The 21st century ghost hunter can call upon a wide variety of techniques and methods to assist them in their exploration of the paranormal. Some, such as the séance or table tipping have been used by investigators for decades, whilst other techniques like the laser grid and the Frank’s box are more recent. This is the first in a series of articles that will examine and explore some of the techniques new and old, that are used by ghost hunters.
The Human Pendulum
Recently I witnessed my first ‘Human Pendulum’ experiment being conducted by paranormal investigators. For those who are unfamiliar with this technique, the human pendulum is supposed to be a means by which spirits are able to communicate with the investigators by causing a person or people to move in response to questions that are asked. When I first heard of this technique my initial thoughts were of the ethical problems that might be created by dangling one of the investigation team or member of the paying public from a rope secured to the rafters and swinging them to and fro, but I was relieved to discover that this isn’t in fact the case.
In near or total darkness, the participants are required to stand in a circle, sometimes with their hands linked. As in any séance, protection and grounding form an important part of the ritual and various methods are used to obtain this, depending mainly on the preference of the team’s in-house Medium or Sensitive, although imagining oneself being bathed in intense white or blue light seems popular. Whatever the preferred protection method, once protected, the spirit communicators are requested to select the person they wish to use as a pendulum. The method of selection is usually simple: The chosen one is moved (or pushed) by the spirits either forwards or backwards to indicate that they have been selected. The ‘human pendulum’ then moves into the centre of the circle and stands alone, surrounded by their fellow investigators. It is then usually necessary to establish the correct relationship between the subsequent movements of that person and the spirit’s answers. This would typically be forwards (or backwards) for a ‘Yes’ or positive response and backwards (or forwards) for a ‘No’ or negative response. Swaying around from side to side is generally considered to be an uncertain or ‘don’t know’ answer. Questions are then asked aloud such as “Are you a male spirit?”... “Is your name Kreed Kaffer?”... “Were you murdered?” Obviously, only questions with a simple yes or no answer can be asked. A variation on the question / response can also take the form of the human pendulum being moved in the direction of a person standing in the enclosing group to whom the spirit feels drawn or is connected. This latter variation is more puzzling - one might wonder why the spirit communicant didn’t just select that person earlier when they were asked. Using a series of posed questions, the identity, relationship and reason for the spirits presence can be established, a process that is inevitably time consuming and at times confusing. Researching more about the human pendulum as it is used by paranormal investigators I did discover some slight variations, but broadly they all conform to the formula I have outlined.
Some groups like to combine the human pendulum with other experiments too; this was the case with the particular experiment I witnessed. The location for the ghost hunt was an old former dockside warehouse now converted into a nightclub, complete with a powerful sound system. The investigation group made good use of this and throughout the human pendulum experiment they provided a background of authentic dockside warehouse sounds; heavy barrels being moved and rolled, horse-drawn carts and the creak of ropes and timbers from the ships and sailing vessels moored alongside. The idea borrows extensively from the ‘Singapore Theory’ (the subject of a later article). The dockside sounds, played through the professional audio system sounded very convincing, and it was easy to imagine the ships swaying gently on the tide as one listened to the endless creaking of their mooring lines, while gangs of men laboured to unload and load the barrels and bails of cargo.
Once formed into a circle and suitably bathed in (imagined) light for protection, the participants waited with a mixture of eager anticipation and nervous trepidation to discover which of them would be selected by the spirits to be the human pendulum. As the lead investigator asked for the spirits to indicate their choice around three quarters of those standing in the circle swayed inward then back upright again. Their coordinated movements assisted by the spirits and encouraged by the out-loud pleading of the lead investigator for the spirits to make their choice clear and move the appointed person resembled a weird slow motion Oki-Koki dance. Either the spirits were undecided or they were indicating that the session was to be an exercise in mass communication. The question was again asked “Spirits will you indicate your choice by moving someone? please chose just one person.” This time around only about half the participants lunged forward but one of the group also declared that she felt that she had been touched - clearly, the chosen one. To the subtle but obviously disappointed murmurings of several of the circle the human pendulum moved to the middle of the circle. She stood alone in dark and exchanged a couple of nervous comments with her fellow investigators as she waited to be used by the spirits as their chosen means of communication with the living. The dim glow from a single camcorder turning everyone into constantly moving shadows. Before the serious business of questioning the spirit could begin it was of course necessary to establish which way the spirits would move their human pendulum, would it be forwards for yes and backwards for no? It was, and so the questions began.
Several times throughout the session it was unclear which answer the spirit was giving as the human pendulum swayed forwards and backwards in the dim light and the moving shadows. Often the human pendulum herself said she was unsure if she was moving forwards or backwards or by how much. In response to this confusion the lead investigator gave repeated instructions to the spirit to make the pendulum give a more definite movement - “Move the person move further….further ...further….” until at last, as the human pendulum almost toppled into the surrounding group a clear answer was ascertained. The confusion of spirit replies was not helped by the various swayings to and fro by several other members of the circle, possibly the spirits had not yet fully committed themselves to using just one of the group but nonetheless as the session progressed and the human pendulum rocked precariously back and forth a series of answers to the questions was extracted “Are you Jack?” “Are you connected with someone here?” etc. Showing consideration for the remainder of the group, the spirits provided additional proof of their presence by causing several of the circle to also move or be gently touched and have their hair stroked. Others felt the temperature around them to become suddenly icy. It was clearly a very intense experience for all. Unfortunately, the spirit’s answers to the questions soon began to lack clarity and became confused until at last the lead investigator in some despair asked if the spirit was telling the truth? The response was discerned to be a NO…. Nonplussed, the leader asked “Will you now give us truthful answers?” Fortunately for the investigation the answer was swayed out in the form of a Yes and the session proceeded.
Questions were then encouraged from the surrounding group, leading to a volley of questions. These were mostly answered using the multi-directional swaying of the human pendulum, an occasional collision between her and those in the circle and seemingly some inspired guesses; until after a hectic 15 minutes the session drew to a close. The spirits were dutifully and respectfully thanked and the circle broken as people headed en-mass for the exit to light a welcome cigarette and discuss excitedly what just took place.
Of course sceptics might question the validity of a technique such as the human pendulum, suggesting that if you ask someone to stand still in the dark, in the middle of the night, when they are tired, scared, excited and probably full of caffeine; they will inevitably start to rock to and fro or sway around. They might also point out that the technique relies on a heady mixture of suggestion, compliance and fulfilled expectation. Those investigators who practise the human pendulum would of course argue that it is a demonstration of genuine spirit and in especially in the context of the experiences of other participants i.e. the sudden sensations of cold and the feelings of being touched or moved also.
It is clear that the human pendulum is a technique that is growing in popularity. It is demonstrated on stage as part of a paranormal theatre tour and features in many YouTube investigation video clips. I have watched a lot of video footage of the human pendulum and read many accounts from investigators using the technique. I am pleased to have finally witnessed my first human pendulum experiment being conducted and of course I have formed my own opinions as to what is actually taking place. However, try as I might, my attempts to discover the history of the human pendulum and who first thought up this technique has proved fruitless. That is a real shame because he or she has given investigators the opportunity to demonstrate and exploit several interesting facets of human psychology and physiology but unfortunately the creator of the human pendulum has provided paranormal investigators with absolutely nothing that will help them or anyone else gain one shred of information that advances our knowledge in the subjects of survival research, spontaneous phenomena or paranormal investigation. The human pendulum ranks with the rest of the sensationalist ghost hunting techniques, alongside burying people alive, mock hangings or placing them into metal cages and shooting lightning bolts at them.
© Steve Parsons 2012