Charlie Charlie, are you real? Responses from science and spirituality

By Jaci Wendel

 

With almost three weeks having passed since the last day of the semester, you’re probably starting to feel the summer boredom start to creep in. Why not spice up your life by summoning a demon?

That’s how lots of people on all forms of social media – most notably Vine and Twitter – are spending their time with the recently popular “Charlie Charlie Challenge.” This Ouija-like game spiked on Twitter on May 24 with the hashtag #CharlieCharlieChallenge, cranking out nearly 1 million tweets in a single day. As of May 28, there are a total of 1.9 million tweets floating around on the Internet mentioning Charlie.

The set-up of the game is this: Make a two-by-two grid and label one set of diagonal quadrants “yes” and the other set “no.” Balance one pencil (pen, colored pencil, chicken drumstick, Corona bottle… the ridiculous variants go on and on) on top of another. To begin, players must ask, “Charlie Charlie, are you there?” If the top pencil moves towards “yes,” then you are free to ask any other yes-or-no question you would like.

However, the rules get stricter. Before the game can end, players must ask, “Charlie Charlie, can we stop?” Charlie has to answer “yes” before you can pick up the pencils, drop them on the floor and say goodbye. If Charlie says you can’t stop, then you don’t.

Sometimes more serious warnings are attached, suggesting that players take the game seriously, burn the pencils after they are finished, never play the game at cemeteries or funerals and never play alone. There have been many reports of players being spooked after failing to end the game properly and experiencing things like shadows moving or dark laughter, but at the same time, there haven’t been any injuries or deaths caused by this game.

Photo courtesy of syracuse.com, originally a screenshot from YouTube
Photo courtesy of syracuse.com, originally a screenshot from YouTube

Of course, with the premise of the supernatural and even the demonic, most people are calling the challenge a hoax. Most of the Vines out there depicting the Charlie Charlie Challenge are obviously satire. But is there any kind of truth behind the latest social media craze?

The popular fallback origin of this game is that in Mexican folklore, there really is a demon named Charlie that can be summoned, but there’s no historical evidence of this. Maria Elena Navez of BBC Mundo states that oftentimes superstitions about demons from Mexican culture are nothing more than “American inventions.”

“There’s no demon called ‘Charlie’ in Mexico,” Navez says. “Mexican legends often come from ancient Aztec and Maya history, or from the many beliefs that began circulating during the Spanish conquest. In Mexican mythology you can find gods with names like ‘Tlaltecuhtli’ or ‘Tezcatlipoca’ in the Nahuatl language. But if this legend began after the Spanish conquest, I’m sure it would’ve been called ‘Carlitos’ [‘Charlie’ in Spanish].”

The recent rise in popularity may be attributed to a Dominican news piece on the game taking over elementary schools in the province of Hato Mayor. The piece, which aired in late April, was grave and cautionary in tone, but by mid-May, Dominicans had filled Twitter with the phrase “Charlie Charlie.” For better or for worse, it was only a matter of time before the trend arrived in the United States.

Lots of people attribute Charlie’s “presence” to gravity or players breathing on the pencils, causing them to tilt one way or the other. They claim that it’s just another silly superstition like Bloody Mary. Some more positive reactions state that it is a sign of healthy growing minds. Dr. Steven C. Scholzman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, reminds us that adolescence is a time where the mind restructures itself, and ideas that teens previously saw only through their eyes are now able to analyze them with a broader awareness of reality.

“You hit this adolescent stage, and it’s exciting because suddenly the world is full of conflicting ideas, whereas before it was pretty straightforward,” Schlozman said in an interview with Fusion Media Network.

Ideas that were previously held as false can be redefined as true, and the supernatural – previously debunked in childhood – can be brought up for a retrial during adolescence and young adulthood. Plus, it is a well-known fact that the teenage brain has not mastered impulse control and judgment, since the prefrontal cortex develops much later than the limbic system, which deals with emotional response. This would make teens more apt to try a game which doesn’t seem to make much rational sense but elicits a stimulating emotional response.

However, perhaps that lack of judgment and impulse control is leading teens into dangerous territory. Catholic priests are cautioning people not to play the game because, even though there may not be a specific demon named Charlie, the possibility of possession is real and not to be taken lightly.

“[Satan] doesn’t care if you are kidding or not when you call him by name,” says Simcha Fisher, writer for the National Catholic Register. “This is why I tell my kids to stay far, far away from participating in anything occult — Ouija boards, tarot cards, etc. — even if it’s just a game. An invitation is an invitation, and Satan doesn’t stand on manners. You may not see “Exorcist”-style special effects when the Father of Lies creeps into your life. You may not realize anything has happened to you at all, as the rift between you and God slowly gets deeper and wider.”

So is the #CharlieCharlieChallenge worth it? Probably not. At best, it’s a way to kill time, and at worst, you might get possessed by a demon. For anyone craving encounters with the supernatural, hopping over to Netflix and watching “Paranormal Activity” or “The Babadook” is a fine substitution.

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