Review of Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board By J. Edward Cornelius

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Do what thou will shall be the whole of the Law.

Recently I have taken an interest in Ouija.

It is not the first time in my life I have had this interest, as an adolescent I used the Ouija a handful of times. Each time my companions and I  felt as though a demonic presence was conjured by the board and we would suddenly stop using it, scared shitless!

It was like clock work. We would always end up feeling extremely creeped out and violated by whatever was talking to us on the board. There were usually threats, and inappropriate comments. I remember one particular time where the session ended with all that and a giant terrifying storm rolling in. Probably pure coincidence.

Of course, this is not assuming that one of my compatriots was not taking liberty with the planchette and just playing a huge joke on the rest of us.

One should also familiarize themselves with the ideomotor effect.

The ideomotor effect is basically unconscious movement. Little muscle spasms made by the mind, but not with the conscious control of the thinker. One must always be mindful of these kinds of explanations, and accept them as a part of the work. I prefer to set them as parameters,  that is, if I can assume its true and still find the thing worth doing.

Everyone it seems also knows the story of the Exorcist, the famous case from which the film was based in which a young boy is contacted by an entity known as Captain Howdy, who later causes the boy to have something between a psychiatric malfunction and a real demonic possession. There is a pretty good skeptical article reviewing the whole affair though, and one should read it.

An interesting personal anecdote is that when I first watched the Exorcist, about the same age I began experimenting with Ouija, I was by myself at my parents house and the pipes burst in their bathroom. This caused giant water bubbles to appear on the walls with the water accumulating behind the acrylic wall paint. It made a very loud and scary roar as this problem was happening. Once again, I was scared shitless!

Now it has been close to 20 years since these early experiments and I find myself experimenting again.

My first attempt was with my podcast co-host and local magickal podcasting partner Diana Sparx, and our friend who goes by the nickname Shmooie.

I was very enthusiastic during this game of Ouija, but mostly whatever we evoked was giving us nothing but gibberish. This led to a great deal of inside jokes being born in our little triad.

The planchette spelled out things like 8-a-8. And umbatu. And axejusab. And other such gibberish.  I am probably getting the spelling wrong, and I have the precise messages written down somewhere. I remember that I converted the letters to numbers, using the order of each letter in the alphabet as a kind of gematria value, took the totals compared them to I-Ching hexegrams. All in all my conclusion is still that it was mostly gibberish.

Though it did seem to readily and enthusiastically go to the number 8 pretty regularly. A number that I believe I am magickally bound to and have a special relationship with overall.

We did very little preparatory work.  No Lesser Ritual of the Pentegram, no magick circle, no nothing. We just put our hands on the planchette and mostly let it go.

We did tend towards wanting demons to make themselves known through the planchette.

We did have candles burning, we did take a leadership tone with whatever beings made themselves known, but other than that we mostly just winged it.

Now on Devil’s Night, October 30, 2011 (Era Vulgaris) I am planning a more precise Ouija working and for that purpose I read Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board By J. Edward Cornelius.

First of all let me just get out some of my personal ideas about the Ouija board. I think its as much a scrying tool as any black mirror, or any other fancy-schmancy occult tool handcrafted by a magician. Even though its made by Parker Brothers and can be purchased at Toys ‘R Us.

I am also on the fence about what is actually going on. I am 100% comfortable with the idea that all Ouija is doing is allowing unconscious dreams, impulses or imaginations work themselves through little muscle spasms that are beneath the perceptions of the conscious mind. Or some other psycho-physical  phenomena (ideamotor effect)that will be a major let down to most who take an overly mystical approach to this kind of work.

For me if the all the Ouija is doing is potentially revealing unconscious thoughts from me and the other users, that’s still a potentially interesting and worthwhile venture.

I am also 100% open to how easy it might be for some playful compatriot to just take control of the planchette and play a big prank on whoever they are working with. In fact Diana and Shmoo and I were constantly accusing one another of all this.

I only plan on doing Ouija with close friends and a certain amount of pranksterism is acceptable in this context.

Then there is the other possibility, which is that one is actually contacting non-physical entities with the board, as is presumably the purpose of all scrying. By non-physical entities I mean ghosts, angels, elementals, djinn, disembodied consciousness, astral beings which are invisible in this world, the mechanical elves of DMT trips, gods, demons, any creature which has a consciousness of some kind but no physical body on this plane of existence.

When I first began my adult occult journey a couple of years ago I had no real interest or notion that non-physical entities might exist. The idea was too ridiculous to be worth considering.

Now I thing its fair to say that I am agnostic on the issue and will reserve judgment as I continue to experiment. My agnosticism was brought forth by my attempts to have some kind of contact with the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA), the perfected self, the genius, the Daemon, etc. which is considered a major requirement in Thelema.

At first I comfortably assumed that this being was just a psychological projection, something created in the mind for the purpose of personal development.  I still consider it very likely that this may well be the case, but my subjective experiences with this kind of thing have left me open to other possibilities.

Its impossible for me to review J. Edward Cornelius’ book without discussing this, because he definitely takes the position that the Ouija board is almost certainly contacting non-physical entities. Specifically he thinks the Ouija board has a two-fold purpose. One is to contact beings he calls elementals, and the other is to contact beings that can be described as angels, the HGA being the ideal one. He also claims, and cites, that his whole approach to Ouija is based on the writings and example of Aleister Crowley.

According to Cornelius you can’t help but get elementals your first several tries. You have to get good at Ouija to be able to do anything else.

According to Cornelius elementals are beings which will assume the form of shells they find in the astral realm, pieces of things left behind, psychic residues already present. So if an elemental is present at a house with a certain kind of tragedy there, it may take the form of the people involved and communicate that way. Which is why so many think they are contacting ghosts.

He also says that the elemental will want to incarnate whatever being it feels will please you. These creatures are said to be like children, trying to feed from you like it was mother’s milk. What causes so many of the problems and negativity associated with the Ouija is the tendency for the elementals to tap into unconscious desires of the user. Perhaps this is how Captain Howdy came into being?

What Cornelius says is the correct way to proceed is to decide ahead of time how you want the elemental to incarnate, and what kind of elemental, and to keep it from feeding directly off you.

So that’s actually quite a lot. First of all knowing how you want the elemental to incarnate as far as I can tell means anything. You can have the elemental pretend to be anything or anybody, unless I misunderstood something. For my upcoming working I am planning on having the elemental pretend to be Hunter S. Thompson. Since he was a Cancer I expect that what I will actually be summoning a water elemental.

The elementals are each supposed to be earth, wind, water, fire. The book recommends starting with earth, and at times it seems that when the book says will how the elemental will incarnate it may just mean what kind of elemental are you summoning.

I may just need to re-read it.

But it is very clear that the elementals can take whatever shape they think you want.

The book also seems to suggest that summoning the spirit of the deceased is possible, but unlikely. If you think you have a ghost, you are probably just talking to an elemental that thinks you want it to be a ghost.

Whether or not you want an earth, wind, water, or fire elemental will determine both how you want to prepare and what kind of side effects you may risk. Cornelius talks about plumbing problems with a troublesome water elemental, which causes me not to be able to resist pondering my parents broken pipes and the big thunder storm so many years ago.

I hadn’t considered that when I decided that my pseudo-Hunter S. Thompson elemental was a water one, the book says that you should not have more than 4 elementals, one for each element. Perhaps I have been working with the same water elemental my whole life?

According to Cornelius the elementals can be dangerous, but they are not doing this on purpose.  Any haunting, possession or poltergeist activity is just the result of the elemental trying to fulfill your desires, the dangerous ones probably being unconscious desires. This again, brings us to the idea that you must know what you want from the elemental before you set forth on your work.

The other danger is that the elemental may try to feed on you. According to Cornelius this should not be taken as an attack, its like a baby after milk. The solution, which is a strong tradition in Santeria, is offerings.  To scribe the beings name in a triangle and to put offerings in it so that the elemental can feed on those instead of you is highly recommended.

I am planning on writing GONZO in such a triangle and putting booze, cigarettes, and other things known to be treats for the great Dr.Gonzo on an altar near our working. Though I am simultaneously skeptical and agnostic about this whole theory of elementals when applied to Ouija, I am purely comfortable with the notion that all that we are doing is massive foreplay for a demonstration of the ideamotor effect.

Cornelius is very adamant about several aspects of working on the Ouija,  really too many to address here. If you are convinced of his theory I suggest you read his book. I am taking some of his advice, but in many regards I am not being cautious enough by his standards.

I will conclude with my plan for the working, and I will compare it to some of Cornelius’ advice for better or worse.

We are doing our working at a house that was destroyed by a tornado. According to Cornelius there is some risk of the elementals attempting to incarnate according to the memories of the house, but I will not allow that. One thing I agree with Cornelius about is that the Ouija must be played with the will.

I will do a Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentegram, Cornelius totally concurs. I will probably make some kind of magic circle, though Cornelius would want a much more rigorous one than I plan on making, 333 linked chain anyone?

I will have an altar with offerings for the elemental. Cornelius is pleased.

I will have as many of my friends who show up and feel like it use the planchette. According to Cornelius for the best results only one male and one female should touch the planchette. A separate person should ask the questions, and then a fourth could be the recorder.  While I consider myself a serious occultist I know for most of my friends this is just some lighthearted laughs and I am grateful for their cooperation. I don’t want to be too much of a stickler. If anyone gets possessed or a poltergeist I will post a post-hoc warning about it.

I will try to have a specific conjuration for the being, Cornelius insists.

I will have my questions prepared ahead of time. Cornelius is pleased.

I will have a specific dismissal for the being. Again in accordance with Cornelius, who claims  to be in accordance with Crowley.

I will do a second Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.  Cornelius is pleased.

Thats about it. Again, there is a ton of stuff I am leaving out that Cornelius says is crucial. I think if he was going to grade my Ouija working as I plan on carrying it out I might get a D- with any luck.

I may try to follow his instructions more closely on smaller workings, like if Shmooie and Diana (who will hopefully both be there on Devil’s night) wanted to do one just the three of us I would probably go through more of Cornelius’ suggestions.

Also, according to Cornelius my friends and I run some risk of real magickal problems with non-physical entities because we are not adhering to enough preparations. We shall see.

Love is the law. Love under will.

  1. That’s very interesting. I have got three friends to agree to work with the Ouija in a serious way to see if we can get something interesting, like a Taoist scripture or The Changing Light at Sandover (Id settle for something shorter, though!). I haven’t read this book yet but I have a copy on order. Meanwhile, Ive written a cleansing ceremony for the room, wherein we plan to have white candles, incense, and a special board purcahsed on eBay sitting on a 100 year old round Indian teak elephant table.

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