(Investigator 122, 2008
Ouija is made up of two words – the French Oui, and
the German Ja, both
meaning yes. The Ouija board is a device upon which are lettered the
alphabet, the numbers 1 10, and the words yes, no, and goodnight. It is
popular at seances for receiving communications from the spirits of the
Usually about forty five centimetres by sixty centimetres in size, the
board comes with a planchette, or miniature table, on which the
operator (a medium or sitter) lightly places their hand. The medium's
hand is then allegedly guided by a spirit from letter to letter
spelling out a message. Sometimes the planchette is dispensed with and
a pointer or finger used instead.
Some sensational results have been claimed, possibly the most famous
being that of Mrs John Howard Curran of St. Louis, who, using this
method in 1913, was contacted by a spirit calling herself Patience
Patience Worth introduced herself as a young Puritan girl who had been
brought to New England from her native Dorsetshire in 1649, and had
been slain by Indians. Initially her dictation was laboriously taken
down from the Ouija board by Mrs Curran letter by letter, but this
method was discarded when she started to write automatically. The
spirit displayed a literary ability far beyond her years and that of
Mrs Curran who had received little formal education.
Mrs Curran (or Patience) became one of the century's most prolific
authors – novels, short stories and poems. Among them was The Sorry
Tale, a narrative of the life of Christ, which ran into six hundred
and forty pages, much of which was written at the rate of five thousand
words at a single sitting. She also wrote Telka, a tale of
medieval England set in blank verse, and Hope Trueblood,
published under the name of Patience Worth, which received excellent
In 1924 Dr Walter Franklin Pierce, a distinguished pioneer in
psychology, published the results of a very thorough study of Mrs
Curran in a book, The Case of Patience Worth, in which he says,
"Either our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically
altered, so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no
knowledge, or else some cause operating through, but not originating
in, the subconscious of Mrs Curran, must be acknowledged."
F.W.H. Myers, a former President of the Society for Psychical Research,
refers to this kind of mental mediumship as "motor automatisms", an
action which goes outside the automatist's conscious mind. These
unconscious muscle movements are examples of a phenomenon due to what
psychologists call a disassociative state, in which consciousness is
somehow cut off from some aspects of the individuals cognitive, motor,
or sensory functions.
While material apparently quite alien to the mind of the person
operating the Ouija board is sometimes produced, more often than not
and in keeping with the revelations one has come to associate with
other paranormal prognosticators, the disclosures are usually of a
mundane or consolatory nature.
But what of the remarkable wealth of literary works produced by Mrs
Pearl Curran. Her biographers tell us that Mrs Curran was a quiet,
plain living woman, with little formal education and experience of
life, yet she is credited with a sum total of over three million words
published as historical novels and poems, in a style and philosophical
depth wholly beyond the reach of a Missouri housewife however
Casper Yost, respected editor of the St Louis Globe Democrat,
investigated "Patience" in 1914. Convinced that she was genuine and
with real literary ability, he wrote about her in his newspaper,
creating a celebrity overnight. He followed this in 1916 with a book,
Patience Worth: a psychic mystery. Psychic researcher James Hyslop
(1916) was unimpressed however, and complained that there was no
evidence whatever "that a scientific man would regard as conclusive, in
respect of the origin of the material."
One formidable problem regarding the authenticity of the deceased girl
Patience, was how could she have written so perceptively about life in
the time of Jesus in the 350,000-word The Sorry Tale, and how
could she possibly have known anything about life in Victorian times
(Hope Trueblood) when she died two hundred years before that era?
The question no one seems to have addressed, however, is why, if the
spirits possess all the remarkable attributes I have listed in Spirits
[#120], they should have to resort to such a slow and cumbersome method
of communication such as a Ouija board!
Curran, P. 1920. "A Nut for Psychologists." The Unpartisan Review.
Hill, D. and Williams. P. 1989. The Supernatural. Bloomsbury Books.
Hines, T. 1988. Pseudoscience and The Spiritualists. Alfred Knopf.
House, B. 1963. Strange Powers of Unusual People. Ace Books. Inc.
Hyslop, J.H. 1916. Journal of the American Society for Psychical
Research. X, pp 189 94.
Litvag, I. 1972. Singer in the Shadows, Macmillan. New York.
Podmore, F (Ed.) Dingwall, ET 1963. Mediums of the Nineteenth Century.
Prince, M. 1914. The Unconscious. Macmillan. New York.
Prince, Dr W.E 1927. The Case of Patience Worth. Boston Society for
H. A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age, Australian Skeptics Inc.]