While ignorant and fanciful superstitions concerning the Egyptian pyramids have circulated in European culture since the Renaissance, the pseudoscience known as pyramid power dates fairly precisely from 1970 and the publication of Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, by two reporters for the National Inquirer tabloid, Ostrander and Schroeder. This paperback contains the story of Antoine Bovis, a French occultist who in the 1930s decided that the true purpose of the Egyptian pyramids was to convert the corpse of the king sealed within into a mummy. Bovis built small pyramids of plywood in Nice, France, and claimed to have used them to “mummify” various pets. The story continued on to 1959 when Czech occultist Karel Drbal patented the “Cheops Pyramid Razor-Blade Sharpener.” This was a tiny cardboard pyramid; when the standard double-edged razor blade of the day was placed in the proper position within the pyramid after each use, it was possible to get many more shaves from the blade than “usual.”

Once US New Agers were unleashed onto the topic, claims of pyramid power wonders expanded without limit— pyramids could purify or “sanctify” drinking water; polish jewelry and tablewear; make plants grow faster and larger; keep cookies and cake fresher; preserve vegetables and other perishable foods; speed healing and maintain “wellness;” aid meditation and relaxation; increase effects and enjoyment of wine and drugs; increase psychic ability, spiritual development, intuition and mastery of esoteric occult concepts; increase enjoyment of sex; stimulate graphic and colorful dreams; and so on, and on. A large number of books proclaiming the dazzling promise of pyramid technology appeared during the 1970s, although strangely the fad became almost extinct within a decade, being replaced by similar bizarre claims about quartz and other natural crystals.

It is amusing to read and compare the many books published on pyramid power during the 1970s, since they so perfectly display the symptoms of pseudoscience. Here are some of the features that are universally found. ↑ There are meaningless and arbitrary rules and rituals specified for getting the pyramid to “work.” Each book has different rules that often directly contradict those in other books— for example, align the sides of the pyramid with magnetic north— no, align the sides with geographic north. Keep the pyramid away from electronic equipment. No, always place the pyramid close to or on top of  electronic equipment. The rules for using the pyramid are actually parts of a magic ritual.There are no controls, comparisons or checks. Don't place some cookies in a cookie jar and others in a pyramid and compare their freshness over time. Just convince yourself that the cookies from the pyramid were better, somehow, than the cookies you had before you bought your pyramid. ↑ There are no quantitiative measurements, only subjective judgements. Aren't you getting more shaves from the blade kept under the pyramid you bought? No need to examine the blade under a microscope each day and take a reference photo! ↑ There is no underlying physical phenomenon uncovered or even of interest. If the pyramid were “focussing” something, as the books vaguely claim, then it is the something we should be studying, not the pyramid. ↑ The claims are not consistent with any physical process. Suppose the pyramid preserves organic matter, as the cookie and fruit and mummy claims indicate— but the reason a razor blade shaves less and less well with each use is that layers of skin cells and soap residue build up on the edge and do not rinse off. If the pyramid acted to preserve this organic matter, it should make the blade duller, not sharper! ↑ The pyramid shape is what is important. Pyramids can be made of any material from wood to brass to cardboard to coathanger wire. But the superficial shape of things is a concern only of voodoo, never of reality. Pyramid power claims have the classic form of subjective validation; users get the vague, unquantifiable result they are told to expect.

Quartz crystal balls have been associated with fortune telling at least since the reign of Queen  Elizabeth the first, and specifically her contemporary Dr. John Dee,  while superstitions and folklore about gems, precious and semi-precious stones are a familiar part of European culture from the Renaissance down to the present, but when in the 1980s pyramid power was challenged and defeated by crystal power, it seems to have been Edgar Cayce (1877 – 1945) who was mainly to blame. Cayce was probably the greatest of 20th Century occultists, and may well have thought of himself as a kind of successor to Madame H. P. Blavatsky, the unsung creator of the New Age. His day job was as a photographer, but from 1901 until his death he moonlighted as a “trance psychic,” modelling himself closely on a more obscure forerunner, Andrew Jackson Davis (1826 – 1910). Like Davis before him, Cayce “entered a trance,” which in practice meant just that he lay down on a sofa and shut his eyes. With his eyes shut he answered questions mailed in by paying customers, and a stenographer took down his words. Most of the questions seemed to involve medical problems, and at various times in his first decade of trance readings,  Cayce worked closely with an assistant who was a knowledgeable medical quack— an osteopath, or a homeopath. Ultimately Cayce gave somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 “psychic life readings,” depending on who's counting, most of which are incoherent gibberish, but in vocabulary, if nowhere else, show the strong influence of osteopathy, folklore, folk remedies, Bible-belt Christianity, numerology, astrology, hillbilly superstition, and— most of all— Madam Blavatsky's Theosophy. Cayce's trance medical advice is exceedingly strange, including the directive to put more calcium in the diet by eating more lettuce, and to cure cancer with a daily glass of blackstrap molasses. A number of these readings do extoll the wonders of what Cayce called “rock crystal or any white [e.g., clear] stone,” by which he seems usually to have meant quartz and calcite. Cayce says these rocks somehow provide “those vibrations which are needed as helpful influences.” Under the influence of Madame Blavatsky's writings, Cayce tended to back up his exceedingly vague and contradictory claims about crystal uses with equally vague and contradictory references to the imaginary lost civilizations of Lemuria and Atlantis. Following the lead of Madame Blavatsky, Cayce psychically viewed the pyramids of Egypt being built, using magic, by Atlantian refugees; he was also very familiar with the delusionary extraction of prophecies from various random dimensions of the Cheops pyramid. Of course, thanks to extensive research by the great von Däniken, New Agers know today that the pyramids were built by space aliens! Cayce never mentioned any of that; maybe no one asked him. Two decades after his death, Cayce was marketed mainly as a prophet, although it is difficult to find in his tens of thousands of transcripts of gibberish anything that could by the wildest stretch of the imagination be considered a correct prediction. Two further decades later, Cayce was being marketed as a guru on anything and everything New Ageish.



In the 1980s New Agers deployed crystal power books which were precisely modelled on the pyramid power books with which they competed and which they ultimately replaced. Occultist Marcel J. Vogel (1917 – 1991), who at various times in the 1970s dabbled in psychically communicating with plants, storing information in holy water, and mindlessly exploring the fantastic, supernatural powers and subtle energies of crystals, was the “authority” most frequently cited by such books. But who cares about those old guys in white coats? It's easy to get crystals working for you! First, choose your own personal quartz crystal (if quartz is not right for you, any other crystal will work). Make it yours by a magic ritual— place it in salt water, and let it dry overnight in the light of a full moon, for example. Now it can do just about anything you want, including all the things those old-fashioned wire pyramids used to do. In addition: crystals have an “energy field” you can sense as a feeling of cold, heat or a tingling sensation. Using this field you can store thoughts, feelings and prayers in the crystal. The field will also deflect “bad energy” from other people and household appliances, while amplifying and concentrating all “good energy” into the space around you. Like pyramids, which are so very last-year and just aren't easy to carry around like crystals, these rocks can direct healing energy to cure you of all ailments and protect you against new diseases. They can guide you to correct decisions, while confusing your enemies. No word so far on whether they can sharpen razor blades.

In the 1990s crystal myths and powers managed to blend fairly seamlessly into the dreadful, ignorant and incoherent Oriental superstitions of Feng Shui. They also got some hot competition from angels, as many books appeared explaining how to adopt your personal angel, talk to your angel about your problems, and “align yourself with the angelic energy field.” No word so far on whether angels can sharpen razor blades.

It should go without saying that there is nothing scientists can work with in any or all of these claims. Whether the New Ager is toying with a walnut pyramid, a quartz crystal, a Feng Shui mirror or an invisible angel, no actual physical process is being identified or exploited, and all evidence indicates there is no underlying physical process involved in any way. All effects claimed are entirely subjective and impossible to verify or study by any means. Claimed effects are not consistent even with one another, much less with the workings of any underlying real, specific process.

One aspect of crystal claims overlaps slightly with real science. New Agers claim that “crystals are alive, since they grow and reproduce,” and that scientists know of crystal energy under the names of piezoelectricity and pyroelectricity. Some facts might be useful. First, almost all solids are crystalline. Quartz is in no way different or unique, although the transparency of some forms of quartz, and the nice polish they take, makes it stand out as pleasing to the eye. Since quartz is a crystal formed of molecules of silicon dioxide, it is the most common material to be found on or below the earth's surface, particularly in the crust, down until you get to the central core, which consists of ferric metals in liquid form. Piezoelectricity, discovered in 1880 by Pierre and Jaques Curie, is a property of many asymmetric crystals. When mechanically deformed, such crystals develop opposing electric charges on opposite surfaces, which has made them extremely useful in technology for more than a century. The effect is reversible: if such a crystal is placed in a varying electric field, it experiences a variable deformation. Piezoelectric crystals are among the most familiar examples of transducers, devices that convert one kind of change into another. There are also pyroelectric crystals, which when heated develop opposing surface charges. Surface charges are real, observable phenomena which have no connection to any crystal claim whatsoever. No crystal has any special, unique “energy,” of any kind, detectable by any known means. All solid objects possess the same kind of internal kinetic and potential energies, due to the motions of the molecules of which they are composed, and the forces between the molecules.

As for crystal growth, most rocks other than sedimentary ones are crystalline, and grew only in the sense that they solidified out of an initially molten solution. A crystal forming from a liquid is no more an example of organic growth than is ice forming from water. In fact, snowflakes crystallizing out of a cold fine mist of water droplets constitute one of the most familiar, everyday examples of crystals growing.

Over the past three decades, and partly spinning off from pyramid and crystal power scams, has grown  the many-faceted scam of “mystically treated water.” The idea is that your tap water, after being held in a pyramid, or run past a crystal, or run past a special magnet, or flowing across a “precious metal catalyst,” or treated with a few drops of some magical elixir that “energizes” or “clusters” or “unclusters” or “oxygenates” or somehow puts the water in a supernatural state that is “vitalized” or “de-toxified” or “recrystallized” or “ionized” or “de-ionized” or “photonized” or “tachyonized” or “thought-receptive,” or “prayer-receptive,” or just in general really fired up in some vague, mystical and completely imaginary way, is going to be extraordinarily good for you! Somehow! At the end of the mystic process, alas, you are left with precisely the same tap water you started with, sometimes a bit less clean. A good tabulation and evaluation of many of these scams is found at H2Odotcon.

Other Links:

Crystal healing debunked.

Pyramid Power Mythbusted.

The Great Pyramid of Insanity!

Facts about the pyramids.

Madam Blavatsky!

• Pioneering pyramid-power advocate G. Pat Flanagan now has a new scam, a combination of crystal mythology and water pseudoscience. Making physically impossible "treatments" of or "modifications" to ordinary water, as mentioned above, has lately become one of the most common forms of pseudoscience, and here's Flanagan's particular version.

• A new variant of crystal mythology, ice crystals!

• Mythological, legendary and cultural baggage carried by various precious and semiprecious gems and gemstones.

· Pyramidology before the birth of Pyramid Power.

· A good summary and analysis of themes of Pyramidiocy.

Avoiding Facing Death!
Blavatsky, Queen of Pseudoscience!
Cities on the Moon and Mars!
Creationism and Intelligent Design!
Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience!
ESP Experiments
Flying Saucers (1947–1985)
Fortean Phenomena
The Mysterious 4th Dimension!
Gods from Outer Space!
Hollow Earth!
Kirlian Photography and the Aura!
Martian Canals!
Medical Quackery!
Monsters! and Ape Suits!
Mystery Spots?
Mystical and Bogus Physics!
The New Age!
Postmodernism vs. Science!
Prophecy and Prophets!
Psychic Detectives!
Science Fiction and Pseudoscience!
Space Brothers!
UFOs 1985-2005!