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Category: science (Page 1 of 2)

Glass based scams: Monoatomic Andara Crystals

First off. Glass IS NOT A CRYSTAL by definition. Ok? Got that? Good. Now for the long read.


Sometimes friends send me things and it sends me down a rabbit hole. In this case a friend in Hawaii sent a reel on Instagram of glass that was being marketed as “Monoatomic Andara Crystals“. Don, host of Head on Fire podcast, a friend and author of Dabblers Guide to Witchcraft also fell into the rabbit hole and called the seller. $700 for a hunk of glass? Are you KIDDING ME!?

So let’s talk about this. I am not going to link to the original post because I am not a fan of attacking people, just educating. But we are going to go through some of what they said about these. When asked, they said that these were “Monoatomic Andara Crystals” and were made from “monoatomic metallic elements” and then listed some of the ways natural glass is formed through “volcanic activity, meteor strike or any high heat producing natural phenomena”, and that the main difference from normal glasses is the presence of “monatomic elements” within the glass. They also kindly listed those elements. I will talk about that list in the section on monatomic elements.

Next they cited a website for their information, so I WILL tear that one apart. Hello Life Treasures Kauai what fresh bullshit science words in a blender do you have for me?

google image search result

“Monatomic Andara crystals are like an obsidian glass material made up of monatomic metallic elements that were heated to high temperatures either by volcanism, meteor strike or other heat producing phenomena. Monatomic metallic elements are powder-like in form and transmute to glass under high heat, similar to obsidian. It is their foundation of monatomic metallic elements that differentiate them from all other types of crystals, volcanic/natural glass, as well as man-made glass.”

*Takes a deep breath*

What is glass?

Well maybe we should start with what exactly is glass anyways?
“(…) glass, an inorganic solid material that is usually transparent or translucent as well as hard, brittle, and impervious to the natural elements. Glass has been made into practical and decorative objects since ancient times, and it is still very important in applications as disparate as building construction, housewares, and telecommunications. It is made by cooling molten ingredients such as silica sand with sufficient rapidity to prevent the formation of visible crystals.” Britannica

chunks of landscaping glass

Ok that is the standard definition of glass. What about natural glasses?

A natural glass is an inorganic solid material lacking in crystals (noncrystalline) formed usually through volcanic activity (obsidian) or through melting of host rock during an impact (tektites). In both of these glass types the material is totally melted and cooled so fast nothing has time to form a crystal or regular lattice with the elements bonding with a set structure. There are some other less common types of natural glass called fulgurite, also called “fossilized lightning”, which is formed when lightning hits the ground and the heat melts the material around it. Remember that movie Sweet Home Alabama? There is also edeowie glass from the Australian state of South Australia with several different proposed ways it formed: Pleistocene grassland fires, lightning strikes, impacts by one or several asteroids or comets.

obsidian glass
from wikipedia showing the difference between a crystalline structure (left) and amorphous like glass (right). In this example the circles are atoms.

Natural vs man-made

So we know how natural glasses are formed. Volcanos: magma that cools so fast crystals of minerals don’t have time to form (obsidian), impacts: when an asteroid or comet hits the planet and the impact melts the host rock, and sometimes sends it up into the atmosphere (tektites), and sometimes lightning melting the ground where it strikes or very intense grassland fires.

So how do we as humans make glass?

Humans have a rich history in making and using glass. We as humans have been making and using glass for well over 3,000 years. Pliny the Elder suggested that the first glass was made in Syria around 5,000 BCE, however, according to the archaeological record, our first recorded man made glass was from Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3,500 BCE.

Early glass was a difficult product to make and the original glass furnaces were small. However by the 1st century BC in Syria we have evidence for a glass blowing pipe, which you might be familiar with in modern glass making. Early man-made glasses were formed into beads and, as the technology progressed, manufactured into containers and windows. Glass was popular in the Roman empire and throughout Europe and has remained popular to this day.

late bronze age glass beads

Glass has been and continues to be made with silica rich sand mixed with soda ash and lime. It is heated to extreme temperatures until all the materials melt together, and then allowed to cool. When it is hot and liquid it can be molded and shaped and additives can be introduced which will change the color of the final product.

Slag Glass

Slag glass is the excess and waste glass from glass production sold by the TON (907 kg or 2,000 lbs) for $100-$300, usually for decorative purposes. So even a 1 lbs piece of slag glass is worth at most .20 USD. It is also commonly dumped. Sometimes it has bubbles in it, and the color depends on the production. Waste glass used for hand blown glass can sometimes also be called cullet glass. Slag is also a term used for waste from metallurgy processes.

landscaping glass available by the ton

Just like we have a long history of making glass, we also have a long history of making slag glass. In fact, I came across a listing for Roman slag glass, which it turns out is quite a collectors item. However, this is going to be sold with its provenance, and not as a “healing crystal”

Slag itself, while being a waste product, can be beautiful and purchased labeled correctly. For example

Monoatomic what now?

Ok. Let’s dig into the misused science gobbledygook. Monoatomic means “one atom” and is used to refer to elements that can be stable as a single atom. In order to be stable they need a full stable valence shell of electrons. If that doesn’t make sense to you, I’m really sorry, you need a whole lot of chemistry to understand that definition. But let’s make it simple

Monoatomic elements are elements that are happy to exist as just one atom and don’t need to be bonded to anything else to be stable.

Ok so what are the monoatomic elements? Mostly noble gasses:
helium (He)
neon (Ne)
argon (Ar)
krypton (Kr)
xenon (Xe)
radon (Rn)
oganesson (Og)

The vast majority of elements do not exhibit monatomic behavior. This includes the elements listed by the original post: gold, silver, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, copper, iridium, palladium, osmium, cobalt and nickel. Note that the list I provided above are the ONLY monatomic elements. There is no such thing as a “monatomic metallic element”. These metals are cool but not monatomic, at best they can exist as elemental solids, which means a material made of one element. Materials that are made of only one element are also called homonuclear, homo meaning same, and nuclear for the nucleus. However, you can’t really have a mononuclear glass in the traditional sense of glass, you would just have silicon, a shiny, brittle, metallic solid/ metalloid, and not a glass at all.

All of this to say you can’t have a monoatomic glass; those words don’t make sense together. You can have a glass that you melt and incorporate an element like gold or silver but in the end you just have a glass colored with gold or silver. The elements cited can occur in elemental form (homonuclear) but are NOT monoatomic.

Modern Glass scams / Glass in the “crystal” industry

So what is this scam? Andara Crystals are not a thing. If you have been sold one and are trying to resell, it’s basically a worthless piece of colored glass. This scam started with someone taking slag, or waste glass, from a dump in California and rebranding it. It has been a noted scam since at least 2013. [edit found another post from 2010]

Examples from etsy of the wide range of results, appearance, and price points for Andara crystals

This scam is rearing its ugly head again as “healing crystals” are becoming big business. They are sold with jumbled meaningless scientific words and pseudoscientific bullshit language. Why are people falling for this? Why does anyone buy “healing crystals” they have never heard of before? They want the new thing. They want to get in on a trend so they can say they were there first. FOMO. And overall they want a shortcut to solve any problems in their life.

Rocks are great. I love rocks. Glass is cool. I like glass. Knowingly taking a waste product like slag, rebranding, and selling it for hundreds of dollars a pound when it is almost worthless is unacceptable. Falling for a scam is not. If you have fallen for this scam, I am sorry, you have some (hopefully) pretty glass. Make friends with your pretty glass but don’t deny it for what it is. Hey, some slag IS valuable… if it is historic.

Andara crystals are also far from the only glass based scam in the “Crystal” industry. You are going to hate me, but Goldstone is glass. It is super pretty, but it is man made glass. It’s not a modern invention, the manufacturing process was invented in seventeenth-century Venice. Which means it has some history. But again not a crystal, just glass.

Glass slag is also being sold as obsidian, which I will remind you is a volcanic glass. Most obsidian is black and never cobalt blue, and here is another piece of glass being shared as obsidian.

NOT obsidian

Smelt quartz is another one that is formed in a similar way. Glass is generally made from a source that has small quartz grains (silica rich sand), and smelt quartz is formed by melting quartz and adding something for coloring. These are generally sold in a shape reminiscent of quartz (a pointed tower), but remember, real quartz crystals NEVER come to a perfect point.

smelt quartz example but can be in many different colors and effects. Remember melted quartz is glass.

Reconstituted quartz is again quartz that is melted and formed into a shape. Usually this is used for “crystal balls”. These are formed through melting and shaping rather than carving from a larger piece.

reconstituted quartz (Center) with authentic quartz spheres on the side. Note that a large enough and clear enough quartz piece for a sphere is going to be significantly more expensive than a glass sphere.

Before we move on from this I just wanted to quote something from the Kauai Treasures website

“The only restriction Andara crystals have is the limits to your imagination on it’s uses”

This may be the only statement I actually agree with. You are only limited by yourself. So go get any old glass or rock or pebble and save your money.

Quartz vs glass?

I just wanted to add a quick note here on how to test if something is glass vs quartz. Rock Crystal is a form of clear quartz that can appear like glass. If you are even confused as to what you have, there is a simple test: use the hardness.

Glass typically has a hardness of 5, where quartz has a hardness of 7. Take your mystery material and an old glass bottle or piece of glass you don’t mind scratching and try to scratch it. If it scratches the glass, its harder than 5 (might be quartz). You can also take your mystery object and try to scratch it, but you don’t always want to destroy it or scratch it.

If quartz is ground up and melted and reshaped and cooled it will have lost its natural crystalline lattice and lose its hardness. Natural quartz or lab grown quartz with the crystal lattice will be hardness 7, melted and cooled will be 5.

Just remember
Glass: ~5
Quartz: ~7

Maybe this is recycling?

Yes, glass slag is visually interesting and pleasing. I have some glass slag I found myself. However, while this is repurposing “waste,” where it becomes a scam is the price point. Remember this is a waste product, it is not worth hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Even if it was “Charged” by the person selling it, you need to ask yourself how much would an empty glass bottle “charged” by the same person be worth to you, as the item itself has very little to no value.

Suggestions and alternatives

I’m not a fan of reading something with no suggestions. So here are some suggestions

Like glass? Buy your own! Want something natural? Have you tried sea glass? This is also waste glass, but this has been tumbled and smoothed by water, usually salt water. It can come in all sorts of colors depending on the source of glass (some are from waste dumps from glass factories). I am a huge fan of sea glass and I have jars and jars of it. Sometimes I dump out the jars and refill them. It can come in all sorts of colors and shapes. If you find something too rough just throw it back in the natural tumbler. The ocean has always had a special and calming presence in my life and having a piece of sea glass in my hand always brings me peace.

Make your own! I did an interview on Witches and Wine and we talked about tektites and I suggested making your own. I am serious. You can melt your own glass and (while being safe) add things to it. There are lots of glass art how-tos, guides, and starting kits around. (this is the first one that popped up for me) Making your own you can “charge” it yourself for exactly what you need. Then you have something special that you made yourself for yourself.

If you like the look and feel of the slag, why not get in contact with some local glass artists in your area? They probably have some slag you can just have. Or you can work with them to make you something special or purchase some of their art. It doesn’t have to be “healing glass,” it can be glass that was lovingly formed into something pleasing to look at.

Take a workshop and work with glass. I did a quick search and found some local glass art workshops in my area. You can make something with some supervision and also be in contact with a source for slag if you like the look of it. This will also get you in contact with local artists in your area. You may discover a love for blowing glass and working with it, or making stained glass art. Either way it will likely be cheaper than a big hunk of “Monoatomic Andara Crystal” and you might even make some new friends.

What can we learn?

There is often a very negative connotation given to “man made” or “lab grown” in the crystal industry. I think something like slag glass being passed off as amazing crystals and people swearing by them can teach us something important. Often it is not the actual material that is the most important. Man made can be just as good as natural, and you don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money. Unless you do, and that is part of what makes you feel like it works. Brains are funny things and we have things like confirmation bias, sunk cost, and placebo. If you want to read more about these sorts of things I highly recommend my friend’s book: Dablers Guide to Witchcraft.

At the end of the day, you don’t need to spend a fortune, and crystals aren’t a shortcut anyways; they are just tools. Tools are all around you, and a lot of the time it’s more meaningful to collect your own sea glass, pebbles, rocks, or make your own. Lots of people in the crystal industry are trying to separate you from your money with cheap goods that are dressed up and marked up. Be careful out there.

Special thanks to Don Martin, and Nicholas Pearson for discussion and pushing me towards writing this. Special shoutout to Nicholas Pearson for his deep knowledge of the types of scams within the crystal industry. Thank you Lyndzie for sending the original post to me. And twitter users @Dr_mz13 and @SaltClear for helping check the chemistry terms.

Giant Pile of Links,stable%20octet%20of%20valence%20electrons

Borealis Meditation – S05E01 Hunga Volcano Tonga

Welcome back to Borealis Meditation and welcome to season 5! You can listen to the episode here:

Transcript Available here: (work in progress check back soon)

In this episode we talk about the eruption in Tonga on Jan. 15th of Hunga volcano. This eruption was spectacular and in this episode I go over the eruption but also some context in terms of how we monitor volcanoes and tsunami early warning systems.

I have some extra reading for this episode I will put at the end of this post. Also I am working on having transcripts for all my episodes this season. They may take a little time to come out and will definitely be a learning curve but I am working on making my content more accessible.

Please remember to like and share episodes so others can find them.
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Further reading:
NASA post on the eruption: HERE
Global Volcanism Program page for the volcano: HERE (You can read weekly updates on each volcano that has activity)
NOAA Post on this eruption and the future of tsunami research: HERE
An update on the undersea cable situation: HERE

The Island of a God is Awake.

Vulcano is Awake. Does that name sound vaguely familiar? Vulcano, an island and volcano in Italy is where we get the name “volcano”. It is also the traditional home of the God Hephaestus in the Greek pantheon and Vulcan in the Roman pantheon. 

In volcanology we often name phenomena and processes after a “type volcano”. Hawaii has given its name to a whole style of eruption along with the name of several flow types and other phenomena. Vulcanian eruptions are named for the style of eruption common at Vulcano, just as Stromboli is the type location for Strombolian eruptions. Plinian eruptions are named for Pliny the Elder a famous intelectual from Rome whose death in the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius outside of Pompeii was importazlied by his nephew Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Elder is in fact a common source for information on the use and thinking of crystals in the Roman world. 

But back to Vulcano. (Volcano specific information provided by the GVP see Resources at the end of the post 1.)

Vulcano is an island and volcano and one of Italy’s Aeolian islands north of the east coast of Sicily. It is in between Mt Etna on Sicily and Stromboli, another island just to its north. 

Vulcano island circled in red. Map modified from (2).

The island itself is made up of several overlapping volcanic features including the two main eruption centers Caldera del Piano (to the SE) and the current center of activity Caldera della Fossa (NW). The island is 136,000 years old and the volcanism has migrated north over time. Vulcanello is a low lava platform that wasn’t connected to the main island until around 1550 CE and was therefore a separate island in the Classical Era. 

Map of the island and volcano of Vulcano including the local infrastructure. Note La Fossa the main crater in the upper central part of the island and Vulcanello in the north. (3). 

The last known eruption of Vulcano was in the late 1890s and took place at the La Fossa cone. There are numerous historical eruptions known from the historical record as well as from the rock record previous to that eruption. Since then the only activity recorded in the GVP was in the 1980s and 90s and consists of small earthquake swarms on the island and changes in the intensity, temperature, and composition of the gasses escaping via the fumaroles on the island. 

Historic photo of eruption from La Fossa in 1888 (1).

Current activity and unrest on the island began in July 2021. 

Let’s take a moment to define that term “unrest”. It basically means a deviation from background levels of activity. Some volcanoes always have some earthquakes and degassing, and others don’t. What is considered unrest at a volcano is specific to that volcano. It basically just means the volcano is doing something different than its normal. So any change in any number of monitored types of activity is considered unrest. Unrest CAN lead to an eruption but it doesn’t always. The activity in the 80s and 90s was unrest but then nothing happened. So we will have to wait and see what this episode of unrest brings. 

Since July 2021 the monitoring agency has noted an increase in the temperature of the gasses escaping the volcano at the crater as well as a change in the composition of the gasses. This particular change in gas composition is one that is often linked to the presence of magma in the system. The temperature has increased to 340°C (644°F) and the area where gasses are escaping has increased. In September there was an increase in very small earthquakes (ones that can’t be felt) at the summit as well. Due to all of this the authorities responsible for the volcano closed the summit area on 14 October and there have been some evacuations and reports of animals dying from gases that had made their way into one of the villages on the island. 

Image from newsicilia

In an article posted on November 20, 2021 the level of toxic gasses was at an unprecedented level and the civil defense raised the alert level from yellow to orange. There was also talk about evacuating a further 250 inhabitants. The situation has started to rapidly evolve. (4) In a quote from the regional president Musumeci in the article on VolcanoDiscovery (5) he said that “the continued increase in toxic gas emissions recorded by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in recent days requires the adoption of urgent precautions in order to protect public and private safety, close monitoring of the volcanic phenomena, access restrictions to endangered areas, and the possible evacuation of the population from their homes.” He added that “the government is close to the community and committed to working with the mayor and all other national structures in dealing with the emergency”.

Timeline of gas measurements at the volcano. You can see a sharp uptick in the amount of CO2 starting in July 2021 (5).

This island is more than the home to the volcano that gave volcanoes their name. It is also traditionally the home of a God. Italian volcanos I find fascinating because they are seen as the “home of” someone rather than an entity on their own (common in more animistic mythos). Italy has a “big four” of volcanoes: Stromboli, Etna, Vesuvius, and Vulcan. Of these, Vulcan is the only one with no eruption in the 20th century onward. Stromboli and Etna are constantly vying for attention and Vesuvius last erupted during WWII. However, it is still Vulcano that is the home to Hephaestus/Vulcan. I thought it would therefore be interesting to take a look at some of the mythology surrounding this island. 

Hephaestus is the Olympian god of fire, smiths, craftsmen, metalworking, stonemasonry and sculpture with Vulcan often cited as his Roman counterpart. To me it makes sense that a God of smithing would be associated with volcanoes but I also wanted to talk to some actual blacksmiths about this as well. (6)

According to the (6) article on Hephaestus his association with volcanoes comes later in history as the Greeks tended to associate volcanic activity with the Gigante-sons of Gaia instead. It was through his association with the Roman volcano-god Adranus-Volcanus that we get the association with the island of Vulcano. In fact he was originally associated with the Greek island of Lemnos. Later he was associated with the neighboring volcano of Etna on the island of Sicily where his workshop was believed to be located. Etna is also thought to be the prison of Typhoeus (and the activity is thought to be related to the great monster moving and trying to escape). The Vulcano association seems to have happened in the late Roman era when the Romans were culturally integrating the Greek mythic history with attributes of local Gods like Vulcan being associated with Hephastus whose stories would have been told by the Greek settlers on Sicily. So if we were to separate out the two Vulcan has his forge at Vulcano, and Hephaestus seems to have moved around and could be at either volcano (Etna or Vulcao). 

However, that is the common association today and is in fact pretty widely known among volcanologists as well. The current myth-understanding is that Vulcano is the forge for Hephaestus/Vulcan. 

I spoke with Traci (MythicalMagpie) who is a practitioner who works with Hephaestus in her practice. She was drawn to working with him as a creator, not especially as a smith (although she is interested in trying it). “There was something about […] that he was imperfect. And in his imperfection, he had the strength where he could entrap even the mighty Gods themselves. “ We also spoke about the current activity at the volcano and she said that it got her thinking about what that could have meant to our predecessors. Then we got distracted by this idea of “what is he making”? We looked at the temperature of the gasses coming off the volcano and started looking up melting temperatures of metals. 

I also reached out to several smiths. I personally didn’t know any and was interested to hear what they thought. 

In chatting with Chris H. of the youtube channel Blood Sweat and Steel we discovered an interesting similarity between volcanoes and forges. I often use the phrase “volcanoes have a personality” to describe how we generally know how volcanoes work but each one really is its own individual. He said forges are similar in that each one has its own personality you have to learn when you start working with it. We ended up speaking about a thead similar to what Traci said drew her to work with Hapheastus. When we were talking about raw materials he said “You’d be amazed at how boring [looking] very valuable things come from.” He also pointed out that while we may have this image in our head of what a forge looks like, those tend to be the older forges and modern forges look “Very disappointing” if that is what you are assuming. I guess that can go hand in hand with volcanoes too. You may picture a nice conical mountain but very rarely are they that perfect, and some are so low angle they just look like lumps or a hill.  

I also spoke with Kedrik, who specifically is a goldsmith (winterwolfritualis). He had a traditional master apprentice path into smithing and was also a member of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). He described being in the forge as “Hot, dirty, and gritty. The smithy is a place where earth and fire meet. We organize it and structure it so we can navigate but it is truly a place where a person can plant their feet in the earth and their hands in the flames of creation. There’s a real sense of power but also purpose. And in front of that forge you feel the flame that fuels the relationship.” Which to me sounds a lot like working on volcanoes. When I am working near the summit of a volcano usually there is little to no vegetation and in the tropics that means it is hot and sweaty work. Usually there is still ash on the ground that can easily get kicked up, also making it gritty work. He also sees the symmetry between volcanoes and forge as a place of creation stating “ […] I can see that as the volcano is the vent of the heat that allows life and creation on this planet, and after reading some of Bruce Damer’s work suggesting life came from volcanic vents and hot springs, I can appreciate the parallel of each as a cradle of creation.”

So as this volcano is waking up it may continue towards an eruption or it may just be some heat moving through the system. Hephaestus/Vulcan might just be firing up his forge and getting ready to make something in the crucible of heat that is his forge in a volcano. 

I wanted to end with a thought about the importance of place. I asked Traci if it mattered that while the idea that Hepheastus makes his forge at Vulcano is a more modern idea. She said it didn’t bother her that much which volcano it was. “I think there is a part of me that thinks that, […] his home Forge is sacred. This is where a guy goes to find safety, to find purpose, to do the thing that they were created to do. And, and to me, that’s sacred. […] For you know, ancient Greeks it just must have been so incredibly humbling [to see an eruption]. And so the fact that it may or may not have been him himself versus his home, it would still be just as inspiring and humbling to be present.” 

I will be keeping an eye on this volcano and updating as more information is available. If you want to keep an eye on the volcano there are two webcams 

Visual light camera. You can check the live image here
Thermal Camera. You can check the live image here

Thank you to everyone I spoke to for this little project. I wish I could put everything we talked about in here but this is just a blog post. Thank you also to Cory of New World Witchery for peer reviewing the mythology for me and translation help from an amazing Italian volcanologist and friend. 


Traci – Practicing pagan who works with Hephaestus
Twitter: MythicalMagpie
Instagram: mythicalmagpie
Tiktok: @mythicalmagpie
Patreon: mythicalmagpie
Etsy: MythicalMagpie

Chris H. – Polytheist, animist, Celtic Pagan Witch, Devote of Brigid and the Morrigan, and a novice occultist Blacksmith
Youtube: Blood, Sweat and Steel.
Instagram: byhammerandbyanvil

Kedrik – goldsmith, guide, mentor, coach, consultant, and facilitator for personal development practices, esoteric exploration and study, and the creation of totemic relics and jewelry
Store: winter wolf ritualis
Custom work
Wielders Way project
Instagram: cedricwinterwolf , winterwolfritualis
Twitter: metaphystwolf , thewieldersway


Volcano Information – Global Volcanism Program
Volcano Information from local agency – Here and Here
Mythology Information –


  1. Global Volcanism Program, 2021. Report on Vulcano (Italy). In: Sennert, S K (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 13 October-19 October 2021. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.
  2. Aeolian Islands,
  3. Bonadonna C, Frischknecht C, Menoni S, Romerio F, Gregg C E, Rosi M, Biass S, Asgary A, Pistolesi M, Guobadia D, Gattuso A, Ricciardi A and Cristiani C 2021 Integrating hazard, exposure, vulnerability and resilience for risk and emergency management in a volcanic context: the ADVISE model Journal of Applied Volcanology 10 7
  4. Vulcano, ora è stato di emergenza per gas tossici. “La situazione è inedita”, cresce l’allerta sull’isola,
  5. VolcanoDiscovery Updates

Borealis Meditation – S04E13 Mineral Identification

Listen to the episode here:

In this episode we go over the main parameters used to identify different minerals. These would be:

  • visual
    • color
    • luster
    • mineral form
    • streak color
  • physical properties
    • hardness
    • density or specific gravity,
  • mineral structure related
    • cleavage
    • fracture
  • other identifying characteristics
    • taste
    • smell
    • magnetism
    • fluorescence
    • radioactivity
    • reactivity

Music in this episode was played by permission and is by Aazav and SJ Tucker

Borealis Meditation – S04E10 What is the difference between a crystal, mineral, rock and gemstone?

List to the episode here:

Show notes: 

Music included in episode
Fold of Evening by Aazav
Iron from Stone by Damh the Bard

Here are some of the definitions we discussed and links to the quotes I used for each section.

Elements are atoms, the smallest piece that we can split matter into (except for subatomic particles and other things that we’ll leave to the physicists). Different elements have different properties. Take two different elements: iron and helium. Iron is very different than helium. You wouldn’t fill a balloon with iron any more than you would try to build a bridge out of helium. (ASU)

A solid can be made of a single element, and as we will see that is not a mineral. The elements that are known are all listed in the Periodic table. They have different properties and are defined based on the number of protons and electrons. Periodic Table

Minerals are materials that meet five requirements. They are:
1. naturally occurring,
2. inorganic,
3. solids,
4. with a definite chemical composition, and,
5. an ordered internal structure


or from an “informal but practical definition”
A mineral is a chemical element or compound that:
1. has a more-or-less constant composition.
2. is usually a solid with an ordered three dimensional array of ions and molecules in its crystal structure.
3. is formed by natural geologic processes and without human or other biologic intervention.
4. is not a mixture of two or more blended substances.


The ordered internal structure is also called the “Crystal Structure”

Crystal structure is a continuous ordered arrangement of one or more elements. This is simply a fancy way of saying that minerals are composed of elements that are stacked in an orderly and neat fashion. You can think of elements as different sized marbles (except, in this case, the marbles are all very, very tiny!). Based on the relative sizes of the marbles, they can be stacked in different ways […].

A good example of a simple mineral is table salt (Yes, salt is a mineral.). The proper mineral name for table salt is halite, and a geologist will often identify it by tasting it. Salt is composed of two elements; Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl). Sodium and chlorine are strongly attracted to each other and stack together into a cubic crystal structure (see figure). Individual salt (halite) crystals have a cubic shape to them, which is mimicking the way that the individual elements are stacking together. Even though the elements are much too small to be able to see with your eyes (or even most microscopes), you can tell how they are stacking together by looking at the shape of the salt crystals

“Most importantly, [a mineral is something that] has been exhaustively studied and characterized by mineralogists, declared unique in its composition and structure, and the original specimen(s) that was studied deposited for preservation in a professionally curated museum.” (


“A mineraloid meets almost all of the criteria of a mineral except the organized structure. Some can also lack the definite chemical composition. Minerals as we talked about are “crystalline” meaning they have an organized structure. Because mineraloids are “amorphis” they do not have an order structure.  I think this is better explained with examples. Opal, obsidian, pele’s hair, and tektites are all mineraloids. Now the last few are types of natural glasses where because of the heat and the quick cooling no crystals are able to form.” (

There is some controversy if organic materials can also be included. Remember that part of the definition of a mineral was that it was non-organic. This means some people include things like amber and jet as a mineraloid and others don’t. Jet is a type of coal which is made from plant material like leaves and amber is from plant resin. Also there are materials that are made in the deep ocean from the “ooze” made up of tiny organisms like diatoms and radiolarians shells called diatomite and radiolarite. For our sake I think we should also consider these mineraloids since they also lack an organized structure. 

So in that case a mineraloid is a solid, naturally occurring material without a defined interior structure and may or may not have a defined chemical composition, generally inorganic but some organic materials can also be included.

Anthropogenic substances:
“Anthropogenic substances are those produced by humans. They are not minerals. Crystals grown in a laboratory (or someone’s basement) or in laboratory or industrial furnace or retort are not minerals. Any crystals that are found on or in any man-made object are not a mineral.” (

“A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its chemical composition and the way in which it is formed. Rocks are usually grouped into three main groups: igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks.” (wikipedia)

“A rock is not a mineral, nor is a mineral a rock. However, the components of a rock are minerals. Most types of rock have multiple minerals, a few have only one. Single mineral rocks are termed monomineralic rock.” (mindat)

Igneous Rocks:
An igneous rock starts out purely as a melt. Everything is liquid and all the elements are there swimming around. Then it starts to nucleate minerals, some start growing before others and use up all the elements they want. It can either cool slowly and all the crystals will grow into an interlocking solid material like a granite, or can be brought to the surface and erupt and cool quicker with some small crystals and the melt freezing not having totally formed crystals. Obsidian is the extreme of this where basically no crystals have had time to form and the melt is just frozen. Of course it is a little more complicated but we can go into that another time.

Sedimentary Rocks:
Sedimentary rocks are formed when the rocks at the surface break down either physically by breaking apart into smaller pieces or chemically. These small bits can be redeposited and smoshed and get cemented together and this forms our sedimentary rocks. Generally speaking when a rock physically breaks apart you can end up with either pieces with several minerals, or a single crystal and anywhere in between.

Metamorphic Rocks:
Metamorphic rocks can be formed from either sedimentary or igneous rocks. These are rocks where the original rock is subjected to higher levels of pressure and temperature and the minerals can start to change into other minerals. This can happen to a small or large degree and rocks can also start to flow and make cool patterns. Then this smooshed and heated rock is brought back to the surface for us to marvel at. The minerals in the original rock can change their composition and/or structure at these different conditions so one rock can be turned into multiple different types depending on how much pressure and temperature it experienced. Some minerals are only formed through this process.

Safety information: gem society

“A crystal is a regular polyhedral form, bounded by planes, which is assumed by a chemical element or compound, under the action of its intermolecular forces, which passing, under suitable conditions, from the state of a liquid or gas to that of a solid. A crystal is characterized first by its definite internal molecular structure and second, by its external form.” (mindat)

From merriam-webster:
1. a clear, transparent mineral or glass resembling ice.
2. the transparent form of crystallized quartz.

“A crystal consists of matter that is formed from an ordered arrangement of atoms, molecules, or ions. The lattice that forms extends out in three dimensions. Because there are repeated units, crystals have recognizable structures. Large crystals display flat regions (faces) and well-defined angles. Crystals with obvious flat faces are called euhedral crystals, while those lacking defined faces are called anhedral crystals. Crystals consisting of ordered arrays of atoms that aren’t always periodic are called quasicrystals. The word “crystal” comes from the Ancient Greek word krustallos, which means both “rock crystal” and “ice.” The scientific study of crystals is called crystallography. “ (thought co)

So then what is a gem? 
“A gem is a rare mineral that is prized and used in jewelry.” (

“difference between gem and crystal is that gem is a precious stone, usually of substantial monetary value or prized for its beauty or shine while crystal is (countable) a solid composed of an array of atoms or molecules possessing long-range order and arranged in a pattern which is periodic in three dimensions.” (WikiDiff)

“A gemstone is a crystalline mineral that can be cut and polished to make jewelry and other ornaments. The ancient Greeks made a distinction between precious and semiprecious gems, which is still used. Precious stones were hard, rare, and valuable. The only “precious” gemstones are diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald. All other quality stones are called “semiprecious,” even though they may not be any less valuable or beautiful.” (ThoughtCo)

I will be making a formatted reference post shortly as a quick guide. Let me know if you have any questions!

Borealis Meditation S04E03 – Foundations

Foundations – “You don’t understand something until you have to teach someone else”

Welcome to something new. Unscripted Kathleen!

In this episode we cover some concepts I started going over with a friend of mine I am currently teaching. This is a very personal episode because it dives into my thinking. Please let me know what you think.

Get ready to welcome into your life:
Sparkle Body!
Conservation of Sparkle!

Photo: Kaimera Studio

Listen to the episode: Here

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Podsafe Music included:
David Miles Huber – Oceanis
Podcast Troubadour – Science Nature Space 23

Borealis Meditation S04E02 Palu Earthquake and Tsunami

Well, we have our first event episode! This episode covers the earthquake and tsunami on September 28, 2018 that hit Palu Indonesia

Listen here:

I have lots and lots of additional information for this one.

Where: Sulawesi Island, 78km N of Palu city in Indonesia
When: Friday September 28, 2018 10:02 UTC
How Big: M 7.8
How Deep: 10.0 km depth

(figure from the second article listed)

USGS Event Page


Here is why earthquake magnitude is not what you think it is

Palu 2018 science and surprise behind the earthquake and tsunami

IRIS teachable moments slides

First hand account of the Ferry boat
Video from another boat

Video from the parking structure



animation of before and after satellite images of the area of liquefaction


(music used in this episode is podsafe and is Oceanis by David Miles Huber)

Peer Reviewed Magic: Moringa

Moringa is everywhere in Singapore it is THE superfood right now. Moringa also known as drumstick tree is native to northern India up into the foothills of the Himalaya. It is widely cultivated in the tropics where the young seed pods and leaves are eaten. Benzoil is derived from its seeds, a powder of its leaves is seen as a super supplement, used as herbal medicine and water purification.
Wait what? Water purification? No…..

That was my reaction when I was reading a description at Bollywood Veggies this weekend. It can be used to make dirty water drinkable? You have got to be kidding me. So when we got home we looked it up. Crushed moringa seeds are put in cloudy water, reduce bacteria and other impurities and within hours it is drinkable.


Dirty water + Moringa seed = clean water?????

That is a pretty impressive claim. That is the idea but does it work and if yes… how?

Moringa in action!

I found a press release on a study at Penn State. On the use of Moringa seeds to purify water the article says:

“That has been known for some time,” says Stephanie Butler Velegol, environmental engineering instructor at Penn State. Women in ancient Egypt reportedly rubbed Moringa seeds on their clay water pots, and dried powder from crushed seeds has been used as a handwash for many years.”

So how does it work? It appears that when you crush the seeds a positively charged protein called Moringa Oleifera Cationic Protein (that is the scientific name of the plant, cation means positively charged ion, and protein pretty descriptive) MOCP from in the seeds is introduced to the water. This protein kills some of the microbial organism and causes them to clump together and settle to the bottom of the container. You can’t however then store this water, the organic matter from the seeds will remain and become a food source for bacterial that haven’t been killed.
So. The protein in the seeds causes clumping and kills bacteria (but maybe not all of it) and then settles to the bottom leaving clear water at the top. Wanna see it in action? I did!

How cool is that!? Sounds like that is some serious magic that actually is backed up by peer review and now we know a little more how it works.

Here is the Penn State article

Here is the paper it is talking about (if you are interested in the PDF of this and can’t get a copy just contact me and I will download one and pass it along!)

The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm

I was inspired to look into and share the chemistry behind the silver dime charm this week. The first flash of  inspiration was my lesson in powders (I have been taking very informal classes in hoodoo recently and love it), and the  second was a post by Candle Smoke Chapel that they had a new etsy listing of silver dime charms. So thank  you both for the inspiration! Now on to the science!

The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm 

The mercury dime, or silver dime charm, if you are not familiar with it goes like this: If you wear a silver dime around your ankle and if you walk through a powder (ex: hot foot) the dime with absorb the hit and tarnish, keeping you safe.

Image from Lucky Mojo

For the sake of example let’s look at what happens if you are wearing a silver dime and walk through hotfoot powder. Hot foot powder is made primarily of sulfur and crushed hot peppers with the option of other nasties. The key ingredient here in terms of what is going to physically happen to your silver dime is the sulfur.  The sulfur in the powder will react with the silver on the surface of the coin, causing it to “tarnish” in a RedOx reaction. I found this awesome old school video about the reaction:

For the sake of repetition here is the reaction again:

2Ag(s)+S(s) -> Ag2S(s)

Sulfur (S) basically wants two more electrons… wants them REALLY BAD, and Silver (Ag) has an extra that it isn’t too attached to. Sulfur takes one electron from two silvers making it S(2-) and each silver Ag(1+) causing them to  the  two silver and the sulfur atom are now sharing, and create a black solid Ag2S, which is the tarnish you see on silver.

Silver doesn’t need solid sulfur to tarnish. In fact Hydrogen Sulfide gas that can be found in the atmosphere can also react with silver. H2S (hydrogen sulfide gas) can be the result of the decomposition of plants and animals, or some industry of some sort. In fact just about any sulfur compound can cause tarnishing including hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard and even rubber bands. If you have ever worn silver jewelry into a hot springs you will have also seen this same reaction.

In conclusion:

The roots of this charm seem to be the fact that several popular powders that are used when throwing against someone ( crossing powder, goofer dust, and hotfoot powder) have sulfur as a main ingredient. This sulfur reacts to the silver worn at the ankle by tarnishing through the reaction 2Ag(s) + S -> Ag2S(s).

This reaction is an example of an oxidation and reduction  (RedOx) reaction. For more on this type of reaction here is another video:

More Reading on Silver Dimes (and references)

–  Conjure Blog: Mercury (Silver) Dimes

New World Witchery: Coins

– Silver to Black – and Back (abstract) J. Chem. Educ., 2000, 77 (3), p 328A DOI: 10.1021/ed077p328A Publication Date (Web): March 1, 2000

Lucky Mojo: Silver Dimes

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