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Do Ouija Boards Work - The Fact and Fiction

What is a Ouija Board?

Ouija Boards consist of two components: a board upon which the alphabet, numbers zero through nine, "yes," "no" and "goodbye" are stenciled; and a pointing device called a planchette.1 They are frequently associated with tools used by mediums to contact spirits during a seance or divination.2,3 In the movies, Ouija Boards are depicted as having the demonic ability to channel evil spirits into the unsuspecting host.4 Whether or not such a capability exists or is merely a manifestation of the ideomotor effect has been debated by theologians, psychologists, scientists and paranormal enthusiasts for more than a century.5 There is certainly no shortage of stories regarding Ouija Board experiences ranging from private, personal encounters to famous cases like Patience Worth.6,7,8,9,10

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A Ouija Board is available from a variety of sources. It won’t be necessary to go to any occult gatherings, dark rituals ’r us superstores or a crypt beneath the church to find one. Eight years ago, I bought my Ouija Board at Wal-Mart. These days, you need only search on Amazon to find everything from books to Ouija Boards to jars of uranium.11,12 Ouija Boards can also be made at home or even found on the Internet as javascript applications.13,14

History of the Ouija Board

Although not the Ouija’s inventors, many attribute the success of the Ouija Board to Kate and Margaret Fox, two sisters living in New York in the 19th century. As the story goes, the girls established communication in 1848 with a spirit entity by asking questions that could be answered with a physical response such as snapping sounds.15 They signed sworn statements testifying they were in communication with a dead pedlar whose body was later discovered beneath the house. The publicity of their other-worldly communication led to both a surging belief in spiritual contact along with a coinciding amount of skepticism.

As the popularity of spiritual communications increased, different techniques began to emerge for understanding the spirits. First came Table Tipping, a practice where a spirit would cause a table, which was balanced on a leg and held by participants, to rap against the floor.16 Following the experience, the raps would be counted to interpret the spirit’s message. Other methods included a practice known as Automatic Writing where a pencil was guided by a planchette to write the spirit’s message.17 A planchette, literally French for plank or board, was simply a wooden device used to hold the pencil and allow the spiritualist to "channel" the message.18 An excerpt from an article in the American Spiritualist Magazine dated 18 December 1876 outlines one of the first known examples of using the dramatically simplified communication process of the planchette pointing at letters of an alphabet (rather than writing them).19,20

The Ouija Board can trace its lineage directly to patent number 446,054 filed by Elijah J. Bond on 28 May 1890, although a number of patents were filed by different individuals for the various board designs and planchettes over the next century.21,22 The "father" of Ouija, however, is considered to be William Fuld.23 He joined the Kennard Novelty Company as a painter but soon became so engrossed with the Ouija product that he began filing his own patents.24,25 William eventually transformed the company into the Ouija Novelty Company, where he produced Ouija Boards until his death in 1927.26 The Fuld family continued to manufacture and sell Ouija Boards until transferring the product line to Parker Brothers in 1966. Parker Brothers maintained it until 1999 whereupon an updated Ouija version was introduced.27

How to Use a Ouija Board

Variants on the practice of using the Ouija Board have, of course, developed over the years, but there are some commonalities. Although it’s fully possible to use it alone, it’s not a recommended practice by those who have done it before. (Whether that recommendation is based on it being impossible to fool yourself by pushing the planchette intentionally or because demons will possess you while playing alone is a question left to the reader.) Generally, it is recommended to have approximately three people: two for using the board and another to witness and transcribe the events. An appropriate setting where the lights are dimmed with distracting elements removed is the most conducive for performing a seance type activity. People recommend starting the planchette by manually moving it in circles until it begins to move on its own.

In general, the original directions from the first Ouija Boards are more or less applicable today:28

  • Have two participants sit across from one another. For purposes of energy balance, it is recommended to utilize a male and female.
  • Place the Ouija Board evenly across the knees of the participants so it is level with the floor.
  • Each participant will rest fingers from each hand on the planchette. Light pressure will ensure the planchette can slide freely across the Ouija Board.
  • Wait for a few minutes and begin to ask questions to determine if a spirit is present.
  • Record the message as indicated by the planchette.
  • Close the session by jointly saying "Goodbye" and moving the planchette to the "Goodbye" printed on the Ouija Board.

Questions

It has become common to open simply by asking if a spirit is present in the room and whether it desires to communicate. There are mixed opinions on whether or not it is polite to discuss the death of the spirit or the existence of god. Additionally, it should be obvious certain questions are inherently nonsensical, such as:

  • What is going to happen in the future?
  • What are winning lottery numbers?
  • Who stole my car?
  • Does she really love me?
    Consider this scenario: You’re struck with awe having just come up with a cure for cancer and before you can exclaim "Eureka," some kid in a hurry accidentally knocks you off a curb whereupon you are squished by a bus. Now dead, you begin roaming the Earth passively as a spirit because the living simply can’t see you, feel you or hear you. Amazingly, you find some people using a medium device (the Ouija Board). As they struggle to open their minds seeking to touch on your energy, you simultaneously struggle to figure out how to connect with theirs. While attempting to get a message across about who you are and what the cure for cancer is, they giggle and laugh about how many fingers they’re holding up before they ask, "what are the winning lottery numbers?" How would you know these things?
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Questions should be limited to things the spirit has a chance of knowing. Treat your experience as if you were meeting somebody for the first time and consider it a social event rather than a "work for me NOW" session. Additionally, remember the spirit’s knowledge is limited to what it knew upon death, so there is a good chance it may be uneducated. It might be illiterate – meaning the Ouija’s alphabet is useless – or the spirit could even speak an older dialect or a completely different language.

Superstitions

As the Ouija Board has aged, a variety of superstitions have come to surround its usage.29 Not only that, people have come to believe particular behaviors are indicative of malicious spirits or if they perform certain actions evil will be warded away.30 Most of these "facts" can be simply attributed to the perpetuation of myth by the Internet. For the sake of argument, these are amongst the most popular:
Signs of an Evil Spirit

  • the planchette will make a figure eight pattern
  • the planchette jumps repeatedly between the corners of the board
  • the planchette will begin counting down
  • the planchette will cycle through the alphabet in sequence
    Wards Against Evil
  • issuing prayers in advance
  • placing a silver coin on the board
  • making a board with the letters in a circle will trap evil
  • drawing a circle around the participants
    Other Superstitions
  • a burned Ouija Board will scream causing death in 36 hours to whomever hears it
  • for proper disposal a Ouija Board must be cut into seven pieces, doused in holy water and buried
  • improper board "closure" will result in a haunting
  • a Ouija Board is an object of idol worship

How a Ouija Board Works

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It should go without saying Parker Brothers is not in the business of manufacturing portals to hell and selling them to children ages "8 to adult." For the moment, it will be necessary to suspend disbelief in order to consider how a Ouija Board could work. Whether the Ouija Board is a farce will be addressed afterwards.

Imagine all things in the world are connected by an invisible force, some form of energy that permits everyone and everything to commune as one. Perhaps the most dominant fictional representation of this idea is expressed as "The Force" and eloquently described by Yoda in the Empire Strikes Back: "For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship."31

In reality, the idea is not without precedent under such religious belief systems as Buddhism or Paganism.32,33 (It should be noted that Paganism is not equivalent to worshiping the devil – it is a figment of Christianity).34 Although less in tune with a synergistic connection between entities, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all fundamentally believe in the spirit and realms in which spirits reside.35,36,37 The complete biorhythm control exhibited by meditating monks relates to calming and being in touch with surrounding energies.38,39 Martial artists make reference to channeling their chi as a means of focusing their minds and energy.40 Yogis stimulate their chakras to control energy.41

So, assuming the bulk of Earth’s population is correct in believing spirits and energy exist in one form or fashion, the Ouija Board is a mechanism that facilitates getting in touch with them.42,43 Some people believe we cannot perceive the spirits because our minds are generally closed to the idea. This is why it takes training and practice to even do such simple tasks as clearing the mind in preparation for meditation.44 Suspending disbelief and opening the mind to the possibility of spiritual communion is simply too difficult a hurdle for many to overcome. The Ouija Board is a tool for permitting the mind and senses to basically make an exception. When a person doesn’t believe, it takes a considerable amount of evidence to overwhelm their assumptions. When a person submits to possibility, the realization "there is more out there" becomes monumentally easier.

For that matter, it is not so much the Ouija Board itself that is necessary to perform the ritual. Any object a person can accept as a medium of communication will suffice. People have used a wine glass atop a message board. Crystal balls. Candles. Hallucinogens. Eventually, when a tool is no longer necessary to believe the inconceivable, the person is essentially the medium. Given the mysticism and subtle fear associated with Ouija Boards over time, they are among the de facto tools for loosening people’s minds into believing spiritualism is possible.45

Still, that does not explain how the Ouija Board’s planchette moves.46 There are essentially three schools of thought concerning the matter:

  • The ritual summons the spirit and the spirit moves the planchette. The participant’s hands simply follow.
  • The spirit controls the planchette through the participant.
  • The spirit’s energy communes with the participant’s energy and influences the participant to move the planchette.

The first school of thought can generally be dismissed as nonsense. If the spirit has the ability to interface with the physical world such that it can move physical objects, the Ouija Board (and participants for that matter) would be irrelevant to the process. For that matter, it would be just the same to see a pencil spontaneously stand upright and begin writing on paper or witness a computer keyboard begin typing without a user. Perhaps holding a seance around the computer simply isn’t popular enough a practice for it to have become part of the occult, but its far more likely its because the spirit is not directly moving the planchette.

The second and third schools of thought are more closely related. For the second to be true, it must be assumed a spirit or energy form can inhabit the participant’s body and thereby control their actions. While the Catholic church seems to have many documented cases of possession, this option also seems unrealistic for the same reasons as the first. If spirits could arbitrarily possess and control human hosts, there would not be any purpose for the Ouija Board. And if the Ouija Board truly is the "secret" barrier through which possessions take place, Parker Brothers would be making a lot more than $25 a piece.

The third explanation does not rely upon the spirit to move the planchette or the spirit to control the medium. Rather, the medium is influenced by a synergistic link to the spirit through which an exchange of information takes place at a subconscious level. That influence drives the participant to move the planchette, though not in a deliberate way. While this explanation falls more into line with the spiritual and energy beliefs of prevailing religions and philosophies, it also matches the primary model pushed by the skeptics.

Ouija Board Skepticism

When skeptics cry foul, they cite the Ideomotor Effect as the driving force behind the Ouija Board. The term defines a third, unconscious muscle action and was first used by William B. Carpenter in 1852 to describe the actions of dowsers and frauds who claimed to be spirit mediums.47,48 The two other types of unconscious movements are called Excitomotor and Sensorimotor actions, and they include natural actions like breathing and reflex actions like pain retraction.49 As per the ideomotor effect, participants are essentially deluded and creating the psychic effects themselves. It is also known as automatism and describes tiny, involuntary muscle movements in response to subconscious desires.50

In the "The Mischief-Making of Ideomotor Action," written for The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, Ray Hyman declared, "Although the effects of ideomotor action have been understood for at least one hundred fifty years, the phenomenon remains surprisingly unknown, even to scientists."51 Ideomotor actions are very much at the heart of human communication – almost an instinctual response. They are not necessarily associated with such large movements as hand gesturing. Rather, the ideomotor effect presents itself as involuntary subtleties. Think of poker players reading the involuntary "tells" of their opponents.52 Perhaps an athlete who seems to have an uncanny ability to predict his opponent’s next move despite the mathematical and physical impossibilities to respond in time. Or the gumshoe who can read all the minute, physical characteristics of someone in order to detect a lie.53,54,55 These are examples of people who have developed an ability to read particular, subtle movements in others.

The aforementioned Ray Hyman has been instrumental in proving the ideomotor effect, notably in the court of law.56 Chiropractors once used a device called the Toftness Radiation Detector which would respond to tactile touch when placed over troubled areas of the spine.57 As part of his testimony that the ideomotor effect drove the chiropractors diagnosis, Hyman performed a psychological experiment with student volunteers demonstrating the ideomotor effect where, by the power of suggestion, participants would all receive the same experience with dowsing rods, pendulums and a rubbing plate. The reactions were so powerful, one student believed it was the powers of the devil at play. Hyman makes the following conclusions:58

  • Ideomotor Action: The perception of an object’s movement is actually caused by virtually undetectable motion by the participant.
  • Force Projection: A participant experiencing an ideomotor action will associate the observed "force" as external to themselves.
  • Knowledge Negation: Participants that are aware of the ideomotor effect ahead of time will believe that knowledge allows them to negate its effect.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: When the object’s movement is perceived to be external, it reinforces the participant’s belief, which amplifies the ideomotor effect. Furthermore, the participant becomes ever more psychologically convinced of truth and is harder to dissuade.

The ideomotor effect’s facets of force projection and self-fulfilling prophecy are really the crucial elements to the skeptic’s view on the Ouija experience. Richard Wiseman is a noted professor with a psychological interest in the "peculiar" sciences.59 In 1995, he conducted multiple seance experiments with a group of twenty-five participants in order to draw conclusions regarding the susceptibility to belief in the supernatural.60 Given the proper ambiance, conditions and suggestions, he found participants believed certain events happened during the seance that did not. When combining the power of suggestion and the mind’s tendency to believe the ideomotor effect is external, it becomes increasingly easy to dismiss a Ouija Board seance as anything more than a psychological novelty.

There is, of course, a more obvious explanation to how it works. The other guy is moving it intentionally to mess with you.61 It is usually easy to detect an intentional planchette movement because the planchette exhibits unnaturally abrupt jerks instead of "feeling" like smooth, surreal motion. (I will admit I moved the planchette intentionally only once. There was a really annoying kid amongst us who kept whining about the Ouija Board being unsafe and yet he would not leave! So I asked the board who was going to die next and turned the pointer at him. Needless to say, he left.)

Experimenting with the Ouija Board

For the sake of determining whether the Ouija Board movement is influenced by the participants or a spirit entity, experimentation is in order. If the Ouija Board is the fabled gateway to the spirit world, then it must work when the participants are unaware of its configuration. ("Work" being defined as providing an intelligible answer relevant to the conversation at hand.) To repeat the experiment in your own home, you will need:

  • Ouija Board
  • Planchette
  • Friend(s)62
  • (2) Blindfolds
  • (4) Distinguishable Objects
  • Holy Water63
  • Necronomicon (aka the Book of the Dead)64
  • Wirt’s Leg65
  • Video Device66
  • Audio Recording Device67

Four sessions were necessary in order to produce an appropriate set of data for analysis. The experiment consisted of the participants following the basic directions of the Ouija Board. Basic inquiries were be used that make use of spelled, yes/no, and pointing responses. (A pointing response will request for the planchette to be rotated to point at one of the easily distinguishable objects set up beside the board.)

  1. The first session was conducted without sensory deprivation in a (presumably) unhaunted location, for no less than 30 minutes.
  2. The second session was performed immediately following the first, in the same location, this time with randomized configurations. (Randomized variables included the board’s orientation around the vertical axis, orientation of the planchette around the vertical axis and the configuration of the reference candles.) The participants using the Ouija Board were blindfolded for the randomized test so as to mitigate any personal influence on the responses.
  3. The third and fourth sessions repeated the procedure of the first and second sessions, but were conducted in a location of known haunting. For this experiment, the United States Military Academy was used, as it is well known for a variety of ghostly appearances spanning such locations as the Superintendent’s house, the parade field and various unoccupied rooms in the Lost 50s.68,69,70

Two cameras were used to capture audio and video from the experience. A Canon Elph SD1000 was setup beside the board to capture audio and video in 320×240 AVI format.71 Overhead video was captured by an Oregon Scientific ATC2K Helmet Cam (mounted to a tripod) configured for 320×240 AVI format.72 In order to listen for EVP, PCM waveform audio was extracted from the AVI video files using the freely available mplayer software on Linux.73,74 Once extracted, the WAV audio files were processed using Audacity, which permits fundamental editing and visualization of the audio signal.75 Video clips were reviewed with MPlayerOSX and edited using both Final Cut Express and FFMPEGX available for Apple OS X.76,77

Ouija Board Results – The Control Session

The control experiment was conducted in an office building at the heart of Times Square on 5 February, 2008. A little-used lab room offered a quiet environment and freedom from distraction by other employees throughout the building. I was assisted by my ghosthunting friend from college, Erin Stair. For the sake of discussion, time will be referenced from "T Hour" which is when the cameras were synchronized.

It took awhile for the board to start doing anything at all. The following are highlights to annotate the provided video segment:

  • T-8:10 through T-8:49 (Clip One) : The board first began exhibiting the behavior we would see largely for the remainder of the experiment; it moved back and forth very unintelligibly between the vicinity of letters "ABNO" and "LMYZ" over and over and over again.
  • T-13:02 through T-14:24 (Clip Two): We decided to see if using only one hand instead of two would make a difference in the gibberish pattern. As the planchette slowly (relative to before) moved towards the "LMYZ" area, I commented, "It shouldn’t make a difference if you use two hands or not," whereupon the pointer moved to the word "YES."
  • T-13:40 and T-15:33 (Clip Three): This was one of the only peculiar events for the night. The board actually spelled through half of the alphabet while interleaving the letter "Z" each time.
  • T-19:10 through T-19:24 (Clip Four): They say a repetitious figure eight pattern is an indicator of evil. We got a few of these through the night but given the unintelligible behavior of the planchette, we discarded the occasional figure eight as part of the randomness.
  • T-21:59 : We decided to see if the arbitrary pattern would continue if only one of us were touching the planchette. For the most part, there was little to no effect of having only me using the device while the basic pattern did continue for Erin. Still, there was nothing intelligible either in spelled letters, "YES/NO" indications or pointing at objects.
  • T-30:44 : We ended the first session at this point because our arms were tired from holding them up off the table and the lack of any intelligible response was both irritating and satisfying (from a control perspective).

After a short break, we resumed the Ouija experiment for a second session. We discarded the intentional blindfold session for two reasons: the first session was so unintelligible repeating the experiment blind would make no difference, and Erin brought dirty socks for blindfolds. "T Hour" will again refer to the time at which the cameras were synchronized. The following are highlights to annotate the provided video segment:

  • T-6:35 through T-7:27 (Clip One): Erin asked the question, "Are you here right now," to which the board actually broke the "ABNO" / "LMYZ" circle pattern and indicated "YES." Following that, I asked "Are you willing to participate in the experiment?" and the planchette immediately swung to the "NO." Clarifying, we asked, "You don’t want to participate in the experiment?" again and the planchette swung to the "YES." Erin asked "Why not?" and it began to cycle through the unintelligible letters again.
  • T-8:42 through T-9:05 (Clip Two): After making no sense at all for our subsequent questions, I asked "Are you willing to point at the candle?" The planchette zipped to the "YES" whereupon Erin asked "Can you point to the candle?" The planchette then turned dramatically and zipped off the board in the direction of the candle.
  • T-9:29 through T-9:51 (Clip Three): We reset the planchette onto the board and announced that it would work better if the pointer remained on the Ouija Board. Erin asked "Can you point at the scissors" to which the planchette turned and pointed at the scissors. I asked "Can you point at the candle again" and the planchette turned such that our hands were twisted with only fingertips barely touching the pointer. Despite the minimal and contorted contact, the planchette continued to move smoothly and seemingly with "force."
  • T-11:08 through T-11:35 (Clip Four): This was not in response to any questions, but was instead a visual representation of the peculiar twisting motion the planchette began to exhibit.
  • T-16:19 through T-16:28 (Clip Five): We began using the Ouija Board solo again to determine if there were any differences between us. While neither of us received any intelligible sequences or indications, the planchette did begin to spin for Erin.
  • T-17:38 through T-17:51 (Clip Six): Just another example of a spin contortion though this was not by our request. Erin commented, "It almost hurts to do that."
  • T-17:55 through T-18:15 (Clip Seven): Here I am intentionally spinning the planchette to demonstrate the difference in motion from the involuntary movements that we have been experiencing versus a completely voluntary rotation. It should be noted that I am twisting it using just my fingertips with the same amount of contact that I have when the planchette appears to move itself.
  • T-20:47 through T-21:13 (Clip Eight): The pointer continued to move in the usual nonsensical pattern and twists so we began to ask questions again. Just for kicks I asked "Do you look at Erin in the shower?" to which the planchette stopped circling and moved promptly to the "NO." She blurted out a surprised "Heeeey!" and declared it was "because of that photograph which is really chunky and hideous" referring to the awful mug shot our building’s security camera took of her earlier. The planchette responded by moving to the "YES" eliciting some laughs and a surprised "Daaaaamn" from Erin.78
  • T-21:50 through T-30:15 : The questioning continued. It was interesting the planchette stopped decidedly on either the "YES" or the "NO" for questions like these but otherwise never indicated a "YES" or "NO" throughout the entire night during the nonsense periods.
  • * Have you been here long? <circling – no response>
  • * Are you playing games with us? NO
  • * Do you watch Matthew in the shower? NO
  • * Are you stuck in this building? NO
  • * So you can go anywhere in Manhattan? <circling – no response>
  • * Have you tried going anywhere else? YES
  • * Can you cross water? NO
  • * Is it scary? NO
  • * Do you come in this lab a lot? NO79
  • * Are there other spirits? <no response – the planchette stayed on the NO>
  • * Just you by yourself? <no response – the planchette stayed on the NO>
  • * Are you a soul? <no response – the planchette stayed on the NO>
  • * Are you still here? YES
  • * Is there a heaven? <no response – rapid circling behavior begins>
  • * Do you not want to tell us? YES
  • * Is it a secret you can only know once you die? YES
  • * Is it energy forms? YES
  • * Do you get to come back as anything else? YES
  • * Do you chuckle at religion? <circling – no response>
  • * Not going to answer that one? NO
  • * Is it possible for you to ask us something? NO
  • * Is there anything you’d like to tell us? <moves back and forth between "A" and "M" for roughly ten iterations and then settles on NO>
  • * Are you tired? <circling – no response>
  • * Are you able to affect the candle? <points at candle>
  • * I mean alter the flame. YES
  • T-31:11 through T-31:20 (Clip Nine): We asked "Can you make the flame flicker?" and seconds later the flame flickered. To confirm it wasn’t an environmental effect, we later checked the surrounding area the candle was not affected by the buildings HVAC unit. As a matter of fact, the HVAC is largely disabled during the night for energy savings. To avoid my own breathing’s effect on the candle, I watched it from the corner of my eye (knowing I could review the video later).
  • T-33:11 through T-33:20 (Clip Ten): Reviewing the candle’s behavior showed it burned happily in place without odd motion except for during the questioning. When we asked if the candle could be blown out, the flame fluttered nearly straight down in a fashion not seen at any other time.
  • T-33:33: The battery for the Canon SD1000 died so the session ended shortly after.

Ouija Board Results – The Haunted Session

The haunted experiment was conducted in on the fourth floor of the United States Military Academy library on 12 April, 2008.80 A Saturday afternoon was chosen to minimize the likelihood of the cadets interrupting the session. On the far end of the library’s fourth floor was an audio/visual lab featuring cassette and VHS tapes covered in a fine layer of dust – I doubt a cadet had been there in months. For the sake of discussion, time will be referenced from "T Hour," which is when the cameras were synchronized.

To avoid using up the camera battery like before, we "warmed up" the board for about ten minutes prior to recording. After several minutes, the planchette began moving, but the results were incoherent movements around the letters. We asked various questions and were given answers through the board’s YES/NO markings that the spirit was alone (at the time) and that it was difficult for it to "see" the board in the light. The only consistent movement from the planchette was to sweep over towards the moon icon. After activating the cameras, the planchette still did not make any coherent indications so at approximately T-3:55, I opened a deck of cards and began placing selected cards at the four corners of the board for it to point at.

  • T-5:26 through T-7:47 (Clip One): We put the four aces at each corner of the board for the planchette to distinguish. When asked to identify the Ace of Clubs, the planchette took awhile to move before incorrectly going to the corner with spades. It then moved, rather than point, towards the corner with the clubs. Given that it indicated earlier that it "could not see", we described the locations of the cards verbally and then tried again. When asked to identify the Ace of Hearts, the planchette swirled a little and then incorrectly identified the Ace of Diamonds.
  • T-11:04 through T-11:32 (Clip Two): We asked what year it came to the library whereupon it went to the numbers and spelled out ‘1835’.
  • T-11:50 through T-14:55 : The questions shifted to to simpler YES/NO queries.
  • * Have you been alone? NO
  • * Are there many of you? YES
  • * Are there many of you everywhere all the time? NO
  • * Are you stuck? R … K … D … V … P … I … Y
  • * Did you go to school here? N … O
  • * Were you in the military? Moon Symbol
  • * Would you like for us to leave you alone? A … U … P … W … D … X … 3 … H
  • * Were you in the military? A … R … H … Z
  • * Have you ever used one of these [Ouija Board] before? YES
  • * Was it this same one? NO
  • T-14:57 through 17:01 (Clip Three): Given that the planchette had begun moving again, we asked for it to point at the four cards again. This time, it still did not point, but it successfully put the planchette into the appropriate corner of the board for the named card. To further the experiment, the four cards were collected, shuffled and replaced face down to determine if the entity could identify them without our knowledge. None of the blind matches were correct.
  • T-17:26 through 29:20 : The questions resumed again.
  • * Could you see us at night? YES
  • * Have you ever been seen before? <no response – the planchette stayed on the YES>
  • * Are there any others here now with you? NO
  • * Do you like trying to communicate with people? P … U … A … V
  • * Can you see the letters on the board? L … A … V … P
  • * Were you a woman? YES
  • * Were you a man? M … A … S … E … L
  • * Do you get to live many lifetimes? A … I … Z … O
  • * Do spirits live more than one lifetime? 1 … 0 … 1 … Moon Symbol
  • * Can you make anything in the room move? Or make a noise? N … J … A … L … YES
  • * What can you make move? M … A … J … O … R … M … K … M … O … Z … E … W
  • * Is it difficult to make things move? A … Z … E … M … O … K … N … J … A … S
  • * Did you have children? X … O … K … A … L … N … I
  • * Yes or No – did you have children? 1
  • * Was it a boy? NO
  • * One girl? 2
  • * Did you work on a farm? NO

At this point, the gibberish continued so we decided to end the first haunted session and take a break. The next session was conducted with blindfolds on. Additionally, the orientation of the board was randomized while blindfolded to prevent participants from knowing which way was "up." In this fashion, the ideomotor effect should be negated because participants cannot see the board and therefore cannot subconsciously influence the planchette.

  • T-1:33 through T-2:09 (Clip One): We asked if anybody was here and upon receiving an answer, asked if it was the same entity as before. It should be noted, that the planchette moved near answers if not entirely on them. This could be interpreted as either blind luck or true influence (minus ideomotor corrections).
  • T-2:46 through T-2:58 (Clip Two): We asked for its name and received the answer P … U … and an indistinguishable point between and below the S and T.
  • T-3:15 through T-6:00 : Some general questions and answers with the entity:
  • * Did you go to school here? YESNOTE: The planchette was between the Sun and the YES.
  • * What year did you graduate? 1646 – NOTE: The planchette was under the numbers, 1646 correspond to the numbers directly above the planchette.
  • * Are you glad to know people still go to USMA? YESNOTE: The planchette was between the Sun and the YES.
  • * Did you live long after graduation? YESNOTE: The planchette was between the Sun and the YES.
  • * Is Army better than Navy? After a pause, the planchette moved towards NO.
  • * Did you graduate and get a job? YES
  • * How long were you in the Army for? 74 – NOTE: The planchette was under the numbers, 74 correspond to the numbers directly above the planchette.
  • * Are those years? YES
  • * Did you like being in the Army? <no response>
  • * T-6:06 through T-7:31 (Clip Three): First we asked for the planchette to point at the King. Second we asked to identify the Three. Third we asked for the Eight. Lastly we asked for it to point out the Six. Unlike the first session, this time the planchette itself rotated to point at the different cards. Using the card positions from Clip Four, the entity corrected identified the King, the Three and the Eight. Although when asked to point out the Six, it pointed at the Eight again.
  • T-7:35 through T-12:00 : Some more general questions and answers with the entity.
  • * Have you ever been able to move an object as a spirit? NO – NOTE: The planchette was between the Ouija title and the NO.
  • * Do you know any spirits that can? YES
  • * Have you ever made noises? NO
  • * Has anyone ever seen you? YES
  • * As a spirit, are you close to us now? 9 … Q
  • * Or is that a dumb question? NO – NOTE: The planchette was between the Ouija title and the NO.
  • * Do you come to the library often? NO
  • * Do spirits have friends? NO – NOTE: The planchette was between the Moon and the NO.
  • * Do spirits go into a collective? The plancette swirled and stopped on the Ouija title.
  • * Is it lonely? The planchette swirled and stopped between the YES, the Ouija title and the letters E and F.
  • * Is there a heaven and hell? NO
  • * Is there reincarnation … can you come back? YES
  • * How many times have you come back? 8 – NOTE: The planchette was under the numbers, 8 corresponded to the number directly above the planchette.
  • * Are you planning on coming back soon? YES
  • * Do you get to choose where you come back? NO – NOTE: The planchette was between the NO and the Moon.
  • T-12:09 through T-14:34 (Clip Four): The planchette began to exhibit erratic behavior so we opted to shuffle the cards again for more pointing. First, we had to put the cards under the camera so the previous pointing behavior (Clip Three) could be checked. After the cards were rearranged, the entity was asked to point out the King, Three, Eight and Six. Unlike the previous attempt, this time each card was chosen wrong.
  • T-15:01 through : We continued the questions and answers.
  • * Was a photograph ever taken of you? YES
  • * Could you spell your name so we can look you up? A … V … P … <blank space> … YES
  • * The planchette began moving and left the board. After resetting it, "Do you need the board to make this work?’’ NO
  • * Have you spoken through a Ouija Board before? NO
  • * Is it fun? YESNOTE: The planchette was between the Sun and the YES.
  • * Is this easier than other ways? <no response>
  • * ’’In your last life, were you a woman?" The planchette moved above the Ouija title on the NO side of the board.
  • * Do you like spring at West Point? YES
  • * ’’Do you like winter at West Point … the Gloom!" NO
  • * Did you get married here? NO
  • * Did you get married at all? YES
  • * Did you have children? YES
  • * How many? The planchette moved underneath the five.
  • * Are any of them still alive? The planchette moved above the YES.
  • T-18:19 through T-20:22 (Clip Five): We asked if there was a message it would like to leave for its living children. Neither the message nor the names for delivery were anything intelligible.
  • T-20:45 through T-24:59 : The session actually continued with some further questions and answers. The responses were gibberish much like Clip Five.

Error Analysis

Prior to making any conclusions, it is necessary to address some of the known problems with the experiment.

  • Up front, the two core assumptions (the office building was not haunted and a session at West Point would be able to tap into the reported hauntings) may have been wrong. A failure of either of these two assumptions would naturally negate the entire experiment’s ability to contrast each scenario.
  • The assumption the Ouija Board itself is simply a tool for opening the mind could be wrong. If, in fact, the Ouija Board itself is more tightly linked to the seance process then there is the probability the experimental Ouija Board could be "broken." Without access to a Ouija Board calibration tool, there would be no way to tell if Parker Brothers manufactured the board within the appropriate tolerances to touch the spirit world.
  • Although different cases were tested to establish a control environment and subsequent variations to contrast with that control, there was no repetition. Performing the test cases would establish a precedent for consistency and help to eliminate false positives and false negatives. For example, perhaps there was a fluke entity passing through Times Square during the control session or the entities at West Point were not available at the time of the haunted session. Repeat sessions would have mitigated anomalous timing.
  • It was also assumed if Ouija Boards work the spirit contacted would be of sound ability to communicate in a somewhat intelligible manner. If there is such a thing as a spirit world, it should be populated by the spirits departed from the real world and as such will contain a representative population of non-English speaking spirits in addition to mentally handicapped spirits or those with prankster attitudes. Assuming it worked, the entity contacted may have been thwarting the effort intentionally.

Electronic Voice Phenomena

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After the sessions were completed, the electronic AVI files were taken from the video recorders and consolidated. Software was used to extract the audio tracks from the AVI files and these were saved as separate WAV files. Audacity was used to review each WAV file looking and listening for EVP. It was necessary to use a visual program to identify EVP in case faint audio forms were missed in the listening tests. Visualizing the audio wave forms permitted an analysis looking for spikes deviating from background noise for more focused scrutiny. Unfortunately, upon reviewing the audio tracks extracted from the video footage, there was no evidence of EVP from any of the sessions.

Control vs. Haunted

The purpose of conducting sessions in both a controlled, non-haunted environment and a haunted environment was to judge the responsiveness of the planchette on the Ouija Board. Given a truly non-haunted environment, the planchette should have remained motionless and not provided any meaningful response. In the haunted environment, the planchette should have responded during the session with notable movement and ideally coherent, meaningful responses.

The control obviously failed in the first regard to be un-responsive. The planchette demonstrated blatant activity although it may have been the result of the Ideomotor Effect. The results of the first control session were so incoherent it was decided not to bother with a controlled blindfolded session. Incoherency continued with the second control session although minor results seemed to manifest. Other than the 1/2 alphabet enumeration and the peculiarity with the candle flame at the end, the control sessions did seem to confirm a degree of meaninglessness, leading to the conclusion there was nothing significant present or the result was entirely of Ideomotor influence.

The haunted session was demonstratively different from the control. Unlike the sweeping, repetitive pattern demonstrated in the office building, the planchette seemed to move to distinct alphanumeric characters and other indicators. At first, it would be easy to conclude this seemingly intentional activity was indicative of an intelligence not present during the control. However, it stood to reason it was also from the influence of the Ideomotor Effect. While the movements seemed more deliberate, the result was largely unintelligible. Assuming the Ouija Board worked, however, part of the session indicated the entity was having trouble interfacing during the afternoon and that a better result would be possible at night.81

Ideomotor Effect

According to the Ideomotor Effect, the ability of the participants to see the board results in unconscious muscle movements to make the planchette go towards particular results to fulfill the desire to have a result. As an example, each participant may have a subconscious desire or hope that the planchette will answer in a particular fashion. Although not intentionally moving the planchette, the slightest muscle twitch by one participant may be perceived as real movement by the other who in turn gives an ever slight muscle twitch of their own. These slight twitches each push the planchette towards the desired result such that each participant fully believes they are not influencing the outcome, yet each participant is magnifying the effect from the other.

The Ideomotor Effect was tested with the blindfolded session. If the movement of the Ouija Board’s planchette is the result of the Ideomotor Effect, than the blindfolded experiment should result in a complete failure to replicate any of the non-blindfolded results. Neither participant is able to see the planchette’s position on the board and therefore has no orienting indications from which unconscious muscle action can "correct" it’s movement. Furthermore, the random orientation of the board will result in an inability for either participant to even know which way to move the planchette for simpler answers like YES/NO or object pointing.

This experiment showed a prominent degradation in the quality of answers from the Ouija Board following the blindfolds. It is evident the planchette was not aligning itself well with the alpha-numeric characters nor even with the larger YES/NO answers. However, it can be argued the planchette was "in the ballpark" for rough interpretation of the answers in which case the offset error is a demonstration of the correcting factor of the Ideomotor Effect. It was interesting the playing card portion of the experiment resulted in picking three of four cards, but it cannot be ignored all cards were missed on the second pass.

Conclusions on the Ouija Board

The bottom line is the Ouija Board is not a gateway to hell. Touching it will not harm you. Being in its presence is not going to cause you to become possessed. It would seem most sessions conducted with the Ouija Board are in fact, nothing more than parlor tricks. Most people are likely to have the misfortune of encountering participants who physically manipulate the board as a scare tactic, ruining the experience. And for the few occasions when a legitimate session is possible, it is very likely the Ideomotor Effect will influence the outcome of the result to some degree. Despite the probability most sessions are the result of the Ideomotor Effect or pranksters, enough outlier case examples of Ouija Board mystery exist that giving them the benefit of the doubt is not entirely unreasonable. If the believers are correct, it is likely most people are simply too skeptical (or fearful) to truly open their minds to make a real connection. Anyone who has ever used a Ouija Board under the right conditions will swear there is that little something weird that cannot necessarily be explained away rationally. For those few who may make a connection, the question really is – it is just a game isn’t it?

1 "Ouija Board." Skepdic.com. Accessed January 2008 from http://skepdic.com/ouija.html.

2 "SOYOUWANNA HOLD A SEANCE?" SOYOUWANNA.com. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.soyouwanna.com/site/syws/seance/seance.html.

3 "Divination." Paralumun.com. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.paralumun.com/divination.htm.

4 Saunders, William. "‘The Exorcist:’ The Story Behind the Movie." Catholic Education Resource Center. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0137.html.

5 "How the Talking Boards Work and the Ideomotor Effect." Speaking With Spirits_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.speakingwithspirits.com/ideomotor_effect.htmeffect.htm.

6 "Patience Worth Poems." Patience Worth_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.patienceworth.org/patienceworthpoems_001.htm001.htm.

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8 Kaczmarek, Dale. "Ouija: Not A Game." Ghost Research. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.ghostresearch.org/articles/ouija.html.

9 "Ouija Board Stories & Information." Grave Addiction. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.graveaddiction.com/ouija.html.

10 "Ouija." Wikipedia. Accessed January 2008 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouija.

11 "Ouija Board: Glow In the Dark." Amazon. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.amazon.com/Milton-Bradley-Ouija-Board-Glow-in-the-Dark/dp/B0000524NG/omninerd-20.

12 "Uranium Ore." Amazon. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.amazon.com/Uranium-Ore/dp/B000796XXM/omninerd-20.

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15 "Kate and Margaret Fox." SurvivalAfterDeath.org. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.survivalafterdeath.org/mediums/foxsisters.htm.

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17 "Automatic Writing." CrystaLinks.com_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.crystalinks.com/automatic_writing.htmlwriting.html.

18 "Gallery of Talking Boards: Planchettes." Museum of Talking Boards. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/planchet.html.

19 "American Spiritual Magazine." Google. Accessed January 2008 from http://books.google.com/books?id=YBX4K4ih8-AC&printsec=titlepage&dq=american+spiritualist+magazine.

20 "History of the Talking Board." Museum of Talking Boards. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/history.html.

21 "Elijah J. Bond." ElijahBond.com. Accessed January 2008 from http://elijahbond.com/.

22 "Talking Boards Patents and Trademarks." Museum of Talking Boards. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/patent.html.

23 "William Fuld." WilliamFuld.com. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.williamfuld.com/biography.html.

24 "Kennard Novelty Company." WilliamFuld.com_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.williamfuld.com/ouija_factories_kennard.htmlkennard.html.

25 "Patents and Trademarks." WilliamFuld.com_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.williamfuld.com/ouija_patentsandtrademarks_williamafuld.htmlwilliamafuld.html.

26 "Ouija Novelty Company." WilliamFuld.com_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.williamfuld.com/ouija_factories_ouija.htmlouija.html.

27 "History of the Talking Board." Id.

28 "Directions On How To Use The Ouija Board." Museum of Talking Boards. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/directio.html.

29 "Ouijastitions." Museum of Talking Boards. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/ouistit.html.

30 "Ouija Tips." Grave Addiction. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.graveaddiction.com/ouija.html.

31 "Memorable Quotes for The Empire Strikes Back." Internet Movie Database. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080684/quotes.

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35 "The Story Of Moses." Bible Knowledge. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.bible-knowledge.com/Story-of-Moses.html.

36 "The Trinity." Columbia University. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/sbrandt/trinity.htm.

37 "The Sources of Islam." Answering Islam. Accessed January 2008 from http://answering-islam.org.uk/Nehls/Ask/sources.html.

38 Barbor, Cary. "The Science of Meditation." Psychology Today Accessed January 2008 from http://psychologytoday.com/articles/index.php?term=20010501-000025&page=1.

39 Cullen, Psychology Today. "How to Get Smarter, One Breath At A Time." Time. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1147167,00.html.

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48 Hansen, Brandon. "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr." OmniNerd_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.omninerd.com/articles/The_1826_Trial_of_Joseph_Smith_JrJr.

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57 Magner, George. "The Toftness Radiation Detector Is A Fraud." Quack Watch. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/toftness.html.

58 Id., "How People Are Fooled by Ideomotor Action."

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61 These people are usually referred to as assholes and are often your closest friends.

62 It is advisable to not only have friends that run slower than you, but also perhaps an "extra" friend everyone is willing to leave behind. If you don’t know who that friend is, it’s probably you.

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66 The person in charge of writing down the letters always gets caught up in the "excitement" when the planchette moves. It’s much better to simply record what it does. Having access to a thermal or IR camera as well makes for good corroborating evidence.

67 An audio recorder is useful for detecting EVP (electronic voice phenomena).

68 "Haunted Places, Ghosts And Hauntings In New York." Ghost and Hauntings Research Society. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.strangehappenings.org/New-York-Hauntings.htm.

69 Vernon, Alex. "Ghost Stories." American Heritage_. Accessed January 2008 from http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/2002/5/2002_5_64.shtml64.shtml.

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78 The security camera made Erin look like she had gained a good twenty … maybe thirty … pounds.

79 My coworkers were pleased to hear of this answer the next day although I still got several strange looks about having conducted a seance in the office.

80 "United States Military Academy Library." USMA. Accessed May 2008 from http://usmalibrary.usma.edu/.

81 Unfortunately, the opportunity to commute to West Point and use the library at night was not readily available and an afternoon session was the best option.

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