Question of the Week: What Woo Does Your Family Believe In?

What was that? There was no ‘Question of the Week’ last week? And we’ve missed it on other occasions, too? I find that hard to believe! We’ve never missed a ‘Question of the Week’!


If you read this blog, then you most likely consider yourself a person of the Skeptical persuasion. Objectivity and critical thinking are your cornerstones. Unfounded beliefs and woo of all kinds do not penetrate your hardened Skeptical exterior as you stride across the globe unearthing logical fallacies… Or something along those lines. At the very least, you will probably consider youself a rational thinker who wouldn’t be caught dead believing something silly.

However, the same might not be true of your family; and while you can choose your beliefs, you can’t choose your family. As much as you may like to think you are safely cocooned from all the woo and guff out there by the warm fires of the Skeptical community, we all have to interact on a daily basis with those close to us who may have beliefs which are – let’s put this delicately – a bit distanced from our own.

So, this week’s question of this week is this:

What woo does your family believe in? Are there any strange beliefs or ideas held by those close to you which raise the hairs on your hardened Skeptical hide? How do you deal with it: do you confront it head on, or do you ignore it for fear of upsetting family harmony?

Don’t worry, you can change names if you wish; the last thing we want is to have any Skeptics disowned by their parents due to comments they’ve written on this site!

So, don’t be afraid: What woo does your family believe in? Please leave a reply in the comments box below.

  1. #1 by Gittins on January 15, 2010 - 14:44

    Quite a few strange things in my family actually.

    My sister wears a magnetic bracelet for back pain, she also visits a chiropractor regularly and even takes her 5 month old baby for sinister sounding “adjustments”. I’m not exactly clear on just how much of chiropractic is actually full-on woo or just a nice back massage.

    Also, my grandma is a devout catholic who prays every day, but thinks dinosaurs and even outer-space are “too far fetched”.
    So, drinking the blood of a 2000 year old dead god is perfectly fine, but the idea of extinct lizards or planets other than the Earth is obviously ridiculous.

    And last but not least, my mum told me that when she was a teenager she had a wart on her finger removed by a local witch. She’s from the Isle of Man, and they take medieval craziness to whole different level over there.

  2. #2 by Allan on January 15, 2010 - 15:51

    Well, where to begin?

    Mother and sister:

    Angels, ghosts, ouije boards, reiki, acupuncture, and pretty much anything else going. They’re both members of the spiritualist ‘church’, even though my mother’s had her ‘faith’ in spirits thoroughly debunked, then ridiculed, then mercilessly satirised for years. She claims to be receiving messages from all sorts of people who have ‘gone over to the other side’ – which makes it sound like they’ve gone turncoat, rather than joined the choir invisible. *shrugs*

    I blame the medication she’s on for neuralgia… “Strange beliefs” is actually listed as a side effect. I shit you not.


    A big Godder, though doesn’t tend to massively bother our supreme fascist Overlord of the soul these days… In the old days, though… She was big into going to church as much as humanly possible. That pretty much stopped when her eldest daughter died. Moving on…

    Uncle wears magnetic bracelets, but he’s an orange lodge-supporting, crypto-fascist (2 fascists in one comment!), knuckle dragging numbskull whose argumentative technique involves screaming “YOU’RE WRONG!!!” while endlessly repeating what he’s already had debunked and being very pointy.

    Father listens to talk radio. Enough said.

    I had a conversation with a few family members a while back regarding my late, lamented grandaddio. We were chatting about him being a prankster, an atheist, and that he was constantly going on about how much shite the rest of the family was into… We then talked about one instance of their Ouije activities where the ‘spirit’ was producing jibberish – ‘they’ often do, apparently – and my grandfather (who is an atheist prankster who constantly complains about the woo under his roof) picks up the transcription and says.. “I know what this is, it’s Manx”. Then proceeds to have a conversation with this ‘spirit’ for half an hour in his native tongue, but never revealing the message to the rest of the family.

    My family believe this to be a case of him becoming a convert. I believe it to be an epic wind-up that would really appeal to my grandfather’s sense of humour.

    He always remained an atheist, btw. Bit of a give-away.

  3. #3 by Nick on January 15, 2010 - 16:12

    Sister is training to become a homeopath and WILL NOT SHUT UP ABOUT IT – anecdote after anecdote and ‘this is how it works – you have this energy and this energy and they affect this and this so you fix this’ all stated as fact – drives me mad. Even tried to claim they live longer in africa ‘think of the witch doctors that get to 100’ due to ‘whole body medicine’ instead of conventional and it was all due to sanitary conditions changing now rather than vacinnes and antibiotics that we live longer.

    Stepfather is a bio-resonance practitioner, spent several thousand pounds on a box with lots of dials and meters with two rods you hold onto – didn’t cure my smoking at all.

    Mother is level 2 reiki, as am I (birthday present when I was 12).

    Grandfather sponsored a trial on organic cows of those magnetic bracelets to see if they needed less medicine. Think it proved inconclusive…

    So I bought Ben Dacre’s Bad Science for everyone for christmas 🙂

  4. #4 by Yorkshire Skeptic on January 15, 2010 - 16:20

    I left an answer to this on the podcast comment section, but i remembered that my uncle is quite into magnetic healing bracelets and all that malarkey as well as more eastern philosophy/lifestyle stuff, buddhism, feng shui that sort of thing.

    When the family cat was younger, he used to firmly pat each side of the cat from head to bottom repeatedly as this would, apparently, free up the chakras’ and not at all the normal behaviour for a cat who likes to be the centre of attention…

  5. #5 by Yorkshire Skeptic on January 15, 2010 - 16:22

    Argh, crappy typing:

    He used to firmly pat each side of the cat from head to bottom repeatedly as this would, apparently, ‘free up the chakras’ and was not at all just the normal behaviour for a cat who likes to be the centre of attention…

  6. #6 by Marsh on January 15, 2010 - 18:29

    Chiropractic on a 5 month old? Yikes. Very scary. Very Very Scary. Check out Trick or Treatment for more on it (including essentially what got Simon sued by the chiropractors), but essentially it’s a bad idea to twist and crack the spine of an infant.

    Also, how the hell have you never told me the witch bit before? The grandma vs dinosaurs always makes me laugh.

  7. #7 by Hayley on January 15, 2010 - 19:49

    A lot of my family believe in ghosts. Some of them magic and herbal medicine and the like.

    I argue my point with them until I’m blue in the face but because they don’t understand what I’m talking about they dismiss what I’m saying as nonsense!


  8. #8 by Sion Hughes on January 15, 2010 - 20:03

    I have two sisters and a brother. The oldest sister is a homeopath. The other one is a YEC, born-again xtian, and my brother is becoming a bit of a conspiracy nut.

  9. #9 by Rewinelover on January 15, 2010 - 20:23

    My Irish Catholic mother couldn’t be convinced that the Liverpool Humanist Group wasn’t a dangerous cult that I’d joined. She haboured similar feelings about Skeptic groups ; )

    And we always had ‘holy water’, usually in a plastic tacky virgin mary bottle, in the house, although I’ve no idea what it was for.

  10. #10 by Michael on January 15, 2010 - 20:28

    I am pleased to say that of those still alive, nothing.
    My late mother was a catholic. I spent 20 years explaining evolution to her and she still didn’t really get it. She left the church but returned to the choir later ‘cos she liked the singing. When she was on her deathbed, she wished for an after life where she would meet her family again.

    She read her stars in the paper ‘for a laugh’, she always prayed for me when I was about to do something important. I asked her loads of times not to do so. However when I had my viva for my EngD, which was an absolute grilling, she later told me she prayed for me. I told her that the prayers missed and hit my investigators instead. Although I did pass it.
    Of people I am related to by marriage- they are all Jewish and believe in so much shite there isn’t the room to list them. I liked telling the story about my old mum though so thank you.

  11. #11 by Gavin on January 15, 2010 - 21:38

    My aunt believes in Tarot, Angels & Psychics so much that it almost hurts,

  12. #12 by Mirko on January 16, 2010 - 09:23

    Well, one couldn’t really say that my family does believe in some woo. My father is rather sceptic, too. The only one who is all over the place with strange believes is my mother. Angels, ghosts, homeopathy… Well, the first two things wouldn’t really bother me, because it doesn’t hurt anyone (at least not in the stage of believe she is in – she just thinks there are such things, she does not try to interact with them, so really no big harm done).

    The only real problem is homeopathy. She hasn’t went to a normal doctor since many years, and sometimes I am worried out of my mind about her. She had an inflamed cecum removed a few years ago and if we wouldn’t have brought her to the hospital by force she would NOT have gone. And what is even worse: She forced this on me, when i was a child. I have atopic dermatitis as well as several allergies and i have not seen a doctor about it in the first 12 years of my life – I was only treated with homeopathic medicine – which of course did not really do anything. This has really damaged my relationship to her in a BIG way.

    After I realised just how completely insane the whole idea of homeopathy was, i went to normal doctors. I think I was 12 years old or so – just think about it: If you grow up with it, your mother tells you it’s even better than medicine and you actually feel something due to the placebo effect, it’s pretty hard not to believe it.
    Thats about 12 years ago now and I actually have good control over nearly all my allergies now, but it just shows how dangerous homeopathy really is. Whoever believes in it will also treat his/her children with it, and it’s very hard for a child to realise it is not working, let alone do something about it.

  13. #13 by Allan on January 16, 2010 - 13:28

    Wow. 12 years old and only ever seeing a homeopath for medical treatments…

    That’s got to be verging on abuse?

  14. #14 by Stu on January 16, 2010 - 16:11

    Myself and one of my brothers are the only people in a VERY LARGE extended family who don’t believe in some kind of woo, even if it’s just ‘there must be some kind of afterlife.’

    The whole family is awash with belief in tarot, psychics (DO NOT get me started!), pseudoscience or a creator of some kind etc.

    I fairness to my mum, she doesn’t believe in forcing beliefs on other people so, although a christian herself, she left her children to make up their own minds. So the fact that some of them decided to be bat-shit crazy and pass it to their own kids can’t be blamed on her.

  15. #15 by James Samuels on January 16, 2010 - 16:42

    That’s a great question Colin and like many of the comments above I need look no further than my marvellous late grandmother. Oddly she was not a religious woman and detested the sectarianism that was still very evident in Liverpool. She was also a very straight forward thinking individual and something of a conservative with a large C. However, as we know many people have a chink in their rational armour, and my grandmother’s was that any mislaid object could be found with the help of non other than St Anthony. This person being the very late St Anthony of Padua who died around 1230 AD.
    My grandmother would direct, prayers to him normally after a jewellery location error. Anything less than jewellery would normally be dealt with by a thorough search of the premises. One day we received a desperate call from my grandmother who had lost her engagement ring. The ring obviously had massive sentimental value as well as being a valuable object in its self. Needless to say prayers by this stage had already been offered up to St A. My mother and I started a CSI style search of the house but to no avail. The U-bend in the sink was taken out, the toilet was examined and bins emptied.
    This was all painstakingly carried out before my grandmother told us she had at least made some scones, if we fancied one. Desperate times deserved the comfort of home baking. She was philosophical at this point. You’ve probably guessed the outcome, but the platinum diamond ring had been accidentally but thoroughly mixed in with flour, sugar, butter, currents and a pinch of salt and baked at 170 degrees centigrade for 20 minutes. In fact, had we not broken up the scones to find the ring I have no doubt the emergency dentist would have been required. For information purposes only the Patron Saint required in such an event is St Apollonia.

  16. #16 by Hanny on January 17, 2010 - 10:14

    Two recent examples spring to mind:

    1. Had an interesting discussion with my dad and his wife over Christmas about the bible. (They’re catholic). In the end they said they don’t believe the book that litteraly, but just that God made the Big Bang happen. (Hey and they still like me!)

    2. Offended one of my close friends who said to have a degree in homeopathy by laughing out loud. When I realised he meant it, we exchanged arguments as adults, although his standard answer was: “Yeah, well, if you put it *that* way… but still I’ve seen it work.”

  17. #17 by AexMagd on January 18, 2010 - 13:18

    My mum has recurring knee problems, and has had acupuncture which pretty much healed her up. To her this is a sign that it works, whereas to me it’s a sign that while manipulation of the joint may have healed her, it’s got bugger all to do with meridians and probably a lot more to do with the placebo effect.

    She also believes the Bible is basically a collection of just-so stories, that the Pope is an idiot, that sex before marriage, contraception and abortions are all fine and isn’t entirely sure that God exists. She’s still a Catholic though! Never underestimate the power of community…

    Finally, she’s also sceptical about MMR being safe, due to a close friend experiencing the outset of autism in her kid not long after the injection. While I have often pointed out that autism tends to manifest at around the age the vaccination is given anyway, confirmation bias from hearing that MMR causes autism etc etc she still has her doubts. Understandably, she cites her childhood experiences of hearing all about how wonderful Thalidomide was, and then seeing what it did, as a reason to remain suspicious of anything until long-term effects have been seen (mobile usage, laser eye surgery you name it)

  18. #18 by Tom W on January 19, 2010 - 13:29

    My gran got me book of Feng Shui for Xmas, it is hilarious. Lien Tu’s Book of Feng Shui for the Office, I think. It says crap like “If you are going north on a journey, throw some sand north. If south, throw some water south…etc”. A big load of woo, and it never even attempts to explain itself!

(will not be published)