Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ask The Witch: Ouija Boards

As most readers know, I teach math at a very awesome, very progressive Jewish high school.  Sometimes students ask me witchy questions. A student emailed me shortly after school today:

"Hey, would you mind if I ask you a question about not-school stuff? I was just wondering what your opinion on Ouija boards are. Just like if you've had any experience either way, or if you have anything to say about them. Are they total bullshit? Is it possible that they aren't? My opinion is that they're total malarkey, but I'm not really well informed and now I'm curious because it came up in conversation. Do you have anything to say on the subject?"

So, welcome to Ouija 101.

The short version: Ouija boards, like any other magical tool, are just a tool. It's the skill of the person using it that matters. So, most of the time they're bullshit, but a skilled operator can certainly get quality answers from a ouija board (but she can also get them from a candle flame, or from the rustling of a tree's leaves, or just by closing her eyes and being quiet for a while). In general, tools (like ouija boards, or tarot cards, or whatever) are easier than less mediated methods (like flame or wind or silence), but they can produce less sophisticated/detailed answers.  In my experience, its best to use a combination; begin with a highly formalized method (like tarot or ouija or I Ching or whatever) and let that guide you into a more subtle "listening".  Personally, I think ouija is a far inferior method for spirit communication compared to something like tarot or automatic writing.  The only benefit of ouija boards is the "party game" aspect, which is kind of fun (until someone gets freaked out, and then it's REALLY fun).

Long Answer:

Ouija boards are generally used for two different things:  (1) To receive communications from a specific spirit that has been intentionally called and (2) To receive communication from whatever spirit happens to be "in the area".   The ouija board differs from most other forms of spirit communication in that it's often done as a group, rather than by an individual. When they're used by an individual, often a pendulum (a weight on a string) is used instead of the planchette.  

In my experience, ouija boards are pretty much only used at parties.  I don't think I've used one in at least 15 years, but we played with them a lot in high school, and I still own that one, although I mostly use it as a bookshelf these days.   Although I don't remember when I did so, I must have enchanted it at some point, because there's writing on the back.  In the top left corner, an aleph.  In the top left, the rune for fire.  In the bottom right, an infinity symbol.  In the bottom left, the rune for ice.  In the middle are some complicated sigils I don't recognize, which might be badly drawn kanji characters. I haven't looked at it in years;maybe I'll play with it later. In any case...

My own experiences might not be very representative.  Obviously, I've never used a ouija board without at least one witch in the room.  While I'm not particularly skilled, I'm not a terrible medium (spirit-communicator).  More relevantly, my bff M. is a crazy-talented natural witch, and almost all my high school ouija board experience includes her as well, and took place at a cabin in the woods, by a river, which all my magical colleagues agree is one of the most magically potent places anyone has ever been.  (She and I own that cabin now!  I cannot tell you how very under-rated being a grown up is.)  So, while I'm going to tell you a story, you have to understand, this is just my experience, and I'm a psycho.  Probably this is not how it goes for most people.

The first time I remember using a Ouija board, I was about 13, and at was at the house of a colleague of my parents.   They had twin daughters who were then 12.  After dinner, the grown ups were playing cards (or something) in the main room.  The girls, my brother (then 11ish), and I were in the twins' room.  They asked my brother and I if we wanted to try a ouija board, and we agreed.  While we'd never had one, we knew what they were, as they were heavily advertised on TV.  We all gathered around in a circle, and the girls explained how it worked.  I recall thinking it was weird that you just talked to whoever showed up, instead of "placing a call", like they did in old movies of seances.  (I still think it's kind of stupid.)  I said something like "Spirits of this place, attend to me now!  I call you forth by the secret names of power!  Answer our questions and tell us your secrets!".  There being four of us, I then explained that I thought we should call the elements in a circle around us, which I probably learned from a fairy tale or a TV show.  Maybe Gargoyles.  I learned a lot of magic from Gargoyles.  (Why didn't I do that BEFORE I called the spirits?  Because I was 13 and learning magic from cartoons, that's why.)

We then placed our hands on the planchette and dove in.  It moved quite strongly and rapidly,which the girls seemed to think was unusual, and they accused my brother and I of cheating.  They did it again without us, and it still moved fast and clear.  We then, at my insistence, experimented with each pairing, but the quality of the movements didn't really change.  We asked, and got answers to, some insipid middle schooler questions (Does this boy like me?  Will I get straight As? etc, etc.  I learned my future husband's name is Michael; a thing I've been told by many other sources as well.  None of whom I asked.  NOT THE MARRYING TYPE I say, but no one listens.)  I asked some "verifiable" questions, and got reasonable although somewhat cryptic answers, and insisted everyone else do so too.  They also got true answers.  The girls were a bit werided out, and wanted to quit, but I insisted we keep playing.  This was exciting!  We had to continue experimenting.  For Science!  Eventually, I thought to ask "Spirit!  What else do you want to tell us?".

At that point, the radio turned itself on:  "Stop!  Collaborate and listen!  Ice is back with a brand new invention!  Something grabs a hold of me tightly," and then one of the girls screamed and backed away from the board.  The music was still playing.  "...  Will it ever stop?  Yo!  I don't know.  Turn off the lights and I'll glow."  And then the lightbulb exploded and the room went black.  And then everyone who wasn't me freaked the fuck out.  I,however, was elated.  Magic was real!  And awesome!  All four parents then came in the see why everyone was screaming, and we were taken home very shortly there after.  We were not invited back.

Several of my experiences with ouija boards have been like that.  I have had radios and televisions spontaneously turn on many times, and I've popped at least 3 or 4 lightbulbs, and once singed  a tablecloth when a candle fell over.  However, most of the time, there's none of that poltergeisty activity, and I've never experienced anything that seemed dangerous or malicious.

I've never seen the planchette move without anyone touching it (although I've heard stories about that, I'm not sure if I believe them or not.) In my experience, the movement of the planchette always originate with the operators, whether they know it or not.  I'm completely convinced they move due to ideomotor effect, but that doesn't make them unreliable as divinatory tools.  Instead of thinking of it as communicating with an external spirit, think of it as communicating with your own unconscious.  Until you're a pretty sophisticated magician, there's really very little difference (because, when you communicate with a spirit, it's pretty much always mediated through your unconscious anyway).

If I were going to use a Ouija board today, as a somewhat experienced (although hardly "advanced level" or whatever) witch, here's what I'd do:

1) Wash to board and planchette with soap and water.  
2) Pray over the board, asking the Divine to empower it as a creature of revelation.
3) Have a cup of clean, cool water and a lit white candle nearby.  For reasons I don't really understand, the combination of water and fire seems to help spirits manifest.  
4) Explain to everyone present that I really do expect spirits to show up when I call, and if they aren't down with that, they should leave.
5) Call a specific spirit and ask it to communicate with me. For a beginner looking for all-purpose revelations and truth-telling, a specific beloved ancestor or the angel Gabriel would be good choices.
6) When finished, thank the spirit, and pour out some wine, milk, honey, or an egg at the base of a tree as a "thank you" gift.

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