“And to fight cancer, what did you say? “, assures a lady with a square cut, seated in a classroom of a high school in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines (Haut-Rhin). Standing, in the place of the professor, Marie I. answers him: “Shungite and charoite”, named after two minerals. Marie I. is a lithotherapist: she gives advice to “boost your health on a daily basis through the mineral world”, placed in contact with or near the human body.
This “course” takes place within the framework of Mineral & Gem, proclaimed “second largest mineral exchange in the world” and located in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, a small industrial town at the gates of the Vosges. In the midst of wholesalers, gemologists and jewelers who have come from India, Brazil or Madagascar to do business, there is a space dedicated to well-being and mineral treatment.
Theories “as old as the world”
Conferences, including those of Marie I., are organized there. For an hour, this lady with tinted glasses and short hair reviews stones and their supposed virtues to an attentive audience, notebook on the table and pen in hand. It is about aquamarine, “effective against allergies”, amethyst, a purple quartz, which “works on the entire nervous system” or even citrine, yellow, which acts on ” the biliary system.
Granting medicinal virtues to stones “is as old as the world”, explains Jean-Claude Boulliard, retired teacher and former director of the mineral collection at the Sorbonne University. These theories traveled from Mesopotamia, through the Christian mineralogy of the Middle Ages, to find a new breath in the 1970s, carried by the New Age movement.
Today, hundreds of sites compile different theories on the “powers” of these stones. Often managed by lithotherapists, like Marie I., these platforms also offer training for several hundred euros and sell minerals in the form of pendants and necklaces.
The skepticism of scientists
“People are looking for hope and self-determination outside conventional care, margoulins have understood this, and take advantage of it”, analyzes Richard Monvoisin, science educator at Grenoble-Alpes University. At the end of Marie I.’s course, Anne-Cécile, from the North, is looking for herself. Having fallen seriously ill, she was not convinced by her treatment and her care and is looking for alternatives to treat herself. According to her, “society tends towards more spirituality and naturalness”, in response to “an exaggerated modernism”.
However, this follower of magnetism indicates that she has not “yet felt the effects” of the stones on her health. And for good reason, several scientists detail in La Croix their skepticism about these theories. “Carrying a mineral or a rock cannot create any interaction with the organism, as long as the rock or the mineral is not radioactive”, explains Christian Chopin, mineralogist and geologist at the geology laboratory of the ENS.
Moreover, “some pebbles are toxic, others radioactive”, continues Richard Monvoisin. The specialist studied the effects of amber necklaces on dental pain in children. “The only effect of these collars is an increased risk of strangulation! »
A growth market
Despite these warnings, how could a pseudo-science have entered the mineral exchanges? “We want to deal with all aspects of mineralogy”, replies Thomas Bellicam, managing director of the Mineral & Gem exchange. If he says he is “vigilant concerning the excesses of certain remarks”, he also understands that “this market is buoyant”.
The wellness area represents only a few scattered stands, isolated around 950 exhibitors. However, “individuals often ask us about the benefits of our stones,” says Sylvain, mineral salesman, established in the south of France. For him, lithotherapist, “it’s a different job than his”. “Everyone is free to do their business in their image”.
This commercial aspect, however, raises the concern of researchers. “Lithotherapy is above all an opportunity for juicy business, when it is not more serious, with the abuse of weakness and the influence of supposedly healing gurus, reacts Christian Chopin. Minerals can be appreciated for their great beauty. No need to adorn them with other so-called powers”.