By William J. Furney
Many people are fascinated by the occult, and all too terrified too, and for most that’s about it: a bit of a play-around at Halloween and then best left alone. But interest in communicating with the “other side” is on the increase, and sales of Ouija boards have shot up by 300% in recent times. Is it just another fad, albeit a resurrected one, or is there something more sinister going on?
Much of the spike in otherworldly sales was admittedly due to the appearance of the film Ouija in 2014, and another two years later (Ouija: Origin of Evil), and religious groups, who think they know everything about life on Earth and far beyond but actually know very little at all, were horrified.
“It’s like opening a shutter in one’s soul and letting in the supernatural,” said Church of England vicar Peter Irwin-Clark, a man we are told “has witnessed the dark side of Ouija”. “There are spiritual realities out there and they can be very negative,” the holy man cautioned.
It’s also not very positive basing your entire life around what amounts to a fairytale.
The good old Victorians were somewhat obsessed by the occult, and dabbled in it gleefully. For them, it was more than a parlour game or some kind of cheap entertainment; they seemed genuinely interested in connecting with something unknown but at the same time chillingly familiar. They were seeking out a meaning to life, to their existence, and seances were one way of doing just that — seemingly communicating with people who had died and gaining a kind of afterlife reassurance in the process.
I myself have dabbled in the dark arts. It started in boarding school, when I wasn’t much older than 12. We didn’t get home all that often and on dreary weekends when there wasn’t much going on we did what we could to keep ourselves amused. Using a Ouija board was strictly off-limits — banned, and punishable by expulsion from school — but we didn’t care and did loads of them, especially late at night when there were no teachers around. With a bunch of us boys seated around a table and touching a glass in the centre of a wide circle of letters of the alphabet, we summoned up spirits and the glass moved to spell out answers and at times spun around furiously as though the devil was not amused.
We kept a bible by the edge of the table to banish bad spirits, and those who refused to leave our sessions. Breaking off a Ouija session without getting rid of a malevolent presence was, someone said, a very bad thing. It could linger and cause no end of trouble. Sometimes, when a spirit was especially troublesome, we held the bible aloft and said the Lord’s Prayer out loud. That banished the belligerent ghoul.
Later, in my 20s, I progressed to seances, doing them with friends and wherever we could: the more macabre the better. One night, in Dublin, we climbed over locked graveyard gates to find the tomb of a spirit we had earlier communicated with during a Ouija session. The dead man had told us where he was buried and we set about finding the place and doing another Ouija session right there. Just as we started, on the flat but hobbly surface of an ancient burial space, dogs barked out, lights came on from neighbouring houses and we had to flee.
Not long after, we held a seance in my bedroom of our house in the Irish capital, and among the participants was my girlfriend of the time. After we had called out to anything paranormal passing by or in the area, the room became icy-cold and my girlfriend began speaking — not in her voice but that of a mature man. She was certainly not putting it on and was unaware what she was doing or saying, then and afterwards. The voice said it was her late father and went on to talk about what was happening in the afterlife he was in, including the people — some famous — he had met there.
Now comes news from Danish and German researchers that most of this is all in our minds. They say what’s moving Ouija pointers and glasses around a board or table is not the spirit of a deceased person but the result of participants’ minds unconsciously working together.
Nonsense, I say. During my boarding school days when we were doing Ouija boards, I decided one evening to test such a theory out. I said to my pals that I was going to ask a question of the spirit, but in my mind and not out loud. So I said to myself, and anyone able to listen in: “What is the name of our horse at home?” The glass moved to spell out the letters D-A-R-B-Y — which was exactly correct.
It’s all so incredibly fascinating, and I’d love to explore it more, but anyone I’ve since asked to take part in a Ouija or seance session has been scared to death.