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Tuesday 12 April 2011


As you might guess from the crystal ball on the cover, crystal-gazing is one of the topics covered in The Complete Book of Fortune: a Comprehensive Survey of the Occult Sciences (undated, but from internal evidence I'd guess it was written in the 1930s). The book also deals with the Tarot, astrology, tea-leaf reading, palmistry, handwriting analysis, phrenology and dream interpretation... but in at least one sense, crystal-gazing is different from any of these. With a crystal ball, the practitioner allegedly sees events in the future, rather than having to interpret "portents" through obscure layers of symbolism.

According to Saint Augustine, crystal-gazing was used as a form of divination by the ancient Persians... but he believed the scenes they saw were false prophecies created by malevolent demons. Much later, during the nineteenth century, crystal-gazing was put on a pseudo-scientific footing by Baron von Reichenbach, who postulated a hitherto unknown force called odyle which linked crystalline substances with human consciousness.

By the time this book was written (I bought it for two pounds at a car boot sale, in case you're wondering) crystal-gazing was a popular attraction on fairgrounds and seaside piers... but the anonymous authors are scathing about such acts ("It seems to be an inflexible rule of the occult that, whenever any manifestation of psychic power is exploited by human beings for their own commercial benefit, that power, if the greater part of it is not taken away from such unworthy custodians, ceases, at least, to display its deeper and more inspired attributes"). The book also warns the reader against the use of magical ceremonies and incantations, which "may be considered not only as unnecessary to the encouragement of lucidity, but even dangerous." That's what I wanted to hear!

One of the most famous proponents of crystal-gazing (who wasn't afraid to use magical ceremonies and incantations, either) was the Elizabethan occultist Dr John Dee (1527 - 1609). Dee's own crystal ball has survived to this day, and is on display in the British Museum (see below).

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