This is Personal Facets, a new column by Jaya Saxena exploring emotions, the magical properties and promises of crystals, and the real reasons people seek their powers.
I believe that, whether you know it or not, everyone has encountered a witch. You probably thought she was just a weird old lady, but trust me, she was a witch. When my mom was pregnant with me, men (who can be witches, too) told her she was having a boy, and she believed it so strongly she was shocked when I came out. Witches aren’t always right.
A few months ago I was interviewing an eighty-year-old woman when she cut me off mid-sentence and asked (or declared), in a thick Cuban accent, “You’re a water sign, aren’t you?”
I said yes, I was a Scorpio. Most people forget Scorpio is a water sign. We don’t live in the water, and we don’t revel in our emotions—we weaponize them. A brown, shiny sting when you least expect it. Water, sure, but ice.
“What you need is an amethyst,” she said. “For protection.”
Last week, my grandmother told me the same thing. A PhD who had a long career as a biology professor, she still puts her faith in the stars. She’s a Capricorn, and prefers her birthstone, garnet. I was born in October; shouldn’t I be wearing more opals? No, she said, an amethyst; preferably a ring.
Amethyst comes from the Greek for “not intoxicate,” and was said to prevent wearers from becoming drunk. They drank wine from amethyst cups, hoping the trick would work, though I’m sure it didn’t. But maybe telling ourselves we’re balanced, that we’re in control—even as we slosh and scream and douse ourselves in violet—is almost as good as the real thing.
There’s more than one way to feel intoxicated. The amethyst is not just a talisman to ward against chemical intoxication; it’s also meant to keep you from getting drunk on emotions. Soldiers wore them to keep a clear head. Bishops put amethysts in their rings to signify their sober spirits, dedicated and steady. These were not people who were supposed to lose themselves. Did their amethysts represent protection or a promise? Would their bodies have been a hospitable home for drunkenness without the stones? Either way, the promise of amethyst is control at all costs, and for those who buy into amethyst’s powers, emotions are barriers to truth, rather than harbingers of it.
A few years ago, some friends and I took mushrooms and went to a park, skipping with anticipation, mistaking every breeze or goosebump for the beginning of a trip. We laid in a field and felt the sun warm our faces, the way I did every day during my lunch hour in Central Park. We marveled at a Red-Tailed Hawk that landed by a nearby stream. I felt sun-dazed and happy, but nothing near high.
Then, chaos. There was a festival planned for that day, and hundreds of people began filing in as a DJ played bad reggae. My companions, well into their trips, panicked, and I grabbed their hands and did my best New Yorker weave until we were safely out. I was a clear-headed warrior, and if the psilocybin was ever going to take hold, it wasn’t now. How lucky, I thought to myself, that I was responsible and sober enough to act. That I was in control of myself.
That evening, my husband recalled how good it had felt—like you could close your eyes and feel the trees breathe. But that’s always how it feels, I thought. That’s just what it’s like to be outside. On my lunches in the park, I would often close my eyes and find my breath in time with the wind, imagining my cells swaying with everything, eyes tearing as they opened to a bleached-out landscape.
I’m not trying to brag about not needing substances to feel transcendence, only noting that my emotions hold taut behind my face like a meniscus curve. In this way, though, I am rarely “sober.” Small feelings turn into obsessions, moods into Moods, thoughts into crying fits.
In high school, I like to joke, I was straight-edge because I wasn’t cool enough to be invited to any parties where there would be drugs or alcohol. This made unpopularity feel like a statement, but it was also a convenient excuse. I didn’t want to use most of the substances anyway; I was afraid of what they’d let out. I didn’t need any more help to find the edge of control.
On the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe, Amethyst, one of Steven’s otherworldly guardians, is unhinged. She is short for her kind due to remaining underground for an extra five hundred years while the rest of her kin were born, permanent proof that she is off-balance. At the beginning of the series, she’s just the wacky one. She eats gross things grossly, pulls pranks, is strong but impulsive. It looks a lot like comic relief, and it is, because it’s a cartoon.
But later, we learn Amethyst is just trying to right herself, as if there is an objective center she is desperate to reach. She was born on Earth, so lacks a connection to the culture and history of her people. She feels jealous and inadequate about anything and everything. She cares too much and not enough about the wrong things in turn, and when that’s pointed out to her, lashes out, because everything she does is an attempt to just be the thing she’s supposed to be. The deep sadness of Amethyst is that it never works. Even when she decides to embrace that she is not who she should be, it is out of spite.
After shopping for crystals one day, my husband asked me if the magical properties assigned to crystals had anything to do with the characters’ personalities in Steven Universe. As I looked them up, it seemed to make sense. Rose Quartz is full of unconditional love. Pearl is gentle and pure. Garnet “is useful to have in a crisis.” But Amethyst made me think this was a fluke. If there’s anything Amethyst is, she is perpetually intoxicated, swinging between flagrant confidence and deep insecurity, like she is just one more tequila shot away from passing out. This doesn’t look like the even-keeled state we should all be striving for. This is mania.
It has only recently occurred to me that balance is not a fixed state. I’m sure even the bishops lost themselves on occasion. What would their faith even look like if they didn’t let a spirit take over once in a while? What would soldiers do in battle if not for will and pride? These are not places for measured sobriety.
But the goal is also not to be undone. Balance, moderation, calm—these are the things we are told we should want. No one is selling meditation apps trying to make us more agitated, more emotional. Peace is supposed to come through control. Feeling the right things at the right times, in the right amounts. Never tipping the scales.
Sometimes I am good at keeping my feelings in, and sometimes they race out of me like pus from a pierced blister, and neither of those things seem to happen at the times they should. When I should be more judicious, I burst. When I should be open, I find myself breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth in that way that heats the back of my throat and makes a noise like a radiator, so my husband has to ask me what’s going on and why I won’t just tell them what’s wrong. Where others have scales, I have a pendulum. But I have made its trajectory smaller and smaller, the recovery shorter, until you can barely see it swing.
I never asked my grandmother, or the old witch, what the amethyst should be protecting me from .
Like many millennials, I practice self-care. I set boundaries and dispel toxic people and contribute to my community, but only until I feel the first tinge of emotional exhaustion, at which point I assert my right for personal space and do a face mask or whatever. I work hard to keep too much from entering my life. I know what control looks like, and I cultivate it at every turn. Maybe these women simply saw my Scorpio shell; the ice crystallizing in my veins; the way I stop and smile and keep everything back even while my eyes shoot fire. Balance by force. Control by desire. Maybe this rock will be what I need because it cracks me open, lets the pendulum swing.