Previously: An Alternate Soul.
You might remember the supernatural pencil game called Charlie Charlie, also known as the Charlie Charlie Challenge, from the spectacularly viral moment featuring it that occurred in 2015. But the game is actually much older than that — and it hasn’t always been played the same way, either.
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Charlie Charlie is part of a family of ritual games that can be found in many Spanish-speaking regions and cultures, particularly in Latin American ones. They’re called juegos de lapices (or, sometimes, juegos de la lapicera) — a no-nonsense name that describes exactly what they are: Games played with pencils or pens. Indeed, although many of the games that fall under this heading can be found under more specific titles — Charlie Charlie is one; the Martha Game is another — much of the time, these specific games will simply be referred to using the general moniker El Juego de los Lapices.
These games have been played for quite some time; threads on Spanish language message boards dated 2010 make note of posters having played them when they were in elementary school (that is, long before the threads themselves ). It took them at least until the 2000s to make it to the internet, though — and initially, the rules and names were all jumbled up in such a way that suggests they were almost interchangeable.
This video from 2008, for example, shows what’s now referred to as Charlie Charlie, but identified only with the name el juego de la lapicera, or the game of the pen. This version, too, dated 2009, describes Charlie Charlie, but simply refers to it as el juego de la lapicera. Meanwhile, this video, which is dated 2013, is called Charly Charly (as opposed to Charlie Charlie), but shows what we’ve now come to call the Martha Game or La Martita — which, notable, has also gone by many other titles and featured entities with different names over the years.
A version of el juego de la lapicera or de los lapices had made its way to an English-speaking corner of the internet by 2010; indeed, it’s even identified here as “the Charlie game.” Notably, though, the game described isn’t the Charlie Charlie game that became so huge in 2015, but, again, the Martha Game.
It’s worth noting that, although the “Charly Charly” game can be found in Spanish sources dated years ago, the -ie spelling — “Charlie Charlie” — doesn’t seem to have become the norm until the various versions of the game traveled over to English-speaking regions. This is perhaps a result of these new, English-speaking readers and players anglicizing the title of the game: “Charly” is an uncommon spelling for this name in English, with “Charlie” being the most commonly encountered one instead.
But it’s not clear exactly how either name — “Charly” or “Charlie” — became associated with the game in the first place. As BBC Mundo’s Maria Elena Navez noted in 2015, “There’s no demon called ‘Charlie’ in Mexico” (“Charlie Charlie” at the time having been attributed to the specific country of Mexico as the game’s place of origin); per Navez, Mexican legends “often come from ancient Aztec and Maya history, or from the many beliefs that began circulating during the Spanish conquest”—and, as such, you’re more likely to find entities with names drawn from the Nahuatl language, rather than English. Even in a post-colonial world, “Charly” and “Charlie” are unusual picks; Navez thought that, if this legend began in Mexico after the Spanish conquest, it would have been more likely to appear under the name “Carlitos.”
I have a theory: It’s possible that “Charly” was originally chosen specifically because it’s English-sounding — that is, in Spanish-speaking regions, it’s the Other. And then, when it actually came to an English-speaking audience, the name changed again, gaining the most common spelling of its cognate: Charlie.
In any event, the version of Charlie Charlie you’ll see here is the one that’s the part of our current cultural landscape: The two-pencil version that went viral in 2015. It’s unlikely that the game actually summons a demon; the moving pencils are more likely spurred on by good, old-fashioned gravity.
Play at your own risk.
- At least one principal.
- Two pens or pencils.
- A sheet of paper.
- A ruler. (Optional.)
- Information you wish to know — knowledge you seek — expressed in the form of one or more “yes or no” questions.
- Begin at any time.
- Place the sheet of paper on a flat surface, oriented landscape-wise.
- Using one of the pens or pencils, draw a vertical line down the center of the page, top to bottom. Then, draw a horizontal line across the center of the page, left to right. You may use a ruler to draw these lines if desired.
- Your sheet of paper should now be divided into four quadrants, with the lines you drew forming the axes.
- In the upper left and lower right quadrants, write the word “yes.”
- In the upper right and lower left quadrants, write the word “no.”
- Place one pencil in the center of the page on the horizontal axis.
- Place the second pencil in the center of the page, on top of the first pencil, on the vertical axis, the writing tip pointed upwards. The pencils should, together, form a cross in the center of the page.
- When you are ready, proceed to The Conversation.
- Speak aloud the words, “Charlie Charlie, may we play?”
- Watch the pencils.
- Watch, particularly, the point of the top pencil.
- If the pencil remains still: The ritual has failed; your correspondent is not present. Do not proceed. Pack up the pencils and dispose of the piece paper. You may try again another time.
- If the pencil moves to indicate “no”: The ritual has succeeded, but your correspondent does not wish to participate. Do not proceed. Apologize for disturbing your correspondent and bid them farewell. Pack up the pencils, destroy the paper, and dispose of both the pencils and the remnants of the paper as far away as possible. You may try again another time, but proceed carefully.
- If the pencil moves to indicate “yes”: The ritual has succeeded; your correspondent has granted you permission to play. You may proceed.
- If the pencil moves, but lands on a line or axis instead of a word or quadrant: Your correspondent is present, but is uncertain about whether they would like to participate. You may ask again until the pencil moves to indicate “yes,” “no,” or remains still. Enact the correct procedure based on the pencil’s movement or lack thereof.
- Gently reposition the top pencil so that it is again aligned with the vertical axis.
- Ask your next question. This question may pertain to anything you like — to anything you wish you know. You MUST, however, phrase it as a “yes or no” question, and you MUST begin your request by repeating the words, “Charlie Charlie.”
- Watch the top pencil.
- If the pencil moves to indicate “no”: The answer to your question is “no.”
- If the pencil moves to indicate “yes”: The answer to your question is “yes.”
- If the pencil does not move, or lands on a line or axis instead of a word or quadrant: Your correspondent does not know or has chosen not to answer. Do not repeat the question.
- If necessary, gently reposition the top pencil so that it is again aligned with the vertical axis.
- Ask your next question. You may continue in the manner described in Steps 5 through 7 for as long as you like, or until your correspondent indicates that they would like to stop. (See: On Stopping The Game.)
- When you are ready to exit the game, proceed to The Farewell.
- To exit the game, speak aloud the words, “Charlie Charlie, may we stop?”
- If the pencil does not move, or lands on a line or axis instead of a word or quadrant: You have not received permission to exit the game. Ask again. (See: On Stopping The Game.)
- If the pencil moves to indicate “no”: You have not received permission to exit the game. Ask again. (See: On Stopping The Game.)
- If the pencil moves to indicate “yes”: You have received permission to exit the game. You may proceed.
- Once you have gained permission to exit the game, bid your correspondent farewell. Pack up the pencils and put away the piece of paper.
- You may either dispose of the pencils and paper, or store them for later use.
- Note, though: Should you choose to store them, do NOT store them in the same place.
- Keep them separate.
- There’s no telling what your correspondent might get up to otherwise.
This game may be played either solo or with multiple principals. If playing with multiple principals, participants should alternate asking questions. Do not allow the same participant to ask two questions in a row.
This game may be played with bystanders. Bystanders must remain silent at all times. Bystanders should not interfere with the proceedings in any way. Bystanders may only watch and listen — nothing more.
The pens or pencils may be of any variety, but wooden, number two pencils are recommended.
You may, if you wish, set up the piece of paper in other ways than the one described above:
- For example, you may create a makeshift talking board, with the words “yes” and “no” written at the top of the page; the numbers one through nine, plus zero, written in a line beneath the “yes” and “no” indicators; and the letters of the alphabet written in a line at the bottom of the page. See here for an example.
- Or, you may draw up the quadrants as previously described, but write “yes” only in the upper left quadrant, “no” only in the upper right quadrant, the word “man” in the lower left quadrants, and the word “woman” in the lower right quadrants. See here for details, although note that it is unclear what significance “man” and “woman” may have as responses.
- Or, you may use instead of one large piece of paper, four smaller ones — two bearing the word “yes” and two bearing the no.” Set up the pencils on a bare tabletop and position the pieces of paper in each of the empty quadrants now visible on the tabletop: Place the “yes” pieces of paper in the upper left and lower right quadrants and the “no” pieces of paper in the upper right and lower left quadrants. See here for a demonstration of this set-up.
In Step 1 of The Conversation, the phrase “Charlie Charlie, may we play?” may be swapped out for “Charlie Charlie, are you there?” If your correspondent replies with the word “yes,” you may proceed — but do so carefully. The problem with asking, “Charlie Charlie, are you there?” rather than, “Charlie Charlie, may we play?” is that, yes, your correspondent may inform you that they are present — but that doesn’t necessarily meant that they’re willing to allow you to play.
On Stopping The Game:
If, at any point during The Conversation, your correspondent ceases to respond, repeatedly responds “no” or “I don’t know,” or otherwise appears to be losing patience, end the game as soon as possible.
However, do NOT exit the game WITHOUT gaining permission to do so.
Ask as many times as necessary.
You’d best hope your correspondent changes their tune before it’s too late.
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[Photo via lucasgeorgewendt/Pixabay, remixed by Lucia Peters]