A bit of a change of scenery here but a recent tale of Ouija board woe caught my attention. You know the story and how it goes by now, three friends decide to try a Ouija board and all of a sudden there's a nasty bout of possession going around, kids are talking in tongues and commenters get yet another chance to repeat their favourite mantra of "You shouldn't meddle with what you don't understand". Doubtless they share this wisdom whilst endeavouring to look all cool, knowing and mysterious.

I'm fairly positive that most of my dear readers are familiar with the potted history of the Ouija board by now, popularised (and patented) in the late 19th century as a parlour game many a family would huddle around the board and convene with the spirit world seeking arcane knowledge such as "Is anybody there?" and of course "Am I going to be infested by a demon and vomit green soup all over a priest at any point in the future". Mostly what people actually learned is that the dead are genuinely awful at spelling.

The origins of automatic writing go back far further than the pressed board and triangular pointer we all know and love now. Mentions as far back as the first century in China are still knocking about and it appears the practice of convening with spirits using a planchette or other means were banned by the Qing dynasty. Was it forbidden because it opened a door to evil spirits or perhaps an aversion to lousy spelling and teenagers thinking they were witches at parties? We may never know.

In fact automatic writing to have a chat with the dearly departed has surfaced throughout history and around the globe. Even in medieval Europe people were trying to convene with the dead regardless of the fact the church (and bible) were not at all supportive of such ideas and given that going against the church in such things in those days often lead to a rather swift touch of corrective therapy in the form of being burned alive you have to hand it to the occultinauts, they were surely determined. But what about our modern world? Why are we still so hung up on this telephone to heaven and its evil potential?

I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't have a Ouija board story. Usually they are along the lines of "my friend knew someone..." but they're stories all the same and many end in death, madness or both. It's delicious to indulge in these stories and as a result I attended quite a few parties as a youngster where, usually in the wee small hours of the morning, someone would declare it was time to make a Ouija board (or weegee as it was often pronounced). So there you would be, five or six stoned teenagers all angsty because the night didn't end in some kind of sexual adventure all sat around a hastily created Ouija hoping that they can at least look enigmatic and mysterious enough to appeal to the remaining members of the opposite sex who weren't already spoken for.

What should happen is that all hell should break loose, windows should open and slam repeatedly, ghostly wails should be heard from empty rooms, and at least one member of the party (preferably the tit who likes rugby and won't stop talking) ends up possessed by Satan and telling you that your mother has apparently lowered her moral standards down in hell. What actually happens is far more mundane. Three hours of asking "is anybody there" followed by a further three saying "Did you move that? I didn't move that...no it WASN'T me...was it you? That's not how you spell sausage!". It's an anti climax. If you're lucky something at least vaguely spooky will happen, for me it was pigeons in my mates loft moving about when the pointer did its thing. Hardly Hollywood material there.

Here's the skinny, nothing ever happens when you play with a Ouija board. The only 'spirit' you are convening with is yourself or the drunken compatriot who thinks it's funny to spell out "you will dei in a car carsh". Don't believe me? Try a simple experiment. Make your own board but rearrange the letters. Once you've done that have one friend do the board with you and one friend observing. Sound good? Okay then, now have you and the person using the board with you close your eyes before asking any questions and keep them closed. When you're done ask the observer what was spelled out. You'll find that "asdjsatjthasdfhsdf" isn't actually the correct answer to "will I win the lottery?".

Much as Jaws left a generation of children terrified to visit the toilet The Exorcist left an existential dread of Ouija boards. The film (and to a lesser extent the book) have left an indelible mark on our society and I for one love that. Few people actually know the history of automatic writing and why should they? It's rather dull. But so many know that if you play with a Ouija board you're pretty much giving the devil an open invitation to enter your body and get intimate with your grandma's crucifix. If you need further proof just read the comments below any video online which deals with Ouija boards, there are a lot of people out there who are still terrified of Captain Howdy. Thing is you have to wonder why the embodiment of pure evil can't spell and seems to want to do nothing more than lie about making silly noises. See the video at the following link for proof!


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Hayden is the founder of Trigger Warning so it’s all his fault.

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