Who's asking: Kathleen McLaughlin Jacobson, Los Angeles, CA
Ouija, by Parker Brothers, is officially a game that allows participants to try (or pretend) to communicate with intelligences outside their own. Mom never allowed us to have one, and I inherited her deep distrust -- not to say superstition -- about them.
Everyone's familiar with the set-up. People place two fingers, or a finger and a thumb, on a planchette -- a flat, tripod piece of sliding plastic -- that glides over a board decorated with letters, numbers, and the words "Yes," "No," and "Good Bye." Someone asks a question, and the planchette moves around the board to provide an answer. Someone's usually pushing the planchette, consciously or unconsciously, and hilarity or chills may ensue.
The idea of fortune-telling through automated writing, or through a board, dates back over 3,000 years. Automated writing became a craze throughout the United States and Europe in the 19th century, and people used planchettes on sheets of paper to try to communicate with the spirit world. The Ouija board itself was patented in 1891.
Do I believe that Ouija boards allow communication with the spirit world? Not really. Do I think they're weird and dangerous? Yes.
No good can come from any use of a Ouija board, and people ought to leave them alone. First off, the whole idea is that people using them should surrender their conscious will in order to make themselves available for communications from the Outside. In extreme cases -- e.g., any situation involving preteen girls -- this leaves people vulnerable to delusions and mass hysteria, and encourages people's worst impulses. The Ouija board lets people send messages to each other anonymously, which can be fun or funny, but can also be cruel.
Someone I trust once told me about a group of college friends who became obsessed with a Ouija board. The board seemed to be communicating with one girl in particular, who became convinced that she was the target of some sinister supernatural force. She stopped going to class, stopped leaving her dorm room, and ultimately withdrew from school. Did the spirits drive her out of college? I don't believe that, but I do think that the Ouija board became an instrument for her pre-existing mental instability to grow -- and, my friend thought, for at least one of the other people in the group to experiment with manipulating the girl.
So those are my thoughts on Ouija boards. As I mentioned in a comment on Tuesday, friends of mine have had some pretty disturbing Ouija board experiences; if you have, tell us about them below.