Breaking the glass divination myth

Written by Allyson

What is glass moving, what is its function and does it do what it’s supposed to?

For quite some time now people have associated glass moving or “divination” with contact from the spirit world. But how do we know this is the real deal?


From the Latin divinare; “to be inspired by a god”, related to divine, diva and deus, is the attempt of ascertaining information by interpretation of omens or an alleged supernatural agency.

Divination is simply a way in which many tribes, witches, prophets and so on foretell the future using various methods, some of which would be seen as barbaric to western cultures. For instance some tribes will cut open a live animal and as its guts spill they will interpret what they are seeing and predict divine future events. Organs that are inspected can include the liver, intestines, lungs and so on. The animal used for “extispicy” must often be ritually pure and slaughtered in a special ceremony.

Other forms of divination are less cruel, cartomancy: by cards, cheiromancy/palmistry: by palms, gastromancy: by crystal ball and runecasting/runic divination: by rune stones. There are many more variations of divination but none include the humble glass.

Divination then is the moving or arranging of several items in such a manner so that the resultant pattern and interaction between the objects can be interpreted and given meaning. The method can also be aided by an alleged supernatural force to help with the interpretation but it is not simply the moving of a glass around a table. This would place divination into a category in which it simply does not belong.


Pertains to entities, events or powers regarded as beyond nature, in that they lack a clear scientific explanation.

The above definition says it all. The word paranormal can also be included here because this is also something which is outside scientific explanation but of course does not necessarily mean its ghostly activity that’s at work. The supernatural and the paranormal are two words inextricably linked to ghostly activity of course because there are simply no other words that fit the various concepts and ideas that many feel are unexplainable.

Glass moving

So onto glass moving. Traditional ghost hunters will use a method of contact which is sometimes known as “glass divination”. This is purported to ascertain whether spirits are present to make contact with via moving a glass around a table top.

A number of participants sit in a circle around the table, each placing a single finger lightly on the top of a glass. The surface must be free of obstruction and smooth enough to allow the glass to move freely.

Traditional calling out methods are then used to create an atmosphere that is supposed to be conducive to spirit activity. Spirits are called upon to use the groups’ collective energy and reply by moving the glass either forwards, backwards or round in a circle for yes and no answers. Sometimes letters will be placed on the table so that the spirit can spell out names, words and dates etc. These sittings can last for quite some time depending on the amount of presumed activity.

Overcoming Stiction

One of the things which makes glass moving by spirit harder to prove is an invisible force called stiction. This is an informal variation of the term “static friction” and describes the inability of two objects pressed together to freely move relative to each other. This force can be seen everywhere in our daily lives where a moveable object is in contact with a material; cups on tables, car wheels on concrete, or even cloth on glass. To overcome this force we need to impart energy to the object to overcome the stiction, the energy required depending on the materials composition and mass. Once the stiction is removed the amount of energy needed to continue moving the object reduces.

In glass moving stiction can be seen readily when the glass first begins to move. Depending on the weight of the glass and the number of fingers in contact this can sometimes be almost a jolt as the fingers begin pushing the glass to overcome the stiction. Once this is achieved the glass will keep moving smoothly as long as there is a continuous force behind the movement. This raises the question are spirits providing the initial energy to overcome the stiction? If it’s a spirit behind the movement then why doesn’t this initial energy continue, that is to say why doesn’t the glass move more quickly? Perhaps it is necessary to push the glass initially to overcome this stiction and so make it easier for the spirit to then take over and move the glass. I’m fairly sure no one’s thought to make this the first question.

Do spirits communicate via this method?

The big question. There is no evidence whatsoever to categorically state that spirit communication takes place by moving a glass on a table. The theory actually raises far more questions than it answers. How do the spirits use the energy of the sitters? How do they make each sitter work together to move the glass to the same letter or position on the table? How do they know where each letter is? Why do the sitters need to be in contact with the glass? Why is the number of sitters taking part not readily important? If the sitters are in contact with the glass and the glass is in contact with the table then why doesn’t the table move as in table tipping? Why doesn’t the material type make any difference in that you could use a plastic “glass” with the same results? Why is glass moving one of the only paranormal tools that seem to work, i.e. a response is often immediate and prevailing?

The majority of these questions and more are not ones that can be answered readily from a paranormal viewpoint. They can however be answered from a logical and scientific viewpoint.

From a proponents perspective there is evidence aplenty. Questions have been put to spirits with the answers specific to one member sitting at the table. Sentences have been strung together with meanings apparent to one or more people present. Suggested names and places have been answered correctly. Information has been gleaned that is later found to be correct. But you cannot conclude that any of this is actual communication until all other possible explanations have been explored.

Is glass moving reliable?

In a word, no. There are many ways in which glass moving as a method of spirit communication can be disproved or at least shown to be highly doubtful. We’ll look at some of the complications that arise when glass moving takes place.


We may not be aware of it but our bodies are constantly performing tiny movements known as ideomotor. When our muscles are at rest ideomotor is less apparent. But when we are asking our muscles to become active, even if just holding out an arm, then the results of ideomotor become fairly obvious. This movement is further enhanced as our muscles become more tired and is also affected by blood flow and pulse rate. A person holding out their arm and trying to resist resting their finger on top of a glass will not be able to hold out for very long, ideomotor will show up quite readily. This is often the reason that a glass will move without any conscious actions by the sitters and is not easy to prevent but it is usually taken as an indication that a spirit is attempting to make contact. There are ways to rule out ideomotor but unfortunately this also rules out actually moving the glass at all.


Just what energy is actually being used by the spirit and how does it go about it? The whole problem with energy and the paranormal is the subject of another entire article written by this author and so we wont go into it here. Suffice to say, energy means work done and it is difficult at best to understand how a spirit can interact so closely with so many people at once so as to use their muscles without their brains asking a few awkward questions.


Why do the sitters need to see the glass and the table? If the spirits know we’re there and with our fingers at the ready on top of a glass and are then clever enough to be able to make us move the glass then why do they need our eyes as well? Spirit communication can take several forms but it’s never been suggested that they are blind, in fact they can usually come out with all manner of information pertaining to our surroundings and the objects in it. Yet if you blindfold the sitters then everything seems to go awry, especially if there are letters on the table needed to form words.


As has been mentioned already, if our fingers are on the glass and the glass is on the table then why isn’t it possible for the spirit to move the table? The converse is also true. If we touch the table instead of the glass then why doesn’t the glass move? Obviously we need to be in direct physical contact with the glass but if thats the case then why does it work when you use gloves?

Human interaction

The common factor here is human interaction. Whenever human interaction is at work in paranormal investigation then beware. Glass moving, along with table tipping, pendulum swinging, dowsing and more, is a prime example of the perils of having direct contact with any tool designed for spirit communication. Whether consciously or not, whether innocently or otherwise, it is quite clear that we humans are to blame for the (usually) nonsensical ramblings that emanate from glass moving.

In conclusion, if there is any truth at all in the theory that spirits are a reality and can communicate with us then glass moving is something to be avoided on your quest for answers. And please don’t call it divination, it isn’t.


About Hayley Stevens

Hayley Stevens is a podcaster, blogger, writer, public speaker and ghost geek. She likes tea, cake, sci-fi books and being a humanist.

Posted on October 23, 2010, in article, feature, ghost, irrational, misattribution, paranormal, pop culture paranormal, rational and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for a really interesting article. As a psychotherapist with an interest in psychoanalysis I find the ‘nonsensical ramblings’ as you put them actually very interesting since I would theorise that because of the way in which the ramblings come about (via ideomotor) their content is probably in some way derived from the unconscious and therefore an uncensored expression of unexpressed thoughts and feelings. I have noticed that sometimes the ‘ramblings’ therefore do seem to have meaning, sometimes they are a wishfulfilment and at others a reflection of the sitters dynamics. I think further research is needed before we could determine the ramblings nonsensical. In fact, like many of the things people say which they credit to spirit I suspect these ramblings may be very meaningful and revealing indeed (in a psychological sense rather than a spiritual one)!

    • Dear Francesca,
      Thank you for your interesting reply. The nonsensical ramblings to which I refer are the ones where it seems the “spirit” is communicating in Latin or some other language.
      We have seen on many occasions letters pointed to which seem to make no logical wording or sentances.
      However I do agree that some of the “ramblings” are a definite product of a sitter/sitters own emotional need or experiences.
      We have completed several “blind” studies in which sitters have no idea where the letters and or numbers are. Our findings on such occasions are truely remarkable!

      Regards Blubird

  2. Good piece Hayley. Whenever I’ve been replying to those who believe in the supernatural abilities of the Ouija I’ve always pointed out that blindfolded sitters will (if blindfolded correctly) deliver nonsense.
    What were the truly remarkable findings?.


  3. blind studying glass divination sounds like a very interesting experiment. I can guess what your ‘messages’ were like!

  4. Nice article but the Oxford English Dictionary gives a meaning of ‘divination’ as

    ‘the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means’

    …so if the glass is being used as a means of ‘seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means’ then surely it is ‘glass divination’ ?

    I know the ideomotor may explain this stuff, I know that some believers think that the communication comes via the ‘higher self’ and it is that that uses the bodies and visual organs of the sitters, so if you blindfold them the ‘higher self’ is also blind….hmmmm But even then there is a problem because surely all of the conflicting ‘higher selves’ of all the sitters would be countering each other?

    I often wondered how gloved sittings would be, could a thick enough glove perhaps absorb most of the ideomotor influence? Still further experimentation is probably pointless as believers will still believe no matter what science says, and skeptics are not really interested in moving glasses, unless it is a full one coming back from the bar!!

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