Ouija Bard

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“Tis a tale told by an idiot,” and yet, “Much Madness is divinest Sense.” I’ve been trying to contact Shakespeare with my spirit board. Why not? Even if, at best, the device invented as a parlor game but taken supernaturally seriously by a happy few provides a vehicle for my own buried impulses and crackpottery, it might still be of some value. After all, I may know something I don’t know I know.


My friends are, generally, tolerant but unenthusiastic, so I’ve had to go it on my own, as the spooky-boo movies tell you never to do. The Ouija covenant, after all, is not a marriage but a ménage a trois, though still less a pack activity than séances. Besides, I wanted to get the jump on Shakespeare 2016, WLU’s celebration of the Bard in special events (Chanticleer performance, art exhibit, features on Shenandoah), lectures and courses.

If you’re not familiar with this form of communication, Google “Ouija” and select images from the margin menu. Lots of pictures, most of them pretty much the same – a board with the alphabet and single digit numbers spread out like a magician’s deck of trick-ready cards (or Eva Green’s on Penny Dreadful). You’ll also find yes in one upper corner and no in the other, though the name of the device is really yes-yes, French-German. Most common graphic details include a moon and sun, and at the bottom of the board there’s usually FAREWELL, which sounds more ominous than the common goodbye or later.

The other element in the tool kit is called a planchette, a heart-shaped wooden pointer with a hole (or eye) in the center. Most sets come with a plastic planchette, but I have little faith in their numinous power and prefer cedar. The process itself is simple: you utter a mystic rhyme, usually of your own making (I’m not telling mine; it’s like the cosmic pin number); then with the pair of you (or you solo, if you dare) place fingers on the planchette, swirl it around the board and attempt to summon with your mind and voice, any spirit who’s been drawn by the whisper of the pointer skating across the board and by your salutation (or salivation). The spirit is supposed to direct the planchette until the eye is over one letter (or answer) after another. For detailed instructions, you can do the little research and hear it from an expert.

All I wanted to do was commune with Shakespeare, and only briefly. The spirits are supposed to know everything that can be known, as well as everything else, but I just want to ask Will if he’s really who my high school English teacher Miss Eliot said he was (glover’s boy, scribe with little Latin and less Greek, bold appropriator, bed-willer, polymath, fast learner, shifty wit) or one of the other candidates I think of as the Unlikelies, for reasons of location, timing, lack of cerebral voltage, flabby rhetoric or obvious stamps of crackpottery that put mine in the shade. Now that it’s widely known that the prominent Shakeman Mark Rylance-Cromwell (Wolf Hall) is a Doubter in the matter of Shakespeare being Shakespeare, inquiring minds want to know more than ever, and I can find no way to contact The Most Interesting Man in the World for assistance, despite the tease on the Dos Equis website. Therefore: Ouija.

Candles, a flat table, full moon, concentration to the heart’s deep core (Georgie Yeats used a yes-yes). So far, no cigar, and I wonder if, alas, my efforts are foiled by misinformation. I mean, what if Shakespeare is an alias? Do spirits respect aliases, noms de guerre, traveling names, etc? Will the board traffic in such shifty nonsense as re-naming?

So I tried calling up the usual suspects: Bobby Devereux (Essex), Kit Marlowe, Manners, Oxford, Derby, Bacon, Burbage, Jesus Alou, assorted cabals and cadres, Drake and the Freemasons, Various & Sundry, Mary Sidney Herbert. No soap.

I’ve begun to think I’m using the wrong bait, if bait is called for. (“. . . with a little shuffling, you may choose/ a sword unbated….”), ( “unbated and envenom’d.”)

Should I try the more common search tactic of FaceBook to lure the dead? That way madness lies. But I’ll give it one more shot tonight, setting an extra glass of whiskey on the table. I believe Elizabethans were more inclined toward wine, ale, mead, sack or maybe even flip than toward whiskey, and I know that the Gaelic phrase from which we get “whiskey” translates as “water of life,” which might be distasteful to ghosts. Yet there’s some logic in it – spirits attracted to spirits. And after all, improvisation has always been a trait of specter speculators.

I’ll report back if any important discoveries ensue.

And if I don’t succeed this time? Flights of angels, silence, etc. I have Avengers to consider and will call in the pros. Mrs. Peel, you’re needed.

About R.T. Smith

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.


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