(Investigator 122, 2008, September)
Ouija is made up of two words — the French Oui, and the German Ja, both meaning yes. The Ouija board is a device upon which are lettered the alphabet, the numbers 1 to 10, and the words yes, no, and goodnight. It is popular at seances for receiving communications from the spirits of the departed.
Usually about forty five centimetres by sixty centimetres in size, the board comes with a planchette, or miniature table, on which the operator (a medium or sitter) lightly places their hand. The medium's hand is then allegedly guided by a spirit from letter to letter spelling out a message. Sometimes the planchette is dispensed with and a pointer or finger used instead.
Some sensational results have been claimed, possibly the most famous being that of Mrs John Howard Curran of St. Louis, who, using this method in 1913, was contacted by a spirit calling herself Patience Worth.
Patience Worth introduced herself as a young Puritan girl who had been brought
Mrs Curran (or Patience) became one of the century's most prolific authors
— novels, short stories and poems. Among them was
The Sorry Tale, a narrative of the life of Christ, which ran into six
hundred and forty pages, much of which was written at the rate of five thousand
words at a single sitting. She also wrote
tale of medieval
In 1924 Dr Walter Franklin Pierce, a distinguished pioneer in psychology, published the results of a very thorough study of Mrs Curran in a book, The Case of Patience Worth, in which he says, “Either our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically altered, so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause operating through, but not originating in, the subconscious of Mrs Curran, must be acknowledged.”
F.W.H. Myers, a former President of the Society for Psychical Research, refers to this kind of mental mediumship as “motor automatisms”, an action which goes outside the automatist's conscious mind. These unconscious muscle movements are examples of a phenomenon due to what psychologists call a disassociative state, in which consciousness is somehow cut off from some aspects of the individuals cognitive, motor, or sensory functions.
While material apparently quite alien to the mind of the person operating the Ouija board is sometimes produced, more often than not and in keeping with the revelations one has come to associate with other paranormal prognosticators, the disclosures are usually of a mundane or consolatory nature.
But what of the remarkable wealth of literary works produced by Mrs Pearl Curran. Her biographers tell us that Mrs Curran was a quiet, plain living woman, with little formal education and experience of life, yet she is credited with a sum total of over three million words published as historical novels and poems, in a style and philosophical depth wholly beyond the reach of a Missouri housewife however intelligent.
Casper Yost, respected editor of the
One formidable problem regar-ding the authenticity of the deceased girl Patience, was how could she have written so perceptively about life in the time of Jesus in the 350,000-word The Sorry Tale, and how could she possibly have known anything about life in Victorian times (Hope Trueblood) when she died two hundred years before that era?
The question no one seems to have addressed, however, is why, if the spirits possess all the remarkable attributes I have listed in Spirits [#120], they should have to resort to such a slow and cumbersome method of communication such as a Ouija board!
Curran, P. 1920. “A Nut for Psychologists.” The Unpartisan Review. March/April.
Hill, D. and Williams.
Hines, T. 1988. Pseudoscience and The Spiritualists. Alfred Knopf.
House, B. 1963. Strange Powers of Unusual People. Ace Books. Inc.
Hyslop , J.H. 1916. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. X, pp 189‑94.
Podmore , F (Ed.) Dingwall, ET 1963. Mediums of the Nineteenth Century. Humphrey.
Prince, M. 1914.
Prince, Dr W.E 1927.
The Case of Patience Worth.