What was once a commonplace party activity, used by many as a way to gain closure with the loved ones they lost in the first and even second world war, is now revered with much more fear, or at the very least, much more fluff. The word "séance" is actually the French word for "seating", and is now used to mean an attempt to communicate with spirits because of the parties people in 19th century Europe held, where a large group of people would gather in the sitting room and try and speak with loved ones who had passed on, or ghosts they believed to be residing in their house.
This was before the mass production of Ouija boards, and so these people would often hire a "Medium", someone who (allegedly) can speak directly with the dead. The Medium would sit them around a big table and have everyone either lock hands or put them palms down onto the table. They would take turns slowly calling out the letters of the alphabet until the table tilted, creating words and sentences. Alternatively, a couple would hold their palms just above the table, and as they would ask questions the table would jerk underneath them, tapping their hands. The code used to decipher coherent words was often 1 tap for A, 1 tap for B, and so on.
Many of the techniques, called "table tilting" and "table tapping" respectively, were supposedly able to effectively work because of the professional "Medium" who was there administrating it all. Many of these "Mediums" were exposed as being charlatans, most famously by legendary magician Harry Houdini, who loved exposed them as poor magicians who took advantage of people. These parties were and remained insanely popular, however, and with the early use of the camera in 1860, many photos began circulating around, claiming to be evidence of real Spiritualist power. These photos, obviously doctored by today's standards, captured photos of faces lingering in odd places or ghostly figures standing with actual people. Most of these were found to be a simple use of double exposure, however at the time most people had no idea how cameras worked and therefore fell for the trick quite easily.
Since these well documented hoaxes, many people discredit seances and Mediums in general, though they still very much exist today. In 1890, the first "Ouija board" was invented and marketed as a novelty so that people could host their own seances at home. The board in a simple version of "spirit boards" or "talking boards" that many Mediums had been using for centuries, but with it's spooky packaging and convenient accessibility, along with the culture's already heavy interest in the spiritualism, the craze kicked off, especially in the United States.
The Ouija board became commonplace in American culture, throughout the first World War, the roaring Jazz age and prohibition, the Great Depression and World War 2, all the way up until Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game during the Vietnam war in 1967, selling more copies of the game than games of Monopoly. As American culture changed, Spiritualism changed, taking people away from big parlor parties hosted by professional Mediums and much more likely to stay at home for a cheap, do-it-yourself séance.
This relationship remained until the mid 1970s, as horror movies began to fill the big screen, and American culture in general became much more fearful, especially of things involving the supernatural. Urban legends began to circulate that ouija boards were evil, and demonic possession was not only possible, but common. So the fun party activity that was once depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting, featured in an episode of I Love Lucy, and generally considered a staple of normalcy, was suddenly thought to be evil and wrong. Politics shifted to more conservatism, pointing fingers at horror movies and heavy metal bands for corrupting youth, and anyone involved in Spiritualism to be at worst, Satan worshippers, or at best, crazy.
This created a shift in how Ouija boards were marketed, and in general, perceived by society. They were now marketed as a "mystifying oracle", more like a Magic 8 Ball than those parlor parties from the 19th century. It was written off as something prepubescent girls did at slumber parties, and although the fear is still very real to some, the hype simmered down quite a bit.
Present day, however, people are getting more are more accepting of paranormal experiences, with our shared interest popping up everywhere, from popular shows like Long Island Medium to the use of seances in several films and television shows (there's even a new film coming out in a few days called Ouija). As a culture in general, we are innately curious and obsessed with do-it-yourself reclamation, desperately trying to be individualistically communal with all of society, and thanks greatly to the internet and smart phones, that is somehow possible. So it is not surprisingly that our returning interesting in Spiritualism would mean interest in conducting our own seances, right?
With the help of my good friend Brian Black (_brianblack on twitter), a tarot reader and séance extrodinaire, here are some tips on How to Conducting Your Very Own Séance (using the Ouija board you already own):
1. Create a good atmosphere.
Keep the room dark with a few candles lit, light incense, etc. If you're doing this for fun during a Halloween, you want to keep it spooky and comfortable. Darkness helps people focus on the board too, which is necessary if you expect anything to happen.
2. Keep your group manageable.
The more the merrier when it comes to seances, especially if you are doing it as a fun time and not a very serious experience. (If you do want a very serious experience, perhaps to contact someone you know who has passed on, I suggest you seek help from a professional Medium and not use a party activity to do that.) You probably shouldn't play with the ouija board alone--many experts say that obsession with a spirit board is very likely if you're playing by yourself. Also, know your crowd: do it early in the evening, before everyone gets belligerently drunk, and avoid doing it with people who are just going to laugh or talk the whole time, unless of course that is the vibe you're going for.
You will probably want to start off with a prayer or blessing, whatever you want really, even something as simple as "let only good spirits come through". Have at least two people touching the planchette, another person asking question and another person writing down everything (questions as well as what the board says). If someone in the group wants to ask a question, have the speaker write it down so that they can answer it. This is prevent any confusion, since the game of Ouija is already a bit slow running, especially if you're a beginner. That being said, the next tip is to
4. Be Patient.
A common misconception is that the planchette "moves by itself", but the actual idea behind the ouija board is that spirits use your physical energy to move it and communicate through you. So subconsciously, you DO move the planchette. The point is that you consciously have no idea what is coming out and therefore use the board to figure out what it's trying to tell you.
5. End Properly.
If someone gets scared in the middle of a conversation, simply turn the board over, turn on the lights and cut the game short. The vibe will quickly shift, so there is no reason to be afraid after communication has ended. If you're not ending abruptly, keep your hands on the planchette until you wish to end communication, and once you are, thank the spirit and maybe say a closing prayer to end the session.
I hope everyone has a fun time using these tips the next time you decide to break out your ouija board for some fun Spirit communication. We are a culture of DIY everything, why not host your own DIY séance?
Note: If you are of the group who believes that ouija boards are evil and you can become possessed by demons by using them, that's awesome. Post a blog about it if you feel so inclined. The opinions on this website or just that, opinions, and are in no way meant to be viewed as absolute fact.