This is my Ouija board story

This is my Ouija board story December 2, 2012

I think I’ve told this story here before, but that was several years ago, and since I just wound up again doing the pendulum trick, I’m going to tell it again.

This is my Ouija board story. Or, more specifically, this is the story about the thing I do when people ask me about Ouija boards and about the one time when this didn’t quite work as usual.

One night a week in college I was in charge of the night crew in our campus dining hall. We cleaned everything, turned out the lights, and locked up the place for the night. It was me and a bunch of guys from the baseball team. Good guys.

One night they come in and they’re all kind of jittery and wired. Turns out they’d spent the night before spooking themselves silly with a Ouija board in Tommy’s dorm room. They were completely freaked out, still convinced that they had been communicating with the spirits of the dead. Even with Suzie Walton herself.

For around $20, Parker Brothers will sell you a bit of glossy cardboard and a little plastic pointer. It’s been a big seller for the toy company but, alas, it will not actually allow you to commune with the spirits of the dead.

Suzie is the resident ghost legend at Eastern University. She’s supposedly a flirtatious teenage ghost said to haunt the fourth floor of the administration building — the same building that housed the dining hall.

I started in on the standard Suzie-debunking. Wrong age and wrong building. There had been a Suzie, but she’d died as a small child, and not there in the admin building. (Probably in Doane B, for anyone from Eastern reading this. And if you’re worried about a beautiful young ghost dressed in white, that’s not Eastern’s ghost. That’s Lucyshe’s across the street at Cabrini.)

That never really worked. The Suzie Walton legend was too good a ghost story to shrink from a bunch of boring facts.

So I started on the idea of a Ouija board. I started to explain that Ouija boards work by the power of suggestion. “You guys were moving the pointer around, not Suzie.”

They swore up and down that they hadn’t been. It moved all by itself, they were sure of it.

OK, so, here’s where I do that thing. Tommy wore a cross necklace on a long silver chain and that was perfect for this.

I told Tommy to take off his necklace and sit down at one of the tables in the dining hall. I had him hold the end of the chain with one hand, his elbow resting on the table, so that the cross dangled freely.

“Don’t move your hand,” I said. “Just keep your hand perfectly still and keep your eyes on that cross.”

We all gathered around, staring at the little cross on the end of the chain.

“Don’t move your hand,” I said again. “Just stare at the cross and think, ‘Circle, circle, circle.’ Everybody, ‘Circle, circle, circle.’ But keep your hand completely still.”

We all watched as the cross began to swing in a tiny circle.

“He’s moving his hand,” someone said.

“No! I’m not! I swear I’m not,” Tommy said. And it sure didn’t look like his hand was moving at all.

“Now the other way,” I said. “Everyone picture the cross turning counter-clockwise.”

Tommy’s eyes grew wider as the cross reversed its pattern, twirling in the opposite direction. While repeatedly warning Tommy not to move his hand, we made the cross swing like a pendulum, back and forth, and then front-to-back, and then again in a circle, with Tommy’s hand all the while appearing perfectly still.

He seemed amazed to watch the cross swinging as he held his hand motionless. “I’m not doing this,” Tommy said. “I swear I’m not moving my hand.”

And at that point, as usual, I started to explain that in fact he was moving his hand, but that this subtle motion was imperceptible even to himself. This is how Ouija boards work, I explained, by the power of suggestion and these seemingly involuntary, invisible motions of our own hands.

I think that’s a pretty nifty illustration of how that works, and over many years I have found it to be an effective way of illustrating why there’s nothing supernatural at work in Ouija boards.

On that particular occasion, though, my illustration didn’t go quite as planned. A few members of the night crew instead latched on to an alternative theory.

“He’s got some kind of mind power,” someone said, pointing at me. “He’s doing it!”

I denied having any such powers … but then I suppose that’s exactly what a secretly telekinetic psychic would say, isn’t it?

The idea that I had been causing the cross to swing with my “mind power” seemed to strike a few of the others as a plausible hypothesis, and I’m afraid the matter was left unsettled as we got up from the table to start our scrubbing and mopping and emptying duties. My illustration, usually so successful at debunking Ouija boards, seemed to have resulted instead in a rebunking.

The lesson there, I suppose, is that there are many different kinds of bunk, and we have to deal with them one at a time.

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  • horror  (Primarily) young-adult fiction writer who was biggish in the 80s and 90s. Think R.L. Stine minus the Goosebumps.

  • Isabel C.

    Oh, God, was that the one where (either there or in a previous Ouija session) one of the girls catches on fire and her well-meaning-but-twelve-year-old friends try to put it out by pouring brandy on her? And then she comes back as a totally vengeful murderer on skis? 

  • Not that one! (>_>) I didn’t even know Pike wrote THAT weird/bizarre of a novel! :O

    Spoilers ROT13d:

    Vg’f “Erzrzore Zr” jurer Funev svaqf bhg gung fur jnf zheqrerq ol Nznaqn, jub jnf nyfb znavchyngvat gur Bhvwn obneq.

  •  Oh god, I remember that one. (The protagonist was convinced that there was something supernatural involved since it had actually been wine they’d poured on her, and therefore she shouldn’t have actually burst into blame)  There’s this weird digression during the description of the burn victim that points out that no boy was ever going to want to fondle her breasts due to her burns.

  • Spoilers ROT13d:

    Vg’f “Erzrzore Zr” jurer Funev svaqf bhg gung fur jnf zheqrerq ol Nznaqn, jub jnf nyfb znavchyngvat gur Bhvwn obneq.

    Oh that one! I devoured the hell out of that book. Christopher Pike was my urban fantasy crack, right down to having to sneak his books from friends because my mom didn’t want me reading them. (I think she conflated them with Flowers in the Attic, though.)

    V nyfb ernyyl yvxrq gur bar jurer gur znva punenpgre vf n jvgpu.

    On Ouija boards – if there is a spirit world, and the spirit world is accessible, then, yeah, sure, someone who could access the spirit world could do it with a Milton Bradly toy. But then they could probably do it with a Tarot deck, or a needle on a string, or a roll of Boggle dice, or whatever. I’m a kitchen-witch style Wiccan. My favorite athame has always been my first cheap pocket knife. That sums up my attitude toward Tools of the Craft right there.

    But like a couple others up-thread, I’ve discovered that I can’t make the damn thing “weej.” All those subconscious autosuggestion things, I tend to fail at. Planchette wouldn’t move, failed as a hypnotherapy subject on multiple occasions (most to do with alleviating chemotherapy symptoms), and didn’t lose my wart after giving a drawing of it to the doctor (my Dad, the pediatrician, who says it works for like 75% of his patients).

    I feel kind of cheated by this, actually.

  • Huh! I’ve never tried Ouija boards myself; I once had a tarot reading, but I don’t remember how (in?)accurate it was. I also never tried being hypnotized, either.

    I feel kind of bland now. Heh.

  • I’ve had some fun with tarot, myself.  I have a pretty deck and do readings for family and friends for entertainment purposes. 

    It’s like Ouija and prayer–very good at telling you what you want to hear.  Harmless fun so long as you don’t take it seriously.

  • GDwarf

    Each one tries and the paper does not move.

    See, if I’d been that scientist what I’d have done was done the test in private with each person, and make the test the pendulum. Then I’d find the one that it *didn’t* move for and know that that one was the psychic, because they’d presumably wish to hedge their bets by making sure it didn’t move, not knowing that you’d expect it to.

    Worst-case it moves for everyone and we’re just where we were before.

  • Isabel C.

     Oh my God SERIOUSLY.

    It made a hell of an impression on me, too:  at ten, I was not aware that (WARNING, SQUICKY): avccyrf jrer n guvat gung pbhyq or ohearq bss.

    I believe that book also contained the great “piss on your hands to operate a flare gun in subzero temperatures” scene.  And a love interest named “Percy.”

    ….I may have spent some time looking it up today, yes.

  • Piss on your… *speechless*

    That author certainly loved their squick it seems! :O

  • stardreamer42

     IOW, the doctor told you straight-up that his pendulum test was exactly as accurate as flipping a coin to call the sex of the baby would have been! Which is precisely what should be expected.

  • stardreamer42

     Depends. I can read printed text perfectly well upside-down, as long as it’s printed in a legible font and not something like Fraktur. Handwriting, not so much.


    I like the Ouija story my mother told. When she was a little girl, she and her brothers and sisters got fed up because nothing was happening. Their solution? Buttering the board so the thingie could slide more easily! I don’t know if the spirit world ever responded, but I’m betting it smelled interesting.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     “The Power”:  I think I’ve seen the movie they made of that.

  • Rather late now, but this is new and I’ve just seen it, so I’m going to leave this here:

    The Catalog of Unfit Toys: Ennuija Board « Medium Large

  • yasmin

    i done the ouija board .. im only 16 … i done it in my house and in my room … i have had to move rooms … new bed … new things … i feel like im loosing my mind … like its still here… whatever is here … and at night things move around … i cant take anymore … feel like its following me till i do something to myself … help me please .. ?

  • Ouija Board Spirit

    Why not Try the Ouija Boards at
    They have some Cool Designs & you will get Great Results,
    But always remember to carefully follow the instructions provided.

  • Erl

    I read that book in my youth! It freaked me the freak out.

  • JenL

    “Send moar cheezburgr!”

  • It just shows you how stupid fundamentalist Christians are. They tell people to stay away from Ouija boards because they contact spirits, when in FACT, they are simply enhancing the movements of people. Another reason why Fundamentalist Christians are just plain wack.