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December 24th 1919
New York Times
TOPICS OF THE TIMES
A Revival Highly Regrettable.
From several of the big stores come reports, possibly containing something of an exaggeration, but evidently in large measure true, of an unprecedented demand for and sale of what used to be called the planchette and now goes under the name of the ouija board. As explanation of this reawakened demand for an old device for obtaining “messages” of seemingly mysterious origin it is stated that the purchasers expect or hope by means of these machines to get into communication with the dead — most often with soldiers who were killed in France.
If that is the case, the condition of the mind thus revealed is at once pathetic and disquieting — pathetic because of the sorrows of bereavement still unassuaged that it manifests, and disquieting because it indicates, as a result of the war, a widespread mental state promising little for the future.
And this turning for consolation to a source whence it cannot come except as a wild and absurd illusion does not stand alone, unfortunately, as a ”sign of the times.” Other reports are to the effect that fortune tellers, trance mediums, and other pretended exponents of mysticism and the supernatural or supernormal never had so many clients as now, and that all of them that are even moderately expert in the sorry craft of their tribe are making small fortunes out of the credulity f their dupes.
To whatever the extent these tales are well founded they indicate that a like part of the American public is suffering from what in soldiers long subjected to the strains of war was called “shell shock,” and, what is worse, that these sufferers in their ignorance are seeking relief in ways the only effect of which will be further and worse forms of mental and nervous diseqilibration.
A Source Close at Hand
As far as the ouija boards, to recuse to the simplest of the various imagines avenues to the Beyond, there is nothing really mystical in their operation and no excuse for doubt as to the quality and provenance of the “messages” they convey. Always there is the chance that these communications are the products of deliberate and conscious deception. In not a few instances, however, they are really what the psychologists call “automatic writing” — a poor name, but for those who understand it signifying merely writing done in a condition more or less trancelike and dictated by the subconscious.
Investigations comparatively recent have made both writing and speaking of this “automatic” kind at least as well understood as are the more familiar mental processes that pass as “natural.” It is certain, and anybody who reads modern books on the subject can convince himself of it — if open to evidence — that both automatic writing and automatic speaking originate entirely in the writer or speaker, and this is equally so whether the writing or speaking is honest or fraudulent. That the dead have anything to do with either is a belief founded wholly in the desire and the determination to believe.
To psychologists worthy of the name, the ouija board has considerable value as a means of studying pathological states of mind, but for the uninstructed, it is or may be a cruel and dangerous deluder. It is the duty of all who know the facts as to ouija boards to make them known to others, and to denounce the misuse of the thing as a crime against intelligence.