Who’s Afraid Of A Little Woo?

May 12

Woo-WOooooOOO says the ghost!

Me, That’s Who.

Apparently, anyway.

I’m talking, of course, about the infamous “woo-woo”, a phrase used to mean spooky, spiritualist, crystal-laden irrational beliefs not based in science or reality. It’s generally used in a dismissive or self-conscious way, and I associate it with the spiritualist fraud séances of yester-year – you know, sheet covered ghosts that say woooo, WOOOOO!

“Woo” came up recently on Twitter, where the lovely Bridget Pilloud and Abby Kerr were discussing why we view it in a derogatory way, and if it can be rebranded, so to speak. They got me thinking (as both of them often do) and I realized I’ve been shying away from spiritual topics here on The Circus.

Turns out, I’m mind-numbingly, progress-stuckingly petrified of being perceived as “woo-woo”.

It’s a strange fear, since I’m really not very woo-woo, even at my spookiest. And besides that, a big part why I started The Circus was to have a space where I could touch on spiritual aspects of my methods and madness.  Plus, since my readers are mostly open-minded, intuitive and artistic creatures with frequent spiritual bents (and the rest are definitely tolerant of weirdness or you wouldn’t be here), it’s unlikely that you’ll run screaming at the first whiff of possible woo.

In fact, most of you seem to like a touch of woo in your morning coffee.

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So What The Woo Is My Problem?

Where is the fear coming from?

Some of it is cultural, some is from family, and some is a hold-over from my last major projects, which required drawing very clear lines between science, spirituality, and pseudo-science.

But some of it comes from my own deep skepticism, combined with my dirty habit of using pseudo-science as a form of entertainment.

See, I don’t want to be hypocritical. I’m afraid someone will challenge me with “How can you giggle at the belief that mutant cows have moo’d out a message about the End of Days, when YOU believe in <fill in the blank>!?!”

My intellect is a big part of my self image, as is an overwhelming desire to be objective and rational. So I hate-hate-hate when someone accuses me of magical thinking or uncritical acceptance or hypocrisy.

It Just Cuts A Little Too Close To Home.

Because I do, on occasion, indulge in magical thinking.

Yes, I do.

It gets me past the rough spots, and I don’t particularly care if it works because of mystical-woo-fairies or because of a placebo effect in my brain.  But almost everything I do that could be described as woo-woo has a rational, psychological & science-based explanation for how it works.

Because I need to know that the stuff I do *works* – I need it to not just appear to work, but to know it actually makes a measurable difference.

That measurable part? Yeah. That means that by definition, it’s not “woo-woo”, fraudulent or naive.  It’s a valuable, practical application.

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But I’m Going To Embrace The Woo.

At least a little of it.

At least the appearance of it.

Because I’m all about embracing the quirks and being ridiculously real.

Because I believe my personal woo-ish-ness works, and that it isn’t really very woo-like at all.

Because I believe in leading by example.

And because it’s fun.

But! Some caution about woo is reasonable.

To Woo, Or Not To Woo…

There’s a reason that religion and politics are taboo subjects in polite company (and polite company includes most businesses.)They’re polarizing topics, and revealing your views  on them(whatever they are) will drive away customers.

Free-roaming woo isn’t always appropriate.

Yes, it can serve as a red-velvet rope, keeping away the wrong people, and attracting the ideal, right people. But before putting up that rope, be sure you’ve correctly identified your ideal clients, and that the woo will, indeed, attract them, and not undermine their trust in you.

And just because someone accepts one form of woo doesn’t mean they’ll not think that you’re stark raving mad for *your* form of woo.

So There Are Limits To My Woo Embracing

And some disclaimers, too.

More ghostly woo-woooo!

I reserve the right to mock the very woo I embrace.

I reserve the right to appear hypocritical.

I reserve the right not to explain in painful detail how what I do is totally rational. Alternatively, I reserve the right to bore you to tears with those painful detailed explanations.

I think there’s value in an open, accepting, non-critical mind.  I also think there’s value in the dismissive implication of calling things “woo-woo”.

We need to be able to distinguish not just between science and mysticism, but between valuable spiritual practices, and those that are seriously pretty crazy and sometimes even harmful. (Like, for instance, believing that Government Agents have laced your dishwasher soap with a mind-eating fungus from Planet X.)

And as warm, supportive, understanding and non-judgmental as I try to be, I’ve seen too many people hurt by wacky beliefs to dismiss it all as harmless. (If you want examples, ask me in the comments, and I’ll put together a collection of my favorite woo-ish dangers)

What’s The Point Of All This?

Yes, I have a point!

Sometime in the next few days, I’m going to launch sprout a fun new thing.  It’s a little woo-ish, a little house-of-mirrors-ish, and a whole lot of fun.

To do it, I needed to get past my fear of being seen as all woo-woo.

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And you need to stay tuned through next week,  because when I do launch this thing, the early birds really will get the worms.

Or the early ghosts get the woo.

Or something like that, anyway.

Got it? Ok!

Now, about those comments… let’s get this woo-party started!

How do you feel about woo?

Are you more or less likely to buy from someone who has a lot of woo in their work? Does it increase or decrease your trust in them? And just how woo are you?

Feel free to post under an assumed name and made up email addy this one time. Anonymous Woo is fine.

It's Another Flourish!

23 comments

  1. @williehewes on Twitter

    I have become really twitchy about woo. So much of it just really rubs me the wrong way. I can handle the kookie, but not the pseudo science.

    Thing is though, it’s only pseudo science if you insist on pretending it’s science. If you accept that your woo-woo things are in the realm of faith or marketing, there’s really no problem. So, just leave quantum physics out of it and you and me, we’ll be tight as ever.

    Oh and yes please, let’s have a complain about the dangers of woo. I’d go first but I don’t want to be rude.

    • Tori Deaux /

      @ToriDeaux on Twitter

      Willie, Can you give me an example of woo-woo that’s in the realm of marketing? I’m not quite following there. But I’m with you on the pseudoscience thing – poor quantum physics gets so abused these days.

      And you’re on. I’ll try to get something out about Dangerous Woo over the weekend. I have some vewy intwesting stories!

      Any opposing opinions out there about the science of woo? Let’s have it!

      • @williehewes on Twitter

        What I mean is that as a marketer, under “and this is what it’ll do for you”, you might list some stuff that doesn’t make scientific sense, but will read as true for a part of your audience.

        Use of the word “natural” to promote, say, an exercise regime designed to help with back pain, is technically as meaningless as any other use of the word (whether it’s natural doesn’t matter, what matters is if it works) but it wouldn’t bug me because I get that it resonates with the audience.

        Maybe that just shows my bias though, because the use of the word natural to sell supplements or anti-vaccination ideology bugs the bejeebus out of me. Then again, exercises could actually be effective against backpain.

        Am I saying the end justifies the means? I guess I am. How interesting.

        Aside: you may have given me the angle I need to address this issue on my own blog. Thanks ever so much, I’ve felt paralysed to say anything for ages.

  2. @pegkd on Twitter

    Um. You can tell from my website that whether I want to or not, I’m out of the woo closet. heh. The biggest problem with growing this business (Unlike my first business which blossomed without practically ANY work?) — my fear of woo.

    VERY detrimental for someone who reads hands. (yeah, I see the irony).

    Of course the REASON I learned to read hands? I was skeptical. True story. That and I told the woman who read my hands that I didn’t want to be a cult leader (true, albeit, side, story)

    I make fun of woo ALOT. I’m snarky. I have seen many,many train wrecks caused by people casting aside their own good sense on the lark that a magic bean was going to change everything. (And by magic bean I mean some woo-woo potion/belief/practice).

    I have headlines that INSIST on logic, I have an astrology sign that does too (yeah, okay, woo) and I’ve known since I took my first aptitude test that I was hardwired to think like an engineer or drill sergeant. (albeit a creative one).

    We’re all multi-faceted and there are numerous ways to get where we want. some are easy. some are hard. a little practical woo can be just the thing to jump-start a life.

    I approach all new thoughts with the idea of “what can I learn?” and even if it ends up all I can do is laugh — that’s a good thing too!

    So I say, HAIL TO THE WOO. And I can’t wait to see your new thing. (I love all your things). Wait. that didn’t come out like I meant….

    • Tori Deaux /

      @ToriDeaux on Twitter

      Peggie, I adore you more than ever now. That is all.

  3. @delisacarnegie on Twitter

    I avoided woo even thought I personally do somethings that can be thought of as very woo ( tarot & energy work). When my twitter stream flowed with woo talk, I had to take a look at my own woo.

    I realized that like many folks I thought of it as something icky. Then realized by having such narrow woo vision, I was telling myself that major important parts of my self where icky.

    I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m admitting my woo & embracing it. They same way I embrace the words bitch, witch, heathen or the other things people trying to say mean things call me, that I don’t think are mean at all.

    • Tori Deaux /

      @ToriDeaux on Twitter

      It’s definitely been a thoughtful Twitter-woo week, hasn’t it, Delisa?
      I’m glad you’re over your ick and embracing it 🙂

  4. @alexiapetrakos on Twitter

    You know, if you weren’t just a little bit woo, we wouldn’t have had so much fun coming up with the flying monkeys and making them helpful. 🙂

    That aside, great post & yes. lots of woo has been detrimental and brain-destroying (although I don’t think it’s the aforementioned fungi). I’m also one who likes knowing why & how and all that stuff, so a lot of the super-dooper-wooooooo is a huge ick.

    I don’t leave my brain at the door anywhere.

    • Tori Deaux /

      @ToriDeaux on Twitter

      If you left your brain at the door, the flying monkeys might have run off with it…. 😉

  5. @lindaeaves on Twitter

    Mom loved the Lord AND her horoscopes, so I got a two for one bonus of that old time religion and divination. I have a space of openness for both. To me it’s connection with spirit, the knowing, intuition – whatever the context or label given. Just because it isn’t named Myers-Briggs doesn’t mean it isn’t within the realm of a personal assessment tool. Some tools have simply been around for longer than others. P.S. Tori, I’d enjoy seeing a collection of your favorite woo-ish dangers.

  6. Maureen /

    @Whizmo on Twitter

    OMG don’t get me started on Myers- Briggs! Talk about woo disguised as Unwoo.
    Abracadabra poof! There Tori did you get the wish I sent you?
    And talk about deja vu! I just spent the last two weeks writing articles with the word “magic” in the title. Maybe I magically started a wave of woo flooding SEO’s with the word “magic”

  7. @williehewes on Twitter

    And thirded on the Myers-Briggs thing. I think a lot of the confusion around woo is that many people think something is woo when it tastes like woo.

    I would say things are woo when they are nonsense, regardless of whether they present themselves as science or folklore. In fact, woo that presents itself as science is a lot more pernicious. (And much folklore has value, so long as it is recognised and used as such.)

    • Maureen /

      @Whizmo on Twitter

      I think I’m confused here. I thought woo was different than what Willie was talking about. Like there are the people who hoodwink people by using words like “natural” and then there are things like “faith” & “belief”.
      The last two words show up when someone is speaking authentically and without an agenda in mind. Is that not what woo is?

      • @delisacarnegie on Twitter

        The woo does have a feeling of hoodwink-ness & fake-ness. To me it implies using faith & beliefs to be fake or hoodwink. That is why I’ve had such a problem with with word and often use it to show that something is negative.

        With that understanding being authentic isn’t being woo. After all the woo talk going on this week I’m being more open to the word.

  8. @simonebernhard on Twitter

    Wooooooooooooo!!!!!!! Hahaha. Seriously, though, even though I find myself in the minority here, I say bring the woo.

    Intuition, spirit, the universe, whatever you call it, there has to be a balance between the rational and not-so-much, at least for moi.

    Thus spake the Pisces! Woooooooooo! 😉

  9. @NicoleAFende on Twitter

    Perfect for Friday the 13th Tori!

    Being a finance coach who recently rebranded herself as a Numbers Whisperer this really hit home. Some woo woo, especially tongue in cheek or fully disclosed woo woo, can be very useful.

    Not sure if the ongoing exploits of Fluffy the Finance Feline and Number Muncher are Woo Woo, but they are definitely NOT traditional polite finance conversation.

    I say bring on the woo woo – this is a circus after all!

  10. Tori Deaux /

    @ToriDeaux on Twitter

    @LindaEaves agreed, a lot of “woo-woo” tools are great for personal assessment, triggering insight and intuition. We don’t even have to accept the woo for them to work.

    @Maureen Lemme make sure we’re on the same page! Woo-woo (or woo, for short) is a (usually) derogatory term for new agey spirit stuff, things that seem a bit out there and crazy to non-believers. Think Shirley MacClain in the 80’s. It’s not always fraudulent, though there are lots of hucksters of woo. Selling supplements by calling them “natural” isn’t woo-woo, but selling them based on magical properties would be woo-woo. Is that clear as mud?

    @Delisa I think it’s quite possible to be woo-woo and authentic/sincere – I also think there’s some value in embracing and even giggling at the word, even when applied to ourselves. It’s a useful, fun term.

    @Simone You wrote “Intuition, spirit, the universe, whatever you call it, there has to be a balance between the rational and not-so-much, at least for moi”

    If that’s woo, lemme have some!

    @NicoleHa! I didn’t even realize it’d hit people’s inboxes on Fri 13th! I love the Numbers Whisperer title… and, hmm… the whole “Horse Whisperer” thing originates in what I’ll call Ye Olde Horse Magic (how I know about that is another long story).

    So if you want to claim an ancestry of woo, you can!

    WoooOOOOooooOO!

    • @williehewes on Twitter

      Ah, I cross posted with Tori.

      To clarify: I would call use of the word “natural” to sell supplements woo woo, because it generally pre-supposes that natural = good for you. The idea that natural ingredients are necessarily good for you is a magical belief based on the idea that nature is benevolent and wants to preserve us, or something. Hence, woo-woo.

      Of course, many herbs are poisonous and it’s perfectly natural for any organism, including us, to get sick and die. Nature doesn’t owe us a cure.

      I will now stop rambling all over your comments and get a blog of my own. (Oh wait.) Sorry!

  11. @williehewes on Twitter

    Re: what is woo?

    Woo-woo is a term used by skeptics to cover beliefs or persons that are supernatural, paranormal, “alternative” or pseudo scientific. It really doesn’t matter whether there’s hoodwinking going on. Dr Oz may or may not really believe in herbal remedies and accupuncture, but either way he’s promoting woo.

    It seems to me that most promoters of woo believe in the woo they promote. So the woo woo beliefs are authentically held, but also misguided (from a rational, sciencey point of view). Some woo is sold cynically though, like those hologram power balance wrist bands, for instance.

    Religious faith, or faith in God(s), devas, the general benevolence of the universe or what have you, does technically come under woo, because there is little to no evidence to base these beliefs on. The word is used more often to refer to paranormal stuff and alternative medicine though.

    As for Fluffy the Finance Feline and Number Muncher — that doesn’t sound like woo woo, that just sounds like fun. 🙂

    • Tori Deaux /

      @ToriDeaux on Twitter

      Nice clarification, Willie!

      It’s worth remembering that (far as I and Google seem to know) woo-woo only recently became a mainstream term, so the definition and meaning is still being refined. When I first heard the suggestion of “reclaiming the woo” I rolled my eyes, but more recently, I’m fine with it.

      The term is evolving (as opposed to intelligently designed. cough, sputter, rimshot!)

  12. @scrapsoflife on Twitter

    Wowsey, wowsey, woo-woo. (does anyone else remember the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character that used that as his woe is me phrase? anyone?)

    I define woo as anything outside of the mainstream/Judeo-Christian/scientific-proof realm. New Age, yup. Marketing things with vague labels as a way to dupe the customer into a feel-good buy-me mood? Not so much. But that’s me.

    The use of woo as a strictly derogatory term rubs me the wrong way about as much as folks claiming “occult” is automatically evil. Yes, there’s woo and there’s *WOO*, but it comes from how seriously you take it and yourself within the woo. Religion is cool for most folks and then you get the outliers, the fanatics, the ones that give the whole group a bad rap; same with politics. I think woo has a lot of that, too, but then so does the science-only camp: there’s always going to be someone who cannot dial it back and take an objective look at things.

    It’s that ability to be in it and of it but also realistic enough about it to poke fun at it (whatever your ‘it’ is) that makes me respect someone rather than rolling my eyes and walking past them. That’s what rings of authenticity and self-awareness more so than an extreme one way or another.

    I was talking to Nicole a while back about how some folks might have trouble with things like visualizations and vision-interpretation (the Emmit business model exercise) because to many folks, that’s hella-woo and has folks scrambling back to their comfort zones, negativity and dismissals.

    Growing up surrounded by those negativity and dismissals to the point I was afraid to even READ ABOUT topics of woo–heaven forbid I be seen checking out a book at the library about “something like that”–that I’m all for embracing the woo, but not at the expense of rationality.

  13. @bemorefearless on Twitter

    Ooooo, Woo! The bane of my life, and I reckon the whole point of it.
    Also very determined to place myself soundly in the ‘rational and down to earth’ box, I sometimes find myself split soundly in two.
    Argument with fella yesterday resulted in this comment:
    “You’re never going to get anyone to pay for your stuff because you’ve hippified it all!”
    So obviously, the woo will out.

    Tori, as always loving your stuff. Looking forward to the new ‘thing’ x

    • @bemorefearless on Twitter

      Is it just a weird and spooky coincidence that I have the same monster gravatar on your site as I do on my own??

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