The Role of Oracles

This is the time of year that I start seeing Ouija boards everywhere I look. I see folx asking, “Should I use them? Should I not use them? Is it real? Is it fake? Are they good? Are they bad?” As usual my take on things is more nuanced than any of that, yet also more straightforward.

For me, using a Ouija board has to meet the same criteria any spirit engagement must meet: how does it improve how I’m in relationship with my cosmology?

Many years ago I had an experience with a talking board that was very unfortunate. I wrote about it in my book Real Wyrd. The short version is, I had a friend who through a talking board contacted a spirit that members of her family had contacted in such a way for years. To this day they are the only people I’ve ever known whose relationship with allies was through a talking board–literally legacy relationships that had been handed down. They were in relationship with those spirits and the board, itself.

I, despite sitting with them during many of these conversations with Other, was not. The short version of the story is that I learned cryptic information in a talking board session that foretold a fatality in my family, something that at the time I had no context for, this no way to process.

From that I maintain it’s not about the board–which is definitely not a game as it has unfortunately been marketed. It’s not about whether you should or should not use objects to communicate with spirits. The delivery method isn’t the problem. Rather, it’s that without cultivated relationship with spirits who function as your allies, who reach out to you from oneness, you’re at the whim of whomever responds. You have no control over who you engage. It’s like just picking up the phone and dialing random numbers in an emergency. You can do that. You might even get some useful information, though you likely won’t get the information you need to evoke change. When it comes to reaching out from your deepest heartfelt needs, which are often the tiny desperations that drive people to engage Ouija boards to start with–you want to be held in the confidence that who you engage is trusted and that what they share with you is something you have the capacity to handle because you trust it’s coming from a loved one.

Which isn’t to say that my spirit allies are softies. They’re not. They’ve rarely told me things I want to hear, though they’ve never dangled devastation in my face the way the talking board spirit did.

Real Wyrd - A Modern Shaman's Roots in the Middle World by S. Kelley Harrell

Seven or eight years later, when I was culling through journals of rune readings, autowriting sittings, and our spirit board sessions, I found the notes I’d scribbled from that day. My chest exploded with an anguished ache as I finally made the connection between what the board had said and what I’d felt. 

Mere weeks after my friend and I had done that session, the loved one whose name was spelled out got into troublesome scrapes that resulted in… jail time. Upon release and just before trial was set, my loved one was found shot to death in the woods, mid-winter. 

I learned two things from that experience. One is that intuitively, I fare better as my own vessel for spirit communication. My guides assure it. The other is that regardless of medium, without that relationship to my guides in place as the filter for information coming in, I’m quite vulnerable. 

The moral of the story is that it’s not that you can’t learn important information from garden variety spirits in passing, it’s that perhaps you shouldn’t. 

Excerpt from Real Wyrd

The assumption that all methods of spirit communication are equal and assumed safe also touches on the fallacy that upon death all souls become instantly wise and helpful. This isn’t true at all, at least not in American settler culture/broken path cosmologies. In this context there is work to be done to facilitate the reconciliation of the dead, so that they can elect how they proceed into oneness. This work is done by both human-persons and other-than-human persons. Unquiet dead don’t rest until it’s done, and these spirits are as easily dialed up through a talking board as any well-intending one. Having cultivated intinate relationship with your cosmology is what allows you to tell the difference.

For me, talking boards do not improve how I’m in relationship with my cosmology, which is not to say that they don’t serve that function for others. Until further notice, I’m sticking with ecstatic trance, the runes, and felt sense for my spirit communication. 

How does spirit communication work for you? What is your experience of talking boards?


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S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.

I’m an animist, author, deathwalker and death doula. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts I’ve helped others to ethically build thriving spiritual paths as fit, embodied elders, who upon death become wise, capable Ancestors. My work is Nature-based, and focuses soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral healing, and deathwork. I’m author of Runic Book of Days, and I host the podcast, What in the Wyrd. I also write The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Full bio.

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