Want better results from your tools? Understand how they work, and you’ll be able to use them better.

Pendulums have come up online and in person recently. They’re a great example of misunderstood tools: Often presented as having inherent mystical capabilities, but the truth is both simpler and more profound.

Quick intro for anyone not familiar with pendulums: Hold a pendulum over a chakra, observe how it moves (in a line, in a clockwise or counter-clockwise circle, etc), and let the movement tell you about the energy of that chakra. Or ask a question, and let the movement of the pendulum tell you “yes” or “no.” I’m leaving it vague because I don’t use pendulums myself, and everyone seems to use them a little differently. (The reason will become clear later.)

When I hear about pendulums, the focus is always on the pendulum, how it moves, and what those movements mean. As though a pendulum were like a thermometer, measuring energy and outputting an answer that you merely have to read. That all sounds pretty mystical and far-fetched to me. And yet, some people apparently get good results. What’s going on?

I’ve spent more than twenty years exploring how energy techniques work, and I’m going to walk you through my thinking. Start by imagine that the standard explanation was true: Pendulums naturally respond to whatever chakra is held under them, or whatever question is asked. Imagine that world. Follow it through to its natural conclusion. What should happen?

Well, I can mount a thermometer on my wall, or hang it on my porch, and it measures temperature just fine. So let’s tie the pendulum to a stationary point: A coat hanger, or the handle of a mug in your cupboard. Put your hand, head, or whatever else under it. Try it. What happens?

If you love pendulums, you might feel resistance here. A mental flinch away from these tests, an urge to dismiss them. Why debunk the mystical explanation? Mystical explanations are fun. Am I anti-fun?

No. But to use our tools better, we need accurate answers. And the first step to finding an accurate answer is discarding the inaccurate ones. (It helps us be taken seriously, too.)

That flinch was because you already know what will happen: Nothing. The pendulum will not move. And that’s the value of following an idea through to its natural conclusions: It makes your expectations obvious. It shows you what you believe about the world. That a pendulum isn’t like a thermometer, it doesn’t measure the universe and display an answer for you to read. That the active ingredient isn’t the pendulum, but rather the person holding it.

Pause here. Especially if you use pendulums, take a moment to feel your curiosity. Here is a phenomenon that works, for at least some people in some situations. The standard explanation is obviously incorrect. So how does it work? Pause to enjoy the puzzle, the mystery, the chance to explore and discover. Try to think of an answer, before reading mine below.

Here’s my answer: The unconscious mind contains a tremendous amount of information that we cannot consciously access. Whether a half-remembered conversation, a pattern noticed but not fully realized, or a psychic intuition originating in ethereal software, the unconscious mind has information we cannot access.

The pendulum allows the unconscious to speak. By controlling tiny movements in the muscles of the arm, the unconscious mind can move the pendulum one way or another. When we associate meanings with the movement of the pendulum, we create a language the unconscious can use to communicate with us.

In this way, a pendulum is the complement to visualization. Visualizations are how we communicate our intent to the unconscious. The pendulum is how we hear its response.

(The same is true for most energy tools, from scrying to dowsing to muscle testing: They give the unconscious a way to speak to us through tiny movements of our muscles. Tarot cards are similar, where the unconscious can guide our attention to one symbol over another.)

“Interesting,” you say, “but how is that useful?”

Understanding our tools points the way to better techniques. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Consider the language you’re giving your unconscious. You might have pendulum movements associated with yes / no or healthy / unhealthy. Would other answers be helpful? What about expressing degrees — a small circle means “yes,” and a big circle means “yes, very much so, this is important.”
  • Save money: That expensive pendulum the guru sells? If you like the aesthetic, feel free to buy it. But it won’t work any better than a weight on a string. (And you can probably find a pendant you like just as much on etsy for half the price.)
  • Learn other techniques for tuning into your unconscious, even if they’re not normally used with pendulums. For example, if you’re looking for psychic-type intuitions, then try these techniques for clearer communication with ethereal software. Or try different / better ethereal software.

Got other ideas for upgrading your pendulum techniques? Leave a comment below.