John M Lund Photography Inc / Getty Images
Crystal balls are spheres of leaded glass or transparent stone, usually about the size of a grapefruit, used for “scrying,” or seeing the unseen. Crystallomancy (the art of using crystal balls for scrying) allows the seer to uncover mysteries and secrets, peer into the future, communicate with spirits and angels, or, in some cases, communicate with the dead. There is no evidence that crystallomancy has any scientific validity, but it has nevertheless been popular for millennia in civilizations around the world.
Key Takeaways: Origins and Uses of Crystal Balls
Crystal balls are flawless, highly polished spheres made of glass, leaded glass, or stone.
Crystal balls and similar reflective surfaces have been used for fortune-telling and other occult purposes (scrying) for thousands of years.
Crystal gazers have advised monarchs, presidents, and other important leaders.
While there are many people who use crystal balls to seek visions or tell fortunes, there is no evidence to suggest that crystallomancy is a legitimate, proven science.
Definition of a Crystal Ball
Not all crystal balls are made of crystal, but all are spherical. They can be almost any size, from the very small “palm crystals” to large crystal balls which must be kept on a stand. Crystal balls can be made of a number of materials including leaded and unleaded glass, quartz, beryl, calcite, obsidian, and amethyst.
A properly made crystal ball is a perfect, highly-polished sphere; it is usually placed in a stand to make gazing easier. If made of glass or crystal, the sphere should be free of air bubbles (though colored glass is acceptable). If made of stone rather than glass, it is recommended that the stone be free of faults and very highly polished.
Origins and History of Crystal Balls
Crystal balls have been used for fortune-telling and clairvoyance since at least the first century. Their popularity has waxed and waned, but they continue to be popular tools for psychics, fortune-tellers, and mediums today.
Crystal Balls in Ancient Rome
One of the first known references to crystal balls comes from the work of the Roman Pliny the Elder, who described the use of crystal balls by “soothsayers.” At the time, crystal balls were referred to as “crystallum orbis” and, later, as “orbuculum.”
Crystal ball gazing became increasingly popular in Rome over the next several hundred years. While widely accepted by the Romans, the practice was condemned by the Catholic church, as it is specifically forbidden in the Bible. The Book of Deuteronomy 18:14, for example, says: “for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.”
Around third to fifth century CE, the Druids of the British Isles were also using