rb2 large gray Trip or Treat?If I were to tell you that there is a free, safe and legal way to trip this Halloween you’d probably tell me I was mistaken and you’d probably be right. However, there is a trick you can do to touch upon the experience of visual distortion present in a psychedelic trip without consuming a single microgram of psychoactive material.

bloody mary face twirl Trip or Treat?

My own amateur "artist's impression" of the bizarre effect

The surprisingly simple method has been used since the dawn of time by civilisations ranging from an early Hindu denomination, who worshipped in front a candle lit mirror to medieval England where legend told of a witch that would appear if you stared in to a candle lit a mirror while repeating “Bloody Mary” thirteen times“. Last year the phenomenon was empirically tested by an Italian group who published their spell binding results in the journal Perception (open access PDF). I’ve created a very short interactive display below which explains the simple method used and the startling conclusions. (Click here to view in full screen)

I’m intrigued to find out how people experience the illusion when viewing another persons face as this is something that really doesn’t seem to have ever been studied. It’s actually been claimed that Scientologists do the face-to-face version of this trick when brainwashing new recruits but that’s all I’ll say on the matter until I’ve got a stronger legal team (OK – make that “a legal team”.)

So give it a go and let me know what happens, just don’t forget the tale of narcissus who was driven to insanity by his own reflection (perhaps the earliest recorded reference to the effect).


narcissus reflection Trip or Treat?

Narcissus mesmerised by his reflection

Caputo GB (2010). Strange-face-in-the-mirror illusion. Perception, 39 (7), 1007-8 PMID: 20842976

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