Halloween is just around the corner, folks. Time for costumes, candy, bar crawls, and — as all normal American young adults know — talking to ghosts. Movies and books abound with teens breaking out the ouija board, reading tarot cards, or consulting the mediums of the local strip mall. But which one is which? What will get you the best result? I’m here to explain. But, spoiler alert: do not mess with ouija boards.
Tarot cards are probably the easiest way to read about someone’s life — even your own. The key building blocks of tarot make the craft simple to follow and quick to pick up. There are lots of spreads, how you place the cards and determine what they mean in that spot, for anything you might be curious about. The questions can range anywhere from “Will I find love?” to “Will I die happy?” and can allow you to delve deeper into your own self, to realize important things about your lives. Tarot reading has rarely — if ever — been used to communicate with the dead. Instead, pick it up as a fun party trick, or if you would rather, a way to practice mindfulness. If you would like to pick up tarot as your own hobby, Dharma Books in Uptown Whittier is a great resource with the largest collection of tarot decks in Whittier, according to the owner.
Mediums are people who claim to have a supernatural connection to the other side that you speak to in order to contact the dead. Some mediums or psychics may even give you points about your future that you might not have expect. You may be familiar with some famous mediums such as the Long Island Medium or the mediums at The Magic Castle in Hollywood. The world of mediums is tricky because it can be almost impossible to distinguish between the people who are just very good observationalists and people who genuinely believe, or know, that they can contact the dead. The former takes visual and emotional cues from their audience to predict what to say next, which is hard to observe as an audience member, and the latter seems to pull names and objects out of the air. Be cautious when approaching a medium or psychic this Halloween, but have fun while you do it. Some further sources on this can be multiple Buzzfeed videos (the Try Guys meet with the Hollywood Medium in one), or the podcast Lore by Aaron Menke, who has an episode dedicated to mediums and people who communicate with spirits.
Ouija boards. Oh, ouija boards. These ghostly message machines are widely popular across media and culture. They are featured in films, podcasts and on Youtube. Ouiji boards claim to be an old and venerated way of connecting with the other side. However, they actually aren’t. According to a Smithsonian.com article by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, when the Ouija Board first appeared in 1892 it was advertised as a magic board that talked. It was patented, and proven to work as both a tool of spiritualism and a family game. It came out of the need for a tool to contact spirits that was faster than the old method of speaking out the alphabet and waiting for a sign at a specific letter. It teetered on the line between family fun and spooky spirits for most of a century, until the film The Exorcist came out. Overnight, ouija boards became a tool of the devil. So, the hatred of ouija boards seems to be just hysteria, right? Based on a spiritual, and dare I say, magical perspective and depending on how superstitious you are, demon possesion could be a legitimate fear. Now that The Exorcist has come and gone, and with the rise of belief in modern witchcraft, the use of ouija boards do raise the legitimate concern that, in the use of them, you invite spirits and otherworldly beings into your home. In theory, this allows spirits to interact with objects and demons to possess you to the point of bodily harm. This is why mediums or tarot cards are technically safer. Both use another object as a sort of grounding device that keeps you safe from spiritual electrocution. But the point of ouija boards is inviting spirits and beings to guide your hands and, thus, affect you physically.
Now to the non-superstitious person this all sounds ridiculous, and I agree. I read tarot cards as a hobby, but it’s still hard to suspend my disbelief. With a little research, you can find a grain of fear to latch onto in all this fantastical spiritualism: The Exorcist is based off of a supposed case of possession. In the 1940s, an unnamed boy was allegedly possessed by a deceased family member. A book written by one of the priests involved claims that almost fifty witnesses were present and that the possession involved objects flying around the house. Contemporary investigators have concluded that the boy was simply mentally ill, which I find more believable. But it was an encounter to inspire an entire franchise of horror films and lore, so there could always be something more that we will never know.