Tag Archives: sleepover

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.

Mirror Man

After I told a friend that I was collecting folklore for one of my classes, he was intrigued so I asked him if he had any folklore he’d like to contribute. I briefly explained the different kinds of folklore he could tell me. He said he wanted to think of something that is specific to his hometown, and the following came to mind, though he prefaced his account to mention that he wasn’t sure or not if this practice was just specific to his hometown.

“I’m not sure how local it is, but I’ve heard many people tell it, it’s called ‘Mirror Man.’ So, what Mirror Man is, it’s similar to Bloody Mary and in…at a sleepover or something one of the kids would go into a bathroom or something, alone, at midnight or 3am or something, lock the door, and look in the mirror in the dark and think of something you want, and you have to stand still and stare at your reflection for long enough to see your reflection move, and that means your wish has been granted and then you have to move. But, if you continue to stare after it’s [the reflection] moved, something bad will happen to you, like being sucked into another dimension by your reflection or something. But, then, some people will try to stay as long as possible after the reflection has moved to see what happens so it’s not just a wish granting thing but a bravery, dare thing.”

Afterward, he told me that he often did this at sleepovers when he was younger, and told me a few personal anecdotes surrounding his experiences, but requested I did not include them.

“Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board”

This folklore was collected from my mother, who told me about a slumber party ritual she would do with her friends when she was younger. So, this would have taken place in the late 1970s, early 1980s.

“At slumber parties with pre-adolescent girls, there were a couple of stories, rituals that were passed on from generation to generation. One was a story that the group of 5-8 girls could lift one of the girls up over their heads by using only their fingertips. In order for this to work, all the girls in the group had to concentrate solely on the task at hand and chant ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ over and over. The girl who was subject to the lifting started off lying flat on her back on the floor. The other girls encircled the subject and puts their hands underneath her, touching only with their fingertips. As the chanting beings, the group attempts to lift the subject up off the floor until she is suspended above the heads of the others. If this was unsuccessful (as it always was), it was due to one or more members of the group lacking proper concentration or belief…. There was always the accompanying story that someone had succeeded before… or someone’s older sister had told the tale of a successful lift”

I had never heard of this sleepover game/ritual before, so it might be specific to the area/time period my mother grew up in. Or, perhaps it became less popular because it never worked. Another slumber party ritual my mother mentioned to me was the “Bloody Mary” chant, which is well-known (I heard about it from other kids when I was younger) so it was interesting that this wasn’t a familiar piece of folklore within my generation.


“Levitating” at a Slumber Party

The informant discusses a game she would play with her friends at slumber parties when she was a child, which involves levitating someone.  She holds this game as a fond memory from her childhood growing up in Fullerton, CA.  The informant is now 57 so the game was played in the mid to late 1960s.

The informant explains that late at night all the girls at the slumber party would choose one girl who they would try to levitate that night.  The chosen girl would lie down flat on her back and every other girl would gather around her sitting down with legs folded underneath you.  Each girl would put both hands with their first two fingers under the chosen girl and the girl would go into a trance-like state.  From person-to-person around the circle they would say, “Your bones are turning, your bones are turning.”  After that is repeated enough all of the girls would rotate saying, “you’re dead, you’re dead.”  Then at some moment when people felt that the chosen girl was light or in a trance they would try to lift person with two fingers.  The informant notes that all the girls thought that the person did indeed feel as light as a feather.  There was a belief that they had somehow lightened the girl.

This folklore shows young girls interests in magic and the supernatural.  The act of trying to levitate a girl indicates each girl’s curiosity with magical powers as well as themes of death and altered states as seen with the lines “you’re dead” and “your bones are turning.”  The game demonstrates young girls exploring with ideas of mortality and life after death for the first times.  Understanding more complex ideas such as death is important in this time of life.

to “truck” someone

There’s an old trick/game my cousin warned me of whenever you fall alseep around other people, and it goes like this: if someone falls asleep, you should grab a pillow and flashlight and approach the sleeping person. Slowly begin to wave the flashlight (turned on) back and forth in front of their eyes quietly shouting, “Truck!”…and growing louder with each word, “Truck! Truuuuck! Get out of the way!!” and then, bam! You smack them with the pillow in the face. And so the story goes, that if the act of hitting the person with a pillow didn’t wake them, then you should ask them in the morning if they dreamed about a truck running them over.