It always happened at a slumber party after the parents went to bed. We girls would all be hanging out or rifling greedily through someone else’s Caboodle…and somebody would say it.

Let’s play ‘Light as a Feather ’.

Squeals of delight would bounce of mirrors and empty soda cans while bodies dove for lights, candles, floor. Down the hall, the party hostess’ mom and dad would be sleeping soundly, unaware that their daughter’s friends were huddled on a patch of rug in the rumpus room like a little prepubescent coven.

The honor of being the first “board” usually fell to the party hostess or her best friend. Once she lay down on her back in the center, a silence would fall upon us. The girl who emerged as the leader of this little game—side ponytailed, rubber-banded teeth—would begin.

Close your eyes and put two fingers under her, she would instruct.

We did as we were told. Then came the story.

“She died in a car accident. When the paramedics came she was barely hanging on. They tried to revive her heart, but within minutes she was gone. And when they went to pick her up and put her in the back of the ambulance, she was light as a feather, stiff as a board.”

We would all chime in, repeating the mantra after her:

Light as a feather, stiff as a board.
Light as a feather, stiff as a board.
Light as a feather, stiff as a board.

Someone would begin the upward motion and we would all follow suit, working together to lift the prone girl as high as we could to the ceiling before one of the girls started to get a little freaked out (usually the one being lifted) and we all fell apart into giggles on the floor.

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. When it didn’t work, I would carry a small amount of guilt over the matter believing that I was the spiritual bottleneck for the whole endeavor. To me, the little “game” felt a little risky as I was more concerned about what or who would be enabling the center girl to be so light in the first place. Were we inviting spirits into the room with the incantation? Were we letting demons play at our slumber party? Later, would they still want to hang out with us? Would they try to cuddle into our sleeping bags while we slept or stare back out at us from the mirrors of our Caboodles in the morning?

I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know. But peer pressure is strong, so I never said anything, choosing to just noiselessly mouth the “light as a feather” words instead. Sometimes I would mouth, “just kidding” at the end of each line, or cross two of my fingers that were under the girl.

I was blast at those parties.

As an adult now—an ‘adult’ purely in a medical sense, of course—I’m over it. Demons, bad spirits…Caboodles, too.  It’s not that I definitively think they can’t exist, it’s more that I’ve given up on them. Because if they are hanging out for the purpose of haunting little girls’ pajama parties, then #1) they are doing a piss poor job of it and #2) they are seriously lame. I mean, come on. It’s a pajama party. For little girls. What kind of assignment is that for a demon? Don’t they have anything better to do than to be taking orders from girls who enjoy rocking out to boy bands and sucking on candy in the shape of pacifiers? Hmmm?

So, who started this little game? Why? Does it ever really ‘work’?

I decided to do a little research. As such, I present to you the following things you may not know about this classic slumber party game.

Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board – 5 Fun Facts

  1. It’s old. I mean really old. The first instance of it we have on record is in London in the 1600s during the plague outbreak.
  2. It was created by little girls, for little girls. One naval administrator, Samuel Pepys, reported the following observation, noting that it seemed to be used as a kind of precaution or ward against the illness. He wrote that he saw: “…four little girles, very young ones, all kneeling, each of them, upon one knee; and one begun the first line, whispering in the ear of the next, and the second to the third, and the third to the fourth, and she to the first. Then the first begun the second line, and so round quite through, and putting each one finger only to a boy that lay flat upon his back on the ground, as if he was dead; at the end of the words, they did with their four fingers raise this boy high as they could reach, and he [Mr. Brisband] being there, and wondering at it, as also being afeared to see it, for they would have had him to have bore a part in saying the words, in the roome of one of the little girles that was so young that they could hardly make her learn to repeat the words, did, for feare there might be some sleight used in it by the boy, or that the boy might be light, call the cook of the house, a very lusty fellow, as Sir G. Carteret’s cook, who is very big, and they did raise him in just the same manner.” Here is the chant they used:

    Voici un corps mort (Here is a dead body ),
         Raide comme un bâton (Stiff as a stick),
         Froid comme le marbre (Cold as marble),
         Léger comme un esprit (Light as a spirit)
         Lève-toi au nom de Jésus-Christ! (Lift yourself, in the name of Jesus Christ!)
  3. It works both because of psychology and weight distribution. It’s fun to be spooky. It’s an adrenalin rush. But really, when you distribute somebody’s weight between 4+ other people, it’s not so difficult to lift them. In the case of a 90-pound girl being lifted by 6 girls or more, we’re talking 15 pounds per girl. Not exactly impossible, or even heavy. That’s the approximate weight of one pre-teen girl’s make-up collection.
  4. There is an adult spin-off of this game. The claim is that it has to do with “diamagnetism” with the explanation that our bodies carry electromagnetic currents and that if you get them all into alignment, you can easily lift a 200+ pound man using only your fingertips. Here’s how it works. First, you need 5 consensual adults. The one being lifted sits in a chair facing north or west with eyes closed. Apparently, south or east sometimes also works. The 4 doing the lifting should arrange themselves as a square, with one person assigned to each knee pit and armpit. They should stack their hands without touching above the liftee’s head, alternating hands until all hands are utilized. Hold that position 20 seconds. Then, quickly retract all hands one at a time, from top to bottom. Each lifter should clasp his or her own hands together, with index fingers pointed out like a double gun. Place only these index fingers under the assigned knee pit or arm pit, count one-two-three and LIFT! See this video for a demonstration. (And of course, you should first try a “dead lift” to “prove” the difference before the technique.)
  5. It works because of psychology and weight distribution. Just sayin’.

So, have fun kids. Beware of both demons and Caboodles. Don’t try this on household pets or people whom you respect. But if you do, please send me a photo or video clip and I’ll put it up on this site.