Crystals, the shiny, polished stones once reserved for your hippy aunt, have undergone something of a cultural resurgence in the last couple of years, appearing everywhere from trendy Instagram feeds to the pockets and purses of Washingtonians.
Over the ages, people from every culture have used crystals for everything from attracting luck to fighting illness – the ancient Greeks believed amethyst would make them less prone to getting drunk. Each crystal, ranging from common quartz to raw diamonds, has a prescribed meaning or significance that's been outlined in lore and new age metaphysical tomes - and there seems to be a rock for everything. . Proponents of crystal healing flaunt the stones’ ability to ward away negative influences, make more money, find love, or relieve the everyday pains of modern life.
Sacred Circle in Old Town Alexandria has been around for 12 years, but their resident crystal expert and shamanic practitioner, Isaac Volbrecht, says he’s seen a sharp rise in the number of people seeking out crystals in the last six months. "It's just a testament to what's going on out there in the world," he says, gesturing towards the door. "People are being forced to look inward and look for something else and a lot of times crystals are the first thing they go to because honestly it's the easiest for people to understand. There's no god attached to that crystal, no commitment to a religion, no practicing yoga once a day for the rest of your life, it's an easy way to get people to start believing in themselves."
Volbrecht, 27, says that he's been drawn to crystals since he started collecting rocks as a child in rural Wisconsin. He explains that each crystal has its own vibrational energy that can influence the person who owns the stone, but just buying a rock won't help fix your problems. "If you don't believe in the healing power of rocks and you buy them, it's not going to work for you. But if you believe and you learn from the rocks and see the patterns in your life they're telling you about and you change, the crystals are inspiring you to change - the crystals don't change you."
Although not everyone believes that each crystal emits a type of metaphysical energy, Marissa Rubenstein, an events planner at Brightest Young Thing who collects crystals, is willing to attest to the power of belief. "I don't really believe in some of the qualities crystals are supposed to have, like this one will make you less stressed, this one cleanses your chakras," she explains over Facebook. "But I do believe that having a physical entity to pour your thoughts into helps manifest your goals."
Morgan Fykes, a local marketing pro and storyteller, echoed the feeling. She received her first crystal in a necklace made by a friend a few years ago. "I don't know if it's coincidental or the crystal... the more I wore it, the less negative things got. Maybe it's the visual reminder to be positive, but it's to the point where I want to be more involved." Since she got her first crystal, Fykes has gotten her yoga certificating, started eating better and getting rid of negative influences in her life in what she calls a gradual process. "I've seen a trickle effect with other friends who were more open to (crystals); they've started doing more yoga or being more positive and it was a natural divide. Some people were intrigued and we got closer over it. The people that were dismissive tended to be more negative and we drifted apart."
A lot of the thinking around the power of crystals - that if you see something that encourages you to believe in yourself and seek solutions to a problem or break a bad pattern in your life - is not unlike mindfulness. Mindfulness is a tool used to encourage people to be present in their own lives, making them aware of their own thoughts and feelings without judgement. Although it was once primarily a Buddhist concept, mindfulness is not an uncommon touchstone in therapists' offices, self-help books, classrooms and meditation studios. Rubenstein says using the crystals as a way to be more self aware has had real life benefits. "I meditate on my goals and it helps me streamline my thoughts. I've accomplished a lot of the goals I've meditated on this year and I think it's helpful to just have something to focus your thoughts onto. "
Volbrecht thinks part of the reason why crystals have gotten so popular in D.C. is that many people are feeling anxious, powerless and uncertain in the face of the Trump Administration. "People are not happy with what's going on and it's really forcing them to look at themselves and say 'how can we make this life better' because it sucks. It's scary. People are scared, they're in pain, the old ways of doing things aren't working anymore and people are just looking for new things."
Sacred Circle co-owners Anysia Oswald and Thomas Singer said they’ve seen a 40% increase in business since Trump was sworn in as president. Oswald attributes the increased interest in the metaphysical to the fear of outside world, but the effect isn't limited to D.C.. The Hood Witch is just one of many ultra-popular Instagram accounts devoted to crystals and witchcraft that have boomed in popularity in recent years, flaunting over 291,000 followers.
Whether you're intrigued by the good vibes, looking for something to meditate on or just want to carry around something pretty, crystals can feel like a step towards being a better version of yourself in the face of uncertainty. Although there's no shortage to the number of crystals you can buy, Volbrecht suggests doing some research and starting out your collection with clear quartz, rose quartz, amethyst, citrine, and tourmaline. Respectively, Volbrecht says those crystals can offer you light and power, love, protection, joy and give you more awareness to your own life - provided that you want those things for yourself.
Once you get those crystals, Volbrecht advises cleansing them with some burning white sage while thinking about what you want each stone to mean. You can meditate with them, carry them in your pocket or place them around your home. If you're not sure about taking the leap alone, Rubenstein says her and her friends like the meditating with crystals classes at Take Five Meditation near Dupont Circle.
It's okay to be skeptical that crystals are going to help you live your best life but, as Fykes puts it, it's nice to have a reminder of what you want around your neck or in your pocket. "I'm not gonna fight the crystal."