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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 23.4 > SECRETS OF THE OUIJA BOARD

SECRETS OF THE OUIJA BOARD

Hello!

Today we will dim the lights and gather around an object of mystery: the ouija (pronounced “wee-ja” or “wee-gee”). With a little pointer, these simple but spooky devices spell out answers that appear to come from some invisible source.

Some people believe ouija boards release secrets from our subconscious minds. Others claim ouija boards harness supernatural forces to predict the future or contact spirits of the dead. Ouija boards have been used to write entire books, and praised as a source of cosmic wisdom. They have also been blamed for madness, mayhem, and murder. Some even fear that ouija boards are gateways for evil demons. Are any of these claims true?

Let’s find out!

WHAT THE OUIJA TOLD ME ABOUT NESSIE

When I was a kid, I was absolutely wild for far out paranormal mysteries. I believed we lived in a world teeming with ghosts, psychic powers, aliens, and Atlantean ruins just waiting to be discovered. To my young mind, the “paranormal” was just science we didn’t yet understand.

I loved legendary monsters most of all. I wanted to personally prove that Nessie, Bigfoot, and other “cryptids” (supposedly “hidden animals”) were more than just stories. I dreamed and schemed of ways to find them. I imagined piloting submarines into the ocean and leading teams of investigators into rugged mountain forests. And I was happy to accept all the help I could get—even magical help!

And so it was that a group of my friends gathered one fateful fifth-grade lunch break to hunt for monsters using a ouija board. We huddled together in a hushed classroom, surrounded by empty desks. We focussed on the board: the letters of the alphabet, the shiny smooth surface, the little heart-shaped pointer. As we concentrated, the rambunctious sounds of schoolyard play seemed to grow softer, to drift away into the distance. We placed our fingers gently on top of the pointer.

Breathlessly I asked the question that burned in my heart: “Will I be the one to find the Loch Ness monster?” And then, slowly at first, the pointer began to move beneath our fingers. Smoothly, strangely, seemingly all on its own, the pointer slid to “Yes.”

MISTAKEN PREDICTION

My experience with the ouija board was spooky, exciting, and wonderful. It told me the one thing I most wanted to hear: that my fondest, wildest dream would come true!

But it didn’t. The board was wrong.

I actually did grow up to investigate monster mysteries, but not in the way that I expected— and certainly not in the way that the board predicted. The ouija board told me I would personally locate a genuine monster at Loch Ness. It even told me where to look. Obviously it didn’t turn out that way. If I had captured Nessie, you would have heard about it!

Instead, years later, I got the opportunity to research the Loch Ness mystery for JUNIOR SKEPTIC #19 (bound inside SKEPTIC Vol. 11, No. 1) and my book Abominable Science! (co-authored with scientist Donald Prothero). As I studied the evidence, I came to realize that Nessie isn’t a mystery that will ever be solved by anyone capturing a real live monster. The evidence shows that Nessie is a modern myth, not an animal. She exists only in those stories I loved as a kid.

So what really happened in that empty classroom, all those years ago? It felt like the ouija board harnessed some sort of mysterious supernatural force to give me a glimpse into the future. I seemed to receive eerie, accurate messages from…somewhere else. But it turned out that those “messages” weren’t accurate at all. If they weren’t mystical psychic predictions, what were they? Where did the board’s answers really come from?

It didn’t feel like I moved the pointer myself. However, it does seem awfully suspicious that the board predicted something unrealistic that I already wanted to believe. Did I somehow fool myself? If so, I wouldn’t be the first!

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About Skeptic

WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING? COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Health Freedom, Right to Try, and Informed Consent, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Do You Have Traits or Are You a Type? by Carol Tavris • SPECIAL SECTION ON TACTICS FOR DISCUSSING CONTENTIOUS ISSUES Personhood and Abortion Rights: How Science Might Inform this Contentious Issue, by Gary Whittenberger • How to Teach Evolution to Religious Students, by Surat Parvatam • The Arguments for Creationism and the Arguments for Evolution: A Study in Contrasts, by Ralph M. Barnes • Meeting Our “Enemies” Where They Are: The Advantage of Understanding Your Adversary’s Arguments, by Andrew Cooper-Sansone ARTICLES The Grandest of Questions Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? by Michael Shermer • Reports of Mysterious Attacks on U.S. Diplomats Continue: Separating Fact from Fiction by Robert E. Bartholomew • The God Damners: The Now Not-so-New Atheism by Michael Cohen • Quackery in America: An Inglorious and Ongoing History, by Morton Tavel, M.D. • What Is It like to Be a Human? by Colin McGinn REVIEWS Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress • The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution • The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will • SCAM: So-Called Alternative Medicine • Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life • The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are JUNIOR SKEPTIC Secrets of the Ouija Board, by Daniel Loxton