Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 9: Ouija Boards

It's funny that parents are more or less tolerant of children's imaginations when it comes to their kids seeing ghosts (see here).  But Ouija boards, claimed to be tangible means to communicate with demons and spirits, are a whole other matter.  Pretty much everyone, no matter what their stance toward the paranormal, thinks they are a bad idea: psychologistsChristians (see also here), religious studies experts, New Age gurus, psychics (see also here), believers and spiritualists.  Non-skeptics think that using these séance toys opens doors and issues invitations to malevolent entities from 'the other side.'  Skeptics think that Ouija boards can spark dissociative disorders. They have been debunked by the scientific community as working through the ideomotor effect.  Vegas headliners Penn and Teller, who are skeptical illusionists, have declared that Ouija boards are total bullshit (see here, here and here).  Many atheists regard them as bunk: boring, stupid and a totally harmless conduits of auto-suggestion (as here and here). But some skeptics toss their skepticism out the window and consider them somehow harmful, either morally or psychologically, and so does almost everyone else.

Rockwell's satire of Ouija board use. Saturday Evening Post, 1 May 1920. Image Source: The J Files.

The name literally means 'yes yes' - a combination of French and German versions of the word. They grew out of 19th century spiritualism, the selling point of which was amateur access to divination. Elijah Bond introduced the "Ouija or Egyptian luck-board" to the United States, filing a patent for the board as a toy in 1890-1891.  The patent is here; you can also view it here. The boards became immensely popular in World War I and after, when people were desperate to contact deceased loved ones.  One phenomenon associated with this period is the author Pearl Curran, who wrote several novels and poetry which she claimed were dictated by a 17th century female spirit talking to her through a Ouija board. Sales of the toys stayed high through the 1930s and 1940s and exploded in response to occult and Eastern spiritualist fads in the 1960s. The William Fuld Company made Ouija boards starting in 1902, until Parker Brothers/Hasbro acquired the company in 1966 and gained control of the trademark. The official William Fuld site has a history of the board's early manufacture and marketing here

Even though 'witchboards' are pretty commonly regarded as dangerous toys, they remain popular. The trailer to the 1986 movie, Witchboard, is here.  If you go to eBay, you will find hundreds for sale. And the tool keeps appearing in new forms: there is a discussion about online Ouija boards on Yahoo Answershere.

Guiding Light Angel Boards cost 40 bucks.

Ultra New Agey types have recently gone in for so-called Angel boards, which are really Ouija boards, and hide behind benevolent soft Christian imagery and the claim that they draw only good spirits; they are divination tools that some associate with holistic healing (as here).  No matter what you think of Ouija boards, the moral inversion of symbolism around a thing normally associated with evil spiritualism is disturbing. See warnings against Angel boards here, here and here.  They were developed in the mid-1990s by Ernest Chapman, after a supposed near-death experience.

The Fuld site claims the Ouija board is a 19th century invention; this is true, in terms of the board that we now recognize, the design of which is clear in Elijah Bond's patent.  But the practice of divination through tables or boards with moving components goes back over one thousand years, and possibly a thousand years earlier than that.  Spirit-writing had its roots in Chinese folk religion, and was historically noted during the Liu Song Dynasty (420-479 CE).   Talking spirit boards and automatic writing were employed in 1100 CE China, under the Song Dynasty.  Whole spiritual scriptures of the Daozang were taken down as a result of automatic writing produced by mediums who used planchettes and boards to contact the world of the dead and the world of spirits.  Wiki: "Two examples [of scriptures written by these means] are the Zitong dijun huashu 梓潼帝君化書 "Book of Transformations of the Divine Lord of Zitong" (tr. Kleeman 1994, see Huashu) and the Taiyi jinhua zongzhi 太一金華宗旨 "Great One’s Secret of the Golden Flower" (tr. Wilhelm 1931)." The themes of these works are described here as a weird combination of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and early scientific research in the field of alchemy.  The practice of automatic writing using fuji was forbidden by the Qing Dynasty. Others find the origins of the board in Ancient Egypt. But the device was widespread in the ancient world: similar tools were used in Ancient India, Greece, Rome, and medieval Europe.

Below, Richard Wilhelm's 1931 translation of Great One’s Secret of the Golden Flower, claimed to be a result of planchette-based contact with, and automatic writing from, the spirit world. (Excerpts from Googlebooks).

Below, Terry F. Kleeman's 1994 translation of The Book of Transformations of Wenchang, the Divine Lord of Zitong, supposedly produced through the technique of fuji. (Excerpts from Googlebooks.)

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  1. I remember reading the novel "Children of the Night" by Mercedes Lackey. The protagonist, Diana Tregarde, was basically the "witch as guardian against evil" trope. In the story, she was substituting at a friend's occult store (the owner was pregnant), and people came in to buy things; everything was fine until two teen girls tried to by one of the boards. She cast a 'spell' on it so nothing evil would come calling.

    Now, this was the middle book of a trilogy. Wiki says Lackey stoped writing about the character after that because it "didn't sell well", but at the time it was said by one of her fans online that she stopped writing the books because people who beleived it was real were seeking her out and harrassing her to 'save them', beleiving that Diana Tregarde was a fictionalization of her own real life activities as a practicing Wiccan! -J

  2. That's sort of like Blair Witch, when people thought it was real and were turning up at the town in Maryland where it was filmed. When they were told the movie was fictional, they thought it was a conspiracy theory. The more they were told it was fictional, the more they believed it was real. As for ouija boards, they give me the heebee-jeebees.

    Even so, if one remains skeptical about them, then the Chinese stuff written in automatic writing is less a narrative told straight from the spirit world (extremely creepy) and rather the earliest form of stream of consciousness writing (sort of neat), a la 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' except many centuries earlier.


  3. Yeah, they had the actors on MTV or VH1 because of that "Have some respect for the townsfolk, and as you can see we're not dead!"

    (I actually had Blair witch on tape.)

    The automatic writing sounds interesting. -J