From the time I was about ten years old, my mother introduced me to many of the “cool tricks” she had learned in her youth during the 1960s and 70s. I learned dozens of tricks, from tipping a matchbox over with your nose, to dealing out cards from a special deck of cards she kept in her nightstand – cards that with their pretty pictures, could tell the future. They were presented to me as games, safe, and occasionally trivial.
I grew up during the height of the Satanic Panic, when fantasy novels and role-playing games were considered to be gateways to death cults and dangerous magic. My mother identified as Christian all of her life, so I can never be sure if she really believed in the power of her divination tools or if they were simple party games in her mind.
My favourite tool to this day, many, many years later, is the pendulum. I have collected several, but the one that I still look on with the greatest fondness is my first – made from a length of white cotton string, and a one ounce fishing weight. My mom didn’t have one of her own, so she explained to me what we would make and how it would work.
Being a visual learner, her description amounted to a jumble of nonsensical words. The tool we would make was a complete mystery to me. Armed with cash and a vague memory of what a fishing weight looked like, I headed out to gather the missing piece of our crafting puzzle.
Looking back, I remember walking into the hardware store just off the main drag. My best friend’s father owned it then. I had my first cup of coffee there, filled with artificial creamer and more sugar than caffeine. It was awesome and awful at the same time.
That day I had a $2 bill clutched in my hand as I carefully read the labels to find the section I needed. I still hate asking for or accepting help in stores. I’d rather take my time and work it out on my own.
Once found, I tested the fishing weights for size and shape. By then my youthful anxiety was in overdrive, and it took a lot of willpower to not simply leave without buying anything. I’m sure I took far longer than necessary, but this was a project that my mom and I would work on together, and I wanted everything to be perfect.
After I finally had selected the least dented, chipped, and malformed pyramid, I took it up to the counter, my confident, grown up mask firmly in place. The total worked out to just under a dollar.
Once outside, I heaved a sigh of relief. One of my worst fears from my childhood is not having enough cash with me to complete my purchase. With the task completed, I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders, and I nearly floated home. The sun was warm on my shoulders, and I skipped across the slatted wood of the footbridge that connected one side of town to the other.
The river below was wide and sparkly in the afternoon sunshine. The water wasn’t warm enough for swimming yet, but it would be soon. A couple of kids played in the park, but they took no notice of me.
Later we sat at the kitchen table, and I watched as my mom threaded a piece of kitchen twine through the brass loop in the flat side of the weight and tied a double knot. She then handed it to me, and told me to ask it a question. It would nod back and forth for ‘yes’, and side to side for ‘no’. And it did.
I was amazed, and skeptical. A part of me was worried that I was not holding still enough, and was skewing the answers. It took a lot of time and a lot of practise to learn to steady my hands, but I managed it. In that same time I learned that I could use the pendulum without speaking aloud.
Over the years I have gone back and forth on what that means, and whether the tool can tap into a higher power or if it is simply my unconscious, and a lot of times my conscious mind. These days, I have decided it doesn’t matter. Whether the Universe or the gods or my own intuition, the pendulum, while not as abstract and encompassing as the cards or runes, isn’t often wrong. It taught me to listen to my gut – what more valuable gift is there?