A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that 62 percent of Americans hold at least one New Age belief, whether that be in the power of crystals or astrology or reincarnation. What’s more surprising is that about half of those whom the Pew survey categorized as “Sunday Stalwarts” (most of whom go to church weekly and describe their faith as the single most important source of meaning in their life) also hold at least one New Age belief. The Pew survey questions were straightforward, asking whether the subject believes in psychics, astrology, and so on, with definitions for each.
For self-described evangelicals, 19 percent said they believe in reincarnation, and 33 percent said they believe in psychics. About 30 percent of Sunday Stalwarts responded to the Pew survey saying they believe spiritual energy is focused in physical objects like crystals and mountains. That number was much higher among Catholics (47 percent) than evangelicals (24 percent).
Stepping into mediums’ offices and crystal healing centers and talking to those who burn sage or use tarot cards reveals vastly different approaches and levels of commitment to these practices. Some burn sage to have a relaxing smell in their home. Others dig more deeply into the troubling spiritual side of New Age, seeking out crystals for “spiritual energy” or trying to channel the spirit of a dead friend through a medium.
Dónal O’Mathúna, a bioethics professor at the Ohio State University College of Nursing, finds anecdotally that most Christians who engage in New Age practices like crystal healing often get into it by a friend’s word of mouth, without doing extensive research on either the scientific benefit or the theological roots of the practice.
“The first thing is that you have to go beyond the anecdotal report, that my cousin tried this or my sister tried this and they felt better,” said O’Mathúna.
O’Mathúna and Dr. Walt Larimore, both members of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, wrote Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook, a book that looks at some of these practices. They aren’t universally dismissive of everything New Age–related. Having a beautiful rock or the scent of burning sage that helps you relax is not a problem, O’Mathúna said.
“Paul’s teaching on meat sacrificed to idols is the closest I think we can get to guidance on this,” said O’Mathúna. “There’s nothing in the meat itself that is bad, but if you understand the spiritual aspects behind it, at times it can be good to stay away from it. When someone understands the roots of it, they may not want to be involved in those practices even if someone else may say there’s no problem with it.”
So, for example, he cautions against the Japanese energy healing called reiki, which he says is in its essence a practice to connect to the spirit world: “We’re given clear teaching in the Bible that there are spiritual beings out there, and they’re not all good.” He also recommends going to health practitioners in one’s church to talk about evidence-based practices. He finds there is a slice of Christians that is often suspicious of mainstream medical studies.
Studies have debunked crystals’ healing power, except to show a placebo effect. But clients come to Kadlec, the crystal healer, who have “tried a lot of other things,” she said, including “Western medicine,” without success. Kadlec personally says certain crystals help her with muscle or back pain.
Kadlec carries a pouch of stones everywhere with her and, depending on the day, carries one or two larger stones. Every morning she does a crystal meditation, to “reflect on the energy properties.”