(Investigator 59, 1998 March)

Ouija is made up of two words – the French Oui, and the German Ja, both meaning yes. The Ouija board is a device upon which are lettered the alphabet, the numbers 0 to 9, and the words yes, no, and goodnight. It is popular at seances for receiving communications from the spirits of the departed, the medium’s hand allegedly guided by a spirit spelling out a message letter by letter.

Sensational results have been claimed, possibly the most famous of which was that of Mrs John Howard Curran of St. Louis, who, in 1913, was contacted using this method by a spirit calling herself Patience Worth, a young Puritan girl who had been brought to New England from her native Dorsetshire in 1649, and had been slain by Indians. Initially her dictation was laboriously taken down from the Ouija board by Mrs Curran letter by letter, but this method was discarded when she started to write automatically.

Over a five year period working only with the Ouija board Mrs Curran was able to dictate 29 bound volumes of conversation in the form of epigrams, poems, allegories, short stories, plays and full length novels. Mrs Curran maintained that the Ouija board was "just a piece of wood, nothing more. It is I who move the board in response to the subconscious or conscious impulse. There is no mystery in the movement; the mystery, if any, is in the source of the impulse." The spirit displayed a literary ability far beyond her years and beyond that of Mrs Curran who had received little formal education.

Among the works produced were The Sorry Tale, a narrative of the life of Christ, which ran into six hundred and forty pages, much of which was written at the rate of five thousand words at a single sitting, Telka, a tale of medieval England set in blank verse, and Hope Trueblood, published under the name of Patience Worth.

Dr Walter Franklin Pierce, a distinguished pioneer in psychology, published the results of a very thorough study of Mrs Curran in his book, The Case of Patience Worth, in which he says, "Either our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically altered, so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause operating through, but not originating in, the sub-conscious of Mrs Curran, must be acknowledged."

F. W .H. Myers, a former President of the Society for Psychical Research, refers to this kind of mental mediumship as "motor automatisms", an action which goes outside the automatist’s conscious mind. These unconscious muscle movements are examples of a phenomenon due to what psychologists call a dissociative state in which consciousness is somehow cut off from some aspects of the individuals cognitive, motor, or sensory functions. While material apparently quite alien to the mind of the person operating the Ouija board is sometimes produced, more often than not and in keeping with the revelations one has come to associate with other paranormal prognosticators, the disclosures are usually of a mundane or consolatory nature.

But what of the remarkable wealth of literary works produced by Mrs Pearl Curran, in a style and philosophical depth beyond that of the writer? Psychic researcher James Hyslop was unimpressed and complained that there was no evidence whatever "that a scientific man would regard as conclusive, in respect of the origin of the material."

One formidable problem regarding the authenticity of the deceased girl Patience, was how she could have written so perceptively about life in the time of Jesus in the 350,000 word The Sorry Tale, and about life in Victorian times (Hope Trueblood) when she died centuries before or after those eras. The question also arises is why, if the spirits possess all the remarkable talents and knowledge believers attribute to them they should have to resort to such a slow and cumbersome method of communication such as a Ouija board!

It could be argued that Ouija can be taken simply as a form of entertainment and as such is harmless. Unfortunately it tends to be an insidious form of divination, the more suggestible the participants the more reliant they become on the messages purportedly received via this medium.

(From:  Skeptoon, 1994, Harry Edwards)

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