There is no denying that Hollywood has had a significant influence on how people view the paranormal. Content designed to scare people in the name of entertainment has blurred the lines between fiction and reality with many having preconceived notions purely based on what they have seen on TV. You only to have bring out a Ouija board to see how quickly it divides opinion. There are a lot of stigmas associated with the paranormal. Let's start to break down some of these down by understanding their true nature, without the embellishment from Hollywood.
Nothing can clear a room faster than cracking open an Ouija board. You only have to mention an 'Ouija board' on social media and the comment section won't let you down in the entertainment department. On one end, people who say they are never to be touched and they are a doorway to evil. At the other end, you have people who think they are simply just a wooden board. I mean it is technically a board game! It is important to understand first the history behind an item before jumping on a paranormal bandwagon.
Ouija boards, also known as talking or spirit boards, date back to the late 1840s. There was a big spiritualist movement at the time led by mediums. Their claim as we know it today is that they could supposedly communicate with the dead. They acted as the intermediary between the living and the dead, hence the term medium. There were a few techniques they would use to show their followers that they were in fact communicating with someone who had passed over. The first was table-turning, more well-known as table tipping. The medium would call out the letters of the alphabet and ask the spirit to knock on the table which would make a noise on the floor when they reached the letter that was relevant to the word they were trying to spell out. Another method was that of using a pencil that was attached to the end of a small basket. The medium had to touch the basket which was enough for the spirit to take over and write a message. Eventually, they would eliminate the basket which is where automatic writing came from. The basket evolved into a heart-shaped planchette and it was soon discovered that it also made a good pointer.
Image Source: Decimononic
Table tipping was a long process and people would get bored. The basket and pencil technique was difficult to read. Mediums began adapting and creating their own devices including things like dial plates. Somewhere along the line, the alphabet board as it would be referred to at the time was created. Again there were lots of different versions and combinations created. Toy companies who had previously made the planchettes to sell for novelty value in order to capitalize on the spiritualist movement at the time started buzzing about a new talking board craze. There were different incarnations of the board that we now know of today. There was originally the ‘witch board’ and the ‘espiritio talking board’ which were essentially the same concept as the Ouija board, but with different layouts. These were all marketed as novelty items that could allow people who were not mediums to communicate with the dead. In 1891 Charles Kennard who was one of the toymakers, claimed that Elijah J Bond (one of the listed creators of the boards) had his sister-in-law do a session on the newest board that they had created. She asked the spirits what they should name the board as they had received advice from the spirit world through the boards before and had good results. It spelt out O U I J A. She then looked at her neck chain which had a locket at the end and on the locket was a picture of a woman with the word ‘Ouija’ on it. When they asked the board what the word meant, the reply was ‘good luck’. This is the story according to the founders of the board. It is thought however that the woman on the locket was a popular woman’s rights activist Ouida whom the sister-in-law Helen Peters was a fan of. We will never really know for sure, but the rest is history as they say. What is worth noting is that even back in the late 1800s, this was marketed as a novelty item. It was hugely popular and was almost like it was the thing to do on a Saturday night with all of your friends. Remember they didn’t have Netflix back then so there wasn’t much else to do! Since then, pop culture and horror movies have turned the Ouija board into a divisive item that many fear. In reality, an Ouija board is a tool, just like your voice recorder, your EMF meter or your talking ghost app. It is a tool people use to communicate with what they believe is the other side.
You can read more about the history of Ouija boards and the ideomotor phenomena in my article: The stigma around Ouija boards
Pretty much every single episode of Ghost Adventures in the last few seasons referenced a demon. There is no shortage of new television shows on Netflix, highlighting demonic possession and seemingly how easily you can supposedly let one into your life by using items such as the above Ouija board. (Something I do not agree with). I have investigated my fair share of locations and I have run a lot of public paranormal investigations. It is almost guaranteed that at some point in the night, someone will ask the question 'Is it demonic?'. When someone walks into a room and feels a little bit uneasy, they label it as a demonic haunting. If someone who investigates the paranormal falls on tough times, there is an assumption that a demon must be latched onto them and causing this oppression. I see Facebook groups showing pictures of the infamous 3 scratches on their back, and everyone commenting that they need to get help because it is a demon. I think reality television has probably been the biggest catalyst for this movement and people don't really understand what a true demonic haunting would really considered to be.
Again the influence of television and movies tends to show us that when there is a ghost or spirit, they are out for revenge and trying to hurt people. This couldn't be further from the truth. When you have an experience and it makes you feel uneasy, it is likely because it is the unknown and you are having what would be considered to be a pretty reasonable reaction. Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable or even scared, doesn't mean it is a negative entity or even a demon. We also have to discuss the notion that if a spirit was a bad person in life, they probably aren't going to be the nicest ghost or spirit. Again just because they come across as aggressive or make you feel uneasy, doesn't mean that it is a demon. In fact, a true demonic haunting would be rare and require a certain amount of religious belief. A true demonic haunted is said to consist of the following:
Anyone can sign up online to do a demonology course. What this course does is to educate you on the subject. It can give you the tools you need to identify this kind of haunting. It does not qualify you to perform exorcisms on people. There are true demonologists out there with decades of research, knowledge and experience under their belt. They didn't learn everything in a 4 week online course. Regardless of your belief system, the only people qualified to do an exorcism on somebody is a priest or someone who has been ordained by the church. They dedicate their lives to the study and practice of their faith. They are specifically trained in this area which also includes first aid. They make an assessment of the general health and well-being of a person and look at the entire picture. We must remember that mental health plays a big part in this as well. Conditions such as schizophrenia can have symptoms identical to those that are considered to be a demonic haunting. If you see a video of an exorcism, it is quite confronting and the person involved is put under quite a lot of physical stress. Whether it is caused by a demon or their own mind, it is dangerous to put a person through that amount of stress without having someone who is trained to deal with first aid and know when enough is enough.
I myself personally, do not believe in demons. I do not judge anyone who does in the same way I do not judge if you follow a god. You see, I do not follow a god so without a god, for me, there cannot be demons. In the bible, a demon is a fallen angel. Satan who was considered to be the highest angel, rebelled against god and when he did, he took an army of angels with him. The rebellion lost its war and Satan was cast into hell along with his army of fallen angels who became demons. If I don't follow or believe in the bible, I simply can't believe in demons. It is a personal opinion but I am hoping you can see my point here. It comes down to your belief systems. Our beliefs don't make us right or wrong, as we are all different and walk different paths. This is why I find it surprising that so many people of different religious beliefs think something is a demon purely because of what they have seen on television.
If you do believe in demons it is important to note that not every negative energy you encounter is a demon. If you walk into a room and feel scared or threatened, it is most likely not a demon. Just because I don't believe in demons, doesn't mean that they don't exist. They very well could exist - it is just my belief, but in all likelihood, if they do exist, if you were encountering a true demon, it is probably not on your local ghost tour. You would feel a lot more than just a little bit uneasy or threatened. Society has become so quick now to judge a haunting as demonic without really knowing too much about it. If an investigator is depressed, it is not a demon influencing them. In all honestly, when you deal with dark things, it can take you to a dark place. You are constantly looking at death and it can't not affect you. It takes a mental toll that is for sure. We all deal with that in different ways. You don't know the personal struggles of a person. You guys know the Living Life in Full Spectrum Sarah. You know investigator Sarah. You don't know me in my personal life. You don't know my daily thoughts, my hopes, my struggles. I don't make my problems public. Most people may think I don't have any problems. I have plenty just as you all do. It is not a demon or spirit attachment causing me these problems. It is life.
Above I offered just two examples of a paranormal stigma. I could sit here and write all day about it. What I hope you got from this though is that by breaking down the stigma by learning about its origin and its true nature, you can see how much of an influence Hollywood has had on this field. We need to talk about it and learn different viewpoints, not just a sensationalised one created for ratings. As always, I encourage people to research and educate themselves and not take what they see at face value. Question everything and make up your own mind!
Cover Photo by Maria Pop
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