Yesterday I ran across a video of someone holding a small pendulum and answering questions by "psychically" willing it to move back and forth for yes or left and right for no, and it brought back a flood of memories. I had one of those pendulums (sold by Uri Geller, of course) when I was a teenager and swore by it as a sure thing. I was not so credulous as to believe in Ouija boards (obviously people were subconsciously pushing the thing around), but my pendulum had to be true because I could see it working. It led me to believe that I had telekinetic powers (which were woefully underdeveloped since I couldn't get anything but the pendulum to follow my mental commands). I remember taking my pendulum to school once to show my friends, and having a teacher explain that I was moving it subconsciously. He was a substitute, so it was easy to dismiss him as a random asshole who had no clue about the power I was learning to tap into.

During this period, I found an ad in the back of the National Enquirer for a $12 psychic reading. Send in the money, your birthdate and a couple of other bits of data, and you'd get a 100% full-proof reading. It took weeks to scrounge up the money by returning bottles and mowing lawns, but eventually I stuffed my cash in an envelope and sent it off. After a few more weeks (filled with worry that a postal worker would steal my money), I received a 9x12 envelope with a lot of stamps and my name and address hand written on the front. Inside, I found a 12-page report that was typed, but had a lot of corrections and additions apparently written in pen (this was before the age of personal computers). It looked authentic, and sounded perfect. This guy seemed to know me better than I knew myself. Yes, I was much more sensitive than other people thought. Yes, it really hurt my feelings when people said or did mean things. Yes, I was not working up to my potential. Yes, of course, I had a lot of power and potential that I could tap into if I just knew how. He even knew my lucky number was seven. There were several other reports and correspondence courses I could sign up for to learn how to overcome the problems he had identified, but unfortunately I was just a kid who had to dig in the couch for change. I couldn't afford anything more. But his advice was so on target, I read the report and reread the report until I almost knew it by heart.

Nevertheless, a voice in the back of my head finally got my attention. "Why would anyone be willing to spend hours typing, and then hand editing a 12-page report for 12 dollars? Those handwritten amendments sure make it look authentic, but the economics don't make any sense." So I got out a magnifying glass to take a closer look. Surprise surprise. On closer examination, I could tell that those handwritten remarks and the sloppy typing were professionally printed. He could afford to send me a 12-page report for 12 dollars because he sent the same sloppy-looking-but-mass-produced report to every idiot stupid enough to send him money. (And I was worried about the postal workers!)

My skeptical cherry had been popped. I stuffed the report in a drawer to keep as a reminder, and threw out my official Uri Geller pendulum. It took me another 10 years to finally rid myself of God, ghosts, and other superstitions, but the chain of reason had been started.

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Tags: Geller, Uri, cherry, pendulum, psychic, reading, skeptical

Comment by Bailey Caran on October 20, 2009 at 10:46pm
I love these stories. Nearly all religious stories are based around being born into the religion. Becoming atheist is so rich.
Comment by Reggie on October 20, 2009 at 10:49pm
Nice story! Thanks for sharing. It reminds me of my youth when I was credulous and naive. Well, a lot more so than today, at least. I was fascinated with Charles Berlitz' book on the
Bermuda Triangle and other strange oddities like Area 51, the lost city of Atlantis, and whatever other crap was around in my early teens. Meanwhile, I squandered a chance for a good education in science and have been playing catch up ever since.

Oh, and stop by and say "hello" to the Skeptics of Think Atheist.
Comment by Dave G on October 21, 2009 at 12:11am
Nice detection, Henry!

With me, it was when I noticed that the handwriting from 'Santa' bore a strong resemblance to my mother's. Unfortunately, it took some years for me to extrapolate this burst of skepticism to the other things my parents told me were real, such a s God, Jesus, angels, ghosts, etc.
Comment by Reggie on October 21, 2009 at 7:47am
Now featured.
Comment by Wassabi on October 21, 2009 at 9:17am
ahh... that uri geller...

He recently had a show on Israeli TV called- "Who will be the Next Uri Geller". a reality TV show for psychic wannabees. he was the judge. it was pretty sad really.

regardless, when i was about 10, I remember staring at a spoon for half an hour "wishing" it to bend... it didn't- by the way....
Comment by a7 on October 21, 2009 at 9:59am
holy mary mother of god, thanks for sharing, so I was not the only one trying to bend spoons and such, as for santa, aim far to embatrrasesd to say when i became aware it was the parent.

nice to hear your story, look forward to reading more of your stuff.

George

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