Peeling Away At The Onion Of Faith

Everyone here knows about Ouija boards, right?

Interestingly enough, although Wikipedia places the origin of the thing somewhere in China, today mostly Christians or people of Christian parents/origins believe in it.

As in, OK, I believe that Ouija boards exist. Look, here, I can touch one.

But, quaintly (might I add), a lot of people honestly believe you can communicate to spirits with them.

A few weeks ago, two friends of mine (both women) – let’s call them E. and R., were talking about their experiences with Ouija boards. Dark, sombre and almost macabre anecdotal experiences, either first hand or second hand.

But I remained skeptical. At the age of, maybe 13, in a school trip to the mountains, a bunch of friends suggested to try out the Ouija board. In my hormonal-induced state of gullibility, I volunteered to try, much to the awe of people who had already gone through such a traumatising experience.

Er… nothing happened.

Since then, quite frankly most supernatural ideas have been banished from my head. I used to believe in a vampire living in the basement, but it took a sleepover with friends to prove this wrong (maybe he’s still hiding there!).

So a few weeks ago, in 2007, I joined in the conversation with remarks such as ‘ah!’ and other <no sarcasm=”honest” /> comments of interest. Truly, they are good storytellers. At one point, R. asked me whether I had any experiences myself. I duly replied that, yes, I had one experience which revealed to me that Ouija boards are full of the proverbial fecal matter.

But I remained skeptical. At the age of, maybe 13, in a school trip to the mountains, a bunch of friends suggested to try out the Ouija board.

Er… nothing happened.

Astonished looks and gasps. Come on! Haven’t you heard about so and so who saw the cross in his room turn upside down as he talked to the Devil or to the spirits or to the boogeyman?

As I usually approach most things, I decided to investigate. I proposed to R. and E. that we take it like a scientific hypothesis to be tested.

I, first of all, asked R. whether she had done this in the daytime successfully before, to which she answered yes. So I took them both to a room (heh, I wish it were like the sexual innuendo suggests), grabbed hold of a classmate who had no idea what was going on, and we improvised a Ouija board.

I decided to investigate. I proposed to R. and E. that we take it like a scientific hypothesis to be tested.

I briefly explained the concept:

“The null hypothesis I’m establishing is ‘Ouija boards do not work’. If something occurs beyond a certain probability of it occurring anyway, then you disprove the hypothesis. Otherwise, you keep it.” Default position: skepticism, as with any other testable hypothesis.

I placed my own finger on the glass cup I procured from the Chemistry lab, and so did the classmate who had by now completely lost his bearings and R. In this way we had the finger of a control (the other classmate), the finger of a skeptic (my own) and the finger of someone who believed (R.’s). I also suggested that our hands not be clenched in order to avoid casting doubt on whether one of us moved the cup or tried to hold it back (I imagined it minimised the leverage a finger had over a cup).

“It’s not going to work if you don’t believe”, she told me, sounding rather Orwellian.

E. watched on, tut-tutting as the test moment came closer.

“It’s not going to work if you don’t believe”, she told me, sounding rather Orwellian.

As it happens, well…

Er, nothing happened.

“This doesn’t conclusively accept my null hypothesis, but it settles that within reason for doubt, Ouija boards don’t work”

As I peeled away one of the skins of the onion of their belief in Ouija boards, up sprouted another one, tougher to peel than the one before.

“Ah, but this building isn’t old enough to have accommodated spirits.”


“You didn’t call the spirits right”

Or even…

“You can’t do it in daytime”

Faith is a troubling little bastard. It demands the absence of proof. I wonder how the Mother Church must have felt, seeing Galileo shun all their doctrine about anthropocentrism with conclusive and final mathematical models, aided by empirical evidence from his telescope.

As I peeled away one of the skins of the onion of their belief in Ouija boards, up sprouted another one, tougher to peel than the one before.

Now, my Ouija experiment was far from perfect. Perhaps the three different profiles (skeptic, control, believer) should have done the Ouija separately. Perhaps we needed a Wiccan priest or something. Perhaps, in fact, the building was unworthy of containing spirits. Perhaps the electromagnetic effect of the Wifi hub very close by canceled out the telekynetic effect of the spirits. I don’t know.

Many reasons to cast doubt, not the least starting by my sketchy experimental procedure. But even without challenging the statistical model I set up, E. and R. reacted as if the experiment had been like Galileo’s findings. One onion skin had peeled away, revealing another one, tougher to remove.

Faith is really like an onion. The layers closer to the heart are just more resilient, and no matter how much evidence you throw at it, each layer is tougher than the next.


7 Responses

  1. What is that saying…For non believers no proof is adequate and for believers no proof is necessary?

    The way I see Ouji boards…if they DO work the spirit world is NOT something I want to be messing with…who knows what you will be calling. If they don’t, then I am not missing out on anything and there are much more fun things to do with my time.

    I always thought they were kinda stupid anyway…what makes a board so special to call spirits…just call ’em! LOL

  2. No! I’m a skeptic, not a non-believer. I like to think I have a very open mind.

    If the Ouija board had dragged the cup beneath my hand and spelled out: “Fuck you, atheist scum. BELIEEEEVVE” then I would have been scared shitless. If it had trembled, I would have reason to doubt the hypothesis. I’m still willing to test it out!

    It’s a bit hard to test with Ouija boards, I’ll give you that. It’s like trying to prove/disprove the afterlife exists. How do you do it? It’s taxing to think up and experiment to test the afterlife – likewise for Ouija boards, only since there’s a down to earth reaction it should be relatively straightforward compared to the afterlife hypothesis.

    I’m not an authority on the supernatural or on Ouija boards or on spirits. If there is a way to call them, I ignore it. I did, to my credit, attempt the experiment as fairly as possible with as little room for doubt or bias as I could think up. Perhaps I’ll try a more rigurous test in the future, in the evening or something.

    But for people with ‘Faith’, by definition, they don’t need any proof. Every shred of argument they hold dear is defended with irrational tenacity. If you tear one off by throwing evidence at it, then the next argument is held twice as strongly. It defeats the purpose of having experiments which is in itself very Orwellian.

  3. I have two cousins who swear that the ouija board works. They also say that the ghost of Henry VIII (or was it Jack XXVII?) lingers around Hampton Court, in England. Man, in a way I wish that Ouija boards did do all the things they do, because that way, I’d be able to contact my deceased grandmother and tell her that that I still love her. But I can’t, and it won’t work. My other grandmother prays for my sister and I so that we go well in our exams. And I’m SURE that she does it correctly, because she’s that way. But… surprise surprise, I still have to study, and so does my sister. Things don’t just come for free.

  4. The Ouija board tells me I know you, Shaaaaaw.

    Or should I say A. Shaw?

  5. LOL I was actually referring more to your friends with that than you. 🙂

  6. it worked for me…or should i say us. at first it didnt’ work then we moved to the basement inot my friends bathroom donw there and it worked. IT was really creepy. that’s all i’m going to say. and the next day when we asked it to move something ..well lets just say it did. idk what happened in your really do an experiment, u’d take it apart though, or try different kinds of the boards. that would b a real experiment. not just try and give up once it doens’t work once.

  7. Well, when I was thirteen, my two best friends and I used a ouija board during the daytime and got one hell of a story out of it, about a German guy who had fled to Brazil (no, not a Nazi–some 18th Century pirate type) for knifing someone else. We were all three properly freaked out.

    None of us will admit to moving the board, but I think we collectively created a story. We were a group of very bright, very verbal girls who spent a lot of time in each other’s company, talking late into the night during sleepovers and reading and rereading the same romance paperbacks. That phenomenon… that kind of group intuition… now that would be worth studying. I’ve been curious for a while to see what would happen if we tried it again, but the chances of that are remote to nil. Makes a great story, though. And I’ve never used a ouija board since.

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