We spent the last few days camping with a few people from Silver’s community and some of their non-religious-yet-crazy friends. (If you don’t remember, my husband comes from a super-fundamentalist religious group). We stay in contact with these people because they are family, Silver’s friends from childhood, his home community.
The appeal of the fresh autumn mountain air, changing colored leaves, and quality family time made the choice to camp with them easy. What I didn’t expect was that we would be camping with little gnomes searching for treasure.
We spent one of the days with this 20 + people group as they explored the mountains and hills for hidden treasure. Literally, hidden treasure. These were adults that believed that refined gold was buried in these parts just waiting for a believer to dig them up. What convinced them? Aside from legends they read (that, upon our further research, are completely bogus, btw) they use dowsing. A dowsing rod is a hand-held metal stick that answers any question based on its movements in the asker’s hand. Here’s more info on dowsing. Crazy, right? “The gold is over here, buried 6 feet underground!” When we questioned them on it, ever-so-gently, they said, “It was verified by a second source, the PPL rod!!” thinking that would convince us. Two witnesses, right? What’s a PPL rod? Basically a super-fancy $1,200 dowsing rod. ($1200!!! The owner said his friend owned one that was $27,000! Holy expensive magic!!)
They dowsed for everything. Silver stumbled upon the only morsel of treasure found on this trip: the weathered remains of a latrine and outhouse. Everyone came around to it, curious about what royalty once sat upon it. How old was it? The dowser knew! “Is it more than 50 years old?” He asked. It swirled. ” more than 100 years old?” Still swirled. Around “120 years old?” It began moving side-to side. “It’s 120-130 years old guys!!” He told the group with certainty. What a way to discern truth.
Let’s go back about 16 years for just a minute. The public school placed me in a special class for excelling students once a week with other similar students. We privileged 5th graders sat around tables with piles of yarn and small washers in the middle as we listened to a brain chemist talk about mental powers. She had us convinced that we could move things with the power of our mind. So we tied the yarn pieces to the washers, held them out straight down with our elbow on the table so the yarn-washer could swing around like a pendulum. Then she instructed us, “Just using your thoughts, focus on the washer and say in your mind, “‘back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.'” We watched, amazed, as our washers each moved back and forth! She continued, “Now say, ‘front and back, front and back, front and back.'” Again, supposedly by the power of our minds, the washers moved a different direction. I’m magic!!! This lasted for a few minutes before she busted our bubbles. “Actually, this has nothing to do with mental powers and everything to do with slight movements, even involuntary movements, in the muscles of your hand and arm. You want to believe your mind did it, so your physical muscles will play along to give you what you think you want. These movements are called the ideomotor effect.”
To this day, I want to thank that brain chemist for teaching me an incredibly valuable lesson I’ve taken with me ever since then: Desire can have a super-powerful effect on perception. Similar to a placebo, the power of our minds can convince us nearly anything, rational or irrational, natural or supernatural.
So, back to our camping trip. These people truly, truly believed that by ouija-board-like magic, they held supernatural keys that would unlock riches. Not only that, but when Silver got a sliver in his hand and asked for a first-aid kit, they pulled out a tackle box full of rocks. These were special types of crystals, each having properties to aid in the healing of various ailments from bug bites to torn ligaments. One of them can even “reset chakras” when you whirl it around a person in a specific way, something that has anecdotally fixed headaches. This space in the first-aid kit which could have been filled with tylenol, band-aids, or ice packs was instead weighed down by magic rocks.
These people aren’t witches, don’t practice wicca, and are strongly against “new age junk.” Instead, they pray before using the dowsing rod, believing that the Lord God will direct them to treasure. And when we ask about it, they state, “it has been scientifically proven!” Ironic, because not even gravity has been scientifically proven. They use neither science nor have any real proof, but their strong desire to be magical keeps them believing.
I mean, think about it. How epically cool would it be if we really had magical rocks that possessed special powers, that upon too much usage, needed to be cleansed in running water or a sun bath? Or how cool would it be if we actually had magic wands that could point us anywhere, that we could ask anything, and it would tell us? We long to be important, to be a part of some epic adventure story. This longing runs deep within humanity and shows up in the lives of every religious group and person. More on this later.
For now, we felt like Disney’s Pocahontas when she shows John Smith the real gold of the land. The truth is, we did find gold in those mountains. But instead of this:
It looked more like this:
That is our magical gold.