Into the Mystery

If I had a blog, I today I would write about the mysterious powers of my great-grandmother’s Ouija Board.

My Great Grandmother's Ouija Board

My Great Grandmother’s Ouija Board

In my library there is a bit of wood; slightly warped, chipped around the edges, and brittle with age. It is adorned with the alphabet, the numbers 0-9, icons for the moon, sun, and stars, and at the bottom, it wishes users a cheery “Good Bye.” To the untrained eye, it is just a nick-knack; a vestige of days gone by, but I have noticed something strange about my Great Grandmother Bunch’s Ouija Board: It seems to rob people of common sense.

To work its magic, the Ouija Board doesn’t have to be used. No spirits need to be called, no fingers gently laid upon the heart-shaped planchette to reveal the words of the departed. No, for the Ouija Board to take control, all I have to do is point to it and say, “This is my Great Grandmother’s Ouija Board,” and the spell is cast.

Over the years, I have seen smart, sensible people become frightened children in the presence of the Ouija Board. Some refuse to look at it, for fear evil spirits will come forth and possess them. Others chastise me for my folly: Don’t I know that just having the thing in the house could draw evil spirits? The Ouija Board has put lesser friendships on the rocks and one woman, an acquaintance of my mother’s, won’t come in the house unless she is assured the vile creature is covered and stowed away in some dark corner of the attic.

To what do I attribute the power of this seemingly innocuous board game? Its history is quite bland: It was created in 1891 by two U.S. businessmen and sold as a source of entertainment for use at social gatherings. The name, “Ouija” holds no clue to its power either, as it is simply a combination of the French and German words for “yes” (oui and ja). In fact, the only thing remarkable about the Ouija Board is the stir created by religious leaders who, from the game’s inception, insisted it was a tool of the devil and a portal through which demons could control unwary human beings. Like most mystical icons, the power of the Ouija Board lies in the beliefs of the beholder.

As we enter the month of October, a time of year that abounds with whispers of myth and magic, I think it is a good time to move beyond the stories of the bogey man, ghosts and goblins, and monsters under the bed. Those are fodder for childish fear, the kind of superstition that keeps us from exploring the deeper parts of life. I believe, as Shakespeare wrote, that “There is more in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” but I do not believe the search for “more” is fraught with peril.

Evil exists, of that I have no doubt, but I believe it only exists in the hearts of human beings during their mortal lives and the only Hell is the one we create for ourselves and our fellow earthmates when we let ego, selfishness, hatred, and intolerance guide our actions in life. After death, we are cleansed of these corruptions, but we have to exist with the torturous knowledge of what we have done. That is what I believe, anyway.

One thing I know for sure: In the century or more that Great Grandmother Bunch’s Ouija Board has been on the planet, none of its users, including me, have been in the presence of demons. It has been a source of wisdom for my foremothers, of spine-tingling fun at slumber parties and a tie that binds me to my past, but in the end it is no more than I make of it. If I feared the spiritual unknown, it would frighten me, but the fear would come from me, not from this simple piece of wood.

Tonight, I will put the Ouija Board in the center of my Halloween decor; draped with bittersweet and surrounded with ceramic jack o’lanterns and silk mums. As I arrange my little centerpiece, I will think fondly of Great Grandmother Bunch and the many mysteries she has laid in my hands – especially for giving me her Ouija Board and the belief that life is filled with magic.

3 thoughts on “Into the Mystery

  1. Interesting observation about your antique Ouija board. Growing up in Ireland, I frequently encountered old superstitions that even in the late 20th century held people in their thrall. The other day my son knocked over the salt bowl. After we’d cleared up the mess, I suggested he take a pinch and throw it over his left shoulder–not that I truly believed he would have bad luck if he didn’t. But more to teach him about and pass on the tradition my grandmother and mother had passed on to me.

    • That’s basically the way I see it too, Melissa. My Great-Grandmother’s maiden name was Ormsby, so I inherited a lot of interesting superstitions and, like you, I treasure them as part of my heritage.

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