Friday, February 27, 2009

Ouija Board Recollections

I met my friend Gregg F. in 1976, while we were both still in elementary school. Having a mutual interest in music, we formed a rock band in 1979, our last year in junior high school. It was around this time that we met Devin D. Devin played guitar and shared our interest in the same kind of music. The three of us became close friends and remained so even after graduating from junior high school and attending separate high schools.

Apparitional Experiences and Other Unusual Phenomena

In the summer of 1981, now in our sophomore year in high school, Gregg, Devin, and I began holding séance sessions. While most teenagers dabble in this sort of thing out of boredom, our approach was more seriously motivated. We had a growing curiosity about psychical phenomena (what we called “the supernatural”) and the survival of death. While Greg had a mild curiosity about these issues, Devin had a more intense interest, speaking frequently of reincarnation, telepathy, and discarnate personalities. My interest was personally motivated. My grandmother, who died two years prior, had told me often that she would attempt to make contact with me after she died, to tell me about the afterlife. Nearly two years had passed since her death and I had not heard from her. I formulated a tentative hypothesis that if she had indeed survived death perhaps communicating with the living wasn’t as easy as she had assumed it would be and that I should try to lend her some assistance by trying to make contact with her.

My fascination with the survival question was deepened by my mother’s account of an apparitional experience of my deceased grandfather in our house, a few days before my grandmother died in the summer of 1979. While sitting under a hairdryer in the kitchen, with my dad but a few feet away from her in the living room, my mother suddenly noticed someone standing to her right, in the doorway to the kitchen, about eight feet away from where she was seated. After she quickly turned her head, she saw what we later described to me as my grandfather, dressed and looking as he did while alive. He initially appeared as solid as a physical body. He said nothing, though she sensed he was trying to communicate with her telepathically, telling her that everything would be all right. The entire experience lasted only about 15 seconds, at which time he dematerialized in front of her, in a way resembling the partial dematerialization of persons in the transporter machine in the original Star Trek series.

It is worth noting that my grandmother has an apparitional experience of the same grandfather shortly after he died in 1972. My grandmother’s experience was similar to my mother’s. My grandfather was dressed the same way in each of their experiences. The apparition manifested itself in the nearest doorway during a time when the perceivers were in a highly relaxed state. In each case, after appearing for about 15 seconds, they witnessed the apparition dematerialize before their eyes. While the perceivers in each case reported being initially startled by the apparition (and frightened after the experience), they each reported a sense of calm emanating from the apparition, as if it were communicating telepathically with them. My mother never knew about my grandmother’s experience until after my mother’s apparitional experience.

In addition to my curiosity about survival, my diary from the two months prior to summer mentioned some “unusual” occurrences in my household, which seemed to have prompted my excursion into psychical phenomena at this particular time. First, a cross on a necklace I had been wearing disappeared in a way I considered mysterious. I went to bed with it on, but when I awoke in the morning the cross was gone, though the chain remained around my neck. (The cross would be found several months later under a chair in a different location in the house). Secondly, I believed that I had been having precognitive experiences during my dream states. One recurring experience was dreams of earthquakes that would actually occur locally within a day of the dreams. This happened three or four times. These incidents, together with my mother’s apparitional experience, generated a sustained interest in the paranormal.

The Seance Sessions

Devin, Gregg, and I started holding séance sessions in June 1981. My parents were often away on weekends and Devin and Gregg would spend the weekend or portion thereof at my house. We kept ourselves occupied with guitar playing and movie watching, as well as typical teenage high jinx. When these had run their course, we would pull out the ouija board and begin trying to contact the spirit world. Our séance sessions were almost always conducted using the ouija board, with lights out and candles lit. In some instances, the sessions were held during the day, and then we had natural sunlight, dimmed with blankets or sheets over the windows.

Our efforts early on had no results. This wasn’t terribly surprising since we lacked sufficient seriousness and focus at the time. We were often flying by the seat of our pants. We tried to set the mood with the appropriate films or discussions. We even tried to generate genuine phenomena by artificially creating effects. Sometimes these were as minor as bumping or shaking the table during a sitting. In some cases we perpetuated a larger scale hoax. Devin and I pulled off such a hoax on Gregg in early July, with artifactual physical phenomena ranging from moving objects to mysterious writing appearing on objects. The hoax was so effective that we had to disclose our trickery to keep Gregg from fleeing the house. Later that night we attempted some serious sittings, some of which were recorded on audiotape. We experienced some unusual sparks from the candle at points, which seemed responsive to our line of questioning, though the planchette did not move very much. There was also a strange voice that appeared on a portion of the audio recording when I played it back later. But these phenomena were ambiguous at best.

Although our séance sessions became more serious in late July and early August 1981, the sittings still failed to achieve any unambiguous results. We would get periodic flashes or sparks from the flame on candles. While these seemed responsive to our questions, we concluded that they were probably more a matter of coincidence. We drew the same conclusion about creaking and popping sounds in the walls of the house. We were looking for something obviously paranormal. Nothing like that occurred during what probably amounted to a couple dozen sessions.

In mid-August we changed things up a bit. Instead of the three of us, I conducted the sessions with just Devin. Devin seemed to have a more serious interest in psychical phenomena than Gregg, and Devin had suggested that perhaps Gregg’s presence was presenting an obstacle to genuine results, especially since his interest was inconsistent. So we began conducting sittings without Gregg. It was then that we had results.

Devin and I held multiple sittings in the garage at my house, not the kitchen as we had done earlier. We used a fairly robust heavy table, about six feet long and two feet wide, with a red felt top. The legs were foldout double legs made of metal, securely bolted to the tabletop, which was out of two sheets of thick plywood. The table’s height made it possible for us to see each other’s leg’s under the table and equally difficult for our knees to make contact with the under portion of the table top. The table was inspected before we started. As before, we utilized the ouija board. The sittings were held during the day. The lights were turned off and we used two candles, though we also had some natural sunlight we managed to dim by placing a thin blanket over the garage window.

After about 20 minutes into our sitting we made contact with a man who referred to himself as Paul Langster. He lived in the 18th century in England and was killed by someone named Asmostis. Paul answered most of our questions through the movement of the ouija planchette. The answers were sometimes intelligible and responsive to our questions. At other times, the responses were not so intelligible, a lot of nonsensical ramblings. However, Paul said that we could speak with Asmostis if we liked. And so we did. Spelling out the appropriate responses, Asmostis rather quickly indicated that he was present. But the responses were highly negative in character. For example, upon asking Asmostis to prove himself to us, he replied, “Come to hell and I will show you my powers.” His other answers indicated that Asmostis was in fact a demon and Paul Langster was enslaved to Asmostis, the result of having sold his soul to the devil. Asmostis explained that like Paul we had opened a door to the other side, a door we could not close. Asmostis also took the credit for taking my cross.

We ended our session and tried to find some information about Asmostis in my father’s large collection of encyclopedia of the supernatural. The nearest match we could find was Asmodeus, the demon of lust and power (associated with Assyria, coincidentally or not, the land of my ancestors), also regarded as an agent responsible for the breakup of relationships. When we returned we asked whether Asmostis was Asmodeus. The answer was yes.

I was not entirely convinced that Devin was not intentionally moving the planchette, so I continued to dare Asmostis to show himself or demonstrate his reality. After several minutes of taunting, the left end of the table lifted in the air a couple of inches and then fell to the ground. It was clear to me that Devin could not have moved the table. Since Devin was seated directly across from me, with his legs visible and both hands on the top of the table, lifting the end of the table would have been impossible without this being visible to me. Having perpetuated a hoax on our friend Gregg a couple of months earlier, we could tell that this was an altogether different phenomenon.

It is significant that the sitting took place at my own house without advance planning. The table was my parents’ table and we both inspected it, before and after the events. No one else was in my house at the time of the sitting. It is implausible to suppose that the table was rigged in any way.

Although the anomalous table movement was startling, we continued with the session. We asked Asmostis various questions the answers to which only one us (Devin or I) knew, questions about our family, family trips, details about our hobbies, and so on. Most of the answers were correct, which convinced me that I could exclude the possibility that Devin was engaging in trickery of some sort. He was likewise convinced that I was not pulling his leg. We then proceeded to ask questions that neither one of us knew the answer to but which we could verify. Here the results were not as accurate, but still impressive. The planchette correctly spelled out the names of some unusual contents of my refrigerator, despite my belief that these items were not in the refrigerator, but subsequent investigation showed that they were. For example, the planchette spelled out TEA. I thought this was odd, but we later found a jug of tea located in the back of the refrigerator, hidden behind other items. This was not an item normally in my refrigerator.

When we had returned to the table, after verifying several of Asmostis’ claims, we noticed that one of the candles on the table, which had gone out after burning to the bottom, was relit. We thought this odd since both of us took note of the candle going out ten minutes or so earlier. (Neither one of us were out of each other’s sight at any point between leaving the garage and returning). After physically examining the candle, we concluded that it burned out naturally after reaching the base of the candle. There was nothing paranormal about this. However, upon returning, the candle was relit and continued to burn for several minutes with a stub of a wick. Devin said that perhaps this was a sign that we should continue with the séance.

After resuming, I began immediately to ask for a demonstration of Asmostis’ presence and power. The table lifted again. This time higher and more forcefully than the first time, perhaps about four to five inches. It jerked around in the air for a few seconds and then fell to the ground. Again it was, from my position, the left side of the table that levitated. This incident was quite disconcerting and we ran out of the garage. We returned about ten minutes later to clean up. I placed the ouija board in a bag on the side of my house, where it stayed for several days until Devin retrieved it.

Unleashing Poltergeists

In the days that followed, Devin and I both experienced a range of anomalous phenomena.

A few days after the sessions, Devin called me in the morning and said that some strange things were happening in his house and that he needed to leave immediately. He asked to come over to my house. After he arrived, Devin explained that he woke up to the sound of scratching under his bed, but believing it was his dog he ignored it. He then heard his dog bark in the garage and knew immediately that it couldn’t be his dog. After jumping up out of bed, he headed for the kitchen where he “heard” his parents’ voices. When he entered the kitchen, no one was there. He then heard the sound of the shower in the master bedroom. Thinking his parents were there, he headed toward their room, only to find that they were not there. The shower sound stopped just before he reached their room. He inspected the shower and found it wet and the showerhead dripping, as if it had just been turned off.

I had a string of similar experiences, from scratching, knocks, and raps in the walls to the sound of doors and cabinets shutting, glasses rattling, and plates moving about in the kitchen, though no one else was home. I never saw any anomalous movement of these objects, though I had inferred in several instances that doors had indeed shut and objects had been displaced. During this time, my parents were becoming increasingly agitated about personal items suddenly missing and later turning up in strange places. Electrical equipment was also malfunctioning. There were also times when I woke up in the middle of the night and believed I saw a dark apparitional figure in my room, either in the corner or hovering near the ceiling. Devin and Gregg were both witnesses to some of these anomalous events at my house. At one point, Gregg refused to visit me at my house since he found the events quite disconcerting.

The events died out after a few months and only returned sporadically during the next year and a half. In February Gregg and I, along with a new friend Robert, attempted a few séances, but these were wholly unsuccessful in producing any physical phenomena. In the summer of 1982 Devin and I tried to resurrect physical phenomena by producing artifactual effects by means of another large-scale hoax, this time on a group of five. In part we wanted others to experience what we had experienced and we knew that genuine phenomena occurred the year prior after we had engaged in fakery. The hoax was again successful but more dramatic than the first hoax. It involved flying glasses, moving plates, faucets mysteriously turning on in plain view of the sitters, and disembodied voices speaking to individual sitters.

It is worth noting that during these sittings there were some phenomena that were not part of the plan and which would not have been produced by Devin’s covert operations. The table seemed to vibrate occasionally and there was a cold breeze across the table at times. These unintended effects created a more dramatic séance environment. Nothing was experienced of the magnitude of the séances in the summer of 1981.

I would not experience any systematic and frequent anomalous phenomena again until 2002, when as an adult I purchased an historic home in Windsor, Connecticut and experienced – along with my wife – events that exceeded in intensity the incidents during the summer of 1981. But sufficient for the day are the recollections thereof.

In a subsequent post I will outline some different interpretations of the phenomena discussed here.