In the world of spiritualism, there is perhaps no tool more maligned, misunderstood and feared than the Ouija board. Most people have heard of the Ouija board, many have used one (probably many more than are willing to admit it) and most probably used it in ways other than its original intent. Two recent stories highlight that misuse – students at two different schools in Colombia required medical attention after passing out while allegedly using Ouija boards. What exactly were they doing, was the Ouija board responsible, were they using it as intended … or were these merely cases of mass psychosis and the power of suggestion?
“There were 28 possible cases of anxiety in school students. Given the reported cases, a series of comments were unleashed in the community that, more than helping to resolve the situation, generated confusion and an adverse environment for our work.”
The most recent incident occurred this week in Pasto in southern Colombia. Hugo Torres, the director of the Galeras Educational Institution (Institución Educativa de Galeras or INEGA) in Pasto spoke to El Tiempo after first taking care of the 28 girls who mysteriously showed signs of fainting, anxiety and other symptoms at the school. The girls were taken to a local municipal hospital by parents and school faculty for observation and treatment.
“I work here in the hospital kiosks and every day I see between three and four fainted children arrive . I worry and I go out to see why I also have my daughter in that school.”
Damaris Benítez Navarro, a hospital worker who is also a parent of a child at the Galeras Educational Institution expressed her concern and confusion about why so many children are passing out at the school. She noted that the children are well fed, so they are not fainting due to hunger. El Imparcial, another Colombian media source, revealed what many parents suspected to be the cause.
“Information about the students' diagnoses has not been released; however, many parents blame the use of Ouija boards at school.”
Director Torres quickly denied the Ouija board connection, stating that “The educational institute also respectfully asks citizens to refrain from making advance judgments and diagnoses on their own.” As of this writing, an official cause of the mass fainting has not been released by the hospital nor the school. As noted before, this is not the first instance of Ouija-related fainting at a school in Colombia. In November 2022, teachers at the Agricultural Technical Institute (Instituto Técnico Agropecuario del Hato) in Hato, Colombia, reported they found a group of students collapsed in a hallway and “thick drool was coming out of their mouths.” The Mirror reported that eleven students between the ages of 13 and 17 were revived and rushed to the nearby Manuela Beltrán Hospital where they were treated for violent vomiting and muscle spasms. While the symptoms and the actions of the students suggested food poisoning, which is what they were treated for, Jose Pablo Toloza Rondón, the mayor of Hato, addressed the other possibility.
“It is not ruled out that it was the Ouija board, that is part of the investigation.”
The official cause of the children fainting and vomiting in Hato was eventually determined to be food poisoning from water they drank on a school trip. It is possible that a similar diagnosis will be made by doctors and school officials in Pasto. However, that doesn’t address the fact that parents at both schools immediately suspected that their children were playing with Ouija boards at school – a fact that others also reported to the local media, and whcih the mayor of Hato and the director of the Galeras Educational Institution were forced to address.
“Three quarters of people surveyed said they have used a Ouija board themselves, of those 59% say they've had a personal experience with a board that they'd consider to be paranormal or supernatural. 9% of those who have used a Ouija board reported having a violent or dangerous experience while using the board.”
It is a fortunate coincidence that the website Higgypop has been devoting some recent articles to Ouija boards. In a survey of over 700 of its readers, it was no surprise that a majority had used a Ouija board but a bit disconcerting that nearly 10 percent had a “violent or dangerous experience” with it. A majority of responders were aware of the “ideomotor effect” in which a person unconsciously moves their muscles to slide the planchette around the board’s letters and numbers based on their thoughts, beliefs, or expectations. While a majority said that they thought a Ouija board is a tool for communicating with spirits, a small group thought the Ouija board was “just a game.” While it resembles spirit boards which predate it, the first to be called "Ouija" back in the early 1900 were marketing as parlor games. That is probably how most children and pre-teens look at them. And that, according to those who believe in the spiritual power of the Ouija board, is what could get them in trouble.
“Within the field of paranormal research, asking spirits questions is called "calling out" or "asking out." It involves an investigator, or in this case, a Ouija participant, speaking aloud in an attempt to encourage any spirits that might be present to communicate with them.”
In a follow-up article, Higgypop gives some tips on the proper questions to ask a Ouija board. It cautions to be polite and caring rather than demanding since the spirit is deceased and may not be happy about it. The person using the planchette and asking questions should introduce themselves to the spirit, be encouraging of the spirit during the conversation and, when finished, bring it to an end slowly. These seem like good instructions which adults would listen to so they can avoid a dangerous encounter with an evil spirit. They also sound like instructions that most children would ignore.
"It draws the two people using it into close companionship and weaves about them a feeling of mysterious isolation.”
In another article, Higgypop recommends that Ouija board users go back to the instructions on the original boxes from the early 1900s which recommend that the board be used by just two people who sit facing each other with the board between them on their laps or a small table. It also notes that the intent of the Ouija board was “less about communicating with the dead and more about gaining insight or answers.” Again, children playing with one are not interested in getting answers – unless they are on an upcoming quiz. Talking to the dead sounds like more fun … especially if you know someone in the group is easily scared.
After reading these tips about the ‘proper’ usage of a Ouija board, it certainly sounds possible that the children at the two schools in Colombia were using them and scared themselves into fainting, feeling sick to their stomachs or some other form of mass illness or psychosis. Should Ouija boards only be sold to those 18 and older? Good luck enforcing that. Perhaps the best solution might be to talk to your children, find out what their questions are, and answer them before they resort to a group of friends with a scary board.