In 2001 and 2002, despite not being a student, I was heavily involved in the KU Cauldron — then the Wicca-Pagan Alliance. Meetings were Tuesdays weekly, if I recall correctly — I seem to have too many memories from too short a time for it to have been only monthly, and I know that there many meetings I missed because I simply couldn’t bring myself to leave my apartment. Sometimes we had topics, sometimes we didn’t. Occasionally we had presenters. Many nights we spent doing tarot readings, or sharing energetic and psychic techniques. More often than I care to admit, we spent most of the night talking about anime. Two things we managed to keep consistent, though: we opened nearly every meeting by casting a circle; and after the meetings, about half of us would stay for Ouija.
The weekly Ouija sessions were a source of a surprising ammount of contention. There were, of course, the two or three rationalists — I’m still not sure why they were there — who believed that the whole thing was even more hinkey than everything else we were doing. The rest, though, were deeply disturbed by the talking board. Most wouldn’t talk about their misgivings. Those who would — ironically, the vampire numbered among them — were concerned about the nameless evils that might come through. No one out-and-out told us to stop, but … There was serious concern that our post-meeting sessions might begin before the non-participants had cleared whatever they believed to be minimum safe distance.
I had, prior to my time in the WPA, known a few people who had had their own experiences with talking boards. Most had nothing remarkable to report. A few had the usual stories of flying objects or lingering entities. But I had never tried it, myself. Given the lower-than average success rates my friends had reported, I was moderately skeptical. But back then, though, before the migraines, I was much more open to wild experimentation than I often have been since.
Given all the concern and side-eyes we got over the whole thing, I was somewhat disappointed by the reality. Most of our sessions were fairly tame. We got positive contact more often than not. Names and dates and details of lives and deaths that we could never verify. All juicy enough to hold our attention, but never quite enough to convince the more skeptical participants … myself included.
Well, not never. There were … incidents. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
The Oija board was owned and brought by one of our members, by the name of Jason if I recall correctly, and he always took point on the planchette. From the other side of the board, our sessions were mediated by by a spirit that called itself “Ouija”, apparently a familiar spirit to Jason. We would open sessions on the board and the planchette would fly over those five letters: O … U … I … J … A … then, WELCOME. We would ask this spirit Ouija to manage contacts for us, find the spirits to whom we would talk.
Some, myself included, believed that Ouija was Jason. Not that he was deliberately guiding the planchette — though that was, occasionally, a subject of debate — but that he had some need for control, and manifested the Ouija “spirit” to exert that control over the talking board. I was often tempted to test that theory by usurping the board from the other side, using the woven energetic techniques that were then my signature style, but ultimately never tried to pull such a dick move on someone who was ostensibly my friend.
Three particular evenings stand out in my memory, fifteen years later.
The first was the spirit of a girl who claimed to have committed suicide in the building where we held our meetings. I don’t remember her name, or when she claimed to have lived. I do remember that she hanged herself. I remember the pall that came over us all as the spirit spoke. Jason later claimed to have confirmed the story, but I never saw any newspaper articles.
The second was an attempt to make contact with a spirit that had approached me early in my carreer. That first contact is a story in and of itself, a strange night from the days of guerilla magic in the Java Break, but the short version is that one Halloween, a spirit approached me and made … contact. High voltage, visceral contact. And it spooked the shit out of me. And I rejected her. One night on the Ouija board, some years later, I convinced the Cauldron crowd to let me reach out to her in return. There was contact, but it was … unclear. Staticky. Only one thing came through to me inteilligibly: contact me again. Spoiler alert: I never did.
The third and most dramatic session with the KU Cauldron and the Ouija board was the sort of thingthat tends to scare people off of not just spirit contact, but magical practice altogether.
We opened the board as per usual: O … U … I … J … A … WELCOME. That was where any resemblance to our usual evening ended. Ouija was frantic. Insistant. GO, it told us. GO!
“Go where?” we asked.
It gave us the name of a building on campus. We went there, and brought the board with us. We did not, immediately, find anything of partifular interest at that location. We did, however, run into a member that had not been present at the meeting — we’ll call him Scott — who joined us for our mobile seance.
We attempted to re-establish contact with Ouija. It was not a smooth transaction. When we did make contact, the spirit was still agitated. This time, while still identifying itself as “Ouija”, it gave us a name. When asked to clarify, it repeated the anem.
Scott was somewhat perturbed. “That’s my sister’s name.”
Everyone became very adgitated at that point.
Scott borrowed a cellular phone — something that not everyone had back then — and called his sister. Her abusive ex was at her appartment, pounding on her door. He’d been there for a few minutes. Scott talked her down from raw panic. Talked her into calling the police. Called her back and waited on the line until they came.
It was some time before we broke out the board again. I think that Jason may have left the groop not long after, though that may well be either the vagaries of memory or the natural course of the four-year graduation cycle. The incident did leave a lasting impression on all those that were present.
I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately. Listening to podcasts, so many guests telling stories of their magical youths. Writing novels set in my own magical youth. Things I had all but forgotten floating to the surface. This story, in particular, has come to mind in the wake of several podcasts about the myth and practice and history of talking boards.
Makes me want to use one, again.
Makes me want to make one by hand.
But before I begin the neew experiments, I need to recall the old.