Tuesday, September 18, 2012

OUI-JA: Yes, Yes? NO, NO.

When I was a grade school kid in St. Albans, WV, I was rummaging around in a basement closet where things like MONOPOLY games were stored, and came across a OUI-JA board [looking very like the one above in memory]. I asked Mother what it was [Dad was at work], and she said that it was just an old board game that used to be popular back when she was a high school student [that would have been the 1930s]. I asked her how it was played, and she began to describe it --- the thought dawning on me that this seemed very improbable what I was hearing. I was always somewhat of a "romantic" thinker, but this seemed ... well... nonsensical. She began to try to express that some people thought that something else... spirits... moved the planchet. This was stunning to say the least --- even to a Catholic boy who believed and still believes in such spirits. She then stopped and said that Dad did not like the OUI-JA board even being in the house [and probably didn't even know that Mom hadn't thrown it out long ago].

Whereas Mom was [and still is] a person who almost refuses to use her reasoning powers, preferring a simplistic feelings-in-the-moment way of living, Dad was the most brilliant elite thinker I had ever experienced [and remains one of the brightest in my experience even now]. Dad viewed the OUI-JA board as "valid" phenomenologically, but dangerous. He had thought deeply about it [as he did everything] and had come to the conclusion that the Church theologians had come to: this board was akin to things like trance mediumship and automatic writing --- not necessarily evil or dangerous [especially to begin with] but a hot, dark fire to be playing in. [I have put Mom's attempt to express what Dad told her in much more intellectual phrasing than she did]. I put the board back, and never even talked to Dad about it [wish that I had now, but I was just a kid].

Early in the life of this blog, what seems nearly a different age [September 8, 2009], I posted an entry on OUI-JA. A comment from the great Jesuit writer and sociologist, Andrew Greeley, had inspired me to "go take a look". So off to the internet I went. I found about 1000 cases where people were reporting their experiences. I used the first 500 that I found to make a crude study. The weight of the statistics told [to my view] a strong story: OUI-JA experiences started out childishly and fun, turned odd and a bit creepy, then turned dark. The majority of the persons reporting said that the experiences were negative and were not going "back in". A third said that the board was constantly into a morbid death theme and almost a quarter said that they themselves were given death threats. The most stunning element to me was the 40% reporting of poltergeist-like activities ultimately breaking out.

The above add: "Amusing, Scientific, Instructive", might be one of the more misleading immoral adds of all time. "Thought compelling" and "Deeply Interesting", yes.

So, unless I wanted to go back and log the second 500 cases that I found, I thought that I was through with this topic. But along comes reading New Atlantean Journal and LO!, another article on OUI-JA.

So, what did it say?

The thing was called: "Playing with unknown forces: The Ouija Board". [Andrew Piotrowski]. Author was identified as a Toronto Psi researcher preparing a book on researches into Ouija. He began the article with three stories. In the first, the person became addicted to "playing" the board. Phoney religious leaders began manifesting in the messages giving her dangerous advice, and finally an "invitation" to "come over" to them. She then attempted suicide. [failed fortunately]. Piotrowski described her condition as "possessed".

In the second case, a lonely woman felt that she had found a friend through the board. [on whatever the other side of it is]. The entity began giving her hope for a new relationship with some yet-to-be-met boyfriend. The board gave her the address where she should go to meet him. She did. Was raped and beaten, lost her senses, and is now institutionalized. [Great sales pitches for Ouija, eh?]

His third account was his own first experience, where he did not touch the planchet himself but just took dictation while others worked the board. He said that this was pleasant.

Piotrowski then stated that there have been several researchers in the past who consistently established that there is a real phenomenon here. In support of this, he cites William F. Barrett.

W F Barrett was the son of a protestant minister who became a leading physicist in late 19th century England. He is notable to us as the Founder of the Society for Psychical Research. And, in my opinion, the author of the best book studying Dowsing ever written. Barrett was interested in many elements of the psychic anomalies, including poltergeists. I have not made a study of Barrett, but would bet that his interest in poltergeists led him to Ouija. Barrett said that in the ouija ritual "communication with a supernormal intelligence did, indeed, take place; that it mingled with the personalities of the subjects and guided their muscular movements". And Piotrowski continued: therefore "the subjects were somehow taken over, used, manipulated by an unknown outside force, a force or personality other than the experimenters themselves." Ummmmm.... "don't sound good to me."

He then cites a modern Psi researcher named Ian Currie [sorry could not find a portrait]. Currie talked to many Mediums and psychics who spoke about Ouija. Although Currie sees Ouija as a mixed bag he says this: "The board tends to attract lesser spirits, personalities characteristically sadistic and psychopathic..... The board spirits are members of a terrorist world, citizens of a psychic jungle". .... great.

So, what is this "dance" all about? What's on the "other side of the mirror"? Is it Demonic? Is it "merely" Spirits of varying moralities and goals? Is this just a ritual which spills out our own nasty inner selves?

The Catholic Church says: Demons --- tricky ones, as are they all. My Dad decided that this seemed to be true, and Mom should throw the board away. I don't see this as just being us and our whacky brains  in our worst light. Some of these experiences are so negative and physical that they really stretch that hypothesis for me... and, I'm an Irish-American Catholic, so as one of my younger brothers said "I/we believe that shit". [He was referring to why the movie The Exorcist scared the fudge out of him, despite being a 6'4" 280 pound defensive lineman and a weightlifting record holder.]

Hmmmm... I get it.

Till next time, play cards or watch football instead.


  1. I have been looking for sites like this for a long time. Thank you!

  2. This site has tried to explore a wide range of anomalies with an open mind. I am "sympathetic" to the possibility, even the high probability, of many of them being real, but I cannot find it in my old professor's scientific and teaching soul to simply toss sloppy stuff out there without giving it an honest critique. Sometimes those critiques end up saying: there's nothing to this one. Sometimes those critiques say: the establishment isn't being honest about this one. Sometimes those critiques say: this one is REALLY weird; we have to go "All the Way Fool" for an explanation of it. If you have an honestly open mind about these topics, you will probably like the blog. Oh, and one other thing: I've been in this game of trying to give anomalies a fair hearing for so long, that I've met many really bad debunkers. They frankly irritate me on many levels, and I include them as actual enemies of human progress. So, sometimes I let that show emotionally. A human flaw... but they still deserve the condemnation.

  3. Best commentary I've seen on the board in many years. Long ago in my youth I bought an old used book on abnormal psychology. I can't remember the author or the title, but there was a chapter on ouija, and it scared the stuffing out of me. Now my attitude is the same as your father's: I think it's a potentially dangerous gateway, not a game for children.

  4. Gotta face your fears. Whatever you encounter comes from within. Just like everything else.

    1. With all due respect, this sort of comment is nonsense. Most of what we face in life along our timelines comes from outside ourselves, including runaway trucks, the love of family, viral infections, a raise on the job, a pie in the face, or a gift on christmas. The spouting of vague cliches from New Age gurus or self-help bravado adds exactly nothing to the analysis of deep and complicated matters. These topics are in my estimation important. They deserve far more than shallow brushoffs. When discussing these topics we need to bring something to the table. If that is the belief that there is nothing to fear in Ouija, then that position should be defended by facts, especially as there is a lot of contraindication to that position.

    2. I absolutely wholeheartedly agree with The Professor. There's just too much evidence out there that The Ouija Board must be taken seriously.

  5. I've hesitated, because this seems trivial, but--back in the mid-60s, in my last college year or a year soon after, a friend somewhere got a Ouija board. Soon enough, we'd sit in a parked car working the thing, because every time I got my finger on the planchette the results were hilarious.

    They were also totally obscene. No, I didn't gimmick this at all. The planchette slid "on its own" without any conscious willing by me. But ask the board, "what's Tim doing?" and you were told Tim was busy indeed, and quite athletic in certain ways. (Really laughing-out-loud for the coarse and vulgar, i.e. me & my friends.)

    Apparently, the Ouija set-up tapped into the "layer" of my personal,
    psychological "unconscious" where this sort of thing was "stored" or on tap. Unless Casper the Fouly Ghost was behind it....

    Frank John Reid

    1. Yep, Frank, interesting as usual. My array of workable hypotheses for this thing now all rest on the foundation that a large number of these Ouija sessions are not dismissible as merely "kids-fooling-around" and consciously moving the planchet themselves. The hypotheses which work seem to require that the planchet is moved by the subtle muscular work of the operators [at least in the large majority of sessions with true phenomenology], but can be done either by a]. some demonic possession influence, b]. some other spiritworld influence, or c]. one's own subconscious self. If the most mundane of these would be true ["c"], then it seems that one must almost be forced to apply some personal psi as well, in order to "know" some of the things which come out of the messages. I try to "dumb down" these speculations if I can, but "c" seems to fail in several ways, most spectacularly in the hate which seems to emerge directed at people who seem to have no self-hate at all, and in the poltergeist effects [which could be produced, I suppose, by Roll's thesis of RSPK.] Right now, the hypothesis array leads me into paranormal territory one way or another.

  6. I hold mixed views about these boards that range from outright contempt to uncertainty. It seems ridiculous to imagine a mass-produced board game could represent a telegraph system to alleged entities and negative forces. Then there are the associated pseudo-scientific terminologies like ‘portals’ and ‘gateways’ that tend to frame the accounts and explanations.

    On the other hand, real or imaginary is bordering on semantics if the experiencer somehow undergoes a period of time whereby their perception/lives take a negative plummet.

    The statistics aren’t there to compare the number of people who’ve used the boards with those who’ve reported negative outcomes and experiences. Such numbers would represent an opportunity to sample the population of users and possibly assess the psychological differences between the ‘nothing happened’ and the ‘please make it stop’ sub-groups. Unit sales could offer a broad figure without providing the experiential data to ‘do the science.’

    Anecdotally, when I was a kid at high school (11 or 12) a few girls I knew played with the board and the outcome was hysterics and tears. I recall one being hysterical after using the bathroom at school and apparently seeing the toilet roll spin out by itself. I was just a kid and sceptical of all the fuss. Nevertheless, it put me off having a go and I’ve been averse ever since.

    On balance, it probably doesn’t do anything beyond stimulating fears and psychological traits in those who believe it’s a hot-line to the dead. If so, it’s a waste of time. Conversely, if there’s any substance to it, inviting the attention of anonymous callers with unknowable intentions would be reckless.

    Altogether it’s a lose/lose scenario.

  7. Good commentary.

    For me, and for guys like Andrew Greeley, none of these outward physical objects are anything but stage-settings which facilitate things far beyond themselves. To put it concretely, probably you and I could invent something wholly comical to ourselves, yet if we could create a psychological "hook" or aura about it, it would probably "work" to send borderline hystericals and intuitives on their way. This is not to say at all that then something anomalistically real might not butt in and join the game. Or that the workers themselves might not connect in to their own dormant psi ability and then who-knows-what occurs. This seems to me very like the Canadian seance group who decided to create their own "contact" out of fiction, and seemed to spectacularly do so [The so-called "Philip Group"].

    Greeley, I, The Church, think that all so-called "divinatory techniques" are merely table-setters for getting into the correct give-oneself-over-to-it mindset necessary to open windows to the psi and/or spirit world, and then take your chances with what you get. Neither Greeley, I, nor The Church think that this is a smart move.

  8. I thank you for a really interesting take on the Ouija phenomenon. Me and a couple of close friends had a go on a homemade board, a paper with Yes and No written on it and a glass as marker, back in what amounts to Scandinavian highschool. As described above the proceedings went from fun and giggles to very scary in a couple of hours. Nothing big really but asked "can you hurt us?" the glass went Yes, yes, yes, yes, tipped over and blew out the associated candles. This freaked us out completely and for the last year of my stay in that appartment I could never really shake the feeling of wrongness although I had no further incidents.
    Might very well be that we just scared ourselves, my internet-bound generation has grown up with the horror-stories about Ouija rather than the prospect of an itruiging game of psychology. But to this day I hold the view that spirit-magic is not something to fool around with if you don't excpect consequences.

  9. You're welcome and thanks back at you for your own story. Ouija seems to be in a strange sociological situation as well as being a true anomaly in itself. The sociological strangeness is that while its effects are real [and this is true regardless of ones theory as to WHY they're true], the materialist age in which we live so flatly denies the possibility of such phenomena that one can be hit smack in the face with this and will try to wiggle away from the facts of what just happened. Since no one else in a reductionist denial society will give credence to the observer's story, the observer is stuck with shutting up about what happened, thus reinforcing the denier society's belief that no such thing can be true.

    To some degree this is the situation faced by all the anomalies, but the weight of automatic rejection is more rapid and heavier the closer one comes to anything spiritual or psychic in nature. The society that we are in STRONGLY rejects the spiritual and the psychic --- and WHY is the question which everyone of us should do some meditating upon.

  10. Hi there everyone, I love reading about paranormal/esoteric accounts on what people have experienced and/or learned. I believe there is something "unexplaineded" when it comes to the topic of the Quija board. I know when I was a young kid playing with my cousin on the Quija and it moved by itself after my cousin took her hand off of the planchet. It scared the crap out of us both and we never touched the board again. Now, I'm so into wanting to know the truth wether or not spirits and ghosts are among us but don't know the safe way to get those answers. Who wouldn't want to be able to talk to a loved one that has passed on? If and that's a HUGE If, its really the person who they say they are? So many questions yet so few answers...

  11. Played around with Ouija in the 70's for a lark. Planchette moved around and I accused my friend (who swore she was not doing it) and my soon-to-be-husband of moving it. We took our fingers off and the damned thing moved on its own! My friend screamed and took off running. I was too scared to moved and Jack just grabbed the board and threw it across the room. The next evening we began to hear knocking all round the walls of the room; this escalated and became very frightening as time went on. We moved out and I threw away the board. Hope the new tenants didn't get "Messeur Tap-Tap" (as we called the poltergeist)as a constant companion.



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