HOW DOES IT WORK AND WHY?          We are about to delve into a very polarized topic here. In dealing with the mystical and the supernatural there is  an age-old saying that, "For some, no proof is necessary and for others no proof will ever be enough". That axiom seems to sum up the conflicting points of view about the Ouija board as well as any.      In one corner is the logically-thinking community, where empirical data must accompany any assertion which lies outside the realm of accepted and known scientific constants. They maintain the Ouija board remains a fanciful pastime, much as it was designed to be in the late 1800s. They are not controlled by spirits, demons or any denizen of the psychic ether and psychologists embrace the conclusions put forth in 1852 by physician and physiologist William Benjamin Carpenter who asserted that human beings are subject to involuntary movements and reactions that occur without any type of conscious will or effort. In effect, a dissociative state where consciousness is separated from normal cognitive or motor functions. This became known as the "Ideomotor Effect". Even those who declare their innocence and put forth their best effort not to initiate any physical action to cause an equal reaction can be victims of their own subconscious.      The Ideomotor Effect also extends to human emotions as certain images or interactions can trigger emotional responses of anger, sadness or joy. One year after Carpenter's conclusions were published, a physicist named Michael Faraday applied this theory to the theme of spiritualism. Among the objects of interest - like crystal balls - was "table tipping". This is accomplished when a group sits in a circle around a table (usually, but not always three-legged) with the fingers of both hands placed on it in plain sight, palms down, and call upon any spirits present to rock or even levitate the table from its normal stationary position using the collective energy of the participants to do so. This was once considered to be state-of-the-art spirit communication. Through a series of experiments, Faraday concluded that the movement of the table were not caused by spirit interaction but by the Ideomotor Effect.       Having witnessed this type of spectacle myself, I offer another variation. One that acknowledges Faraday's conclusion with an observation of my own. In watching people take a stab at table-tipping, there is usually one individual - let's call them the "facilitator" - who runs the show. They will initiate the requests for the spirits to come forward and strut their stuff. What I became increasingly aware of was the power of suggestion that were disseminated to those around the table, thoughts that could easily influence their mind-set and potentially affect motor behavior. Easily and based solely on expectation, one person could subconsciously begin to apply pressure through their fingers to the table initiating a movement. The equal reaction would be an almost involuntary response from the others to make a physical "correction" by pushing back on the table in the opposite direction from where it came. Once momentum is gained and all are involved, the table will begin to rock to the extent of a ship being tossed in a storm. Sometimes there is an element of "quackery" involved with the facilitator intentionally making the first move to get the ball rolling. Even sincere and honest efforts on the participant's parts to remain perfectly still can still result in a false positive response.     The use of the planchette on a Ouija board really is not much different in terms of involuntary movement. It can be touched by one or more people and when a question is asked, it can easily trigger a combination of expectation and subconscious movement to achieve a desired result (yes/no, a proper name, word, etc.). The outcome of these instinctive movements can be quite convincing to both participants and observers of the session. If those involved already have a pre-occupation with or at the least a strong enough belief in the powers of the paranormal and a person's capacity to contact the spirit world, those results can, through emotional and psychological means, overpower objective reasoning and it becomes more than just a game or a harmless way to pass the time. This is also when perceptions and manufactured images from popular culture in relation to the Ouija are called on and may result in a readiness to believe that something astounding is going to happen. Perhaps, like young Regan McNeil, even something fiendish and malevolent.      There are a host of apparatus used for spiritual divination that can be manipulated quite easily by slight, unconscious movements like dowsing rods, pendulums and the aforementioned small, three-legged tables, but of all of them the planchette is easily the most well-suited for the task. They are light and normally have casters or felt legs on the bottom to allow superior ease of movement. Muddying the waters further are those instances when a group of people are utilizing the board with each individual having the potential to influence the movement of the planchette so it becomes very difficult to isolate and identify any one individual who might bear responsibility. This only adds to the conjecture that something "unearthly" is controlling the apparatus.      While researchers generally dismiss any form of otherworldly intervention in the use of the Oulija, they do recognize it is an interesting tool in which to examine brain processing functions and the levels they work on. Particularly the distinction between conscious and non-conscious mind. Let's say for example you sit a group of people down who have never heard of, let alone ever seen a Ouija board. Once explaining how it works, you leave them to their own devices and return some time later only to discover they are astonished at the results they have achieved and the accuracy, ease and consistency in which they were attained. Is this an endorsement of the mystical qualities of the board, or have they tapped into their own non-conscious knowledge bases?      In an experiment conducted by  Dr. Ron Rensink, a professor of psychology and computer science at British Columbia University; Hélène Gauchou, a psychology postdoctoral researcher and Dr. Sidney Fels, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, indications are that people's non-conscious minds are a startling reservoir of knowledge. Here's how they arrived at this:      An individual was placed in a room and seated at a Ouija board. Across from them was a robot "partner". The player was told they would be playing via teleconference with another participant seated in a different room and that the robot would be mimicking that individual's movements. This was actually an intentionally false premise. The person in the other room was simply a subterfuge and the robot was actually programmed to magnify its "partner's" movements. The participant was asked a series of yes/no questions and instructed to answer them verbally. They were essentially of the general knowledge type concerning things like capitals of countries and current events. When they responded to these verbally, their success rate was around 50% which is considered a normal outcome. When they were instructed to use the board to answer them, their success rate shot to 65%. To sum it up, when they were under the impression that the answers originated from someplace else, they were correct 15% more often than they were when responding to the the best of their own ability.      Taking this one step further, at a later date the experimenters replaced the robot with two living persons sitting across from each other. They then blindfolded each participant (more on this technique later) and again asked a series of general knowledge questions. Once again the rate of success was around the typical 50% mark.  Now they were instructed to place their fingers on the planchete and employ the board to answer the next set of questions. One partner, being a "plant", would then stealthily remove their fingers from the planchette, leaving the remaining and unwitting participant to have unaided power over its movements. (Some would go on to complain their partner was moving the planchette even though their accomplice now had no contact with it whatsoever.) Again, while believing they were being guided in their responses, the success rate mirrored that of the first experiment. The ultimate conclusion they reached was that participants displayed more subject knowledge when they believed they were "assisted" in responding to the questions posed. In that regard, the Ouija could actually act as a mechanism for bringing out facts and information we may have no conscious access to, but have stored in our memories. This could actually help distinguish and separate acquired knowledge and cognitive abilities in both the conscious and un-conscious processes of the mind and how each functions independently from the other. The notion that a spirit from the Great Beyond is aiding and abetting this process?....well, not so much.      While it might sound like this is a project worth pursuing, the scientific community is hindered by the stigma that has been placed on the Ouija board. The same stigma being perpetuated by many of its users in terms of their preconceived ideas about the dangerous and mystical elements associated with its use. No one wants to risk ridicule or loss of credibility by utilizing anything considered so farcical.          In the other camp are those who could be referred to as the "Spiritual Theorists". One can say with some degree of certainty that messages gleaned from the board indeed come from forces beyond our control. But while the rational-minded point to Ideomotor Effects and subconscious navigation, those who believe the board has a certain mystical connotation are equally convinced that entities are being "channeled" and inter-dimensional doors are being opened in order to gain unworldly insights. Like the Spiritualists who preceded them, there is a feeling that there is a greater purpose being served by reaching out to dis-incarnate beings just dying (sic) to communicate with us. For many who advocate its use, it is felt that spirits are for the most part benevolent and accommodating beings ready to lend a hand and share important information with us. Some of these Ouija advocates will go to great lengths in performing protection and cleansing rituals to guard against connecting with more ill-intentioned spirits who have taken advantage of the opportunity to wander in and wreak havoc upon the lives of the participants. It is here that we encounter a "fact vs. fiction" dilemma.      Often, when people talk about ghosts and the paranormal in general they postulate about the "x" factor. That certain "something" we are missing from the equation that we profess we cannot comprehend. Is it that hard to reason then that perhaps we are the "x" factor? Devotees, followers and so-called "experts" have taken a simple board game designed for entertainment purposes and inserted their personal beliefs into the equation such as seeking out creepy and even macabre locations to perform sessions. They introduce symbolic objects, light candles to signify "illumination" and perform rituals to supplement the basic session. These are done out of personal choices that most certainly are not detailed in the instructions that accompany the board. They too often border on superstition and self-delusion as illustrated by the legend that a planchette making figure eights symbolizes a spirit has taken over the board. That myth exists only because 8 is considered unlucky as a poker hand of eights and aces is deemed the "death hand" Most likely this originated because "Wild Bill" Hickok was holding that hand when he was shot and killed in...wait for it...Deadwood, S.D. While it is archaic and folkloric, such superstitions have a knack of perpetuating themselves and becoming part of the cultural fabric. Much like the first European settlers brought their own superstitions about vampires and witches to the New World (along with diseases that decimated a great deal of the Native American population.           Certain religious fundamentalists will decry the use of the board based on two assumptions: The first being that the spirit world is not to be negotiated with or disturbed as it is not our place to do so and religious doctrine forbids it. The other is that malicious forces lurk within that realm and may even disguise themselves as kindly or unfortunate souls reaching out for our aid and understanding. When encountered, they may cause emotional, physical and psychological damage (or even death) to those who have unwittingly summoned them.      The basis for these types of assertions usually are the result of anecdotal evidence concerning some form of negative fallout they or someone they heard of or read about endured after using the boards. Even those with no particular devotion to rigid religious principles will caution against use of the board based on personal experience, the advice of "authorities" with backgrounds in occult or spiritual practices or vague convictions that have been influenced by misinformation or in many cases, pure urban legend. As we examined earlier, in many of these instances, certain beliefs come directly from theatrical portrayals that have been burned into our consciousness.      Some of the mystery surrounding the board comes directly from its originator's brilliant marketing strategy. In order to create a certain sense of apprehension when using it, the designers would print instructions that included:      "Have no one at the table who will not sit seriously and respectfully. If you use it in a frivolous spirit, asking ridiculous questions, laughing over it, you naturally get undeveloped influences around you." The Robert E. Sylvestre Catalogue for spirtualists and mediums had this to say in a printed ad for the board:      "What is it? "Ouija" prophesies, forewarns and advises, as well as prefigures one's destiny. "Ouija's" revelation of what was, what is, and what is to come, rival the Delphic Oracles. The curtain is lifted, revealing the secrets of that debatable land between matter and spirit, and nature's laws have no control over this marvelous instrument. The Unknown Land seems almost within our grasp, and the scientific mind strives to comprehend just where this borderland lies. The "Ouija" is without a doubt the most interesting, remarkable and mysterious production of the 20th century. Its operations are always interesting and frequently invaluable, answering, as it does, questions concerning the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy. The English Journal, "Light," says: "It certainly seems a readier method of communication than the planchette." Price . . . . .$1.50      This is where the rubber meets the road. What is left unsaid is the suggestion that one has to place oneself in a certain state of mind to achieve the desired results. Attitude is crucially important as the board's responses will reflect the mental state of the user. The choice of location is also paramount to a successful sitting. It's recommended that one go to a quiet place where outside noises are limited if not completely eliminated. Choices range from dark attics to closets to graveyards to lonely beaches at night. Ceremonies of protection and cleansing have become vital to the session. Above all, the user is urged not to give up if nothing out of the ordinary presents itself. To keep trying in case all the lines are busy at the moment.      It is clear then that expectation, suggestion, atmosphere and frame of mind are all pertinent to a successful paranormal experience. It is equally clear that putting yourself in this position would certainly elevate one's sense of anticipation and increase the potential of a false positive occurrence. If you want something to happen and display a strong determination to achieve it, a great deal of the time you will be rewarded. While most of the time this form of wishful thinking is a very positive influence in people's lives, it can also lead to unrealistic expectations and a sense of delusion when it comes to bearing witness to unusual phenomena. People who want to see ghosts will see them, people who want to contact the spirit world will be convinced they have achieved that. The potential problems arise when objectivity and neutrality are absent in the effort.     So what do we make of the instances where for all intents and purposes the indications are a Ouija board appeared to bear some responsibility for life-altering events? People will state with some degree of certainty the spirit world has guided or obstructed or brought great joy or interminable suffering, into their lives. From the files of "The Museum of Talking Boards" website, here are some of the strangest stories, presented only for us to decide whether extreme coincidence or spirit intervention served as their catalyst.      The Cottage City, Maryland boy who came to known as "Roland Doe" began displaying unusual symptoms after his family experimented with a Ouija board. Odd manifestations occurred in his presence: the shaking of his bed and the sudden movement of room furnishings from their usual positions. The Washington Post first reported the incident on August 10th, 1949. Several articles followed, each more sensational than the last. They told of the boy's tribulations, the failure of medical science to treat his maladies, and his cure by a Catholic priest. Except for a 1951 Fate Magazine follow up, the whole matter might have been a forgotten curiosity. It was not to be. In 1971, William Peter Blatty's heavily altered novel about the incident, The Exorcist, hit the bookstands. It quickly became a best seller and a movie blockbuster.      While writing one day, poet Jane Roberts experienced a paranormal revelation when she "felt her consciousness leave her body." Flooded with new ideas, she and her husband experimented with a Ouija board and contacted an "energy essence personality entity" named Seth. The results were several popular books by Roberts and a few dictated by the entity Seth himself. Roberts is directly responsible for starting the "channeling" craze in 1972 with her book, Seth Speaks. The writings of Roberts and Seth are still popular among New Agers and there are many websites devoted to their works      Iris Maloney won 1.4 million dollars in the California lottery after picking the winning numbers through her Ouija board. "Hank isn't laughing at me anymore," chortled Iris, referring to her husband who had counseled her to “throw the damn thing away.” Waving a facsimile of the check in one hand and her Ouija board in the other, Iris posed for the obligatory winner’s photo session before a small group of photographers. "I don't know if I will continue to use the Ouija," Iris commented. "I'll probably hang it next to my needlepoint collection in our new home." Hank was still in the hospital recovering from the heart attack he suffered after hearing the news of his wife's success and was unavailable for comment.      Six United States Army soldiers known as "The Gulf Breeze Six" (Spc. Kenneth Beason, Spc. Vance Davis, Sgt. Annette Eccleston, Pfc. Michael Hueckstaedt, Pfc. Kris Perlock and Pfc. William Setterberg) went AWOL when a Ouija board put the six soldiers in touch with an entity that called herself Safire, and others, including those presenting themselves as the Old Testament prophet Zechariah, Mark and Timothy of New Testament, and the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. They warned them of a coming global cataclysm. Broken taillights on their Volkswagen van gave them away and police arrested them. The six, all with top security clearance, were headed west to live "like a survivalist group." An FBI investigation uncovered their Ouija board manifesto complete with accurate prophecies of the Gulf War and the earthquake in Iran. New York City's destruction by a gas leak and the second coming of Christ have yet to occur. The Army - despite the consternation of Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell - was understanding of the situation and gave the men honorable discharges but reduced them in rank and docked them a half month's pay. The group's leader, Davis, currently tours and gives lectures on "self-sustaining" lifestyles.      Concerned English villagers held a Ouija séance to see if the board could provide any information about three local murders. Bludgeoned as they walked to school, were a mother, her daughter, and the family dog. A second daughter survived the attack but sustained serious injuries. Investigators counted the number of blows to the victims as sixteen. The Ouija board suggested that the police re-examine an area where they found a bag of clothes from the victims, and indeed, a hammer was lying there in plain sight. Villagers were understandably upset at the police for missing so vital a clue. Embarrassed officials later issued a report stating they could not link the hammer to the killings and denied the Ouija board figured in the discovery. The search continues for the real murder weapon.      An English court of appeals ordered a retrial after the discovery that jurors used a Ouija board while sequestered in a hotel room. The Ouija board told them to "vote guilty tomorrow," and they did, convicting the defendant of the murders of two people. Adding new meaning to "consulting the spirits," the jurors admitted to also drinking excessively and were properly remorseful about it all. Although a majority rule is necessary for conviction, and only four people had used the Ouija board, their Lordships decided that they could not dismiss the entire matter as "merely a drunken game." The defendant was found guilty at his Ouija-free retrial.      While these are some of the more well-publicized and notorious encounters with Ouija boards, there are literally thousands of other tales of people who have reported nocturnal sexual violations, direct communication with the demonic (the most reported), disturbing dreams, physical attacks, deceased unknowns sending messages to the living, the "obligation" to perform odd or even destructive acts, pronouncements made in mysterious languages and so forth.      The debate over the validity of any transmissions received via the Ouija board will continue despite strong evidence to the contrary. I've often suggested - as others have - that the participants be blindfolded in a controlled environment so as not to be able to see the letters on the board. Barring a user memorizing the exact position of the letters, any word, proper name or phrase spelled out correctly and within the context of the question posed would be extremely compelling. (Flipping the position of the board would also be a good control tool.) This is rarely done but when it has been, the results normally result in complete gibberish. Even so, Spiritualists, New Agers and believers will counter that impairing the user is disturbing their ability to channel the spirits effectively with their eyes and hands being needed as a vehicle to dispatch the message. It seems a convenient and frivolous argument at best, but one that true advocates will uphold with great fervor.             In a word, yes, but probably not in the manner one might believe it is. For one thing, people displaying psychological or emotional instability probably should not delve into it because any perceived responses might just be the thing to send someone over the edge based on a false or unsupported premise. Likewise, those whose use of the board is intended to summon negative entities to catch an adrenaline rush or tempt fate will often fall psychological prey to their own morbid approach and dark expectations. These are the folks, among them teenagers and adolescents, who report having the most "terrifying" experiences and the majority of those are the product of a self-inflicted state of anxiety and heightened anticipation. Just reading some of the stories being circulated not only tests one's view on common sense, but patience as well. We will always urge young people to refrain from using a Ouija board not because they run the risk of encountering unclean spirits but that they just propagate superstitious beliefs and run the risk of scaring themselves silly.       Habitual users can also develop an unhealthy sense of dependency on the board at the expense of focusing on the more important and positive aspects of their lives. Like an addiction, simply putting the board aside gets harder and harder and some individuals rely so heavily on the messages they receive that they acknowledge them as a guidance system for their actions, relationships and many of their important choices in life. It can be that invasive if one allows it to be and sadly, many have and still do.      The peak of popularity of the board has been demonstrated to occur at times when those who have lost loved ones yearn for a method of staying connected to them. In those times, people will embrace anything that provides hope and comfort. Sadly, there will always be the more unscrupulous that will take full advantage of their grief for personal gain. The most glaring example of that are fraudulent psychics who will pass along faux messages from the deceased, often for a handsome price. The Ouija board can be a self-medicating version of that for those in despair.      It's also interesting to note that people who otherwise display rationality and objectivity can also be quite influenced by the results of a Ouija board session. Interestingly, this often comes on occasions when the responses to them are distasteful and unpleasant or speak to their deepest fears. Could this be because it is easier and more comforting to shift the blame for such messages to unseen spirits than to acknowledge harboring these kinds of thoughts in the conscious or subconscious mind? We see this quite often in the paranormal field when it becomes easier to blame a demon or ghost on the negative conditions in one's life than to self-assess and take accountability for their lot in life.      Testimony to the contrary remains wide and passionate. The following statement posted on from a "Naiche" of Brooklyn, NY has been chosen because it seems to sum up he dominant argument in favor of the Ouija as a tool for ill-intending spirits to pervade our world and one that should not be taken lightly at any cost.      "First off, a Ouija board is not a toy! I have not really used one seriously since around 1989. I can tell you that several absolutely unexplainable things happened of which I will not go into too much detail in this particular forum. While all of the things that happened were freaky, one in particular involved driving to a location that the board spelled out for myself and my girlfriend (at the time). We didn't know if the address actually existed but thought we'd go there since it wasn't too far away if it really did exist (this was before the days of the Internet when I could have looked it up on Yahoo or Mapquest). When we got there, we could not believe that the address was real, but neither of us was willing to get out of the car and knock on the door (looking back, I almost wish we had). When we got back to her place, the first thing the board spelled out was, "I saw you outside my window." This is not a joke. This happened and it is one of several incidents. My girlfriend got scared and didn't want to play anymore and I've not really touched the board since. I can't explain the things that happened. I only know that several unexplainable things occurred and that I am telling the truth. The unknown is fun and exciting, but it can also be scary and dangerous! Play at your own risk!"      The paranormal landscape is dotted with testimonials of this nature and all indications are that disputes over the validity of the Ouija board as a tool of divination won't be ending anytime soon. People are always going to believe what they choose to believe. Take for example the introduction of a device called the "KII Meter" into the paranormal investigator's arsenal. The apparatus made its public debut via spirit medium Chris Fleming on an episode of the SyFy network's Ghost Hunters back in 2007. The key premise is that the single-axis EMF meter's series of LED lights will illuminate in direct response to questions posed to the spirit, who can be taught to interact with it by coming in close proximity to it. (Sample: "If you can touch this device, it will light up, once for "yes" and twice for "no", please". Fox sisters, eat your hearts out.)      When it did so on camera, the rush to purchase them was on and it became, for all intents and purposes, the "Ouija Board of the New Millennium". The fact that it was particularly sensitive to man-made fields and prone to false positives did not deter anyone (yes, including ourselves) from placing their orders, proving that instant gratification in the pursuit of spirit communication is still very much alive and well even if the "tools" have crossed the threshold into the age of technology and circuitry. We've even had clients purchase them for their personal use and the results mirror that of the board insomuch as for some it becomes an object of fixation. We always caution the public against purchasing "ghost hunting" gear for the purpose of self-investigation not for fear of opening a portal to the spirit realm or infringing on our territory as much as leaning too heavily on them to the point of obsession. Taking a walk outside or spending more time with one's family is the healthier option - both physically and psychologically.       In the end, the Ouija board seems to have been given a bad rap based on its history and development as nothing more than a benign recreational diversion. There remains the intriguing prospect of a few compelling incidents that appear to defy logic and reason inserting an undeniably mysterious element into the more practically explained majority, but most experiences seem to be driven by need, expectation and vivid imagination. One can certainly then make an argument that the conviction and faith in it as an instrument of spirit communication is extremely predictive in so far as assigning meaning and value to essentially incomplete data. This has encouraged - along with media, theatrical and superstitious manipulation - a form of mass delusion in which the whimsical combination of mythology and imagination tread directly on our reality. References: