The Ouija Board. Copyright Parker Brothers.
The infamous Ouija Board. Few other objects are so closely associated with evil, mystical, or forbidden things. In my life, I've heard several tales of how when you try to throw one away, it will come back. A friend claimed that he experienced exactly that situation, where he tossed the board out after it made some unsettling predictions. Several days later, he claimed, he was looking under his bed for something. He found the board in the same place that he used to keep it. He took it across the street to a park and burned it. It never came back.
The year was 1988. My family had moved for what seemed the thousandth time, this time to a nice apartment on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx. My brother Andrew had a friend from school that lived on Westchester Square, a hub of commerce and very near to Lehman High School, where he was a sophomore at the time. He had a friend named Susan, and she had a Nintendo Entertainment System and a big-screen TV. Thus, when myself and my little brother Matthew were asked if we wanted to go with him to hang out at her place, we leaped at the opportunity!
Upon arrival, Matt and I descended upon the video game with fervor. Andrew, Susan and Andrew's best friend, Eileen, AKA Buffy, (long before Joss Whedon or Sara Michelle Gellar had even heard of each other) were hanging out in the kitchen. After an hour or so of playing various NES classics, Matt and I grew intrigued by the commotion coming from the kitchen. Upon inspection, we saw that Andrew and friends were hunched over a board on the kitchen table. Their hands were resting upon a plastic device with a small window in it. They were utterly focused on this object to the point where they didn't even notice our entrance.
At first I was confused. Andrew knew the stories very well. Why would he voluntarily place himself in danger by messing with something he knew to be so dangerous. I hung by the doorway into the kitchen, feeling an odd, icy sensation in my stomach. Fear had set in. Matthew advanced to join the group, his curiosity overcoming whatever trepidation he may have felt. After a couple of minutes of risk assessment, I figured that no harm would come to me if I just walked over and observed. I wouldn't touch this thing.
I watched with a ball of ice sitting in my stomach as my brother and his friends asked questions. Some received answers, some didn't. Some of the answers could be interpreted to make sense, some were gibberish. One question received an answer which I will never forget.
"What is your name?" Andrew asked.
Silence. No one moved. A strange, oppressive feeling came over us all. Their smiles of excitement faded.
The planchette started to move. Their joyful, excited faces had transformed to grim visages.
The first letter was "A".
The cursor took on a life of its own, speeding across the board with it's own will. "S", "M", "O" "D" followed in quick succession.
The cursor started to slow down, like its energy was being drained.
It stopped. Our hearts almost did too, when a moment later it continued.
It dragged slowly across the board this time. It took several moments for it to arrive on what would be the final letter.
The silence in the room was tangible. No one looked up from the board, expecting something terrible to happen. Andrew and Susan's faces were red. Buffy had a small trickle of sweat running down the side of her face. I turned to look at Matt's face, and saw that his eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly agape. The ball of ice in my stomach had turned into a boulder. I felt cold.
Just as suddenly as the feeling enveloped us, it disappeared. Like a soap bubble, it popped. The heaviness left the room, and we all started to breathe again. Looking at each other for support, we each tried to make sure that it wasn't just them.
Buffy was the first to laugh. It was only natural, I suppose. Young people believe they're invincible, and what better way to show that than to literally laugh at a situation that you not only don't understand, but that terrified you for no discernible reason at all? The ball of ice in my stomach had partially melted, but I knew that something was still not right.
Shortly after we had all laughed much of our fear away, it was time to go. My father was very strict about what time we got home, and the last thing that we wanted to do was incur his ire.
Before we did leave, though, Andrew had a suspicion that he had heard this name before. Every Ouija board comes with a spirit, according to the instructions. We looked at the name of the one that this particular board was said to come with. Its' name was Edward. Susan's mother was a bit on the religious side, and therefore had a compendium of various angels and demons. When Andrew mentioned to Susan his suspicion that an evil presence had come onto the board, she handed him the book and they looked it up.
It turns out that Asmodeus was a major demon in the ranks of hell. Now, as I've written before, I was raised Roman Catholic, and that was no laughing matter. But laugh we did, as the notion that a being so powerful and malevolent would manifest itself to a small group of teenagers was preposterous! Ludicrous! Ridiculous! Of course it was! ...Right?
And so it was that as I was walking back to my home with Andrew and Matthew, and accompanied by Buffy, that I, being a young and foolish child, melodramatically raised my arms to the iron-gray sky and proclaimed, "Asmodeus! Come and get me!", laughing all the while.
Pain. As soon as the last syllable left my mouth, I felt sudden, excruciating, searing, stabbing, white-hot pain in my stomach.
I doubled over, clutching my abdomen. My brothers and Buffy gathered around me, asking what was wrong. When I told them what I was feeling, Buffy suggested that I should say 14 "Hail Mary"s. I wasn't in any kind of state to question her. Being a good Catholic boy, I began uttering the prayer with fervor. I didn't keep count of how many I said, but after a short while, the pain ebbed and I was able to stand up straight again. I have no idea whether it was the prayer that helped, or the passage of time. At that moment, though, I couldn't have cared less. The pain stopped.
Thoroughly shaken by what just happened, we completed the walk to my apartment building. Buffy took her leave, her eyes still wide, and we proceeded back upstairs. We wouldn't talk about what happened for years to come.
One thing was for sure, though. I never spoke that name aloud again for two and a half decades. This was just the beginning of a series of events which would put my sanity and self-reliance to the test.
Those are stories for another time, though.
Thanks again for reading, and as always, feel free to leave a like and/or a comment below. Let me know if you've ever experienced anything like this, or write whatever other story you'd like to share. Until next time!
"I want to go home." I said, confused.
"You are home." my sister Sue said with concern.
"No, I'm not. I want to go home." I said, feeling more confused.
"What are you talking about?" Sue asked gently. "Your bedroom is upstairs."
"This isn't home. I wanna go home."
"Do you know who I am?" Sue asked, the bile rising in her throat, starting to panic.
"You're Susie." I said.
"Douglas, if you know who I am, then you know you're home." she said.
"I'm not home, and why are you calling me Douglas?" I asked, bewildered.
"...what do you mean? What's your name?" Sue asked, growing more freaked out by the word.
"Stephen, and I want to go home!" I cried.
Sue brought me back upstairs to my bed, tucked me in and assured me that she would take me home in the morning, after I got some sleep. When I awoke the next morning, I didn't recall anything of the event.
This was one of several instances of somnambulism that I exhibited between the ages of three and eighteen years old. In itself, it's a fairly rare occurrence, only happening to between 1-15% of the general population. What really gets me whenever I think of those occurrences is the whole identity crisis that I would experience every single time. Why did I insist that my name was Stephen? Who was/is this person? This insistence was a hallmark of my somal schisms from the very first reported incident when I was 3, as illustrated above.
Somnambulism is a term derived from two Latin root words -- soma, which means to sleep, and ambulare, which means to walk. Sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking is a phenomenon where a person can do anything from simply sitting up and looking around - to walking around performing complex tasks, all while in a deep state of sleep. Here is the National Sleep Foundation page with more information.
The subject of my nocturnal meanderings was one of some awkwardness while I was growing up. Sometimes my family would tell me about them, other times they wouldn't. They only happened maybe half a dozen times in fifteen years that I've been made aware of, and they are are all only slight variations of the scene depicted above. My level of cognition would vary, so certain times I would be easier to interact with than others.
So who was Stephen? My persistent identification with this name caused my family to joke that it must be the spirit of one of our ancestors. After some some research, I found that I actually do have a *deep breath* great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather named Stephen A. Smith, born on May 6 1771, and who died in 1841. The joke seemed more realistic now. Could I possibly be some kind of reincarnation of a man that died 177 years ago?
Let's explore other options.
There's a theory called soul clusters. According to the website Spiral Backwards, "One theory about reincarnation is that there are groups of souls that travel together through multiple lifetimes. Called a soul pod, group, cluster or family, this group of beings are felt to be deeply interconnected and working toward some larger purpose set forth by the universe, to solve a problem or address common objectives that can span eternity. The belief is that these souls are drawn together in each life and manifest as family or friends, often with instant connection or recognition (such as soulmates or kindred spirits)."
Could I be in a soul cluster that once manifested my spirit as Stephen so long ago? Am I still in that cluster? I think so, because most of my family registered as family to me when I was in those dream states. Was it because I seemed to be riding the line between this other person's memories and my own that I had a hybridized notion of who my family was? Or was I recognizing them on a much higher, more spiritual level? Or was it something else?
It could have been psychological in nature. According to the website Psychology Today, we learn about Dissociative Identity Disorder. It can manifest at any age, and is most commonly the result of abuse and/or psycho-social stress. According to that article, however, it doesn't seem to manifest during sleep. It happened to me only a handful of times in fifteen years, and stopped when I was still a teen. I have never had cause to suspect abuse of any kind. These issues seem to preclude DID from being the root cause of my sleepwalking episodes.
Another possibility is what's called a "spiritual possession", which, according to wikipedia, is "a term for the belief that animas, aliens, demons, extraterrestrials, gods, or spirits can take control of a human body." I'm of the mind that it was a spirit that caused my episodes. The notion that it was the same spirit with the same name and persona on multiple occasions over a decade and a half make me question this possibility, though. Could I be haunted by this Stephen person?
So let's talk about reincarnation in its' myriad forms.
Throughout history, and in nearly every major holy book and religious text known to man, there are certain themes that remain constant. Among them is that of reincarnation. A person dies, and their spirit then either immediately or eventually enters and suffuses another being. The manner of being varies by the religion in question.
For Hindus, it can be any living being from a gnat to a tree. Practitioners of Hinduism also believe that spiritual energy isn't bound by conventional standards of time and space, so if you step on a bug or chop down a tree, that it could house the spirit of your great-grand uncle, or your future nephew.
For Christians, however, there is no second chance, as stated here. Christian souls come from the Guff, which apparently only has a finite number of souls.
Shintoism and other animistic religions believe that everything from rocks to rivers to weather systems to people is imbued with energy, sort of like the Force from Star Wars lore. In Shintoism, these spirits are called "kami". Instead of reincarnation per se, Shintoists believe that when a living being dies, that their kami is released and recycled.
Did I actually have flash-backs to my life as Stephen when I sleepwalked as a kid? Could the possible memories of a past life have been mixing with my persona as it existed then? Could that have created an odd state of being where I was both Douglas and Stephen at the same time?
Where was home?
One thing that could possibly help me find out is a technique called past-life regression. That is a technique is when one is put into a deep hypnotic state and asked a series of questions meant to cause memories of a past life to resurface. Whenever I think of this procedure, I can't help but think of the scene from the X-Files episode, "The Field Where I Died" (Here is the opening/closing scene, which still gives me chills to this day).
Is it possible to perceive future events too? I have had one episode of sleepwalking that gave me a glimpse of what I can only construe as a future life. I was on a long, straight road. It had two lanes with a yellow dashed line in the center. The road lead straight to what seemed to be a high-walled city, with stark, sharp, high spires and towering skyscrapers. The entrance to the city that the road lead to was at the point of what seemed like an enormous V, with the walls spreading for what seemed like miles to either side. It was dusk, and the bright blue and purple lights of this unknown city were just coming on.
If reincarnation is real, what is the purpose of it? Theologians and scholars and many people much smarter than me have been trying to figure it out for thousands of years. Is it as some people say, that we come back each time to learn something new? Are our spirits evolving with each new life, moving a step closer to some ultimate spiritual goal or level of preparedness? Or is it random, our spirits being shifted back and forth in time and space in a chaotic soup of demi-consciousness and eternal forgetfulness? What universal system is in place to govern either of these options, or ones that I'm unfamiliar with? These are the thoughts that have kept me up at night.
I haven't had any episodes or flashes of that nature since I was 18. When I did, though, they felt utterly and completely real. So did what little I've ever been able to recall of my somnabulistic episodes. Were they, though?
Who knows? Maybe I'll sleepwalk about it some day.
Let me know if you've ever had any experiences with past/future lives below! Feel free to weigh in on what you think happened to me!