"Good luck", replied the demonic game board
October 29, 2013 9:24 AM   Subscribe

In my late teens I roamed with a group of friends; one memorable June we started playing with the Ouija board and we figured out pretty quickly how it worked and we discovered the inner comedians amongst us when this person or that would be left in full control of the pointer.

One person in particular was very much not one to swear or even discuss matters of the body. She; well, she (when touching the pointer) would reveal a secret side of herself that was both trenchant and hilarious; all without fully understanding that it was her and not some "ghost" that was spelling out such funny stuff (we took to not touching the pointer at all, instead hovering over it when she had her hands on it) She would betray an inner life so full of funny and foul humor that we could wile hours away just spelling out this and that. It got to a point where we confessed that no one else was even touching the pointer and she gamely kept on playing, solely spelling out parts of the anatomy or funny intimations about our circle or those outside it.

Sure; there were attempts to contact the dead, speak to ghosts, divination and so on; but once it was clear that the "ghosts" didn't really know the secret truths that we would not share (unless one was credulous enough to believe in such things, and some of us were) that it was ourselves that we were talking to and isn't that what Teenagers want most? Someone who really understands them to talk to them and discuss the matters that they hold close to themselves.

I suspect the Ouija board let's people talk to the parts of themselves that don't readily answer and that's pretty damn cool
posted by NiteMayr at 9:38 AM on October 29, 2013 [17 favorites]

No teen girl slumber party was complete without a Ouija board. I miss those times.
posted by Kokopuff at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I assume that kids today are a little more sophisticated than we were, but back when it was re-released in the late-60s/early 70s it was scary! I still remember being at a slumber party and using it at a seance trying to contact Freddie Prinz. It was good fun, like telling ghost stories around a campfire.

On preview, happy to confirm Kokopuff's slumber party theory.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:32 AM on October 29, 2013

Funny how, if the Ouija board is so magical and dangerous (and eeeeevil! as was drilled into me at church when I was a kid), it's so powerless if you simply blindfold the people who are supposedly channeling spirits through it.
posted by mullingitover at 10:54 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Correct but cautious, that first night, we asked
Our visitor's name, era, habitat.
EPHRAIM came the answer. A Greek Jew
Bon AD 8 at XANTHOS   Where was that?
(Next day the classical dictionary yielded
A Xanthos on the Asia Minor Coast.)
NOW WHO ARE U   We told him.  ARE U XTIANS
Christ had WROUGHT HAVOC in his family,
(I too had issued from a broken home--
The first of several facts to coincide.)

--James Merrill
The Changing Light at Sandover
posted by dnash at 11:01 AM on October 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

As mullingitover points out, the whole ideometer effect goes away when you can't see ... so how to explain this part of the experiment:
At some point, the participant was blindfolded—and the other player, really a confederate, quietly took their hands off the planchette. This meant that the participant believed he or she wasn’t alone, enabling the kind of automatic pilot state the researchers were looking for, but still ensuring that the answers could only come from the participant.
posted by user92371 at 11:04 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

@dnash -- I was just coming in here to quote Merrill.

SANDOVER completely justifies every stupid thing ever said/written about Ouija boards.

If you haven't read this poem, folks, just go get it right now. It's 600 pages of wickedly funny, campy, deliriously inventive, absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful mystical verse. Magnificent.
posted by waxbanks at 11:05 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

@user92371: We did much the same to our friend; where they couldn't see the board and someone else read the results. They had memorized the board; simple as that.
posted by NiteMayr at 11:06 AM on October 29, 2013

When I was about 6 or 7, we got a Ka-bala for Christmas, which I considered magical, and possibly possessed, more-so than our Ouija board. The spinning eyeball was nightmare-inducing.
posted by The Deej at 11:07 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

No teen girl slumber party was complete without a Ouija board. I miss those times.

Yeah, this stuff was huge with my sister and older cousins in the early 80s. I was much younger, but got to witness many a seance, Ouija board session, and game of "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board" pretty much anytime the grownups went out for the evening and left them in charge of us younger kids.

Apparently, that witchy stuff had a great appeal to girls of a certain age back then. I blame Stevie Nicks.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:10 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's funny to me how this is something that is patented and marketed, in Brazil it is known simply as "brincadeira do copo", or glass game, you write down the letters on pieces of paper and use an upside-down glass or cup.
posted by Tom-B at 11:20 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

As mullingitover points out, the whole ideometer effect goes away when you can't see ... so how to explain this part of the experiment:

I don't think the ideomotor effect goes away when you can't see - you just lose precision. In this case, the researchers were only asking Yes or No questions - yes and no are on opposite sides of a ouija board, so precision isn't required.
posted by muddgirl at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

NGS 549672
posted by radwolf76 at 11:34 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

This article was fascinating. I found it very interesting how the same game was perceived as harmless, spiritual fun before the Exorcist, and a tool of Satan after the Exorcist. My mother briefly subscribed to the Satan paranoia, and once grounded me when she found out I'd played it at a sleepover.

I tracked down the experiment described on Page 2 about the accuracy of responses to trivia questions (public PDF of Gauchou, Rensink, & Fels, 2012). It's a fun paper, and I want to provide some nuance lacking in the original article posted: people were only more accurate when responding with the Ouija board than clicking yes/no on a computer for answers they weren't confident in. When they were confident in their answers, they were equally accurate regardless of how the response was made.

Twenty-seven university students participated.... None reported having played Ouija before

Aaaand now I feel old.
posted by nicodine at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

So we're hanging out in a friend's house; we were all teenagers, he had inherited the house from his grandmother and moved in right away (because he and his stepfather hated each other.) Most of the folks there are heavy metal types, although I'm not, and since there's an 18-year-old with his own house, this is where all the drinking and carousing happens. Also lots of loud metal music at all hours of the night. But I digress.

One of the parties is going on, and among the attendees is a girl, Mimi, whose name I only remember because we called her Screaming Mimi, and she got her nickname that night. Hours earlier, when we'd picked her up for the party, she'd advised that she and her boyfriend had bought a Ouija board. We'd played with a Ouija board at a previous party, which is where she got the idea.

And so her boyfriend didn't want to come, but she did, and at the party lots of alcohol was consumed and a bit of Ouija was played. Later that evening, she got a phone call from her boyfriend, and was freaking out: her boyfriend had decided to use the Ouija board alone after she left, and she was certain that was how people got possessed! We made jokes about it, and did our best to feed her anxiety. One of the things we suggested was that, if he were in fact possessed, he'd probably show up at the house, floating outside the big picture window at the rear of the house before bursting through to kill us all.

This was very much on her mind a bit later when, while we were drinking and dancing and whatnot -- and while I was having the pleasure of joining Mimi in a half-drunk slow dance to metal (the specific band and song escape me) -- our mutual friend Dave came 'round the backyard in the dark to see if the party was still going on. He walked up to the picture window to get our attention, and in doing so his face became lit up by the room lights...but his body couldn't be seen.

Did I mention that Dave looked a lot like Mimi's boyfriend?

A few seconds later, Mimi looked up to see Dave's face "floating" in the darkness. She screamed louder -- and closer to my ear -- than I've ever heard anyone scream, ran upstairs (screaming the whole way), locked herself in a bedroom and refused to come out for nearly half an hour, screaming on and off the whole time.

And that's my Ouija board memory. I'm so glad brains retain useless information.
posted by davejay at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2013 [15 favorites]

Thanks for linking to the study, nicodine! There's a lot of interesting observations in there.
posted by muddgirl at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I once dictated basically an entire American Girl book (Changes for Kirsten) to a group of rapt 9 year old girls at a slumber party using a ouija board. They got so attached to her I never had the heart to fess up.

I'm not sure where I got the board... it would had to have been from my parents but years later my mom would freak out when I brought home a book entitled something like "Teen Witch" that was Wicca lite (spells to keep people from gossiping about you etc.) and built a tiny altar in my room. She must have been familiar with the ouija board from it's "fun for the family" stage.
posted by Saminal at 12:01 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

I own the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Conversations with Dead People Board. I was just thinking I might break it out for Hallowe'en, along with my Magic 8 Ball and tarot deck.

But I thought we did know where ouija comes from--it's a rip-off of the fuji method from China, right?
posted by magstheaxe at 12:02 PM on October 29, 2013

In college we rented an apartment with an odd, teardrop-shaped coffee table. We were sitting around drunk one day, and joked about how it looked like a HUGE Ouija board marker ("planchet", I guess). Suddenly we looked closer, and realized there was a large hole near the pointy end, plugged up.

Some hippies had made a giant, everyone-in-the-room-helps Ouija board. Cool!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

There should be a ouija app where several people control the same pointer on their own phone (or mouse, for a web based version).
posted by 445supermag at 12:58 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

445supermag: "There should be a ouija app where several people control the same pointer on their own phone (or mouse, for a web based version)."

Split the patent?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:26 PM on October 29, 2013

I have a Ouija Board story that is TOTALLY TRUE!

I was probably 15 years old, and for some unknown reason my mother and I were playing with the Ouija. My best friend, Mark, happened to come by and was watching us. We asked random, innocuous questions like whether dogs or cats are smarter and just generally goofed around for a while.


Mark suggested we ask it something that we could look up and verify whether it was actually accurate. We tossed a couple ideas around and decided to ask the birthday of someone famous. I picked George Washington. I figured it would be easy to look up but would be something none of us would know.

The Ouija gave us a month, day and year. I ran over to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and yep, it was correct.

Mark freaked out and left. My mother decided that was enough. And I have forever been convinced of the mysterious power of the Ouija.

I haven't touched it since.
posted by nedpwolf at 1:50 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Last summer, I was in Guatemala, and was staying with a Mayan family and taking Spanish lessons in a town called San Pedro on the side of Lake Atitlan. The town is hundreds of years old, and the culture is authentically Mayan, with a veneer of Catholic Spain. After a week or so, a bunch of pre-med students from California, there for a clinic, started staying at the same house with us, and we got to be friends. They had booked a trip to Tikhal, an old Mayan ruin a day and a half away, deep in the Jungle, and asked me if I wanted to tag along, so I did.

The trip up was great, we took a boat up the Rio Dulce to Livingston, stayed overnight in Flores, a lovely small town, built on the ruins of the Mayan fortress in a lake, where the native people made their last stand against the Spanish conquest (in 1697), now dealing with problems with the cartels. We left Flores late which made us arrive at Tikhal late, but it was so amazing, that we stayed for hours, even though we knew that we'd have to drive back late at night, something that their volunteer coordinator had warned the students about, and specifically instructed the tour guides not to do. That part of Guatemala was notorious for armed robberies.

All of which is to say that I ended up in a beat up white van full of college kids with Turistas written on the side, driving down pitch black Guatemalan jungle roads, through cartel country.

So of course we start telling ghost stories. It was a mixed group of kids from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. Korean, Chinese, Philippino, Salvadoran, Peruvian, Indonesian, Guatemalan, and they all had their own ethnic monster stories to tell-- flying vampire heads, a little skinless boy with a black hat, etc.

Then the drivers decided to tell some stories. They were locals from Lake atitlan, Mayan was their first language, but they also spoke Spanish. Two of the girls in the bus, cousins, were from Guatemala, so they translated.

The drivers told two stories, one about a car accident they witnessed (an incredibly common sight in Guatemala, with curvy mountain roads and insane drivers). They pulled over to help a woman by a wrecked car, who turned down their help, but gave them a necklace to give to her parents in the next town. When they arrived and gave them the necklace, they got furious with them and demanded to know where they got it-- Their daughter had died in a car accident the year before.

The med students ate that up, but I scoffed at the hokiness of it.

Then they told a story about the American and the Ouija board, which I'll preface by saying that State Department warnings about Guatemala included stories of locals lynching tourists that they thought were trying to steal children.

They said that an American had brought a Ouija board from California to San Marcos, the town across the lake from San Pedro, which had something of a reputation as a hippy retreat, with meditation centers and so on. The guy got drunk, used the board, contacted a spirit, and then passed out drunk.

According to our guides, this left open a portal to the other world, that evil spirits used to flow into San Marcos. People began to act strangely. Children and pets disappeared. Domestic violence increased, there were random killings. People from other towns around the lake began to talk, and eventually stopped going to the town.

They said that eventually, a priest and old wise women began to look for the source of the evil that plagued the town. The tracked it down to the house that the tourist was living in, and found the Ouija board, and knew what the problem was, and knew how to fix it.

So then, they said, they took him outside and burned him.
The van erupted with a lot of WHAT?! And NO WAY!

Then the other cousin who had also been translating, said, "Uhm, I'm pretty sure he said 'it'. They burned the Ouija board."

There was some conversation with the drivers to clarify, and the drivers said, "Right, of course, we meant the board."

We were a bit relieved, but we still stopped telling ghost stories.
posted by empath at 2:03 PM on October 29, 2013 [15 favorites]

No teen girl slumber party was complete without a Ouija board.

Hey, So and So, Whats Her Face and the Ugly One? Shall we try and get in touch with some spirits?

It's lifting up off the table! Look out, look out... too late...

posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:17 PM on October 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

When I was very young, one of my aunts talked about having a Ouija board, and that it might be still in my grandparents' house somewhere.

After much frantic searching on my and my sister's part, and not finding it, I asked one of my uncles about it, and he said he had burned it, because it had a demon in it. Well, to child me, that was exactly the reason why you would keep it, and so of course, having this idea dangled in front of our minds, and then snatched away, we wouldn't shut up about the damn thing for, oh, a day, a week, who knows?

So that very Christmas, there was one to unwrap. We pretty much always had a board game under the tree every year, and that was it. It may not have been the only one that year; I can't remember.

Flash forward a few years. The Ouija board's novelty has worn off, but my sister and I being weird kids interested in weird things, still took it out from time to time, hoping for whatever.

So she has a sleepover. They bring out the board, and can't get anything exciting out of it, but the past few years of fiddling with the thing has got it in my sister's head that I am the only one that it really works for. That is to say, I'm pretty good at pushing the thing without seeming like I'm pushing it. Somehow, she doesn't know this.

So I sit at the board with a bunch of girls a couple years older than me (I think I was eleven, maybe twelve), and now coherent messages are coming out of it, hooboy.

My sister gets hung up on a couple of the answers, and over the next couple of weeks has me help her consult the board, and finally figures out that the board doesn't know anything I don't.

She was pissed.

But it seems to me now like it took her a really long time to figure it out.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:45 PM on October 29, 2013

"no, I was not pushing that time"
It spells : s.t.e.v.e.n
posted by 4ster at 6:43 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought it was really interesting how using the board DOES get correct answers, that people didn't necessarily consciously know the answers to. A favorite research concept of mine is the daimon, the "voice in your head" or other self or "acorn" or whatever that already knows the stuff you want to know ahead of time, and the study here plays right into that. I am all for finding ways to communicate with that voice, since it's pretty difficult.

That said...my Ouija experiences were not that shocking. I got one for free at a pagan swap and have used it a whopping twice, both with people who did play with those things all the time as a kid. One time it wouldn't budge at all while my friend asked questions about her marriage, and only moved the one time I said something (no, I can't recall what I said). The other time I was doing it with someone, she silently asked her question in her head and didn't tell me (at first) what she asked. Her question was something we had as a point of contention--I said yes and she said no. Without my knowing what the hell she asked....signs pointed to yes. I found this to be pretty cool at the time.... Of course, in my experience years later, that shit never has come to pass, so feh. How disappointing. I suppose it could happen still, but it's unlikely.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Those robots are going to be so posessed
posted by thelonius at 8:07 PM on October 29, 2013

Y'all clearly did not grow up in the Ozarks, where teachers solemnly informed us that the Proctor and Gamble logo was satanic and do you know that KISS worships the devil? A ouija board would have been tantamount to holding an interracial wedding at a black mass.
posted by Occula at 8:23 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wise elders and clergy have been warning youth for ages about the risks of dabbling in the occult. Let's consider for a moment the unscientific possibility that maybe they're not all wrong.

The old school concerns about the dangers of playing with Ouija boards, reading aloud from conjure books, performing dark magic rituals and the like, are all based upon something of a Spiritual Rule, shared across many religious and cultural traditions: You cannot be oppressed by a malevolent spirit or demon without first giving it your consent in some way.

You have to open a door, so to speak. And I can see how it is reasonable for people of faith to conclude that it is entirely possible to open a door unintentionally by messing around with a spiritual communication device like a Ouija board.

The brain health research about the non-conscious mind that was referenced at the very end of the article linked to in this post sounds truly fascinating. Makes me think it is entirely possible for someone impressionable to spend a little too much time on a Ouija board and suddenly their non-conscious mind starts playing tricks on them, to the tune of "I'm being hounded by a spirit! Look at all of these crazy facts it knows" (new psychic abilities are often believed to be a sign of possession).

Seems to me there are 2 kinds of people (I know, everyone always says that and then proceeds to share their own quirky typology). There are those who intuitively sense that things can and do go wrong on the spiritual side of things, who always go with their gut and would run the hell away from a freaky situation without ever hesitating or questioning themselves (i.e. Me, and apparently a number of famous comedians who have made a humorous trope out of how certain of our families never would have stayed for another minute in the Amityville Horror house once that voice told them to "GET OUT" and blood started dripping down the walls). To us, it is obvious that Ouija boards are a bad idea, no matter that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support our theory.

Then, on the other hand, there are rational people like my friend who is eager to buy and renovate an old funeral home, which of course looks like it came straight out of a horror film. He plans to convert it into a home for his young family, without even giving a second thought about why that might be problematic for his 3 small children. Asbestos, lead paint, ghosts - yeah, just try and get me to come visit you.

As they say, the greatest lie the devil ever told was convincing the world he does not exist. Happy Halloween!
posted by hush at 6:17 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, hush, but your fears about Ouija boards are unfounded. The little demon who lives inside my Magic 8-Ball told me so.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:19 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check out the fantastic headstone of the guy who first patented the Ouija Board.
(I happen to live one block from this cemetery. John Wilkes Booth is also buried there.)
posted by zoinks at 9:55 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Online ouija board.

posted by Kevin Street at 3:26 PM on October 30, 2013

4ster: ""no, I was not pushing that time"
It spells : s.t.e.v.e.n

The table is rumbling
The glass is moving...

posted by SisterHavana at 5:51 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember the old "Doorways to Danger" video they showed us at my church school. Ouija boards were made out to be very bad, as was Dungeons and Dragons. This is ironic, because the people who object to these things think they are in some sort of D&D game, in which there are constant incursions into our world from the "spiritual realm".

There is an argument that people should not get into this occult stuff because they might give themselves a bad scare. But it's not an argument you can expect supernaturalists to make, because they're committed to the idea that this stuff might actually work. I remember my old vicar telling us that he thought we rational Cambridge Christians might have become a bit too skeptical about things like demons. From denying the reality of demons, it's a short step to wondering about God, I suppose.

hush: In my tradition, you're OK using a Ouija board if you've got a good enough Will Save or you cast Protection from Evil. I guess you might be playing 4th edition, though?

Seriously, when you want us to consider "unscientific possibility that maybe they're not all wrong" and quote The Usual Suspects, are you suggesting we should believe in demons? You seem to oscillate between a psychological explanation (which could presumably have some scientific backing) and, well, D&D. I think a scientific understanding of this stuff would remove some of its terrors and that this is a good thing (take our modern understanding of sleep paralysis, for example: it's still a scary experience but at least we don't still think we're being attacked by real beings), and I would reject the idea that we should seriously worry about the sorts of explanations advanced by "wise elders and clergy".
posted by pw201 at 3:28 AM on November 1, 2013

"I would reject the idea that we should seriously worry about the sorts of explanations advanced by "wise elders and clergy" Again, your view is Not Wrong.

pw201: Apart from Straw-Man-ing all "supernaturalists" as people who cannot distinguish the occult from the likes of Dungeons and Dragons (or Harry Potter? or Sabrina the Teenage Witch?), we basically agree.

I'll note that for roughly 2,000 years of humankind, evil spirits/demons were always to blame. Ever since the mid-1800s, we've decided that various diseases of the body/psych issues are now to blame. We've gone from one extreme to another, and each time we've had evidence to support our beliefs. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle (but extremely close to the latter explanation IMHO).

"the greatest lie the devil ever told was convincing the world he does not exist."

The screenwriters of The Usual Suspects did not coin that particular aphorism. (There's that pesky Straw Man fallacy again). Far from it. Great movie though.
posted by hush at 8:30 AM on November 1, 2013

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