Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection by Mark Pendergast
Crystal Gazing: Its History and Practice by Northcote Whitridge Thomas
Crystal Ball art by Sharaah Shakti for LoyalNana.com