Let’s be clear. I’ve never liked Ouija Boards. I acquired the dislike while living with a group of other Folkies on Boston’s Beacon Hill in the 1960s. We lived in a four-story walk-up apartment that was only indifferently maintained. So during Halloween, we did not have to try to make it look like a haunted house. We called it the Folkie Palace, but it was more like the Folkie Hovel.
Just a few days before the end of the month, a sort of infectious enthusiasm took hold for the oncoming holiday. Decorations salvaged from the previous year were hauled out and strung up. Candles were lit, and Dougie, our resident Shaman, declared that he’d officiate at our Feast of Samhain. Beer, the beverage of all celebrations at the Palace, was laid in. But not all were comfortable with an actual official ritual for Samhain. Many of the residents were rejects from a local Jesuit college. They were on board for a party but less enthusiastic for a pagan celebration.
But after beer began to flow that evening, qualms and doubt seemed to recede. Dougie, who claimed that all sorts of shamanistic approaches were his vocation, brought out some black candles, very smelly incense, and an Ouija board.
First came much beer, a tremendous amount of beer, truth to be told! Then candles and incense. Then incantations, strings of syllables that no one could make sense of, and a flash of light and an impenetrable dark cloud of smoke. Finally, Dougie pronounced the scene set and announced that the spirits of previous tenants of the Palace would visit us to impart their wisdom. Next, Dougie began to manipulate the Ouija Board. Slowly it spelled out one word – Leave. Dougie asked for guidance, but the board spelled out – die.
At last, Mike the Vike took charge, and new words were spelled out -goodbye. Around this time, the smoke from the incense got bad enough that we had to open the windows. In a few minutes, the house seemed to wail and howl. Then there was a tremendous crashing sound, and large dark monsters lurched through the night, and began to grab our friends and haul them away.
Later on the street, we realized that seeing the smoke, our neighbors had called the Fire Department, who’d come and hauled our entire lot of drunken Samhain celebrators out into the cold late October evening. The wailing had been the sirens, the smashing had been firefighters coming through the door, and the monsters were the firefighters.
The landlord threatened to kick us out. But we vowed to replace the door and paint, so he reluctantly allowed us to stay. Dougie, his Ouija Board, candles, and incense were expelled without ritual.
We vowed oaths of sobriety that lasted until the big Thanksgiving celebration and the exploding turkey. But that’s another story.