The Everyday Lore Project

29 January 2020 – Extrasensory Perception

29 January 2020 – Extrasensory Perception

Today was all about extrasensory perception, or ESP. ESP, apart from being a banging 80s hit by The Bee Gees, is the art of divining stuff with your mind. Think clairvoyance, telepathy, sixth sense, the feeling that someone is staring at you and when you look up, eyes dart away, psychic stuff.

Inspired by The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate, I downloaded a set of printable Zener cards and got to work. Zener cards are the symbol cards you may remember from Ghostbusters or any film or TV show wanting to portray an easily recognisable ESP experiment. They are cards printed with one of a set of five symbols – a star, a square, a circle, a cross and a set of three wavy lines. The deck used today was five sets of five symbols, but you can use different permutations for different experiments.

My first challenge was to find my scalpel in order to cut the printed cards efficiently. Using the power of my mind I went to my box of pens where I was sure I would find the scalpel. No scalpel, but I did find my magic thumb, an broken iPod, a protractor, a cassette tape of Moby’s album Play, two remote controls, the spare scalpel blades, and a polar bear clip. And luckily, a tiny, unblunt Swiss Army knife that did the trick. Undaunted, with decks in hand, I headed off to the library where I met my friends and began the experiments. 

The first experiment we did was to test our clairvoyant ability. This involved us using our intuition to predict the order of a pack of 25 Zener cards. Just by using the power of my mind, I managed to get 5 out 25 right, which according to the laws of probability is correct. Claire got 3, Hildegunn also got 5, but Sarah got 7.

The second experiment was to test our telepathic ability and involved swathing our heads in my scarf, as, having used the power of my mind, I’d forgotten to bring a blindfold. Scarf aside, our partner had to concentrate on each card and mentally project the symbol into our minds which we would then announce. I got 3. Out of 25. Once I predicted my best friend would say the word ‘bucket’ and she did, so I was unprepared for such a failure. Claire got 5, Hildegunn got 4, but Sarah scored 7 again (we were very impressed with her results). 

The problem we all felt was that logic kept getting in the way. If we hadn’t said wavy lines for a bit, it felt like we should. I did try and focus, but it all felt a bit amorphous. On the second test I tried allocating one symbol per finger/thumb on my left hand and kept running through the sequence until a symbol ‘popped’ out at me (won’t be trying that tactic again, obviously). But it was fascinating watching the others sit the experiments. There was a big part of me desperate for them to succeed, to prove some sort of ESP, while another part was deeply jealous when they guessed correctly. So maybe that’s where it all went average. Maybe because my intentions weren’t pure towards the others, I was unable to will them on to even higher heights. Who knows what might have happened had my burnt clarity bay leaf been in action. Mind you, having said that, I don’t really fancy sporting a tin foil hat every time I see Sarah, so perhaps it’s all for the best. 


Carr-Gomm, P. and Heygate, R. (2014) The Book of English Magic, London, Hodder

I’d so forgotten how bonkers that video was.

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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