The next topic for the Pagans Down Under blogging activity o’ fun (and the only reason I seem to be hitting the blog at all currently) is ‘Pet Peeves’.
Above is a picture of a beautifully carved black mineral. I’ve purposefully not captioned it because I wonder if anyone can recognise what the material is. Could be any number of things really, shiny and black. But no different to a plethora of rare earths, precious and semi-precious gems, organic stones, like amber, metals etc. It comes from the ground. And like all of them, it too has a list of things it is good for, special energy it is imbued with. Special vibrations of the earth. Indeed, if any given pagan group is anything to go by, there’s a healing quality, a special way to use it, a time you might want to utilise its special sacred healing earth vibrations.
I’ve heard tell it’s a mineral of prosperity, good for economic considerations, increased physical energy. And probably the best hint of all is that our own Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, thinks this particular type of earth is good for humanity. If you have been living under a rock for the last six months, you might still be wondering if you have this stone already in your collection, how you might use it in a magical working. And if you have not lived under a rock for six months, then you know, that pretty carved object is nothing more than a lump of coal.
Mmmm… Feel those special sacred healing earth vibrations!
You might think I’m about to launch into a rant against fossil fuels, which, for the record, are mostly heinous in this day and age, archaic, and Tony Abbott should be run out of the country let alone the top job for his incessant bullshit. I’m not particularly inclined to consider them altogether terrible because they have brought us to this point, go humanity! And we know how that was sort of not entirely awesome, and we should be learning from those mistakes. And we are in a lot of ways. Except for maybe Tony Abbott. But this post is not about that, and squarely addressed to the earth loving, sparkle vibration feeling, mystic-moonbean healing pagans, and their perpensity to overrun ever group, blog, magazine that might otherwise be interesting with this
Now, don’t get me wrong, I own jewellery, I own crystals and stones, and precious metals. Earth is sacred. All of it, in my estimation. Which is why, as I have gone along the path of earth-loving animistic pagan witchcraft I no longer put a penny towards such things. We are, I am, no longer able to claim ignorance of the reality of these things, which are not very different at all from our climate change inducing, pollution making, and environment decimating friend coal. The plethora of semi-precious crystal sales and consumption in the pagan community leads me to believe that the general thought process there is about as long and in-depth as it takes to say “earth-loving crystal-sparkle goddess-fairy-dust energy-vibration”.
As a pagan and a crafter who uses natural materials like specialty woods and bone, I go out of my way to be transparent about the providence of those materials, to ensure that nothing is harmed in the getting of those materials, to the very best of my ability. I have used crystals in the past, and still own beads and such, all of which now were either gifted to me, or I picked up secondhand. But it seemed to me only reasonable that if I was interested in the providence of one, I should look into the source of the other. A thought that I have not seen expressed by either retailer or consumer of crystals in the pagan community that I have seen. I have seen it expressed by those outside of the self-professed earth-loving community, particularly by geologists, and artisanal miners and collectors. And it is possible to find semi-precious stones sourced from artisanal mines by people invested in environmental sustainability and reclamation from here in Australia and even abroad. (And precious, and large-scale mining, it can be argued at least Australian diamond mining, for example, is well regulated, but I wouldn’t be standing on that argument alone in a discussion with a traditional owner in Western Australia.) But they are few and far between, and almost non-existent in the community which seems obsessed with semi-precious stones. For the most part, such minerals fail to appeal to the “tumbled in some Indian sweatshop” aesthetic, or are of a sort almost unknown in terms of their special sacred chakra cleansing healing vibrations.
So your Tanzanian this and Madagascan that, might seem like it has at least an obvious location, and (exotic sounding) source, but so too does coal. And that’s regulated.
Which is sort of a joke, but the fact is, small hold mining, artisanal mining worldwide is almost completely unregulated, and accounts for a very large chunk of your crystal collection (where it is not actually coloured glass or something cheaper dyed to look like what might come out of the ground). In Africa, Asia and South America (and even Europe) such mines can use child labour, have no form of workplace safety, run by the poorest elements of society, and among whom chronic illness from inhalation of dust etc., are a real problem, besides the real threat of death in a collapse or avalanche.
The truth is that there is next to nothing obvious and nothing immediately helpful or informative about an individual semi-precious stone to be found on the internet. Where your tumbled piece of rose quartz comes from is likely a complete mystery to you, and probably even to the person you bought it from. Some of the biggest exporters of tumbled stones are India and Asia more generally. But where exporters source both the labour for tumbling and finished products, as well as the material itself (including metals like silver and tin), is not always clear-cut. In fact, it is very, very rarely explicit. And when it is not, it is reasonable to assume it may be through unregulated industry, in terms of both labour and environment. The word “ethical” strategically placed within the “About Us” blurb by an importer or exporter, wholesaler or retailer, does not actually guarantee your tumbled tigers eye pendant is not imbued with the tears of small children, or that your amethyst point scrying tool is not resonating with the energy of polluted river water and decimated agricultural lands in some third world country.
Much more is written regarding what are considered precious gems, diamonds, ruby, sapphire and emerald, and likewise dealers are far more inclined to detail the ethical and environmental impact of their wares (yes, it is possible to find them). More money tends to mean more scrutiny. But the line between precious and semi-precious is less obvious on, or should I say, in the ground. And there seems to be absolutely no scrutiny from the purchasing community responsible for the tumbled stone crystal point of healing trend, one that is pushed hard by the alternate lifestyle and pagan communities.
Ok, so I’ve just compared your crystal collection to coal. And that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Because it is not quite that bad. It isn’t a fossil fuel after all. And may not even be as a bad as the worst case scenario. But the sheer numbers, the ease, and affordability of something otherwise prepackaged, that is, rarely (in fact, I’ve never seen it in the pagan community or in pagan/spiritual shops, but that is not to say it doesn’t exist) mined, cut and polished by the seller espousing the healing properties of this stone or that, leaves me feeling very disinclined towards purchase and engagement. The vast majority purchased in Australia are coming from exporters in India (and other developing countries) (or perhaps the U.S.) but the extent of the chain of providence is otherwise completely obscured, and with the amount one can purchase, is available, it’s obvious at the very least, somewhere, there are some pretty big holes in the ground. Compared to the first picture of the carved piece of coal, our tumbled stone and crystal point collections are generally far more obscure. Coal mining is large scale, we know where it is and what it does and are able to support changes, better regulation etc. Nothing of that exists in the amongst the plethora of content regarding the magical nature of crystal. Which makes them magical indeed, but perhaps not in the way we would like them to be.
The following are some interesting and enlightening reads that might augment your next jewellery purchase. But it is worth considering that though they focus on the precious gems (diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald) semi-precious stones are often part and parcel of the very same mining activities, as well as the mining of marble, granite, etc., as well as being otherwise the same kinds of mining activities for themselves alone. And several get a mention in terms of types of stone extracted. Some are a little old, but it is worth noting that a cursory internet search will not yield any great results on the issue.
- Online article: When Gem Mining Is a Dirty Business
- Online article: Conservation Gemstones: Beyond Fair Trade?
- Paper: Artisanal and Small Scale Mining in India
- Paper: Environment Stewardship in Gemstone Mining: Quo Vadis?
- Paper: A Socio-economic Study of Small-scale Gemstone Mining in Sri Lanka
- Paper: The Lived Experience of Human Rights and Labor Violations in Select Artisanal Mining Sites in North and South Kivu 2014
The question, of course, remains obvious: How responsible are we, as consumers, for demanding to know the providence of items and objects we purchase, in order to align ourselves with ethical and sustainable practices? We’re aware of factory conditions for workers in many developing countries, from our clothes to our iPhones. In terms of environmental impact, we’ve got the intel on heavy metal mining, fossil fuels and diamonds and rare earths. Are the kilos and tonnes of chakra wands, healing quartz points and lapis lazuli tumbled healing rune stone divination tools a harmless byproduct, or are we complicit to the exploitation of both human beings and our environment whenever we make that impulse purchase?
Discussions of the nature of semi-precious stones in groups, the numbers of crystal products in alleged pagan, earth-centric stores, online and in-store far outweigh any discussion regarding the actual and true cost of having these materials available to us by the kilo. Are you really in possession of a magical item resonating with the energies of the goddess, or are you trying to polish a- lump of coal?
Artisanal mining is a historic, traditional practice that human beings have done since forever, all over the world. It is worthy of regulation and protection. In my opinion, large-scale mining for anything less than necessary (diamonds, fossil fuels) is an obscene waste of many more resources and essentially corrupt. My great uncle was an artisanal miner, who mined opal at Lightning Ridge in NSW. I like that my Mum still wears every day one of his opals on her finger. More than that, creating beautiful objects from the varied and wondrous bounty of the earth is never to be lamented. Which is perhaps why the carving of hard coal by Chinese peasants is the worthier activity.