ouija boards scare older fundies
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Josh Olalde.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

It’s creepy and it’s kooky! Mysterious and spooky! It’s altogether ooky, the Ouija board’s hypefest! Hi and welcome back! I had a good laugh over a recent opinion post on Christianity Today by a Christian who sees demons around every bush. Indeed, Billy Hallowell has clearly figured out just how gullible evangelicals really are and plans to milk that gravy train till the bitter end. Today, Lord Snow Presides over yet another huckster creating — and then coincidentally filling — an artificial need in evangelicalism by invoking an artificial panic over Ouija boards, of all things.

ouija boards scare older fundies
(Josh Olalde.)

Their Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Unnecessary Fear.

I gotta hand it to writer Billy Hallowell. He knows his tribe very well. You know how sometimes ex-Christians joke about how we’d become filthy rich and impossibly famous by pretending to reconvert, then deliberately turning evangelicals’ dysfunctions against them, except we’re way too moral to do it? Well, this guy’s living that dream, it seems to me. Since his earliest career, he’s worked for tons of right-wing hype factories and propaganda mills, learning the art of scaring fundies for fun and profit.

Now, the student has hopes of becoming the master.

His entire output could be summarized thusly:

Any time you see his name, get ready for the same kind of runaway-train, nonstop-bullpucky that you expect (for good reason and for the same reasons) out of David Barton

Hallowell’s latest manufactured boogeyman is Ouija boards.

Yes, he’s totes hyped over that sad, cringey mainstay of 1980s foolishness. Like a lot of hard-right Christians trying their best to bring back the Satanic Panic, he behaves like he totally 100% believes that Ouija boards do anything besides cause vicious arguments among tweens and tween-minded adults about who’s pushing the planchette this goddamned time.

Neither ‘Fascinating’ Nor ‘Troubling.’

Billy Hallowell’s latest written insomnia cure involves the Ouija board. He titled his recent piece for Christian Post:

The fascinating and troubling history behind the Ouija board

Oooh, scary! Uh oh!

However, the Ouija board is neither fascinating nor troubling at all.

For those who’ve never heard of it, the Ouija board functions a form of divination. The toy mega-corporation Hasbro sells it to gullible people, along with their better-known products like Transformers and My Little Pony figurines.

The Ouija is just a game board with letters, numbers, and short words printed on it in Ye Olden Typeface. It comes with a small tool called a planchette. To play with it, users put their fingertips on the planchette and ask various simple questions of the board. In response, the planchette moves around — seemingly of its own volition, OMG OMG OMG Y’ALL, GHOSTS ARE REAL OMG!!

Ideally, this movement marks out a response to that question.

Believers in this nonsense think that ghosts or spirits move the planchette around. In reality, they’re moving it themselves. They simply attribute that movement to outside, imaginary forces.

And boy oh boy, man almighty, Billy Hallowell behaves like he has completely, totally bought into the hype around these stupid things.

What Billy Hallowell Claims.

Get ready with your popcorn. This guy’s off the chain. All through his post, Hallowell hints constantly at there being some big demonic component to these boards. But he never wants to come out and say anything for sure.

Here’s one example of what I mean:

There are countless stories of people claiming unexplainable phenomena after playing the game. These claims, which are understandably met with skepticism, seem to challenge the common framing of the board as a mere parlor game.

He follows this dumbass non-statement with quotes from someone named “Dr. Michael Brown” about how scaaaaaary and daaaaangerous Ouija boards might be. Of course, Hallowell never fully identifies this bloke or provides his qualifications for making this statement, for what I’m sure is a very good reason.

The very last thing he wants is for people to find out that this expert of his has no qualifications whatsoever for talking like that.

Billy Hallowell and the Cosmic Quest for Plausible Deniability.

Then Billy Hallowell follows that up with Hasbro’s official hype marketing for the product. My goodness, he seems to believe it. My word, he actually acts like he thinks a product’s marketing claims can be trusted.

And finally, he goes on to give a quick overview of the popularity of these sorts of toys. There, he acts like he really believes that a product’s popularity speaks to the truthfulness of its marketing claims.

At no time does he actually come out and say that these toys are actually a communication and mind takeover tool for demons. Nope. Not quite. But he comes very, very close, maybe even closer than a gossip website comes to libel.

It’s beyond hilarious to me to see how hard he struggles to scare the pants off fundagelicals without coming right out and telling them demons totally actually lurk in Hasbro games.

Plausible deniability, thy name is Money Grubbing Fundagelical. 

The Truth About Ouija Boards.

No legitimate or credible study has ever turned up a single bit of evidence that Ouija boards — or any similar boards — ever actually communicate with outside forces.

Nobody, even once, has provided credible evidence to support these toys’ marketing claims.

Ouija boards do not ever provide information that users couldn’t have known or guessed themselves. Nor has any study ever confirmed anything moving the board’s planchette except the board’s users themselves. (The force involved is called the ideomotor effect. It’s perfectly natural.)

And needless to say, not one study has ever confirmed the existence of anything that we might consider supernatural. In fact, one can very easily substitute the word imaginary for supernatural without altering the meaning of the sentence containing the word.

So the hype around Ouija boards is a non-starter right out of the gate.

YouTube video

From the 2003 episode of “Bullshit” where Penn & Teller test a Ouija board. Christian Day, the uploader, seems to have edited his segment considerably to leave out most of the hosts’ snark, but this is an accurate representation of how true believers interact with the toy. 

Despite this utter lack of credible support for its claims, Ouija boards are popular in certain circles of gullible people. Indeed, humans have been mucking about with similar toys for centuries

That One Weird Thing That Happened Once (TOWTTHO).

I’ve got a history with these boards myself.

I’m an 80s kid, born smack in the middle of Generation X. Most of the people I knew in childhood swam through a miasma of supernatural imaginary beings and forces, just as I did. Thus, I took for granted that something was involved in the working of Ouija boards. So did everyone else I knew.

When I was around 10 or 11, my little sister and I discovered an old Ouija board in the forest next to our home in Northern California. We brought the game home.

For some reason, once we got home our dad freaked out about something. We had no idea what set him off. When he found out we’d brought a Ouija board into the house, he freaked out even worse. We could see the tendons in his neck, and he was red from stem to stern from screaming. He demanded we put the game back where we got it. Frightened out of our minds, we did as we were told. Afterward, we were scared to go home. Eventually, darkness, cold, and hunger compelled us.

When we finally timidly crept back into the house, Dad was just placidly watching TV. He had an omnipresent beer in hand. We avoided him.

Eventually, he asked why we seemed so nervous.

When we reminded him of his recent rage fit, he was mystified. He said didn’t remember any of that. He seemed sincere, too. Nor did he recall anything about the Ouija board — neither it entering the house, nor leaving it.

At the time, my sister and I both thought the demons of Ouija had possessed him until we’d removed the board from the house.


And the Disappointing Truth.

Years later, though, I understand what really happened that day.

It was just TOWTTHO.

In reality, my father was a hardcore alcoholic with serious anger-management issues and frustration intolerance. He fought that addiction his entire life, eventually dying of it. And he never really got the anger and frustration issues under control. As such, he often experienced unpredictable outbursts of unreasonable rage directed at safe targets — namely, his kids. Afterward, often he expressed a lack of memory about what he’d said and done while in the throes of his tantrums.

So nothing about the Ouija incident was really that remarkable. Any adult child of a similar alcoholic probably remembers similar outbursts and perhaps even the same expressions of amnesia. In my 20s, I needed (and found) professional help for similar anger problems — including similar rage blackouts, though I was never an addict myself.

This time, one of my dad’s more-dramatic outbursts and amnesia events had collided with the hype around Ouija boards. That combination had simply made this outburst way more scary and memorable for us kids.

Ouija Boards in the Satanic Panic.

The reason my family even knew about that hype probably came down to the original Satanic Panic.

During the Satanic Panic of the 1970s-early 1990s, evangelicals dampened their drawers and clutched their pearls over Ouija boards — well, over anything spiritualists did and liked, I guess. But Ouija was more mainstream than any of the other stuff that fit that description. You could buy the boards at Toys R Us for a while there.

That engineered moral panic never went too far, though. Everyone who tried Ouija boards either correctly concluded they were boring and dumb, or else was a true-blue spiritualism believer who took evangelicals’ opposition as PROOF YES PROOF that the boards were really a link to the supernatural world magical imaginary world of make-believe.

Still, remember that in broken systems, wingnut beliefs never really die. They just get forgotten in wingnuts’ leap across to the next false belief that titillates them and makes them feel like super-powerful mini-Jesuses and yet strangely persecuted underdogs.

Part of me thinks this numnuts Billy Hallowell is part of that segment of hard-right Christians trying hard to resurrect the Satanic Panic. It’s so quaint, really.

I mean, QAnon lapped these hucksters long ago. As a result, even hard-right conspiracy wingnuts are way past worrying about boogeymen inhabiting gameboards. He’s way behind the curve here.

Why Billy Hallowell Sells Terror of Ouija Boards.

But he’s got to sell this product of his, this manufactured terror of silly gameboards. Dude has just published a book along those same lines, and I’m sure he’d like to sell many copies of it. In fact, this post is an excerpt from his book, which I’m sure follows along the same exact lines.

What, did anybody imagine that he was manufacturing this terror simply to get attention from fundagelicals? Oh no, never. He’s a huckster, just like all the rest of ’em. That’s why he’s playing so coy by avoiding any flat-out direct accusations against Hasbro’s product.

Indeed, he’s got some very practical reasons for being coy. I doubt he wants to be accused of stoking terror if one of his belligerent tribemates decides to go do something shocking based on his silly, inconsequential, obviously-manufactured sales pitch. He probably also doesn’t want Hasbro to come for him. (I don’t know how many lawyers they’d need to send after him. But I know how many they’d actually send.)

So if Hallowell deliberately calculated this post of his to come right to the ledge of accusations without actually plunging into the abyss, it suddenly becomes an exhibit of uncommon good sense in the tribe.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the liars-for-Jesus trying to score sales amid an epidemic of lies, fake news, rumors, and deliberate fearmongering in evangelicalism — all to make money while the gravy train still runs.

NEXT UP: How evangelical leaders teach men in the tribe to divorce-proof their marriages. See you tomorrow! <3

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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...