Chevreul’s pendulum is a small hand-held pendulum (a piece of thread with a small weight at one end), which -- to the complete surprise of the user -- may suddenly start swinging or rotating “all by itself”, without any conscious attempts by the user to influence its movements. It has been used for centuries in fortune-telling and as an occult device for communicating with spirits and ghosts. The seemingly spontaneous swings or rotations of the pendulum are seen as coded signals from the World Beyond.
The name derives from Michel-Eugene Chevreul, a well-known French natural scientist who investigated the “occult” pendulum phenomenon and gave it a plausible scientific explanation in 1833. In modern times Chevreul’s pendulum is used by psychologists to demonstrate the astonishing and remarkably strong effects of autosuggestion. However, people in contemporary spiritistic circles, being adamantly insensitive to scientific explanations, continue using the pendulum as an occult instrument, understandably without the scientific epithet “Chevreul’s”.
An amazing experiment
The psychological effects of the pendulum in action are truly amazing, so the device is well worth trying out for yourself. The equipment required is rather basic:
- a length (30-35 cm) of sewing-thread
- a small weight to tie to one end of the thread (about 1 g or less -- a metal paper clip or a small ring will do fine).
- a sheet of paper, where you have penciled a pattern, consisting of an equal-armed cross (about 7 cm) and a somewhat smaller (5-6 cm) circle, with its center where the arms of the cross intersect.
Sit down at a table and put the paper with its pattern in front of you. Rest your elbow on the tabletop. Hold the sewing-thread between your thumb and forefinger, so that the pendulum weight (paper clip or ring) hangs straight down, 1-2 cm above the center of the cross pattern.
Try to hold the pendulum as still and immovable as possible.
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swinging pendulum cross pattern
(circle is not shown)
The power of imagination
Now comes the interesting part. While holding the pendulum as still as possible (minor movements are unavoidable, but they don’t disturb the experiment), try to IMAGINE how it would feel if the pendulum would for some reason start swinging vertically (in the direction of the vertical arm in the cross pattern). Don’t do anything to make it swing, just IMAGINE as intensely as you can your feeling, if the pendulum were –- against all expectations -- to start swinging all by itself.
After some 30 sec to 3 min of intense imagining the pendulum actually starts swinging, at first with small swings, but these soon grow to wide, bold swings in the vertical direction. Sometimes it will not work the first time. In that case try again some time later. In the end it will work for almost everybody. When you have succeeded with the vertical swings, then you can try to imagine what it would feel like if the pendulum instead started rotating, for example clockwise. And again the pendulum reads your mind and starts rotating in the way you imagined.
You do absolutely nothing, and still your mere thoughts make an inanimate object in your hand move in a mentally predetermined way –- this feels decidedly uncanny, like black magic!
More interesting than magic
Is it black magic? Michel-Eugene Chevreul’s investigations in the 19th century discovered that it isn’t, but the explanation is maybe even more interesting than magic. The pendulum effect is due to a perfectly natural human reaction, but a reaction with such interesting effects that it almost borders on magic. Chevreul found that if you imagine something intensely, then the human body behaves in a way as if the imagined situation had already come to pass.
When you are imagining the pendulum swinging, then subconsciously your body makes very small, almost imperceptible movements in the right direction. But a pendulum is an energy-accumulating system, so the minute imperceptible swings add up, and after a while the pendulum swings with easily discernible movements.
The principle that Chevreul’s scientific pendulum investigations uncovered –- that the human body reacts physically (and chemically) to imagined situations -- is behind a host of important psychological reactions, e.g. the placebo effect. The occultists for their part imagined -- hoped or feared -- a certain coded signal from the World of Spirits. Without their conscious effort the pendulum was set in motion according to their imagination.
Father of gerontology
Chevreul himself was almost 103 years old when he died. In addition to his many other scientific accomplishments (he was the first to discover the chemical structure of fats and he clarified the perception of colors), Chevreul founded the medical science of gerontology, by making systematic observations of one aging subject -- himself.
Chevreul, M. E. 1833. Lettre M. Ampere, sur une classe particuliere de mouvemens musculaires. Revue des Deux Mondes, 2, 2nd Ed., 249-257.
Jastrow, Joseph. 1937. Chevreul as psychologist. Scientific Monthly June, 487-496.
Spitz, Herman H. 1997. Nonconscious Movements: From Mystical Messages to Facilitated Communication. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.