Psychic Phriday: Ouija!

This is last week’s “Psychic Phriday” entry from my old blog, I figured I should get some content up asap, even if it’s recycled. 😉

This past week, I had a show in Worcester and I needed a Ouija board. Why? To get directions to the gig of course. Google Maps and my GPS just don’t do it for me anymore, I’m relying on a higher power from now on.

Not buying it?

Okay, here’s the deal. I did a two-part presentation for the Worcester First Baptist Church Youth Group. This consisted of a 30-minute magic presentation where I performed a lot of classic mind-reading and “psychic” effects. The basic ideas of the show are: a) People who claim to have supernatural powers can do this. b) I’m doing this, but I don’t claim to be anything more than an entertaining liar, c) That doesn’t prove that psychics are real but d) It’s up to you to do the hard work of asking questions before you believe any claims, ordinary or extraordiary.

I usually have an informal Q+A while I’m still on stage, but Scott and I figured that with Halloween coming around, it was a good chance to get into some discussions about the most common spooky phenomena. This time, I talked about doing a more serious presentation after the show.

The big two I wanted to cover where Ouija boards and Astrology. Astrology is less controversial, but a lot more complicated. If you’re more interested in that, I recommend Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy website. He’s got a great article on astrology at http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/astrology.html

In any case, today I’m talking about Ouija (sounds like “Wee-Gee) The board manufactured and sold by Parker Brothers. Yes, there are other versions out there, and you don’t even need an actual board to do this, but I’m going to stick with the version that most of my readers will be familiar with.

Before I go any further, it’s time for a little “interactivity”. Without using google or anything, ask yourself “Where did the Ouija come from?” Take some time to think about it before you read on.

I said, take some time to think about it. You know, I don’t really ask much of you, an occasional comment or two, maybe a coffee and conversation next time yr in town, that’s all. Is it so hard to do this one thing? Just think about yr answer, okay?

Did you guess that it’s based on some far-east mysticism? Or perhaps you heard that it was developed by mediums in the golden age of Spiritualism in order to facilitate communication with the deceased during seances. Maybe its origins are so ancient that they’ve been lost to the ages. Or perhaps it was designed and patented by a couple of guys from Maryland wanted to cash in on “woo-woo” during the latter part of the 1800’s and patented the Ouija “talking” board (US patent numbers 1400791 and D56449)

Guess which one I think it is.

Yup, it was designed and invented in 1890 by a couple-three guys: E.C. Reiche, Elijah Bond, and Charles Kennard. Eventually, the company they started would fold and get picked up by ex-employee William Fuld who published the Ouija board more or less in its current form.

Circumstantial evidence against the supernatural exhibit 1: it was made by board game designers to cash in on a very trendy type of “Spookiness”

The trademark and publishing rights to the “Ouija” board currently belong to Parker Brothers. These notorious satanists and evildoers are responsible for such supernatural devices as: Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Clue. (Hey, maybe there’s some crossover, yeah, we can make a ton of money with Monopoly, bribe Professor Plum to let us into the mansion, use the Ouija board to contact Mr. Boddy and he can give us the answers to the final round questions in Trivial Pursuit!)

Circumstantial evidence exhibit 2: Hardly any “real” Satanic devices for contacting the dead are available at Toys’R’Us, with the possible exception of Teddy Ruxpin. Those dead, dead eyes continue to haunt my sleep.

You might be saying “So What? Just because it was never intended for any “real” supernatural experience doesn’t mean that the spirit world, demons, or Abe Vigoda aren’t using as a conduit for communication” and you’re absolutely right! This is all a smokescreen, covering the real issue:

The Ouija board works. That’s right, those of you who have used one can attest to the fact the even though you are holding the planchette in your very own hands, YOU FEEL IT MOVE! With no effort on your part, it slowly, eerily makes it’s way towards letters, numbers, words that make sense! It seems to answer questions that you have no prior knowledge of. If it’s just a board game, who’s answering the questions?

You. Well, you and/or the someone else holding the planchette. I know, I know, you swear you didn’t move it. The thing is, that’s perfectly consistent with what actually happened. It’s called the ideomotor effect and it’s responsible for a whole lot of the weirdness out there.

Here’s and example by contrast: When you want to, say, pick up a small-caliber pistol to show a smart-assed skeptic a thing or two; you consciously make a choice to extend your arm and grab the pistol. You have intent before the action, sensation of movement during the action and recollection of the action afterwards. Your conscious, aware mind has full communication with and control of the nerves that move the muscles in your arm and the ones that tell you that your arm is moving.

When the ideomotor effect takes place, that connection between the aware mind and the skeletal-muscular nerves is bypassed. Your arm (or foot, or eye, or whatever) moves, apparently on its own, sometimes out of fatigue, and sometimes out of subconscious command. A classic example of this is the “Helium Stick” which those of you from Conference, Boy Scouts or Project Adventure are probably familiar with. In the Ouija board application of the ideomotor effect, the planchette is very light and it’s on a very slick surface. It takes almost no effort to move it across the board. What’s more, the slight movements tend to be re-enforced by the other participants. Once it starts moving slowly, the motion becomes faster and more direct, until it seems like the planchette is zipping around the board with a mind of its own. How does it get the right answers? a) Someone in the group knows the answers b) The group is wrapped up in the moment playing “if this were real, what would a ghost say” c) random chance and d) the Barnum Effect. (more on that in another post) If you want to see how powerful the ideomotor effect coupled with an active imagination is, check out this clip from Penn and Teller’s Bullshit episode on the topic of Ouija http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdJiTTRc1ds

So, if you’ve learned the lessons in my other posts, you should be saying, “What’s your evidence? Prove it!” Okay fine, try this for yourselves. Next time someone whips out a Ouija Board, say “Okay, but let’s do it blindfolded, and have someone else, or better yet, a camera, watch the proceedings. If it’s ghosts or goblins moving your hands or the planchette, they shouldn’t care that you can’t see. Still getting the right answers? or very close? It’s very possible that your group is merely moving to where the answer should be. So try this, have one person sit out, and once everyone’s eyes are closed or blindfolded, have them secretly give the board a turn so it’s upside down or even a 1/2 turn from where it was. One last thing, if you do this, you have to be honest! No peeking, no cheating, and no “fudging” the answers to make them fit the questions.

Have fun, and don’t give the Ouija Board any more importance than it should have. It can be a spooky, scary good time, (especially among teenage girls at a slumber party, seriously, is there any social group that is more willing to scary the crap out of themselves?), but it’s no more supernatural than Risk or Monopoly.

Happy Halloween!

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4 Comments

Filed under Magic, Paranormal, Science

4 responses to “Psychic Phriday: Ouija!

  1. Scott

    Just wanted to see if this worked.
    I wish you happiness and world domination (not necessarily in that order.)

  2. I believe the science behind objects moving when groups lightly touch them, but do be careful, sometimes when you play with a Ouji board, that you don’t get what you asked for.

  3. Daniel Loxton

    It’s funny how often these paranormal mysteries turn out to be rotten at the root, and how rarely people ask the most basic historical question: how did this idea get started in the first place?

  4. Pingback: People Are Reading This?! « Things That Never Happened

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