Crystal feeling

Crystal feeling

Andrew Brown for Robbie Millen

Would you trust a lawyer who talked to the trees? Or one who believed in UFOs or invisible radiations diverted through crystal circles? Not with my money you wouldn’t, and probably not with yours. Yet Cherie Booth is one of the highest paid lawyers in the country and now she is wearing a crystal pendant supposed to have magical powers..

What is it that makes women of exceptional intelligence, who are as secure as anyone so rich and powerful can be, believe in this sort of thing? The components of the "bioelectric shield" are of course a closely guarded secret. But we know there are crystals of quartz in there, specially arranged in a field of pure hokum.

If the manufacturers of these pendants came up before Cherie Booth QC in court and tried to defend the idea that they can protect you against harmful of negative energy or stop your brains being scrambled by a mobile phone, her cross-examination would teach them at once what really harmful emanations mean. But when she’s off-duty as and working as Cherie Blair, mother of three, her scepticism is hung up with her lawyer’s robes. She wears the pendant with undiminished credulity — and despite being a devout Catholic.

Cynics may scoff that there is no real difference between wearing a cross to ward off sin and lump of quartz to divert hostile vibrations into the ether; and for most of the population, to whom Christian symbols are now meaningless, this may be true: there is the story of the woman who went into a jeweller’s and asked for "one of the crosses with a little man on." But Cherie is not like that. She takes her faith seriously enough to go to church every Sunday and cause her husband real difficulties by doing so. She must know the Pope has repeatedly condemned New Age beliefs.

Perhaps the answer is that medicine is now one of the places where religious belief has taken refuge. If a lump of rock is supposed to have a [ital]medical[ital off] effect, then people will believe in it. Science seems to tell us that the world is mechanical and meaningless and that nothing is real that cannot be weighed or touched. In our hearts, we know that this is nonsense. In our hearts, there are real and important things which cannot be weighed or measured with the most sensitive and expensive instruments. And because we no longer think of these as spiritual, we talk about them as medical instead.

We no longer believe that the old woman at the edge of the village is souring our milk by witchcraft. Instead we suppose that the young man at the other end of the railway carriage is scrambling our brains with his mobile phone and his negative energy waves. This is altogether more modern.

There’s lots of encouragement in this from the New Age industry, which is one of the greatest merchandising opportunities of the century. Most other religions have at least some core of belief to hold up the souvenir stalls. People who buy Lambeth Conference souvenir boiled sweets are demonstrating their Christian faith. The serried ranks of fluorescent plastic virgins at great Catholic shrines are there because people believe in them. The beauty of New Age merchandising is that you don’t need to make up a story. People will buy rocks, hunks of glass, or polished metal providing you tell them it’s a revolt against materialism.

Most forms of alternative medicine work only because they involve the patient talking about themselves a lot. The National Health Service has stopped most people from paying for a doctor’s time and attention so we go and pay charlatans instead. Their attention, after all, is just as genuine as a trained doctor’s, and often more sincere so it probably does as much good. Of course, this kind of spiritual healing has been practised by hairdressers for centuries.

Yet superstition is much older than hairdressers. It probably goes back to the days when our ancestors had hair all over their bodies. Even the Neanderthals collected beautiful pebbles, though these protected them against mammoths, rather than mobile phones. And it is only ever other people’s superstitions that are funny. The devotees of crystal healing laugh at the nutcases who read character from toes. The women who know that Elvis lives can pity the idiots who have merely been abducted by aliens. So for as long as no one in this country can see anything funny in the idea that that football matters, we shouldn’t laugh too loudly over Cherie’s pendant.

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