I don’t know about you, but when this time of the year rolls around, I have this itchy and giddy excitement within. Why? Your inquisitive mind asks. Because I know that we are approaching that one special time of the year where all things scary are forgivable to an unrelenting public, when fear is sought out rather than condemned and when the spirits are said to roam the Earth without having to shelter themselves within the dark confines of shadow and darkness. Yes, I’m talking about Halloween.
One would be remiss if the essence and beauty of Halloween are not acknowledged here in the Hudson Valley. My house is not adorned with Halloween paraphernalia and decorations throughout the year, and Lord knows I don’t rummage the streets at night with a ghastly costume (some may beg to differ). But, I do consider Halloween a year-round event simply because I love all things scary. Want to tell ghost stories under the stars in the middle of the summer? Go for it! In the mood for a movie? Let’s see what new horror movie is available. Hell, I’d even settle for a classic!
During this time of year, I get giddy excitement. Why? Your inquisitive mind asks. Because that special time of year is approaching where all things scary are forgivable to an unrelenting public; when fear is sought out rather than condemned and when the spirits are alleged to roam the Earth without having to shelter themselves within the dark confines of shadow and darkness. Yes, I’m talking about Halloween.
While I don’t adorn my house with Halloween paraphernalia and decor throughout the year, and Lord knows I don’t parade the streets at night with a ghastly costume (although my wife may disagree), I do consider Halloween a year-round event simply because I love all things scary. Want to tell ghost stories under the stars in the middle of the summer? I’m game. In the mood for a movie? What horror movie do you have in mind? Hell, I’d even settle for a classic in the comfort of my living room!
Another way I like to satisfy my morbid fascination is by using my imagination. Books help to quench my thirst. I enjoy reading and, when I get the chance to do so, my preferred choice of books tend to lean towards the dark, the macabre, scary, ghoulish, frightening – you get the point. There is something about terrifying myself that is simply irresistible.
A few of the books I have read lately have made a few references to the use of the infamous Ouija (Wee-Jee) board. These were books of the non-fiction variety which, in more case than one, resulted in a house haunting (sometimes persons), ghosts (usually of the malignant variety, no Casper) or demon infestations and possession. Do I believe everything I read? Absolutely not. I am very interested in the subject matter but usually look at it as no more than mere entertainment. I view the Ouija Board in the same manner.
Of course, this is my standpoint because after having used it on numerous occasions with not so much as an unearthly fart I stand firm in my disbelief of the board wielding any supernatural powers. However, I do respect the point of views of others and do not mock them so long as their stories don’t border along the lines of the ridiculous.
A Brief History of the Ouija Board
For those living under a rock- a Ouija board, or talking board, is used as a means of communicating with the dead. There is no better way to spend the night at a friend’s house without having the presence of a Ouija board to keep the party going.
On May 28, 1890, businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard patented a planchette sold with a board with the alphabet imprinted on it thus inventing the very first Ouija board. It wasn’t until 1901 that the now famous (at least the name) William Fuld, an employee of Kennard, took over production of the talking board and sold the new product under the name “Ouija.” According to Wikipedia:
“Kennard claimed he learned the name “Ouija” from using the board and that it was an ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck.” When Fuld took over production of the boards, he popularized the more widely accepted etymology, that the name came from a combination of the French and German words for “yes.” The Fuld name would become synonymous with the Ouija board, as Fuld reinvented its history, claiming that he himself had invented it.”
Of course, this was when the Ouija board was marketed as a toy and gained its notoriety. However, roots to the “talking board” go back to the 1800s when spiritualism was all the rage. So it may not have been patented as a planchette and board combination, but there were other means of communicating with the dead that wasn’t branded with the name “Ouija.”
There were a number of ways mediums made followers believe that they were communicating messages from those who had passed. One way was the use of a planchette. People would place their fingers on the device (the planchette) where spirits then guided the talking device to a respective letter of the alphabet to answer questions by loved ones. Another method was the famous table turning. This approach involved the table moving or knocking on the floor in response to letters called out from the alphabet. This technique was easy to debunk, and many frauds have been exposed using this method which was a significant reason for the decline of the spiritual movement among others.
Eventually, mediums resorted to channeling while in a trance. Others built sophisticated tables, dials, and tables painted with letters that required people to use a planchette as a pointer. This method stuck and became the most popular paving the way for the Ouija board.
A Story of the Ouija Board
Once upon a time, all things paranormal were real. Well, as real as something can be to an eleven-year-old. I took almost everything at face value, even those few times when friends and family gathered (especially on Halloween) to tell stories, drink (soda) and eat junk food. The pinnacle moment in these gatherings was the use of the “all-powerful” Ouija board.
It was great! Have a question about the future? Ask the board! Want to talk to a long-deceased family member? Ask the board! Want to know if “such-and-such” liked you? Ask the board! Yes, rather naive but what can I say I (we) were naive. Mind you all of this was done with no adult supervision for the simple reason that it was “forbidden” due to its “mystical” powers. I grew up in a Catholic household, so it was no surprise that toying with such a “tool” was no laughing matter.
“It’s a portal to hell!”
This is what we were told on numerous by numerous family members and friends of family members who were, for the most part, devoted Catholics. One of which who was my mother. But, she would simply tell me not to use it in the house. Sure, I could have listened to her, but then that wouldn’t make me a kid now would it (I was a good kid, I promise!).
I even went so far as to record these Ouija sessions with my dad’s camcorder. For what purpose? Well, for some reason I always had this mental image of a spirit sitting beside myself and pushing the planchette alongside me, and I thought I’d capture that spirit on film. Of course, no such thing ever happened although I could have sworn that I heard a low humming or moaning sound when reviewing the footage. But when rationality kicked into high gear, I attributed the sound to that of a car’s muffler in the distance. I mean, this was NYC after all. This, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.
Much like the height of spirituality in the United States, my romp with the Ouija Board was very much like the rise in popularity of the supernatural in the 1800s. I simply could not get enough of it and my fascination with speaking to the dead only increased. Did it scare me? You bet your ass it did! But, again, I welcomed the fear (see above). Then, there was Tony.
Tony was a spirit a few cousins and I “contacted” on the Ouija Board one night many, many years ago. What made Tony so intriguing and interesting was the force in which it exemplified when moving the planchette across the board. He was strong, and he was scary! A mental image of Tony was that of Vlad the Impaler! I don’t know why, but this was my vision of the man, er, spirit. No, I’m not psychic, clairvoyant, a medium or anything of the variety. Call me a kid with a vivid imagination.
Tony, according to “it,” was bad when he walked among the living being guilty of cruel and violent acts such as R-A-P-E and M-U-R-D-E-R. I remember my stomach turning as the words were being spelled out. It was the first time we had “contacted” anyone or anything so evil. Sweat formed on my forehead, but I could not let go of the planchette. I was afraid that by doing so would call attention to me and lord knows I didn’t want this thing being upset at me. And so, my fingers remained atop the triangular device and hoped (wished) that it just went away. Of course, I would have no such luck, and so I had to endure the remainder of the session until Tony had decided he had enough with us pesky kids. Did I mention that I was a young, naive kid? Just saying.
I remembered trying to contact Tony on a few other occasions to no avail. He seemed only to make himself available whenever my cousins were around. Apparently, they had more luck reaching him in the netherworld (hell!). There was one instance when they asked him for a sign of his presence, and the radio turned on, and a loud “Hallelujah” blared through the speakers! Another time, the planchette jumped off the board and chased my cousin out of the apartment. I was amazed, thrilled, terrified, excited – you name it! I just wished I was there to see it! And therein lies the problem.
I hear stories galore of freaky things happening to people all around me but not once has anything downright creepy ever happened to me. I know, I know – “be careful what you wish for!” I’m not asking for something life-altering to happen to me. But can I just get a taste to at least shut up the skeptic in me? If not to shut me up then at least to give me one hell of a scare!
I once had an amazing collection of Ouija boards adorn the facade of my bedroom wall, then I got married, and all those boards were no longer welcomed. See, my wife is afraid of the board, and all things said to go bump in the night. I would be too if I believed in such things. But as it is, I leave everything up to the imagination to do all the scaring for me. To me, there is no boogeyman; there is no vengeful spirit (or demon) lurking within the confines of a piece of cardboard manufactured by Parker Brothers. No, to me, there are only stories and imagination that if left unattended can tend to get carried away. The mind, after-all, is a powerful thing.
Have I used a Ouija Board since my youth? Nope. Not because I’m afraid too but it would just be a waste of my time. That and the fact that everyone I know happens to be a chicken (no offense to those I know) and believes in its power and refuses to use it fearing that they would fall prey to the powers of the board. Or, they may not believe in it entirely but somewhere, lingering in the back of their mind, the thought of it actually working is embedded and will not use it simply “just in case.” I fall somewhere in between this final thought and flat-out not believing. Having a family makes me more cautious.
Halloween is upon us, and I may just find someone during this “unholiest” of months to partner up with and get a good Ouija session or two in the books to either disprove or prove something to myself. If anything, it may be just what I’m looking for or, dare I say it, looking for me. Hey, I may get a good chuckle out of such an ordeal (doubtful). What better time to use the board than this time of year when the spirits are on the prowl? So long as we don’t do it at my home, you know, just in case.