Are you looking for the perfect present for your loved one this Christmas? According to the Daily Telegraph, sales of Ouija boards – many made by Hasbro, erstwhile manufacturers of My Little Pony – are up 300% this festive season. Partly because of the UK release of the teen horror film Ouija (which looks reliably dreadful in the manner of most teen horror films); partly because we’ve never really lost our fascination with this simple looking object and the world we believe it may unlock. A Church of England vicar is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that playing with a Ouija board is ‘like opening a shutter in one’s soul and letting in the supernatural’.
I’ve never used a Ouija board and have no plans to do so: not because of the horrifying torment I might endure, but because there’s something rather naff about it. The boards were originally novelty items that became popular during the spiritualist fad of the 19th century, and call to mind gullible grieving Victorians being fleeced by unscrupulous mediums with ectoplasm up their blouses. I’ve just finished John Harwood’s excellent The Séance which delves deeper into this grubby world.
Ouija board devotees (this article from today’s Daily Mirror features a few of them) claim that the boards are a guaranteed way of contacting the dead, but that ‘they’re perfectly safe if you know what you’re doing’. To me, it seems blindingly obvious that the sometimes startling results of Ouija board sessions are simply down to the people with their fingers on the pointer. As early as 1852, William B Carpenter coined the term ‘ideomotor effect’, which refers to the influence of suggestion or expectation on the motor behaviour of the human body – in other words, we subconsciously effect our own paranormal encounters. James ‘The Amazing’ Randi once conducted an experiment into the seductive influence of the Ouija board by blindfolding participants then asking them to contact the other side – the resulting messages were just gibberish. It seems that spirits either need a good look at the letters, or a serious spellchecker function on the board itself.
For those willing to believe – and you only have to look at the Amazon reviews listed on this website to see the depth of their credulity – Ouija boards will always be more than a toy, a board game or a bit of fun. A mere £14.99 will buy your loved one a Mystical Wolf Design Spirit Board (for sale to over 18s only) and the chance to contact the dearly departed. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Black Friday’.