Tag Archives: fear

Yes/No Pencil Ritual

Informant Background: The informant is originally from Hong Kong. She now lives permanently in the United States but travels back once a year to visit her relatives in Hong Kong. She speaks both Cantonese and English. Her family practices many of the Chinese traditions, folk-beliefs, and superstitions. She celebrates many of the Chinese holidays through cooking of special “holiday food.”


Many grade school children play this game with a pencil. You can only use pencil. No mechanical pencils or pen. So first you would write on a piece of paper: “yes” and “no.” Then you put the paper on the table and then put the pencil in the middle of the paper. There are usually four people at each corner of the table. Then you call on the spirit into the pencil…After that you can ask the spirit questions about your life…you know something like: does he like me, will we be together, how long will we be together, am I going to pass this test, etc… But you can be cursed to die if you ask about how the spirit died or who the spirit is. It is okay to ask about their past life but never ask for the name or how he/she became a spirit. Sometimes more specific things can be written on the paper for different situations…I heard some news in Chinese newspaper where people die from this game because they ask the question they shouldn’t.

The informant stated that she played with her friends in middle school in Hong Kong, though she said that many adults play this game as well. She said she did it when she played the game nothing happened but she and her friends got very scared that she tore the paper into many pieces, broke the pencil, and ran away from the room as fast as they could.


I think this game challenges the idea of beliefs and the origin of ghosts and spirits. As seen by many other ghost stories, spirits usually arises from untraditional death or improper burial. In this case it is taboo and deathly to find the origin of the spirit. This game also reflects how people are unsure about the status of their lives; also trying to find answer to unanswerable questions in life. Not being able to ask how the spirit came to be also reflects the unknown origin of how ghost came to be.

The use of the pencil shows how the idea of ghost is most of the time associated with objects with no modern technology; how they are paused in certain time period.

The paper and the pencil reflect the idea of contagious magic how an object can possess power after certain rituals. In this case the informant and her friends destroyed those objects because they perceived those objects as having power after the rituals performed.

This dare is also similar to the idea of children folklore where there are underlying meanings, in the case the fear of the unknown. Similar to how female children conduct their Bloody Mary dare in groups as a bonding experience, this dare has a similar underlying purpose. It is a group bonding experience under the shared fearful experience, or bonded under the same curse. Similar to the Bloody Mary dare, the truth value is not as significant as the actions performed.

The dare as a ritual then turned into a legend through unofficial and official storytelling. The news about death from this game is then a memorate for the legend and keeps the ritual as an existing and ongoing legend.

Body of Christ

My mother was told – and believed- that if she bit the uh Eucharist wafer or whatever, it would bleed forever and that you would drown in the blood. Like it would just fill your stomach. I guess you wouldn’t drown, I don’t know what would happen if your stomach was just forever filled with blood, you’d probably get sick.


My informant was told this by his mother who heard it at church as a girl. What’s interesting is that this could have multiple purposes. Maybe another kid told it to her just to scare her within a religious setting as a form of children folklore backlash against an establishment and ritual associated with parents. Perhaps she was told this by an adult who believed that biting the communion wafer was disrespectful, because it represents the body of Christ and biting it might represent mutilating it, thus s/he scared my informants mother into not biting it.


Jehovah’s Witness Dungeons & Dragons Legend

It’s supposed to be a warning tale. Basically the story is that back in the seventies, there were some kids that were Jehovah’s Witnesses that got really interested in Dungeons and Dragons and played it a lot. They got the idea that it would very cool if they could trap a demon themselves. So they decided they would glue a bunch of Watchtower magazines to this box and the walls or something – they were in a garage. And then they would do a summoning incantation to summon the demon…and they happened to summon a demon, but it wasn’t as easy as catching the demon in a box. And the boys were stuck in the garage for a long time, like quite a few hours, umm…but when their family finally got them out, one of the boys was dead and two of the other ones were like insane basically, and they were never okay after that.

I’m not sure how far outside of California this story goes, but there are different people I’ve talked to that have kind of said that story or some version of it that those people were alive in the seventies and stuff. And I got to hearing it because, you know, there are different card games and stuff that you grow up with that are usually kind fantasy based like, every generation seems to have them now. So when I got interested in certain card games, that was a kind of story my dad would tell me to get me to not play or throw it away or why he would throw it away. Funny thing, like, he liked Lord of the Rings a lot, but he kept it really hidden, really quiet cause he didn’t want other people in the church knowing, because it was satanic. It had magic in it and it had monsters and stuff like that.


It’s pretty clear by what my informant said, that this legend is meant to scare kids, and probably adults too, away from anything associated with the occult, magic, monsters, or anything deemed unnatural and dangerous by the congregation. My informant heard this legend from multiple people, particularly his father and stepmother as well as people who claimed to know the congregation where the legend occurred. The purpose of legends like this, with their essences of possibility and truth, is to keep people in line and keep them obedient. I’m skeptical of all organized religion, but particularly those that foster a culture and lore of fear to keep the followers “faithful.”

The Elephant Walk

So this is an initiation ascribed to no fraternity in particular retold by a informant who neither experienced it as a pledge nor heard it from a direct participant.

“Everyone gets in a circle

And then you have to put your thumb up the guy in front of you’s ass. And it’s like…brotherhood.

I heard this from a friend. He was like, ‘Don’t do a frat man, they’ll make you do the elephant walk.’ ”

Although my informant maintained that this story “had been well documented” I suggest that even if it is true its indiscriminate spread is more than anything an attempted deterrent for joining fraternities.  Despite the fact that they are supposed to be secret, many stories circulate about initiations and other greek system rituals. Some of these contribute to a greater sense of mystery and lore that attracts many people to the system. There are also definitely dedicated to warning about ever joining. Stories of initiation such as this one are great at revealing what people may have to endure during hazing, whether or not it is true. However, the most important reason for telling it is not a truthful depiction but voicing a disapproval of joining to others.