WASHINGTON: The Ouija boards measures 12 inches by 8. It is made of cardboard, with printed letters and numbers gracing its modest surface. It also includes a heart-shaped “little plank” made of plastic. For more than a century, people have turned to it for fun. Others, for answers from the paranormal.
In 1992, Luis Garavito was a lost soul in search of meaning. And so, he turned to the Ouija board many believe can open a cosmic doorway, ushering in a force greater than themselves. A force Garavito believed would bring direction to his life.
“What do you want?” asked the voice. “Do you want to serve me?”
“Yes,” the awestruck Garavito answered back. And with that, the voice instructed him to commit the first of what Colombian authorities would later say exceeded 300 murders. For nearly a decade, Garavito kidnapped young boys, sexually assaulted, tortured, and then butchered them in ways too horrible to describe.
For his crimes, Colombians gave the killer a new name. One that could just as easily be ascribed to the voice that inspired him: “The Beast.”
And the dark murmurs that steered Garavito’s bloodstained knife, promising
The message “If you kill, many good things will come to you,” emanated from a Ouija board.
Born of grief
The United States had never experienced a war as devastating to life and limb as the War Between the States (1861-1865). Roughly 620,000 Americans perished in the Civil War, with the rise of the Spiritualist Movement a direct response to the massive death toll and anguish over the loved and lost.
“Give me back my dead” was a familiar spiritualist refrain in reaction to the finality of the grave. Séances became a popular means for grieving survivors to speak to the departed. A tool employed by President Abraham Lincoln and his wife while in the White House.
But as séances were costly, “talking boards” provided those of lesser means a tool to communicate with the dead.
In 1890, Charles Kennard and a group of investors formed the Kennard Novelty Company to mass produce the boards and capitalize on what had become a national fad.
What’s in a name
There are two stories concerning the name “Ouija.” One says company investors simply asked the board to spell out the name for which it would like to be known. It’s planchette pointed to the letters spelling out Ouija, which some say is an ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck.”
Others say it’s simply the cobbling together of the French word “oui” and the German “ja,” both meaning “yes.”
Something wicked this way comes
As years roll by, the board took on a more ominous aspect.
In 1949, Father Raymond Bishop made an entry in his diary chronicling the strange events surrounding a young boy from Maryland known by the pseudonym Roland Doe.
“Nobody in that quiet neighborhood had a clue about the battle of good and evil that was about to take place in that quaint brick house,” mused Father Bishop. “The boy… began to fall ill soon after dabbling with a Ouija board owned by his aunt. Eerie sounds started up around him within days – including the rhythm of marching feet and the beating of drums, apparently coming from nowhere.”
As the Washington Post’s Bill Brinkley would later reported on August 20, 1949,
“In what is perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences of its kind in recent religious history, a 14-year-old Mount Rainier boy has been freed by a Catholic priest of possession by the devil, Catholic sources reported yesterday.”
Ouija in film
A student attending American University in Washington, D.C., would later write a best-selling novel based on the demonic possession of Roland Doe. The author was William Peter Blatty. The book, “The Exorcist.”
But 2014 saw a 300 percent increase in Ouija board sales thanks to another chiller diller. As the London Daily Mail reported,
“The culprit is Hollywood, and a new horror film titled Ouija. Low-budget, lowbrow, it tells a familiar story – of kids dabbling with the ‘other side’ and coming off second best.”
Scientific critics, like neurologist Terence Hines, dismiss the board’s supernatural qualities, insisting there is a reasonable explanation for the ease by which its planchette glides across its surface. In his book “Pseudoscience and the Paranormal,” he chalks it up to “unconscious muscular exertions,” known as the ideomotor response.
But the late demonologist Ed Warren, whose paranormal exploits with wife Lorraine inspired the “Conjuring” horror film franchise, warned against the frivolous use of Ouija boards to interact with an invisible and possibly dangerous world:
“You could be thinking you are speaking to your deceased loved one when in reality you might be speaking to something that has never walked the earth in human form.”
That’s certainly something to consider when resting your fingertips on a Ouija board’s planchette before asking, “Is anyone there?”
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