In October we called for spooky stories from all our friends who follow the blog, and my friend Joanna told me some unnerving tales of her experiences with a Ouija board:
I am a freshman in college home for fall or winter break. The board is still at my house, and I’ve decided to play with it by myself. I soon find that it does indeed seem to be pulling toward different letters. I contact an older male family friend, a grandfather figure, who died when I was in fourth grade, and the planchette spells out, “Can I just say, you have grown into quite a lovely young woman.” This is not something I imagine saying about myself, and I’m struck by the lack of economy, the conversational quality of it. It sounds like a voice, not my own. Still, I can’t discount the fact that maybe this is my subconscious telling me what I want to hear. But there’s more.
Later, I am speaking by phone to the guy in my dorm who I am seeing (before later falling for a mutual friend of ours and spending the next three and a half years with him). I am at the kitchen phone in our yellow house in Leavenworth, and I ask this guy, who I will call Jack, if he has anyone dead he wants to contact because I am now a medium! He says he’d like to contact Tom, a friend who had killed himself in the dorm the previous year, an understandably traumatizing experience for Jack. So, I cradle the phone with my shoulder and contact Tom. I tell Jack to ask me something only he and Tom would know. “Where did we go for Tom’s twenty-first birthday?” he says. The planchette spells out, “H-U-N-A-N.” Hunan? What does that mean? Human? “No,” says Jack. “The Hunan restaurant. That’s where we went.” I had never been to this restaurant and didn’t even know what it was. Tom then spells out, “Tell Jack to watch Conan.” “Conan!” Jack exclaims. “We loved that movie! We had a tape of it and watched it all the time.”
Later that day, Jack called me back to report that he had watched the Conan tape. “Yeah, so, at the end of the tape … there’s Tom. Conan had been recorded over a tape of Tom just talking and joking around. It’s like he was saying hello to me.”
While I was reading Joanna’s stories, I heard a loud noise in the next room. When I went to investigate I found a framed picture had fallen off the wall and lay on the floor, unbroken.
Later I was doing a podcast interview with the Catholic Foodie, Jeff Young, and we talked about our limited–but significant and altering–experiences with the “occult” as Catholic kids in Louisiana. He had a copy of the Necronomicon that freaked him out so bad he sandwiched it between two Bibles before discarding it. I had a Parker Brothers Ouija Board, and though I never had anything like Joanna’s clear gifts for communication with spirits, I tried to use it many times to make contact with “the other side.” My mother would have none of it, as someone who’d seen The Exorcist enough times to believe that ouija boards were pretty much an open door to Hell. So we kept it in our playhouse in the backyard, where my friends and I would play with it to scare each other. Nothing significant ever happened, though.
Well, not until I was 14, and my mother died from a vicious, aggressive lung cancer, at age 36.
In high school I loved this song:
Watch the video; it’s Morrissey at his silly, maudlin best. And it will give you tremendous insight into the formation of my imagination.
I confess, it still makes me cry.
Ouija Board, would you help me? I have got to get through to an old friend.Ouija Board, would you help me? Because I still do feel so horribly lonely.
Ouija board, would you help me? And I just can’t find my place in this world…
Well, she has now gone from this unhappy planet, with all the carnivores and the destructors on it.
I remember listening to it, lying on my mom’s empty bed, and wishing it was that easy. If only I could pick up a phone and call her. If only I could put the planchette to the board, and reach out for her again.
But I didn’t believe in magic anymore.
People often wonder how I met Jonathan, the co-founder of Sick Pilgrim. Here’s the story: He’s an acquisitions editor in addition to being a writer of paranormal thrillers. Through mutual friends, we found that we had similar sensibilities. We met at an Irish-themed pub in South Bend to talk about the possibility of working together on a project.
Over a beer I told him I thought maybe dabbling in the occult was what had made me a Catholic, but I knew no Catholic press would ever want that story. He told me he came to the church through his interest in ghosts and exorcism.
That was pretty much how Sick Pilgrim was born.
The truth is, at this point in my life, I have tried almost every possible way to reach my mother–from the New Age to the neopagan to witchcraft and mediums and call-in psychics and past-life readings and even mirror divination. None of it worked. I have never felt my mother’s presence with me, unless I’m listening to Stevie Nicks, and I think that’s only because my mother loved her so much that some part of me believes Stevie Nicks IS my mother.
I don’t do those things anymore, because I go to church. But it’s not because my church says those things are bad. I still do plenty of things my church says are bad. I don’t dabble in the occult anymore because it didn’t work, and because I’ve found a better way.
I sing in the choir at my church, so on All Saints Day, I got there early and spent some time alone in the loft with the pipe organ, admiring from my perch the darkness below, the candles, the little table of relics–tiny bits of saints’ bones and blood encased in sparkling golden frames, reliquaries–that the priest had lovingly arranged in front of the altar. My nails were still black from Halloween night, my temporary bracelet tattoos of skulls just beginning to peel from my wrists, and that seemed right. Our month of spooky tales and ghost stories here on the blog prepared us for November, the month of the dead that begins with the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. And the darker side of my imagination and experience–my goth and my grief–led me here, to the Catholic Church.
We sang the Litany of Saints as the priest and altar boy processed to the altar, following each name with the plea, Pray for Us.
Calling out to the dead, asking for a response.
“We are here, surrounded by spirits,” the priest said in his homily. He pointed out the schoolchildren dressed as saints, an external sign of a hidden reality. The saints are here, now, and at every Mass.
“We are all pilgrims,” he went on, “and this church is our ship. We are on our way to another land.” But he didn’t mean that we won’t arrive in that strange kingdom until we die. We need not wait for eternal union with God, or for reunion with those we grieve. “When we process to the altar, we leave time and enter eternity,” he said. Every time the host touches the tongue, heaven and earth meet.
“You have made contact,” he said. “You have communicated.”