Open Door Policies and the Dead – Field Guide Friday

Ankhie’s affection for all forms of divination are well documented here. Crystal balls? My house looks like a metaphysical bowling alley. Tarot cards? A deck on every desk. Runes? Don’t even get me started! The one thing you will not find at Chez Ankhie  is a spirit board. Not that I don’t find them fascinating – they are cool beyond compare (if you doubt, go immediately to The Museum of Talking Boards and feast your eyes!) – but I have a bit of a history with them. Nothing terrible, but sobering.

When I was but a wee Ankh – an only Ankh I might add and more than a little lonely – I spent a lot of time alone in my room with a Ouija Board. I was (surprise) one of those kids who was fascinated by the occult and read everything I could get my hands on at our small town library. Then I got a Ouija Board for Christmas. It was the perfect combination of cool and creepy and, best of all, I didn’t need anyone to play it with me! I sat cross-legged on the floor of my attic bedroom with the board in front of me. Nothing happened.  I tried again later, concentrating harder. Still nothing. This went on for days. I read and reread the instructions. I focused. I gave up. The board sat under my bed for a couple of weeks before I tried again, with little or no expectations. It was a rainy winter day in the 1970’s and there was nothing else to do.  I sighed (feeling a little foolish) shook out my hands, let my fingers rest lightly on the planchette and closed my eyes. Then it moved. It moved and it wasn’t me that moved it.

So it began – hours of questions and answers and although I know that what or who I was communicating with had a name, I can’t for the life of me remember it.  But I do remember how excited I was – how I couldn’t sleep – how I wanted to tell everyone but didn’t. Eventually my parents started to wonder why I was spending so much time in my room. I told them about my new friend, and watched their expressions change from curious to concerned (they had seen The Exorcist, after all)  and shortly thereafter said goodbye to my Ouiji Board. They kept it in the house – and we even used it (for better or worse – see my post on 10/22/10) as a family – but I was never allowed to have it to myself again.

Spirit Boards are sold commercially as games, but they are much, much more. Unlike other forms of divination, they lack discriminating factors. They require no study, no special skills or training. Anyone can use them, and anyone (or anything) can come through. Without the symbolic references that clarify the meanings of runes and tarot cards, or the imagery that personalizes and identifies the source of scrying visions, there is no telling who or what is speaking.  A trained occultist has nothing to fear – armed with the means of psychic self-defense and a comprehensive knowledge of the invisible world, but for most, the open door policy of spirit communication is risky.

Ankhie loves spirit boards, but I won’t have one in my house. Even after all these years I know the temptation. My “friend”, whoever I was speaking to all those years ago is still there, waiting for me to open the door. And I have a feeling that I forgot his name for good reason.

Judith Joyce knows more about the world of the paranormal than most of us would hope to forget. Here’s an excerpt on spirit boards from her new book, The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal:

Spirit Board
A spirit board is a portal that allegedly allows living people to communicate with beings from other dimensions— most famously spirits of the  dead, although other types of spirits may also be contacted. Some of the earliest contactees claim to have used spirit boards to converse with  extraterrestrials. Spirit boards are also known as talking boards or witch boards but the most famous spirit board is the trademarked Ouija board (pronounced wee-jee). For many, it is the only familiar type of spirit board. Ouija has become synonymous with an entire genre of occult  tools—just as the term “Scotch tape” is used to refer to any clear adhesive tape regardless of manufacturer. An example of a non-Ouija spirit board is featured on the television series Charmed.

The concept of communicating with spirits is eternal, however the industrial age changed the way people considered communication tools and  devices. Samuel Morse’s telegraph went into operation in 1844. A spirit board can be understood as the equivalent of a spiritual telegraph  system. The spirit board made its American debut in 1880. Although most boards are now mass produced, the earliest models were home-made. Between 1890 and 1950, dozens of different manufacturers produced variations of the spirit board, with the Ouija board dominating the market.

Most spirit boards involve two pieces: the board itself and an accompanying planchette. The standard spirit board is a smooth, flat, usually  rectangular board with the alphabet arranged across it, usually in two curving lines. Below the letters are the numbers from one through nine  and zero. Entire words may also be featured on the board—usually “yes,” “no,” and “goodbye,” but there may be variations.

The planchette is a small rolling pointer that slides easily across the board. It features a hole or window through which the letters and numbers  can be read. Planchette literally means “little plank” and is named after a forerunner to the spirit board, a once popular device used for similar  spirit-communication purposes. The modern planchette that accompanies a spirit board is a miniature version of the original device. Some people prefer a pendulum to the traditional planchette when using a spirit board.

To use the board, two people usually sit facing each other with the board between them, either on their knees or on a table. They place the  planchette in its starting position in the center of the board and lightly rest their fingertips on it. Ideally, the planchette then begins to glide over  the board, stopping and starting. As it stops over words, letters, and numbers, messages may form, either spontaneously or in response to questions.

The planchette allegedly moves of its own volition, not because either of the participants is pushing it—or at least not consciously. Unconscious movement may be a mediumistic act, similar to automatic writing or channeling.

A standard opening question might be something like: “Is any spirit here?” If the answer is affirmative, then attempts are made to identify the  spirit’s identity. Messages may be received from loved ones, or strange, unknown spirits may manifest. Although sold in toy stores alongside board games, spirit boards are genuine medium’s tools and should not be treated casually. Those who use them to taunt spirits or who mockingly summon demons often find that what they have really summoned is trouble—sometimes, trouble that may require a paranormal professional to  remedy and clean up. Mediums and psychics who use spirit boards usually utilize protective rituals or devices to ensure safety, including  protective circles, incense, amulets, or wards. Sometimes they ask protective spirits to serve as gatekeepers, ensuring that only benevolent  spirits are permitted entry.

Any spirit that suggests causing harm to anyone— including yourself—is by definition a harmful spirit and should be banished. Deceased loved  ones may mean well, but may not be any wiser in the afterlife than when they were alive. In other words, if Grandma Sue’s career advice over the telephone was lousy when she was living, it may not be any better now that she is dead and communicating through a spirit board. Just because  advice or information comes via a spirit board doesn’t mean that it must be followed. If something scary manifests through the spirit board, the  easiest way to close the portal is to put the board away.

For more information, go to The Museum of Talking Boards (

For more information on Ouija boards, go to

5 thoughts on “Open Door Policies and the Dead – Field Guide Friday

  1. Tina

    A few years ago (goodness maybe 6-7 years now) my BFF and spiritual sister decided to try out her Ouija board. We got all serious and settled in her temple and put our fingers on the planchette and did our thing. The planchette moved and we shrieked like schoolgirls and fell into a fit of giggles that took FOREVER to subside. Once we composed ourselves again we asked some questions and I can’t remember any of what we asked or learned anymore, I think a lot of it was jumbled. But what a crazy experience it was, two 30somethings shrieking and giggling in a heap on the floor totally unable to compose themselves. ::shakes head::

  2. Wow, Anhkie, it’s like you are speaking directly to me! I swore of spirit boards years ago because of some of the bizarre and frightening stories that I heard surrounding them… At that time, I only knew them as ouija boards. Lately, I have considered purchasing one and invoking protection when using it. Myself and my spiritual/metaphysical BFF as is often the case, both met for coffee with the same thought, purchasing a spirit board. Recently, I have been back peddling about doing so. However, my friend reiterates, “protection, protection, protection.” I worry about opening a portal and letting someone through that perhaps I will regret letting in.

    Thank you for the article! It was informative and for me, timely!

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