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December 22nd 1918
Boston Daily Globe from the San Francisco Chronicle
By Ann Grosvenor-Ayers
Results of Experiments by Noted Scientists
They Have Found No Satisfactory Explanation of the Device
The ouija or divining board is the successor to the planchette, with which many people amused themselves many years ago. Few people took the planchette seriously; it was embraced with the same lightness and enthusiasm that would be given to ping-pong or to auction bridge.
The mystery of the planchette lay in the indicator or “control” — a heart shaped piece of board, tipped at the corners with felt. When guided by the hands of two persons this pointer moved over the board to different letters of the alphabet, spelling out messages. The force that guided the indicator was a matter of conjecture. At that time the “subconscious mind” was under popular discussion and most people who took the planchette at all seriously attributed its writings to that little explored region of the brain.
Most users of the planchette, however, were content to laugh at its prophesies, and scoff at the mystery of the board as they would at a reading of tea-grounds. The claim of the “Spiritualists” that the divining board’s revelations came from “across the border” of spirit land was scouted.
Most of the users of the board bases their queries upon two subjects: the weather and love. “Will it rain Sunday?” and “Shall I be married soon?” were widely asked and variously answered by the “control.” Few expected truth from the divining board, or had it.
The fad ran its course and died away. The divining board went to the storeroom along with the ping-pong racquets. Meantime the Spiritualists had held to their claim that the board was an exponent of spirit communication and had persuaded certain broad-minded scientists to conduct a series of experiments with the board.
Arguing that the control of the divining board had never been explained, the psychics wanted to prove that here was a pure instance of spirit revelation. They would abide by decision of the scientist. And riding on a world wave of psychic curiosity, the gentlemen agreed to investigate.
Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgium author, has all along expressed his deep interest in this matter; so had Leon Favre, the Consul General of France. Rt Hon A. J. Balfour, British Prime Minister; Andrew Lang, Prof William James of Harvard University and Pres Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University had also made efforts to have this new evidence of psychic phenomenon looked into; and when the divining board was little more than a household memory the scientists were conducting their experiments.
But if the investigation was belated it was distinctly worth while: for time alone could have enlisted the favorable attention of a group of scientific celebrities. Like Dr. Theodore Flourney, science professor at the University of Genoa; Sir William Crookes, F. R. S., the discoverer of metal thaliums and a chemicalist of world wide reputation; Sir Oliver Lodge, F. R. S., D. Sc., of Birmingham College, and Sir W. F. Barrett of the Royal College of Science, Dublin. Each of these gentleman listed to the arguments of spiritualists, made his own experiments, and faithfully reported the results to the Society of Psychical Research.
Does it seem possible to the thousands who toyed with the little divining board, that these learned professors confessed themselves baffled by it, and unable to solve the riddle? Months were devoted to their experiments, and tests of changing the sitters, blindfolding them and them and asking the board all sorts of questions, serious as well as superficial, were part of the scientific routine.
One of the first discoveries made by Sir Oliver Lodge was that the control of the board always answered in kind — that is, if it were asked a reckless question, it would answer in the same vein, while a sincere question brought forth a conservative answer.
After it was all over, the private opinions of the investigators were a bit vague. One noted gentleman thought that the control of the divining board was “a part of our being not yet carnated”; another that it was “the condensed soul of our ancestors”; still another, “diffuse cosmic consciousness.”
Sir William F. Barrett gave a particularly interesting account of his experiences. He worked with a group of sitters in Dublin, and to make sure that they did not unconsciously direct the indicator, he had the letters on the board jumbled and put under glass, and everyone in the room blindfolded, except for himself and a shorthand writer who took down the messages given.
At the opening of the seance the indicator or control, after accustoming itself to he letters in their new positions, declared that there was a disturbing personality in the room. This was the scientist, and Sir William was obliged to give many spoken assurances before the board would answer any of his queries.
The control was changed several times; finally a spirit who called himself Isaac David Solomon took the board. Among other astounding statements he made this prophecy: “Blood, blood, blood, everywhere. A great nation will fall; a small nation will rise; a great religion will stand in danger. News that will astonish the civilized world is at hand. Blood everywhere.” This was but a short time before the outbreak of the European war. Sir William says:
“I do not know of any cases which are quite parallel to these ouija board experiments. For we have here, in addition to the blindfolding of the sitters, the amazing swiftness, precision and accuracy of the movements of the indicator, spelling out long and intelligent messages often contrary to the expectation and beyond the knowledge of the sitters. Reviewing results as a whole, am convinced of their supernormal character...that we have here an exhibition of some intelligent discarnate agency.”