Friday, 31 October 2014

I Scry With My Little Eye

A fun experiment for all to try!

You’re bored, right? How about a dare? How about you look into a mirror on Halloween night and say something creepy? Maybe the Lord’s Prayer backwards? Or just say 'Bloody Mary' five times?

No? What, you think you're going to see something scary? Go on. I double dare you.

See, the thing is… It works. It really does.

I tried it.

First: the science bit

Your senses can be a terrible way to judge truth. It’s hardly news, but here are some of my favourite visual illusions to illustrate just how bizarre yet compelling these illusions can be...

In this one here, keep your eye on the cross and watch as the lilac circles vanish, and all that is left is a moving green circle that IS NOT REALLY THERE.

Next one! Stare at the centre of the image and move your head closer to the screen and further away, and remind yourself that it is a static image, not an animation.

Finally, watch the middle of the spiral for 30 seconds or so, and then look at something else. Your own hand, maybe. Do not freak out. Your hand is fine.

I’m guessing someone has made Halloween-themed versions of these. (And if not WHY NOT?? Slackers!) Clearly anyone of a ridiculously credulous and superstitious nature would be exposed to some severe heebie-jeebies as a result.

But hold on! Don’t think yourself immune just because you don’t consider yourself ridiculously credulous and superstitious - after all, nobody thinks of themselves that way. Ten minutes of being locked in the dark with some unknown thing, and most of us would crumble.

Fun for all the family

So, we come to the meat of our meal: Bloody Mary, the traditional ‘game’ of looking into a mirror in a dark room and scaring the bejeezus out of yourself. In some tellings, it’s no less than the devil who will appear behind you, ready to take your soul.

How old the Bloody Mary tradition is I don’t know, but there does seem to be a clear link with mirror-divination and scrying.

The set-up is simple enough. Sit in a dimly-lit room facing a mirror. You need to be able to see the detail of your face clearly. (Candle light is traditional, and the placement of the candle behind you is suggested, but I found that I could see bugger all that way. I had it in front of me, just to one side.)

Next, look at your own face. After a reasonably short time, you will see things. And they may be terrifying. Look long enough, and hideous gargoyles and demons await you.

Sounds great! Where do I sign?

Here is the Wikipedia link for the ‘game’.

Note that one of the explanations given for the effect is Troxler’s fading, which is exactly the same mechanism as in the lilac-circles illusion (the first one linked to above). But now we're not just talking about little lilac circles - we're talking about parts of a face vanishing, and our finely-tuned facial recognition systems scream at us that we’re seeing something that is just plain wrong.

If Troxler’s fading is the best explanation (I reasoned) then the most important thing would be to fix the eyes on one spot and try not to blink. The tradition isn’t very specific about technique, but when looking at a face it's more natural for your gaze to shift from eye to eye and around the features, rather than lock onto some fixed point, making the effect unlikely to occur.

The longer you can manage to fix on one spot, though, the stronger the effect could be. Those gargoyles and demons might be within reach. So I gave it a shot…

What happened to me

No doubt about it, I came away impressed. Troxler’s fading was, I think, the key mechanism. I was very aware of parts of my vision ‘dropping out’, and of how that effect lead directly to the more unnerving aspects of the experience. Small movements of the eye away from the fixed point could break the effect at once, while rigidly fixing the gaze meant the effect came on very quickly.

But what did I see? I'll list the notable results of various attempts...

The first thing that happened was that my eyes, and the region around them, seemed to brighten. The eyes were staring, and angry.

Next came a clear aging effect, which is commonly reported; my face looked haggard. Yes, more than normal.

My nose lengthened into a hook, and the staring eyes started to scowl.

The eyes darkened, malice within them. My right eye became an empty socket. Everything else disappeared, then: a blank face, staring back, leaving just the angry eyes.

My mouth widened, stretching out as my nose hooked again.

One of the most impressive moments: both eyes became empty holes, and I beheld an eyeless corpse. And not my corpse, mind. Someone else.

The experience was rounded off by an ancient malign face staring back at me, twisted and deformed.

(Oh, and then I thought I saw a spider on the wall behind me, just as the candle went out, but ignore that.)

Overall, it was a fascinating thirty minutes. I suspect I won't do it again.

As for my soul?

Well, it was perfectly safe, and I promise I wasn’t possessed. But then, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

I did record my session if anyone is interested. Forgive the poor quality (low lighting is a key part of the process) and the rough-and-ready editing to remove the lengthy pauses and chop 30 minutes down to 6.

Anyway, I have to get going - things to do! The Guardian of the Abyss awaits! Hail Choronzon!

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