Body Soul & Spirit Expo and Woo-Woo Wands
Yesterday I attended Vancouver’s Body Soul & Spirit Expo – the largest newage and spiritual convention of the year. A few months ago I went to a little community psychic fair. I expected the expo to be like that, but much much bigger. Well, it was bigger, but frankly, not by a whole lot. A little disappointing, in that I would have liked to see more, but also somewhat encouraging that the biggest nonsense convention in the city only draws a few hundred people.
Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures or recordings, but I did have a few interesting interactions with the merchants. I think I’m going to tell my stories one at a time, to drag this out into a week’s worth of blog content. First up: the Woo-Woo Wands!
There was a booth with two items on display: a “How to Communicate with Dolphins” instructional DVD, and packaged dowsing rods, labelled “Woo-Woo Wands”. I told the woman at the booth that I’ve heard the term ‘woo-woo’ used pejoratively, and asked why she had decided to self-apply it. She said “many people call all this stuff woo-woo,” which is true, but didn’t really answer my question. I got the impression that she really didn’t take herself too seriously, which is good!
Dowsing is an ancient practice where the movement of rods, wands, or sticks held by the dowser is said to indicate either the location of some substance (commonly water or metals) or something more ethereal, such as energy, emotions, or ‘ley lines‘. I asked what these particular dowsing rods were able to detect. She told me she could use them to determine whether somebody was thinking happy or sad thoughts. I can’t imagine this skill being terribly useful, as one could just ask the person how they’re feeling, but maybe she uses it on Atlantean spirits who wouldn’t lower themselves to speak our vulgar tongue, I dunno.
She asked if I would like to see a demonstration. I said yes, and she came around the booth, holding the rods out in front of her. She stood still and waited until the rods ‘centered’ – both came to face straight ahead. It was actually pretty neat to see the ideomotor effect in action; it really did look like the rods were responding to some force. She asked me to think a negative thought, which I did (I remembered when my childhood dog died) and the rods slowly crossed. “See? That’s the negative energy.”
She ‘centered’ them again and asked me to think of a happy thought, which I did (smooching) and the rods spread apart, facing directly away from one another. She took a few steps back to show me how far my positive energy propagated. Amazingly, the rods continued to gage my personal emotions even when she moved away from me, and much closer to a whole group of people who were sharing their fears about covert government conspiracies – surely a vortex of negative emotion.
That would have been the end of the demonstration, but I asked her if she could tell me, based on what the rods did, what kind of thoughts I was thinking, without knowing beforehand. She was very open to the idea – to her credit she was honest and friendly the whole way through. At this point, Rob and Ethan from Radio Freethinker came by and asked if they could record the test, which the woman graciously agreed to. She ‘centered’ the rods and told me to go ahead. I tried to remain expressionless, and I held in my mind the image of someone being brutally killed with a machete. I wanted to be as unambiguously negative as possible. Her rods spread apart, and she said she was picking up “joyous images.” When I told her that was incorrect, she said “that’s interesting” and offered a few possible reasons – there are a lot of people around, it could have been picking up someone else’s thoughts, etc. I felt her reasons were honest though, she didn’t blame me for the false reading or anything like that.
It was not a great experiment, all in all. Plenty of uncontrolled variables, tiny sample size, and not double blinded. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the first single blinded test she’s ever taken part in. It was a fun experience for me, at least. I would love to organize a more scientific trial of some local dowsers. It’s the perfect kind of claim to test: clear criteria for success and failure, easily randomized, and easily blinded.
I would love to have bought a set of Woo-Woo Wands for myself, but frankly, she was charging far too much for what amounted to little more than two bits of bent copper wire. And I never got to ask her about the dolphins…