It seems that Ouija boards are being marketed this season as a Christmas present for kids. Let me tell you a story.
When I was a campus minister a while ago, I had an office on the university campus. Occasionally I’d arrive on a Monday morning and there’d be a small cluster of nervous-looking undergraduates at the door. After a few repetitions of this I came to expect what they’d be there to talk about: a weekend party at which somebody, “just for fun,” brought out a Ouija board. Then the “fun” really began.
Now I’m generally a skeptic about most paranormal claims. (I wonder why people who claim an ability to predict the future don’t just make a killing in the stock market and then retire, rather than wasting time with “readings” at $150 a pop.) But I’m also convinced that there is a spiritual dimension to reality, one that constantly surrounds us but is largely invisible. There’s also a paranormal dimension, to which it seems some people are more sensitive than others. Both are parts, I am convinced, of God’s good creation; but both are also fallen and in their sin-damaged state can be dangerous. And even their beneficial aspects can damage us if we approach them wrongly.
Remember the Disney cartoon “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”? (It was an episode of Fantasia.) Mickey is the water-carrier for the Sorcerer and, tired of his duties, steals a look at the book of magic and animates a broom to do the water-carrying work. But things quickly get out of hand: He’s started something he can’t stop, and the water-carrying broom (now scores of them, as new brooms grow out of the splinters each time Mickey tried to smash one) floods the castle. Only when the Sorcerer returns can things be put back into order, for the Sorcerer knows where the (metaphorical) “off” switch for the magic is while Mickey only discovered “on.” (The story is actually quiet ancient, with roots in the Greek writer Lucian [AD125-180?].)
The problem with Ouija boards, as I see it, is that they work – better than their users know. They open a door (perhaps into the paranormal, perhaps into the unconscious minds of the users, perhaps even into a spiritual realm). Then what’s on the other side of the door gets to come out, and sometimes what comes out isn’t very nice. That’s what brought those undergraduates to my office on those long-ago Monday mornings. They discovered things through their “fun” with the Ouija board that they couldn’t handle. (I’ve heard claims that the Ouija board can open doors to the demonic, but I’ve – thankfully – never witnessed that. What I experienced in the students was the sort of emotional disorientation that comes from eerie or frightening experiences. Often they discovered things about themselves or others with them that, while true, they had been unaware of and were unprepared to learn.)
I hadn’t planned that this be my topic for this week’s column until I saw the news about the sale of Ouija boards as Christmas toys. To be frank, I think they’re spiritually dangerous and should never be played with – by children or by adults. Messing with powerful stuff without the knowledge to handle it is a recipe for trouble. (That, incidentally, is why I am also convinced that it’s spiritually dangerous to consult with, or to be entertained by, people claiming psychic abilities, or fortune-tellers, or Tarot card readers – even if it’s called “entertainment.” There’s a real risk that any of these activities can open doors that best remain closed, and that anyone using such powers may be a “Mickey” and not a Sorcerer who can close those doors again against the powers unleashed.)
I’m always cautious about writing about occult practices, the demonic, and the like, because too much has been made of the topic by well-meaning Christians who inspire not understanding but fear and obsession. We have profoundly wise guidance from our church about these things: simply stay away, and keep a focus on Christ and the path to holiness He has shown. That should be our focus, too, as we prepare for Christmas. Let this column simply be a word to the wise about something that’s not a toy. Until next week, peace.