Some people believe that we don't disappear after we die, but that our spirits live on in various forms. Ouija boards have been used since the end of the 19th century by anyone who felt the need to contact the dead. Could it be that there really is a force from the other side moving the pointer to spell out words and messages to the living? Witches who practice white magic believe that we are reincarnated time after time, until we have learned all we can from our lives on Earth. Believers in past life regression suggest that they have lived before, and that their memories were revealed under hypnosis. How is it they can recall things that happened way before they were even born? Others claim that during transfiguration séances they have seen the faces of loved ones who have died, when a medium has gone into a deep trance and allowed the features of the spirits of the dead to appear over their own faces.
Ouija boards have been used to communicate with the dead since the end of the 19th century. For some, they are a link to a loved one who has passed over. Others are simply curious to see what, if anything, might happen and use the board to try and contact any spirit that wants to communicate with them.
The board itself is rectangular, with letters of the alphabet written across it in a crescent moon shape and the numbers zero to nine written below. The words "Yes" and "No" should also appear on the board, with the word "Goodbye" usually at the bottom. A planchette (French for "little board") is the pointer; it traditionally sits on castors for ease of movement.
You use a Ouija board by placing two fingers lightly on the planchette and asking direct questions to a spirit or spirits that may be present. The spirit will then supposedly answer by moving the planchette around the board to indicate letters and spell out words. When finished, you should move the planchette to "Goodbye" to signify that the séance is over.
Ouija boards, also known as Talking Boards, have been produced since 1890, but there is some debate over who was responsible for the design and where the name originates.
Spiritualism first took root in the mid-19th century, and it soon became apparent that practitioners needed an instrument that could provide an easy way to communicate between the living and the dead. The Ouija board was patented in 1891 by Elijah Bond. Various weird and wonderful stories have grown up around the use of Ouija boards.
In 1920 a small town in California banned their use after an outbreak of "Ouijamania," which led to many of the town's residents behaving so oddly that mental health professionals were called in to help.
The movie The Exorcist (1973) is apparently based on the true story of a child who allegedly evoked the spirit of the devil while using a Ouija board. A woman in the United States claimed the numbers that won her more than a million dollars on the lottery were picked by her Ouija board.
For many a Ouija board is nothing more than a harmless parlor game, but others believe that they can be dangerous, with the potential to allow malevolent spirits access to the human world. Some professional mediums even advise using a Ouija board only with professional supervision, to prevent any nasty surprises or long-term consequences. Others argue that there is no external force at work and the planchette is moved subconsciously by the people touching it.
Reincarnation is an ancient belief that dates back thousands of years. Many religions believe that we don't walk the Earth just once, but that we are reborn time after time. Past life regression explores our memories of previous lives. Hypnosis induces an altered state of consciousness, which can bring out "memories" buried deep in the mind and make them open to suggestion. Hypnotism is used during past life regression to put the person in a trance-like state in an effort to take them back through their subconscious to the time before their present life.
Often, people that undergo regression are able to recall specific details about places and events that happened long before they were born. Their personality, facial expression and voice may change; they may speak like a child or with a strange accent or sometimes in a foreign language they claim not to have known when they are awake. There often seems to be no logical way to explain the subject's past life memories, but there are many theories surrounding the subject.
Some people believe that we are reborn many times and these are genuine memories that are released from the subconscious under hypnosis. Another theory is that we inherit genetic memories, suggesting that what is experienced during regression is not our own previous life, but events that involved our ancestors. It's also suggested that while a person is in a trance state, a spirit uses them as a medium.
Sceptics claim that regression can be explained more scientifically. Cryptomnesia, for example, is the extraordinary ability to recall detailed information about something heard or seen even for the briefest moment. These memories are stored in the subconscious until they are released during hypnosis. Another explanation offered is that past lives are products of the imagination, perhaps stimulated by early childhood memories or suggested by the person conducting the regression.
One of the most famous cases of past life regression is that of Virginia Tighe, from Colorado. In 1952, while under hypnosis, she claimed to recall a previous life as Bridey Murphy, a woman who lived in Ireland during the 19th century. Virginia spoke with an Irish accent and even sang Irish folk songs popular at the time Bridey was supposed to have lived. She talked in detail about Bridey's family, where she lived and when she died. After Virginia's therapist published a book about Tighe's life as Bridey, journalists flocked to Ireland to verify her story. However, although the general details were consistent with her memories, no record could be found of Bridey or her family.
Transfiguration is a form of physical mediumship that allows a spirit to materialize and communicate through a medium. The idea is that the face of a person who has died will appear on the face of another person. It's not as commonly practiced as other forms of mediumship, as it's supposed to be very draining for the spirit involved, because they need to use a lot of energy to be able to appear.
Before transfiguration can take place, the medium, a person who is said to have psychic abilities that enable them to communicate with the spirit world, will go into a trance. This altered state of consciousness supposedly makes it easier for the dead to communicate with the living. In some cases, the medium may be in such a deep state of trance that they appear to have fallen asleep.
If the transfiguration is successful, a veil of ectoplasm will appear on or just in front of the medium's face. This is molded into the features of the spirit that is trying to communicate. Ectoplasm is a light colored, glutinous substance that allegedly oozes from the medium's body and is then physically manipulated by the spirit. It's sensitive to light and so séances often take place in darkened rooms. Sometimes it may be barely visible to the naked eye but can be seen in photographs. At the end of the séance, the ectoplasm is said to return to the medium's body.
During transfiguration the face that materializes may appear to be almost translucent, or in extreme cases the medium's face might disappear altogether, replaced by the features of the spirit. The spirit may mouth words and in some cases may also manipulate the vocal chords of the medium and speak through them. It isn't just the face that can be affected by transfiguration. There are stories of other parts of the body taking the form of the spirit, making the medium appear taller or shorter, or changing their hair and other physical features. If the dead person used to wear certain clothes or jewelry, these may materialize too.
There are cases where more than one face has appeared during a transfiguration séance. If there is a group of people present, many of them may claim to see a face or number of faces that they recognize as dead loved ones.
Transfiguration was popular during the Victorian period and the beginning of the 20th century, when interest in spiritualism was at its height. Many séances were held in the hope that the faces of dead loved ones would appear, especially during and after World War I. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous for his Sherlock Holmes novels, was a great supporter of spiritualism, including transfiguration. He wrote books on the subject and was president of the College of Psychic Studies.
White magic, or Wicca, has been practiced for thousands of years. Wicca comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for witch. In ancient times every village had a wise man or woman who was seen as a healer and priest of pagan rites. They had an expert knowledge of herbs, plants and roots, treated illnesses and ailments, and were often called on to act as midwives.
Christianity tolerated the old pagan ways for hundreds of years, and it was not seen as something evil, but just another type of faith. During the Middle Ages, the church began to turn against the pagan faith and the word "witch" became a derogatory term. If a child died, if an animal became ill or if crops failed, the local witch was blamed. Witches were accused of devil worship and black magic, and thousands of people, mostly women, were tried for witchcraft. Many confessed under torture and were hanged or burned at the stake.
The first Witchcraft Act was passed in England in 1542 and wasn't repealed until 1951. Today Wicca is described as a neo-pagan religion, and white witches observe the old religion of the Earth Mother and Sky Father. They believe that the power of magic comes from focusing their attention and suggest that spirits can intervene with their consciousness. There is no central authority and witches, male and female, sometimes belong to a coven, but can worship alone.
The Wiccan faith believes in reincarnation and that the spirit is reborn many times to enjoy living on Earth, learning and experiencing more with each life. Death is seen as a door to birth and, just as the seasons return, so do our spirits. When the spirit has gained all it can, it goes to a higher plane, known as "Summerland" or the "Land of Youth."
Wicca celebrates eight sabbaths, or holidays, throughout the year. Samhain, the Witch's New Year, is celebrated on Oct. 31. Wiccans believe they are closest to the dead on this day. Sometimes called "Ancestor Night," Samhain is thought to be the time when the veil between the spiritual and physical worlds is at its thinnest. On this day, all the souls who have died during the year are said to gather together to pass over. Candles are lit in windows to help them on their journey, and extra chairs are put around tables and hearths in case they should visit. Bonfires are also lit to honor all those who have gone before.