July 26, 2018 – Sarasota
An interesting ad started to show up on Facebook. At least one friend also forwarded it to me. It contained information on the Spirit University, along with a series of workshops spanning three days. As I was not personally familiar with this organization, or the ghost hunting team associated with it, I opted to look over the materials, but with caution. (After 21 years in this field I have learned the better path is caution when it comes to dealing with others).
One workshop, however, did look interesting. It was a discussion on spirit boards, also known as talking boards or Ouija boards. This workshop wanted to dispel the negative ideas associated with the Ouija board and encouraged participants to make their own device. As several of the other workshops appeared to come from a Spiritualist point of view (i.e., table tipping, physical mediumship) I was curious to see what the organization had to say.
I should preface this with my own philosophy on the board. As a paranormal investigator, I do advise people to stay away from Ouija boards. There are a couple of reasons for this which include a lack of understanding of how to properly use the board. Ouija is sold as a game, and the extreme nature of the “game” mentality encourages people to push past safe boundaries in order to “play” with the supernatural world. Other circumstances, such as the attempt to contact a dead friend or relative, can fall under elements of desperation or link to thoughts of loss and sadness. 2) I question the validity of the Ouija board in the sense that even if it doesn’t contact the spirit world it can set a psychological premise that releases hidden fears. I think that we can be our own worst enemies and our actions can produce unexpected psychological responses that include creating situations of extreme fear and vulnerability as expressed through ideas of negative entities.
The second element of personal bias is that I had one experience with the Ouija board when I was about 16 years old. I was interested in the paranormal and had found a Hasbro board at a yard sale. I bought it for $.50 and brought it home. I was skeptical of the board in that harsh teenager way and asked my mother to try it with me. I had a thought in mind that I was going to trick the board to prove that it was really the user creating the answers. Bear in mind that this made sense to me as a teenager, but I was going to ask the Ouija which pet would die next. I lived in a household that included pocket pets, pugs, cats, and fish; within those numbers were several elder pets. I expected an elder pet to be named as it would be dominant on both of our minds, but the true choice should be “fish”. My tank of tropical fish had a steady lifespan but many of the types of aquatics that I had aged out within a year or two.
Mom and I sat down, asked the question and put our hands on the planchette. After about a minute of absolutely nothing happening, my mother, a very strong paranormal skeptic, declared that she was tired and going to bed. That ended our session, or so I thought. About a week later I was chatting with a friend on the phone. I laughingly told him of the experiment and just as I bragged upon the cleverness of my question, something happened. I had just started to conclude my story with “….and the correct answer would have been….” when a pile of books on one of my shelves suddenly toppled over. These knocked into a little sculpture that knocked into another and cast it to the floor where it shattered. The victim, as it were, was a small Italian clay fish. Do understand that these books had stood on my shelf for years with no issues. My room was in the back of the house with little to no outside traffic. The room, itself, was built on a sturdy cement slab. No windows were open and none of the other books or set-abouts on my other shelves fell. The only item destroyed was the fish.
The next thing I heard was my friend asking me on the phone if I was all right. I had stopped speaking and never did finish my sentence. I hastily ended the call, cleaned up the shattered bits on the floor, righted the books and grabbed the Ouija. I put it out in the garage where I refused to touch it again. My mother finally had to get rid of it years later since I refused to have anything to do with it.
With this background information filling in parts of the experience, my curiosity about this workshop may seem a bit unusual. However, I knew that there were several schools of thought on the boards and wanted to hear more about them. I decided to sign up for the workshop and requested permission to write about the experience (which was granted verbally).
The day of the workshop was challenging. Spiritually speaking, it was a terrible time to travel from St. Petersburg to Sarasota as the date of the session, July 26, was also the start of Mercury Retrograde. A full moon loomed in the sky, and a lunar eclipse was to take place the next day. Astrologists of the world had been warning that this was going to be a heavy duty experience. It certainly seemed so as that day I awoke late, found myself exhausted, and a torrential mourning downpour covered the ‘Burg. It took me another two hours to feel fully awake, and that was only with great grumbling from my body. Even Mother Nature was cranky: as soon as the clouds passed, she converted the rain into sauna-like humidity. Walking the pugs and doing short errands left me drenched in sweat. In addition to that, though I had reserved for the workshop and sent in a follow-up email to be sure, I received notificationthat day that the reservation did not go through. There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t be able to go, but a phone call to the listed help number brought me to Victoria Ackerman, the workshop leader, who settled the matter. I was a go. However, despite my best attempts to leave early, I left 15 minutes late, my phone refused to give directions and the Mapquest directions I had printed the night before sent me 20 minutes out of my way. Indeed, Mercury Retrograde was holding up to its reputation.
I arrived to the location late but was pleasantly surprised to see that the Spirit University was a small but friendly two story building. I managed to get inside and get to the workshop. Ms. Ackerman was discussing the history of the spirit board, which was used in China during the 12th century as the fuji. It also had a history of use in India, Greece, Rome, and Medieval Europe. Its transformation into a game for Hasbro took place in Maryland during the 1890s. Until then, it had been a valued tool for divination.
Ms. Ackerman, who told us that her history was in electrical engineering, also noted the scientific studies concerning the boards. She talked of Michael Faraday, a brilliant turn-of-the-century scientist, who theorized that the planchette moved due to subconscious impulses. His experiments and study of the Spiritualist table tipping practices led him to propose that thoughts from the subconscious mind influenced bodily movement to produce results. Ms. Ackerman’s counterpoint was that the subconscious mind connected to the higher self or psychic nature of the mind. The information was valid not through science, but through spirit.
She advised that the intention behind the use of the board created the results. The spirit board could be used for positive transformation and the key lay where the user put his/her concentration. To use the board, preparation was needed, as outlined in the following steps:
1. Raise shields: This was a delightful part of the seminar in which she likened psychic protection to the Star Trek concept of activating defense force fields around the ship. She described a short meditation in which the participants envision a white energy shield shaped like an egg extending several feet below the person and enveloping the body. The shield was raised as one breathed in and strengthened with each exhale.
Other things that could be done included were salt baths, taking a shower or even washing hands to represent cleansing. One could become more positive by thinking of loved ones or even petting a puppy. Imagining mirrors around the body (deflecting negativity) was another option.
2. Setting the intent on the board: The board responds to a person’s intent. A simple statement to start the session describes the purpose and sets the tone: “Let everything that comes through the board be good and calm.” Some, she added, put silver coins on the board symbolizing protection, while others used crystals.
3. If anything negative or unwanted should show up, give it a curt “goodbye” with the board. However, opening negative portals and bringing in bad spirits, she said, was incredibly rare and unlikely to happen.
4. Do not ask foolish questions such as “when will ‘x’ die?” or “when will I die?” Do not ask financial advice or lotto numbers. Do not utilize the board for medical advice. In short, the board is not God (her word), a doctor, or a financial adviser.
5. Ask pertinent questions: “How can I better my life?” She noted other common questions that others ask at these sessions: “How many spirits are here?” “What is your name?” “Are you good?”
6. Be prepared to stop. If the board goes into a motion similar to a figure 8, it’s time to close the session and take a break for a while.
7. While the board can be used alone, it can also be used with others. If a group is present, make one person the voice for the group.
It was interesting to note that several of the workshop participants were familiar with ghost hunting techniques. One woman likened the use of the EMF meter to the Ouija board since both are used to get yes/no answers to questions. I thought that was a valid point as I had noted this myself many years ago.
The final part of the workshop was making the spirit board. She handed out blank boards to each participant, along with markers and stencils. Participants were encouraged to envision a beautiful energy pouring like a waterfall into them, pooling into a ball and growing as more energy poured in. We were then to pull that energy into our hands and channel it into the board. We wanted to work in the positive energy as we created our designs.
We were shown several different types of boards and encouraged to create designs to which we were most drawn. Some boards had letters, numbers, and selected words. Personalization of the product was a big part of this seminar. One participant asked if “maybe” could be added to the “yes” and “no” section of her board. The consensus was that we, as the the living, utilize the term so it was valid to add to the board for the spirit world to use as well. Others put small words (the, and, he/she, to, this) in a row on the side. This was to save time when the spirit was communicating.
I liked a circular design for my board and chose the spiral to center the work. I wanted to create the feeling of stained glass and so attempted to zen doodle my way through the workshop. Ms. Ackerman advised using a glass for the planchette but when I got home I found most of mine were too large or too heavy to easily slide across the board. Still, my board was complimented and I did stand with the class to be photographed with the creation.
Overall, it was an interesting workshop. When I got home and discovered that the glasses I had would not work as a planchette, I tried to be creative. I utilized a slip of paper and asked one question (“Are there any spirits here?”) but got no response. Though I realized that I, as a teenager, had broken a few of the spirit board rules, hence my “warning” experience, the better part of valor urged me to stop.
The board currently sits on my self while I decide which way to go with it. Even as I write this, I glance over to it and wonder….is there anyone else here, and would they choose to communicate with me?