By Amy Bennett, Tri-City NYPS Lead Investigator
Trends. There are a lot of them. As a society, we see them come and go as fast as the Japanese Bullet train, and sometimes as slow as a banana slug on the sidewalk. It seems like most of the time, trends are easily dismissive and go without even a second thought; they just pass through time with no one waiting on the platform to get aboard whatever it is. Sometimes they pertain to diets, sometimes they pertain to the meaning of words, sometimes music genres and television shows; not to mention all the visual aspects of how we appear to other people. As with anything in life, some people will be attracted to the idea of it and act upon it, and others will ignore it outright.
Right now there is a trend in society which at this point could only be categorized as a collective obsession in the Western world. With the onslaught of television networks shoving ghost-oriented shows in the faces of millions, the past decade has brought about a trend of epic proportions: paranormal investigation. The idea that living people can communicate with the deceased and forces unknown to us in the physical world is something humans have been obsessed with since we became the modern massive-brained beings we are. It stands to reason that as soon as we became aware of our own consciousness, exhibited altruism and empathy, we were turned onto the idea whatever came after our deaths.
The earliest incarnations of communicating with the spirit world were left to the healers and shamans of societies; people deemed in some manner to have the ability to do so. They were given, taught or born into possessing communication abilities with the realm we can't see but nonetheless have long believed to exist. The more societies grew, flourished, ended, rebirthed and ultimately gained power, the more these people came to be, and the more they came to be persecuted by differing groups. Religious movements grew into organized and institutionalized systems, and the lines between spirituality and everything else in waking human life blurred for a very long period in our human history. When one group with the most power at a given time, deems the practices and ritual use of objects of another group to be 'wrong', or 'evil', the idea of that implied wrongness can spread to people at an exponential and dangerous rate.
We can read countless texts describing this pattern across the span of humanity's written history. And within these persecutions we find spiritualism and varying beliefs being prominent among them. In the concern of paranormal investigation, we seem to use that title as though it differs from that of the early (and still quite extant) shamans. Yet are we truly different in being the people endlessly questing after true communion with the 'other side'? I do not believe we are. In being these people, paranormal investigators, we use tools to aid in our work, much as the people of ancient societies did.
The K2 meter, Mel Meter, digital recorders, MagLites and other devices are what we use to attempt communication with the spirit realm, so to speak. So, just because there's a source of power coming from something lithium, AC/DC or alkaline in nature, it makes it "safe" or "acceptable"? Foolish logic there, at best. These items may be modern in origin, but the intent for using them is nonetheless the same. I'm starting to think that society has never really let go of the witch hunt mindset of early America, and before that, many hundreds of years of persecution in Europe. We seem to hold onto the idea that particular items of "occult" origin are only capable of negative results, and can only be associated with "evil." By "occult" items, I mean the more organic and natural materials and items used for attempting communication with energy of an unknown source, and based largely in beliefs that came before Catholicism (notorious for vilifying these things).
We may as well still be existing in the Dark Ages of Europe, or the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, with narrow-minded thinking such as this. As much as people persecute these items, I find it necessary to utilize them. I don't do so in a ritualistic manner, pertaining to a specific faith; I do so in a scientific manner with repeatable experiments being the focus of the item. One such item of continued condemnation is the Ouija Board, or talking board, as it was first known.
Myself and another Tri-City member, Rick, built a real life (live?) "ouija" board out of wood, and a wood burner, and a saw (or 3). However, what we built wasn't really a Ouija board, because we don't work for Hasbro, and the board never came off an assembly line. Instead, it was lovingly and painstakingly etched out, letter by letter, by my hands. I didn't even burn myself and I'd never used a wood burning pen before in my life. It's not 100% finished - I'd like to add some scrollwork and a few flourishes on the corners, and we need to stain it and seal it nicely. It also needs an indicator or "planchette" to be used correctly.
With that said, no demons have burst through my closet door and assaulted me in the night. No bedsheets pulled away, no dark shadows, menacing voices, growls or even a wee scratch on me. Nothing. So what, did I do it wrong? Crap, maybe I forgot to add the ritual goat blood offering to the lettering. My bad.
I also hope my sarcasm wasn't met with disdain just now. I'm not into using blood for anything, actually. What it is respectfully used for is ritually and culturally outside my base of knowledge and practice. Sarcasm aside, we have built a fully functional board complete with a full English alphabet, the words "hello", "goodbye", "yes", "no", "male" and "female." Although I've seen plenty of talking boards (a term pertaining to the actual function of the thing, not the original Parker Bros' cute term "ouija"), with multiple phrases for leading into answers based on the assumption of making it easier for whatever's communicating to do so, we felt that six words and the alphabet were sufficient.
Have you recoiled in fear yet? The very mention of a ouija board in any of its forms generally causes most people to exclaim something like "I will NEVER touch one of those!" "That's an instrument of the devil!" "You should be careful using that, it opens a portal and you don't know what could come in!" Okay, valid points, but here's the other side of those: "That's an instrument of a higher power!" "I use one all the time!" "Those can open a portal, and some great stuff comes through!"
So tell me which side of this perspective is right and which is wrong. You can't. There is no way to know beyond a shadow of a universally-accepted law-of-physics doubt which side is correct and which is not. What does that leave us with? A spiritual conundrum as old as the modern human brain; that's as long as the questions of good and evil, right and wrong, safe and reckless have existed for - as long as us. We have existed with the ability to fathom the spiritual consequences of our actions for millennia without the slightest proof of any of it. Being able to reason on the consequences of our actions leads us to the big daddy of paranormal uh-oh's: fear! Fear in the paranormal is based largely on what we don't know; on what we're unable to comprehend happening to us. It's also based on a lot of the previously mentioned hearsay from decades past, consisting of repeated information that has never had a basis in hard science, only human experience.
While experiences are definitely and indisputably necessary to the study of the paranormal, they're not something we have scientifically proven evidence of. There's not a single ounce of reliable fact in any scientific discipline that states that occult or more old-world objects, such as a spirit board, are capable of opening a portal or doorway to another dimension which contains negative entities. So why are they all so frighteningly evil to the general public? I literally cannot recall the first time I heard of something negative coming from the use of a ouija board or any crystal or other item, I can only recall the times I have used it, in jest as a kid, and in naive ways with groups of college friends on dark stormy nights. Only in my own researching and reading did I come to understand that there's a collective mindset out there that using a ouija board will only lead to bad things.
Thus, the condemnation of many traditionally occult items - the spirit board, the pendulum, the dowsing rods, any and all means of ritually using objects to commune with the other side - persists in so many aspects of paranormal investigation. I do not believe that is doing us any good what-so-ever. If we are truly investigators, we are going to use EVERY tool, every method and every idea from as many cultures and beliefs as we can draw on. Persistent mindsets are just that: mindsets. They can be as fluid as the ocean currents, but remaining trapped in a single one can drown us, keep us from moving forward with necessary information to hold it true or destroy it. We have no rights or wrongs in the study of the paranormal, we only have the scientific method to continuously test the things around us, and that includes all these long-disdained, historic, sometimes ancient, beautiful items; true works of the ingenious and enduring human mind. Only in testing these things in a scientific manner, in repeatable ways with data being collected from the results, are we then doing these items - all of them - the justice they deserve.