“Charlie and the Fruitcake Factory” (Demon conjuring)

DEMONPENCIL

The anti-science movement includes those objecting to GMOs, vaccines, evolution, astronomy, heliocentrism, and a round Earth. Now welcome to the club the anti-gravity gang. Led by Joshua Feuerstein, these folks reject the description of gravity as a natural phenomenon and insist it is a far darker force.

That is their explanation for the latest divination craze, “Charlie, Charlie.” To participate, one hexagon-shaped pencil is placed on top of another, the bottom pencil resting on a piece of paper. The paper is broken into four quadrants, with words on each square.

Because of the precarious way the top pencil is positioned, a breath or vibration will cause it to rotate. But Feuerstein denies this is due to gravity and the laws of physics. He maintains a demon has been summoned to swing the writing utensil. Behold, Satan in all his graphite glory.

I understand middle school kids being spooked by a stationary object suddenly swaying, especially if it happens by candlelight in the presence of friends. I’m far less charitable to the fully-grown Feuerstein, who presents this game as irrefutable proof of demonic power. On his Facebook page, he chides those who insist a naturalistic explanation will suffice.

The top pencil is placed so gingerly that it can take a while to get the juxtaposition right. But eventually it stays put and the divinatory session begins with words of “Charlie, Charlie, are you here,” or a similar summons. It’s amazing how demons always speak the same language as those conjuring them.

The alleged backstory involves a Mexican demon, which would require allowing that spirits have nationalities. It is also said to go back centuries, though there is no evidence this is anything beyond a contemporary trend. It is, however, the latest in a long tradition of divination that includes barley cakes, tea leaves, Tarot cards, Bloody Mary, and Ouija Boards. These ideas have survived far longer than would seem possible. Science has given us Germ Theory, Pasteurization, the eradication of smallpox, the unlocking of the atom and electron, and launched a manmade object that has left the solar system. And yet educated adults in the 21st Century insist that a moving pencil is caused not by precarious placement and air, but by an invisible monster.

But nothing extraordinary is going on and no supernatural powers are being accessed. If they were, only one pencil would be needed and it could move without being precariously balanced. Or the demon could bring his own pencil. Or he could open his serpent mouth. For all of the terrifying power Feuerstein and fellow fruitcakes attribute to demons, the devilish minions are incapable of speech. They need seventh-graders with pencils to serve as the conduit.

The sign that there’s nothing supernatural about these types of happenings is that they always occur under restricting, specific conditions. James Hryrick claimed telepathy, but his ability to move objects was limited to nearby telephone book pages. His otherworldly talents vanished when he attempted to slip them by James Randi. Randi exposed the ruse by placing Styrofoam peanuts around the pages. Hyrick’s only ability was subtle breathing, which was revealed when the peanuts moved with the pages.

Similarly, mediums at a séance claim that spirits will enter the room and ring bells or move objects. They allow their wrists to be tied to the chair, and the duped person is permitted to place his feet on those of the medium. The stipulation, however, is that the lights be turned off. This allows the medium to be unseen when he removes his hands from the arm rests, which had been loosened beforehand. Likewise, he removes his feet from his shoes, which had been glued to the floor and hollowed in the back.

In this case, the stipulation is that it be two pencils placed just so. Putting one fork down in place of two pencils won’t work. I experimented a few times by placing a pencil on top of another, and it stayed motionless for as long as I did nothing. But a gust of breath or waving motion caused it to swing. As a control, I tried moving it by summoning the Charlie demon, but the Gateway to Hell remained shut. Maybe if I had tried it in Spanish.

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