Crystal ball

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This article is about the fortune telling object. For other uses, see Crystal ball (disambiguation).
For the guideline that Wikipedia is not a crystal ball, see WP:CRYSTALBALL.
The largest flawless quartz sphere is in the National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., USA
Photograph of a quartz crystal ball commonly used for divination or scrying
The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse: scrying in crystal

A crystal ball is a crystal or glass ball believed by some people to aid in the performance of clairvoyance. It is sometimes known as a shew stone (or show stone— "shew" is an archaic spelling of "show"). A body of water, either in a container or on the ground, used for this purpose, is called a scrying pool.

Art of scrying[edit]

Main articles: Scrying and Crystal gazing

The art or process of "seeing" is known as "scrying", whereby images are claimed to be seen in crystals, or other media such as water, and are interpreted as meaningful information. The "information" gleaned then is used to make important decisions in one's life (i.e. love, marriage, finances, travel, business, etc.).[1]

By contrast, some professed seers say that they do not actually see images in the crystal, but rather that the featureless interior of the crystal facilitates them in clearing their mind of distractions so that future truths or events will become known to them.[2]

When the technique of scrying is used with crystals, or any transparent body, it is known as crystallomancy or crystal gazing.

In protoscience[edit]

Dr. John Dee (July 13, 1527 – 1608 or 1609) was a noted British mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He also devoted much of his life to alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy. He was known for his use of crystal balls in his work.

In stage magic[edit]

Crystal balls are popular props used in mentalism acts by stage magicians. Such routines, in which the performer answers audience questions by means of various ruses, are known as "C. G." (Crystal Gazing) acts. One of the most famous C. G. performers of the 20th century, Claude Alexander, was often billed as "Alexander the Crystal Seer".


A transparent sphere of any material with refractive index greater than one brings parallel rays of light to a rough focus (that is, a focus with significant coma). For typical values of the refractive index, this focus is usually very near the surface of the sphere, on the side diametrically opposite to where the rays entered. If the refractive index is greater than 2, the focus is inside the sphere, so the brightest accessible point is on its surface directly opposite the source of light. However, few materials have that property. For most materials, the focus is slightly outside the sphere. The closer the refractive index is to 2, the closer the focus is to the surface of the sphere, and hence the brighter the spot formed on an object touching the sphere.

This effect is used in the Campbell–Stokes recorder to record the brightness of sunlight by burning the surface of a piece of cardboard placed near the sphere. The same effect can occur with a crystal ball that is brought into full sunlight; it may either burn a hand that is holding it, or even start a fire if it is resting on or very near dark-coloured flammable material.[3]

Famous crystal balls in history[edit]

Philadelphia's University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology displays the third largest crystal ball[4] as the central object in its Chinese Rotunda. Weighing 55 pounds, the sphere is made of quartz crystal from Burma and was shaped through years of constant rotation in a semi-cylindrical container filled with emery, garnet powder, and water. The ornamental treasure was made for the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) during the Qing dynasty in the 19th century. In 1988, the crystal ball and an Egyptian statuette[5] that depicted the God Osiris were stolen from the Penn Museum, but were recovered three years later with no damage done to either object.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chauran, Alexandra. Crystal Ball Reading for Beginners: A Down To Earth Guide. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2011.
  2. ^ From a mass market book on the occult, early 1970s. Further details not remembered.
  3. ^ Associated Press (29 January 2004). "Crystal Ball Starts Fire at Okla. Home". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 December 2012. 
  4. ^ "Crystal Sphere". Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  5. ^ "Statue". Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  6. ^ "Penn Museum Crystal Ball, Statue Stolen Guard Ignored Burglar Alarms". Retrieved 21 September 2014. 

Further reading[edit]