Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ouija boards: paranormal or group-think?

Okay, this isn't really going to be a philosophical/academic discussion of Ouija boards complete with expert references, bibliography, or any such thing. Just personal anecdotes, and my usual half-assed conclusions (feel free to add your own thoughts/links/stories in the comments!). I hadn't thought about the Ouija game in a very long time, honestly; but the Halloween spirit and friends' recent tweets about "soulmates" got me remembering playing it as a youngster.

In case you avoided the entire Ouija experience, here is how Wikipedia describes the game:
A Ouija board (possibly from the French and German words for "yes", oui and ja,[1] and usually pronounced /ˈwiːdʒiː/ in English), also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with letters, numbers, and other symbols, supposedly used to communicate with any spirits. It uses a planchette (small heart-shaped piece of wood) or movable indicator to indicate the spirit's message by spelling it out on the board during a séance. The fingers of the séance participants are placed on the planchette, which then moves about the board to spell out words or become physically manifest.

It was the 70s, and against her better judgment, I'm certain, my mom bought my sister and me a Ouija board. I recall relentless begging leading up to the purchase as well as personally logging many hours in the "occult" area of the Young Adult section of our local library. I wanted to know if ghosts could talk to me. I'd dutifully try to clear my mind before playing and will the spirits to come, to tell us what they knew from beyond. We'd play with friends down in our low-lit basement, asking questions of the "spirits" such as how they died, what their names were, and where they were buried. We would ask about our own futures to see if they knew what might happen in our own lives. I recall getting very creeped out, with thrilling goosebumps and chills if one of us was told that she would die young or some such thing. Sometimes, I was convinced that the spirits were pretty self-centered, only wanted to talk about themselves, refusing to answer our queries. At a family gathering, we mentioned to an extremely superstitious aunt (or very in tune with ghosts—family legend is that her house was terrifyingly haunted) that we had the game, she told us to "Never, ever touch it again! Take it and burn it when you get home! It will bring the devil to find you."

Over time, however, it seemed more likely that my strong-willed buddies were just moving the "planchette" (I never called it that, but see above) to wherever they wanted it to go, fulfilling their questions with answers they wanted. During one later game when my friends and I were getting boy-crazy, we were all asking questions about the name of who we would eventually marry. My friends were coming up with nice sounding, common guys' names, like Steve or Mark or Michael. I was hoping for a similar fortune when my turn came. Instead, the planchette kept hitting letters that didn't make any sense together, all kinds of vowels and just one consonant. It didn't look like any name I'd heard before! I gave up on the Ouija board after that. Stupid thing. Couldn't even give me a straight answer, like it had given my friends. The game languished in a closet after that, probably sold in a yard sale.

On to the soulmates part: What was the name that the spirits had come up with for my husband to be? I don't recall clearly, as a few decades have passed, but I think the letters went something like:

(Y) (A) (K) (Y) (I) (U) (O)

Damned ghosts couldn't spell. My darling husband's name is Akio.


  1. Oh, I dunno. On the one hand that's kind of cool. Ont he other hand, I'm a major skeptic about such things. The few times I played around with a Ouija board with friends when I was a kid I was sure it was all a load of hooey. It seemed clear to me that my friends were the ones moving the pointer thingy (which is what *I* call it).

    Still, that is pretty cool.

  2. Speaking of bad spelling, I just got "survics" for the word verification on that last comment so apparently Google can't spell either.

  3. IMGoph & Mary Lynn, I'm totally not making this anecdote up. It's odd that this memory rose to the surface after all these years! Back in 1980 or whenever that last game was played, I wrote down that name somewhere, thinking that it was remotely possible that it was foreign, then decided that it was just too bizarre. It was just horribly misspelled!

    In a related note, my creepy parrot's name is Weegee.

  4. i knew about the parrot. i figured, when i saw this story in my RSS reader, that it was going to be about him somehow...

  5. I don't remember getting a board. Those weird friends of yours Mary Huff or whatever had one. I bought Tarot cards and the VP at the HS called me and thought you were in a devil cult. He wanted to know if I knew you had Tarot cards and I told him I bought them! He told me there were devil cults at your HS. I thought the VP was weird!!!! I told him I really did not think you were in a devil cult. --- in little old Perfectville.


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