Everyone has a story involving a Ouija board. This peculiar panel – which is said to offer communication with the deceased – continues to mystify and intrigue.
The existence of a spirit world has played a prominent role within most cultures since the dawn of time. Ancient folklore boasts a multitude of terrifying tales speaking of necromancy, vivid apparitions and dearly departed ancestors returning from beyond the grave to deliver consequential communiqués to the living.
The Chinese appear to have developed an early form of intercourse with the deceased using an object which resembles the present day planchette of the Ouija board. This ancient method of spirit writing became widely practiced, but was eventually outlawed by the Qing Dynasty (1636 – 1912). Indeed, authorities and religions warning of the dangers of such practices, and often forcefully forbidding them, is a recurring theme in this field of psychic investigation. Does officialdom genuinely care about our welfare? Or is there something of great value to be experienced and learned which makes the status-quo uneasy?
Perhaps what makes the Ouija board so appealing to contemporary psychics, sensitives and ghost hunters is its remarkable degree of practicality. In times gone by, a consultation with the denizens of the other side was often an elaborate affair involving lengthy ritual, astrological observances and sonorous incantations. Queen Elizabeth I’s courtier Dr John Dee was said to speak to spirits and angelic forces after conducting such intricate practices. More recently, the French mystic Eliphas Levi experienced a chilling nocturnal meeting with Apollonius of Tyana which is well documented.
The dawn of the modern technological era ironically triggered a great surge of spiritual interest in Western society. 1875 saw the creation of the Theosophical Society, and the Golden Dawn – which boasted such notables as WB Yeats, Bram Stoker and Aleister Crowley – flourished in England during the late 19th century. In 1890 Elijah Bond began to market the first commercial Ouija boards and the institution was born.
Negative contemporary attitudes towards the board possibly stem from horror movies such as ‘The Exorcist‘ (1973). However, there are many who claim the Ouija can be utilised in a safe and controlled manner. Despite voicing his indifference towards spiritualism, Aleister Crowley had a profound respect for this method of preternatural communication but insisted upon specific cleansing rituals before and after use to eliminate the possibility of mischievous spirits or demons harming the sitters.
David Conway provides detailed instructions on how to communicate effectively with the spirit world in his classic work ‘Ritual Magic: An Occult Primer’ but in typical good humour he parenthesises: ‘there are plenty of human beings in this world without your having to seek company in the next.’
Ouija is now a trademark of Hasbro. A harmless parlour pass-time? A safe method to communicate with spirits? Or something more sinister? Everyone has a story involving a Ouija board… What’s yours?
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