Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board — Memorate


“My mom told me this story of when she was playing ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ during a high school slumber party. Right as they began to lift a girl, she had a seizure. It was the first time she ever had one, and she was later diagnosed with epilepsy. 

“Since they all went to a Catholic high school and their parents were devout Catholics, the sleepover was immediately disbanded, perhaps out of fear they had conjured some sort of demonic spirit or something. Ever since hearing this story as a kid, I have never participated in those sorts of activities at sleepovers.”


SR is a 20 year-old college student from Thousand Oaks, CA. Her family is Catholic and has Italian roots.

‘Light as a feather, stiff as a board’ is a levitation game played at girls’ slumber parties. It is a sort of ritual that embodies the liminal space between life and death as one girl is chosen to ‘die’ and the others must lift her up. There are certain things to be recited that supposedly make the girl’s body light enough to be lifted or rise on its own, depending on versions of the game.

SR’s mother told her this story to warn her against playing the game. Since the ritual attempts to draw upon some dark magic or power, a Catholic family would not want their kids engaging in such practices.


This story is an example of a memorate, a personal experience that gets interpreted into an existing legendary structure. SR noted the Catholic upbringings of all the girls at the sleepover, meaning they all had a degree of belief in the devil and demonic forces; perhaps they had been told stories of possessions and exorcisms as this is something commonly done in Catholic teaching against the devil.

Thus, when something scary happened to their friend, this belief system offered a framework through which to understand the experience. 

This game being performed in the context of a sleepover highlights how belief is a social process. SR’s mother played the game in high school, a liminal time when a child is beginning the transition into adulthood and thus experimenting with belief. Legend questing/tripping is something done within peer groups at this time in an attempt to see if a legend is true.

Many beliefs are acquired from social sources in narrative form. Thus, SR hearing this story from her own mother makes it especially memorable and believable. Regardless of the truth value of the story, the legend is strong enough to discourage SR from doing any ‘legend tripping’ of her own, as she said she never participated in these activities after hearing her mom’s story.