That’s it. Growing up. It’s fucking scary. End of blog.
Just kidding, I am way more long winded than that.
Did you ever play “light as a feather, still as a board” growing up? In case you’re unfamiliar, the game goes something like this:
One friend lies on the ground, arms crossed over her chest like a corpse. The rest of the friends encircle her, kneeling or sitting, and slide their middle and pointer fingers under her body (coincidentally, the Ouija planchette fingers). Sometimes, if not every time, one of the sitting friends tells a story about how the subject “died” or gives a little eulogy, and then the friends in the circle chant: “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” over and over until they are able to lift the “dead” friend off the floor.
Does it work? In my memory, abso-fucking-lutely. And you don’t question it as a kid because duh, magic is real, and all the grown ups are just keeping it from you! Or they don’t believe anymore so they can’t experience it (like Santa). But it’s right there, in your bedroom, levitation by the power of four ten-year-olds chanting a phrase that one of them learned from their big sister.
So it’s most likely that, as a group, we picked one another up, and were so caught up in the game, it felt real, and after a couple decades our memories are just fuzzy enough to let us question what happened in the wee hours of a weekend morning long ago, but there is a part of me that wants to believe there is some kind of magic going on. And there’s a bigger part of me that wishes I still had the capacity that ten year old me had to anticipate certain outcomes.
I was thinking about this game and others like it and the willingness of my childhood friends (and myself) to engage in such things. Similarly we played Bloody Mary and Candyman (whose name to this day makes me nervous) which always evoked a quick exit from the bathroom and have made me forever nervous of mirrors in dark rooms. Less “dangerous” were fortune-telling games with folded paper and asking ouija boards who you might marry when you grow up (to be clear: I do not believe ouija boards are inherently evil, Hasbro is not mass-producing portals to hell, ya’ll). There were other, let’s call them rituals that bordered on the occult like “crack an egg on your head” or guessing what words someone was tracing on your back, and even the act of braiding the hair of your friend who sat in front of you in class, now looking back on it, was almost like witchcraft, the physical embodiment of saying “this is a member of my coven.”
I wanted to find the origin of light as a feather since it seems such a shared experience, but unlike games with poems or songs like Red Rover or Ring Around The Rosie, it is often done in secret, at night, rarely spoken of outside the slumber party, and unobserved. How did it get handed down and for how long has it existed? Surely it was imagined in the last hundred or so years, maybe popularized by some movie in the seventies, and it will die off in the next few generations in favor of all the 3am games popping up all over the internet. I was surprised, however, to find the diary Samuel Pepys, a British civil servant, who wrote the following in his diary on July 31, 1665:
This evening with Mr. Brisband, speaking of enchantments and spells; I telling him some of my charms; he told me this of his owne knowledge, at Bourdeaux, in France. The words these:
Voyci un Corps mort,
Royde come un Baston,
Froid comme Marbre,
Leger come un esprit,
Levons to au nom de Jesus Christ.
He saw four little girles, very young ones, all kneeling, each of them, upon one knee; and one begun the first line, whispering in the eare of the next, and the second to the third, and the third to the fourth, and she to the first. Then the first begun the second line, and so round quite through, and, putting each one finger only to a boy that lay flat upon his back on the ground, as if he was dead; at the end of the words, they did with their four fingers raise this boy as high as they could reach, and he [Mr. Brisband] being there, and wondering at it, as also being afeard to see it, for they would have had him to have bore a part in saying the words, in the roome of one of the little girles that was so young that they could hardly make her learn to repeat the words, did, for feare there might be some sleight used in it by the boy, or that the boy might be light, call the cook of the house, a very lusty fellow, as Sir G. Carteret’s cook, who is very big, and they did raise him in just the same manner.
This is one of the strangest things I ever heard, but he tells it me of his owne knowledge, and I do heartily believe it to be true. I enquired of him whether they were Protestant or Catholique girles; and he told me they were Protestant, which made it the more strange to me.
So I came to the conclusion that all little girls are born witches, and somewhere along the way we lose that. And that’s the true terror of this Tuesday.