Ouija: The Forbidden Interview
The Kids Are All Right; It’s the Rest of Us That Scare Me
As a historian of the occult, I often hear from filmmakers, journalists, undergraduates, and even grade-schoolers who want to check on the fine points of some boogedy-boogedy subject. I recently heard from a very astute middle-schooler who had questions for a class report on Ouija. (That’s my kinda class...) Unfortunately, I could not reply. Because the school’s email filters apparently red-flag and block occult-themed discussions. That kind of thing does a disservice to learning and the human search.
Here are my responses, just as I had hoped they would reach this student (and may still).
- What is your worst experience with an Ouija board?
Usually the fallout that I get from discussing it, which I expand on below. In this case, for instance, I was unable to return your good email because your school district blocks emails with terms like “occult” and “Ouija,” which withers the human exchange.
2. Do you believe that Ouija boards actually summon spirits?
I’m frankly not sure what happens. Scientists and engineers have their own descriptions which often rely on concepts of the subconscious mind that are almost as speculative as the spirit thesis itself. Some researchers believe that the pointer moves through the users’ unconscious kinetics, though that perspective has been around for about one hundred years and the ball hasn’t moved very far down the field in proving it. That thesis certainly generates a lot of repeat-loop of articles around Halloween time.
3. How has using Ouija boards affected you?
I haven’t been directly affected by it in any way I can determine.
4. What have your intentions to use Ouija boards been for? ( Contact loved one, fun, etc.)
In actuality I rarely use the board but I sometimes do so when someone with good intentions (including a student or a journalist) requests it. My personal motive is exploration, nothing more.
5. Do you believe you’ve actually contacted a loved one before? If so when and what happened?
Not a loved one, no. I did recently do a kind of Ouija séance with some editors from the online news site EliteDaily.com (see video below), and to my surprise one of the editors later verified some of the forensic details that the entity “speaking” through the board described about herself. According to what the editor found, a female journalist who had committed suicide on the block that we were on synced somewhat eerily with details that board “provided” us.
5. Does using an Ouija board ever tire you like you have used a lot of your energy just to contact spirits?
I haven’t felt that personally but there are such cases reported.
6. Have you ever experienced big loss of time while you have used the board?
No; but a parapsychologist I know did a survey of Ouija users and found that about half felt a compulsion to use the board, and depleted large amounts of time doing so.
7. Have you ever been haunted/visited by spirits after using a Ouija board?
8. Have you ever used an Ouija board and someone or yourself become possessed by a spirit?
Not exactly, but I have experienced two remarkably similar incidents, both many years apart, which arose from my using the board. The first, dating back to 2006, occurred over email. And the second, occurring this year, played out over social media. In the first case, I was writing an article about Ouija, my first such piece, for the arts journal Esopus. I was thinking to myself that I should be using the board personally, just as a matter of research. For several days I was walking around thinking about this, and spoke to no one about it, including people who were close to me. Then out of the blue I received an email from a stranger who wrote, in effect: “I get the idea that you’re thinking about using a Ouija board and I just want to warn you against it.” I told this person that he had very prescient timing. We struck up a friendly email relationship, but I found that his posts began getting more judgmental and coarser, and I decided to end the communication. It hit me that that was actually very close to a classic Ouija encounter: Here is a mysterious “voice” out there in the digital world, who is, at first, foresightful (mysteriously so), but then becomes harsher — that fits the pattern Ouija users often describe: communication is first friendly and even helpful, and then gets ugly and sometimes threatening. I had an equally odd experience earlier this year when I agreed to an online séance with the editors from EliteDaily.com, which I mention above.
A stranger had previously emailed me to describe a dream in which I’d played a part. I thanked her and she started following me on social media. After I announced the online séance, someone on Facebook wrote to say that he thought I was against using Ouija. Now, I’m not really “against” any kind of spiritual experimentation, especially in the search for understanding — to try things is a basic aspect of human inquiry. I have cautioned people against using Ouija boards casually, however; the chapter on Ouija in my book Occult America is titled “Don’t Try This at Home.” I jokingly responded to the effect of: “What could go wrong?” Well, the person who’d emailed me earlier about her dream apparently misunderstood my humor and sent me a very violently worded email. It was the same experience as the earlier one: A voice from “out there” was first friendly and later abusive. A lot of Ouija users describe that kind of thing, which is among the reasons I counsel caution. At the same time, that scenario plays out constantly on social media — I would say the problem is considerably worse and more routine on social media. Social media and Ouija are not dissimilar. Both require caution.
9. Have you ever been contacted by a spirit on something other than an Ouija board?
It is not always easy to determine the dividing line between experience and imagination. In a sense that’s part of being human.
BONUS VIDEO: A QUICK TOUR THROUGH OUIJA HISTORY…
MITCH HOROWITZ was raised in a world of Bigfoot stories, UFO sightings, and Carlos Castaneda books. He grew determined to find the truth behind it all — and today Mitch is a PEN Award-winning historian and the author of Occult America and One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. Mitch has written on everything from the war on witches to the secret life of Ronald Reagan for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, and Time.com. The Washington Post says Mitch “treats esoteric ideas and movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness that is too often lost in today’s raised-voice discussions.” He is the voice of audio books including Alcoholics Anonymous, and hosts the web series ORIGINS: SUPERSTITIONS. Mitch is a vice president and executive editor at Penguin Random House, where he publishes authors, living and dead, including David Lynch and Manly P. Hall. Visit him at www.MitchHorowitz.com and @MitchHorowitz.