October is once again here, a spooky month of creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night. The next 31 days are a time to figure out a Halloween costume — remember, ladies, all you need is a leotard and some fuzzy animal ears — and justify both watching the original “Children of the Corn” and stocking up on bite-sized candy.
Let October also be the month of revealing some hard and shocking truths. First, kids really don’t want pennies and toothbrushes in their treat bags. Don’t be “that” house; it only brings egging and mocking. Secondly, no good can ever come of tiptoeing down creaky stairs in the dark with nothing but a candle. Lastly, and brace yourself kids, but it appears that the reason why the little plastic planchette on a Ouija board scuttles about from letter to letter is, well, because somebody is actually moving it. Take a moment to readjust childhood memories. Absorb the fact that ghosts of Halloween pasts and evil-doing demons are not really hovering in the average rec room or bedroom during slumber parties just waiting for the perfect mass-produced Hasbro portal between the other world and this reality to spit out such piecemeal communication gems as “xyswh28andyesno” or confirm that Bobby in sixth period secretly likes you, too. That was probably just your best friend trying to make you feel better about that junior high crush no matter how loud her protestations that she wasn’t pushing anything.
Despite the prevailing thought that Ouija boards really are Satan’s play thing, up there with Black Sabbath and spinning The Beatles records backwards, scientists are now explaining why it’s time to read the automatic writing on the wall. Sorry, devotees of seances and “The Exorcist” but as a gateway to the afterlife Ouija boards are pretty much a dead end.
That doesn’t mean, though, something eyebrow raising isn’t going on.
Seems that all those private, skeptical conclusions that somebody in the group had to be pushing the indicator are actually true just, according to the scientists, nobody with their fingers on the marker actually knew they were doing it. That’s an explanation a little magical and creepy in its own right. What’s next — mentally bending spoons?
The technical answer is something called the “ideomotor effect” which essentially boils down to human beings making nearly imperceptible movements and not realizing that they’re actually making them. As proof, these experts say, stretch your arm out while clenching the end of a string connected to a weight or similar object. Remain perfectly still but at some point the weight will reportedly start swinging in one direction or the next in small circles. Really freak yourself out by acting like a human Magic 8 Ball, asking yes or no questions answered by whatever direction the pendulum swings.
Somebody got paid to study this. How’s that for really scary? Maybe now they can get to work on whether the full moon really brings out the lunacy in folks.
But with Halloween looming, science be damned. The idea of icy cold spirit fingers guiding answers to the most mundane of inquiries from beyond the grave is a heck of a lot more intriguing than the “ideomotor effect” which frankly sounds like some sort of boring weather pattern. Besides, when’s the last time a legitimate involuntary body twitch spawned a horror franchise? Science can take back over in November; October is for tricks and treats and suspension of disbelief.
Yet don’t take my word for it. Ask a Ouija board.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.