Mr. Ouija and Mrs. Gail
October 15, 2018 8:45 PM   Subscribe

This is actually beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by artof.mulata at 10:23 PM on October 15, 2018

In The Smithsonian, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie points out that the Ouija—and spiritualism in general—tend to thrive during uncertain times.

This article linked in the post is worth a read too. This in particular is hilarious: Knowing that if they couldn’t prove that the board worked, they wouldn’t get their patent, Bond brought the indispensible Peters to the patent office in Washington with him when he filed his application. There, the chief patent officer demanded a demonstration—if the board could accurately spell out his name, which was supposed to be unknown to Bond and Peters, he’d allow the patent application to proceed. They all sat down, communed with the spirits, and the planchette faithfully spelled out the patent officer’s name. Whether or not it was mystical spirits or the fact that Bond, as a patent attorney, may have just known the man’s name, well, that’s unclear, Murch says. But on February 10, 1891, a white-faced and visibly shaken patent officer awarded Bond a patent for his new “toy or game.”
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:58 PM on October 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

But re the actual post: I've been thinking for a while about the connection between Gilded Age spiritualism and modern-day witchy/occult stuff. It makes perfect sense - our institutions have failed us and our reality makes no sense, so why wouldn't we turn to tarot and astrology and crystals? I don't believe in any of those things, but I'm sort of fascinated by them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:02 PM on October 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

This kid was basically me. I was obsessed with witches, although not so much with Bone Thugs. I still love all things witchy (favorite movie: The Witch). I'm a cis straight guy, but I've had an unhappy life, and I think I liked witches because they were outcasts, too, mysterious and powerful. They captured something in my imagination that has never left. My dad lived in Boston at the time, and the Salem Witch Museum was the best place I'd ever been (it was VERY important to me that men had been executed in the Salem trials, because I wanted to know that boys could be witches too).

I've read a lot about witches as an adult (I even wrote a term paper on how the Protestant Reformation impacted views of Satan and witchcraft). My research was kind of a letdown. My childhood fantasies of witches are not supported by modern scholarship. I read book after book to find some evidence, but there was none. As far as I'm concerned, there really weren't any witches as I imagined them, just innocent people tortured and murdered because they were convenient scapegoats. At most you might see the occasional person practicing pre-Christian medicine or divination (usually somewhere like on a Greek Island rather than New England), but none of the grand rituals, none of the black masses that I'd always been obsessed with. Baphomet turns out to be anti-Muslim propaganda (the name Baphomet is a corruption of Muhammad). And so on.

I still love witchcraft as a topic, and as a fantasy, it is still immensely appealing to me -- nothing makes me happier than the image of the witches' coven meeting under the moonlight on an Autumn night in New England. But I wish witchcraft were something I could really believe in. I kind of still need the escape...
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:16 AM on October 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

I grew up in Asheville, the small Appalachian City from whence I suspect the band of Black Mass-ing North Carolina witches mentioned in the article came. Wicca was real big among some of my after school teachers and friends’ Moms for a while when I was coming up, which probably did more to put me off the Dark Arts than a gaggle of Hellfire bible-thumpers ever could. Most things don’t feel very sexy and dangerous when they’re being done by your piano teacher and, like, Jennifer’s mom who who does a lot of macrame and is in your Dad’s Jungian group. Also, and I may have mentioned this previously, there was always a large crossover between “witches” and “people that inexplicably put carob in cookies” and, like, what sort of bullshit universe would allow magic to exist but not chocolate in these cookies, Jennifer’s Mom?
posted by thivaia at 6:08 AM on October 16, 2018 [30 favorites]

My parents are atheists and pretty bohemian and when I was growing up, bible-thumping and satanism were both so extremely foreign to me that I doubt I even knew of the existence of either. But when I was a kid, maybe seven or eight years old, my parents and I pulled out my mom's old childhood Ouija board while we were spending the day decorating for Halloween, and decided to give it a whirl. My mother had had a wonderful experience talking to a spirit through the board when she was a teenager -- that spirit was a nice woman who said she was waiting two years before her next reincarnation, as is apparently de rigueur in the afterlife -- and we all thought this would be more of the same.

At first, we spoke to some kid through the board and it was a lot of fun. But then suddenly the board went crazy and some other spirit said they had taken over. That spirit was extremely angry and I don't really remember what they said, but my parents were terrified. They took the board away, put it someplace I never discovered or maybe even threw it out altogether, and refused to ever try Ouija again. Years later, I asked if we could try again, and even then, the blood rushed out of my mom's cheeks and she said no, that it was too frightening and that she didn't want to risk letting that angry spirit into our lives.
posted by rue72 at 7:53 AM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Many of my friends have great stories of Ouija boards, many of which end up with them burning the board in a parking lot or some such. I don't, because as a natural skeptic whenever I tried to use the board with a friend and the planchette started moving, I'd lift my hands up, the weight of their hands would tip the planchette, and I'd accuse them of pushing it (because the directions said to rest your fingertips on it "as lightly as possible"). They'd deny it, I'd accuse them of lying, and we'd have a huge fight.

I told my husband about this, and how I felt I missed out on a typical growing-up experience due to my actions and, bless his heart, he bought me a Ouija board.

We've only used it once. We were hungry and couldn't decide on a restaurant, so decided to ask the board. After a couple of minutes of resting our fingertips on the planchette, it swiftly and firmly moved to "GOODBYE." Laughing, we quit.

(I think we ended up at Steak 'N' Shake because it has a Pokegym.)
posted by telophase at 9:36 AM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I like to imagine Ouija boards from the other side, like the pay phones in a county jail. The spirits lined up, waiting to tell their ex-wife to remember to mow the lawn or deliver some enigmatic diatribe. If they can't get anyone they know, maybe just spook some teens.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:58 AM on October 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

As mischievously depicted in Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man:
There was a shrill clamour of other disembodied voices.

- could you get a message, please, to Mr. -

- tell her there’s a bag of coins on the ledge up the chimney -

- Agnes is not to have the silverware after what she said about our Molly -

- I didn’t have time to feed the cat, could someone go -

- shutupshutup!
That was One-Man-Bucket again. you’ve got no idea, have you? this is ghost talk, is it? ‘feed the cat’? whatever happened to ‘I am very happy here, and waiting for you to join me’?
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 2:02 PM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Joey B used to bring in his Ouija board when we had indoor recess in 5th grade. Our teacher was a pastor's wife and surprisingly chill about the fact that her students were summoning spirits in her classroom. I always thought Joey was moving the planchette and telling tales, even though 5th grade me was super into things like that. (I did a presentation on the occult for G&T that year and ended up scaring myself so much in the process that I had to start listening to classical music to fall asleep, to cover up the sounds of an old house that I had convinced myself was something spooky and bad.)

This post sent me down a rabbit hole of the history of Judaism and witches, which would make a good October FPP, come to think about it.
posted by Ruki at 3:23 PM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

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