Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Whistling in the DARK

This post centers on a topic with which I have no personal experience with the lone exception of a set of experiences told to me by a student. Still, it contains the intuition of verging on something spiritually significant, though I can not honestly say what. The issue is, as you can see: Ouija. This thing has a wider diversity of opinion about it than almost anything you can discuss. Is it a childish "game"? Is it the "work of the Devil"? Is it a portal for probing the realm of the Dead? Is it a facilitator of mental instability, dissociative behavior, addictive fantasy? Everyone of these "conclusions" is loudly and "authoritatively" proclaimed by different groups of people. Two things produced an interest in me: 1). this thing was/is claimed to have something to do with spirituality, for good or bad; and 2). I once was told by a student of real tangible troubles she and her friends had with one of these things. That story first: my student was a senior at the University and a solid student. As far as I could tell she was a perfectly well-balanced and serious individual. She came to me one day and said that she and three friends had been "playing" [one will see that this term is inappropriate for describing messing about with the board] Ouija and were now in trouble. The "games" had begun as silly fun but as the "sessions" [a better term] went on, there seemed to arise a "consciousness" using the board as something like a portal--a "bridge" would be a better word--to express itself in our reality. These "expressions" were increasingly threatening, and frightening to all four girls. Around the apartment of two of the girls, where the Ouija sessions took place, there began an outbreak of what researchers of the paranormal would call "poltergeist" or poltergeist-like phenomena. This caused the girls to suggest, to put it mildly, that the board owner throw the board away. This discussion only increased the physical disturbances, leading finally to the outbreak of fires. That pushed everyone into hysteria and led to my student asking me for advice. Well out of my depth, I, as a good Catholic boy, remembered what my father had told me: that the board was a dangerous implement for attracting evil elements from the spirit world [Dad said "demons"] and should be left strictly alone. The good Catholic boy response to my student's dilemma was therefore to find out if her friend had a priest or minister that she could trust and get advice. If that path led to "house blessing" or even exorcism, well, that person was the expert, not I. As it turned out, this is exactly what the board-owner did, including burning the board itself. All of that was wildly beyond my personal experience, and as I witnessed none of it myself, can only tell the tale. -------------------------------------------But as years have gone by, the idea that someone might, even unintentionally, open oneself to real "intrusions" got less and less "impossible". Catholics do generally believe in "possession" afterall. So, as anyone with their ears open, I began to hear about Ouija occasionally. I decided to learn more without doing any of it myself--THAT is strictly OUT as far as I am concerned and definitively not worth the risk, especially for "cheap thrills". But the internet is full of it. Rather than just read "teenager ghost stories", I thought that maybe a crude study could be made. I read a couple hundred claims. The circle graphs at the top are part of what came from that. It was no "controlled" study, not like something a brilliant sociologist like Andrew Greeley [photo above] would do. [I'll mention him later]. But I think that it's good enough to sprout some ideas. GRAPH A, and for here I tabulated over 500 cases, shows that almost exactly 70% [71%] of the Ouija operators and reporters are females. The majority of them were "teenagers" [12-to-20], and this is true for the males, too. So, at least as far as internet story providers are concerned, we are dealing with boys and girls, at their most probable foolish age. As you read the stories, this is strongly reinforced, as what is claimed to have happened in those stories should have [to any "sensible" individual] evoked far greater concern than the typical giggling, "wasn't that creepy?' response so often encountered. GRAPH B shows the extremes of those responses. The black area shows the nearly 40% reaction to the session that it was extremely negative, in the large majority leading to never messing with the board again. This is compared to the extremely positive ["best thing ever"] type response in yellow [c. 7%]. The majority of the reporters gave responses somewhere in between [54%] from somewhat negative to frightening but exciting to thrilling in a shallow cheap [i.e. nothing profound] way to wow-I'm-going-to-get-to-talk-to-grandpa. In this bulk group was to me the most disturbing of the obviously real things about this: Ouija was like a drug, very addictive. For some of these people, it mattered not how nasty the experience, they admitted that they couldn't wait to get back to it. Many even used the words "hooked" and "addicted". ----------------------------------------------------------If that's all there was to this, we could wring our hands, say "kids", and pray that they survive until they grow up. But there DOES seem to be more in it than just youthful foolishness. GRAPH C shows the % of reports wherein some form of "poltergeist" experience emerges(?) from the sessions. It's a whopping 40% of the time! That alone, [WHATEVER is the explanation] should make a sane person quit doing it. But it doesn't always. Some of these "kids" deliciously like playing with this fire, and the girls seem, if anything, more prone to it than the boys. GRAPH D shows the percentage [42] of reports wherein the topic of death plays a major role. Morbidity, or just "natural" for the subject? GRAPH E shows the number of cases where the alleged entity "in" the board threatens the "players" with serious injury, most often death [23%]. Yet, many Ouija wannabees continue to say that they refuse to believe that there is anything risky about participating. I cannot see any way to evaluate this "game" as anything but really dangerous [just as Dad said] regardless of what is behind the results of it. The number of violent sexual fantasies(?) alone is appalling. Some girls have even cut themselves with knives because the "entity" asked for a sacrifice. And yet they come back to the board again. --------------------------------------------------------- I am probably wrong, but the board seems to me to be an occasion of contact, under the "right" circumstances, with the spiritual side of reality. I am sure that many reports are due to lying and friends fooling another friend, but the pile of these things, from all over and generations, and following a pattern, lead me to think that many of these incidents are anomalously real. If they are, they act much like the "standard" poltergeist phenomenon, and like the automatic writing phenomenon, and like the trance control medium phenomenon, and like possession. This would put the authentic cases in the realm of interacting with "disembodied spirits" or angels in whatever state-of-grace, or some dark psychic side of ourselves. None of this sounds good to me although it is admittedly interesting. Andrew Greeley, the great Jesuit scholar and writer, said this: "Ever play with a Ouija board? It's fun at first, a harmless game. Jokes, suggestive remarks, little digs at one another. Then something or someone else seems to take control of the game, something powerful and angry and frightening. If you're smart, you stop. Maybe it's something deep down inside yourself or one of the other players, but it's still terrifying and who needs it? Especially since there is a hint that if you keep fooling around with the darn thing, it might just take over your life." Amen.


  1. Very interesting. Ouijas were all the rage briefly and my teenage girlfriends and I played with one many moons ago. We were not brought up in a religious tradition that believed in demons, possessions etc. As teenagers, our main queries were about our various "crushes." However, an odd, though not negative experience, put an end to our experiments. In response to a question, the board replied "Great Spirit," a Native American term neither of knew of at the point in our lives. We were disconcerted, not really frightened, deciding at that point that the answers we were seeking were not forthcoming. Perhaps the Ouija acts as a kind of psychological seismograph that picks up nervous system activity of what yogis would call the "subtle body." And perhaps that "subtle body" can "tune" into information that doesn't come through the 5 senses of sight, sound, hearing, touch and smell. Further, perhaps the mind/body state of the operator has some part in this interaction as well.

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