Thrashing Around


Ben H. Swett

On 17 January 1964, I returned from a trip overseas and found a message waiting for me: "Call Mac immediately." I didn't know Mac very well and wondered what he wanted, but I gave him a call. He rather urgently asked me to come to his house as soon as possible, preferably that same night, but would not tell me why. Curious, and thinking he was probably in some kind of trouble, I went.

Mac and two other guys were there. On the coffee table was a Ouija board that somebody had given Mac for Christmas. He told me they had been playing with it and getting what seemed to be clear-text messages from several different people.

I said, "So...?"

"I want you to help us evaluate whatever it is that's going on here."

"Why me?"

"Because you're the craziest guy I know!"

I laughed: "Okay, fair enough. What have you got so far? Did you write it down?"

"Yeah, some of it." He picked up a few sheets of paper and handed them to me.

The first part was just a batch of letters and numbers with what might have been a word here and there. Then, halfway down the page, all that changed. Although a Ouija board has no lower-case letters, no punctuation, and no spaces between words, this part was obviously a series of sentences from someone who said his name was Joe Ryder. I asked if anyone in the room knew anyone by that name.

They all said they didn't, and never had, so far as they could recall.

After that was some more unintelligible noise, then another series of sentences, but they sounded different and no name was given. Likewise on the next few sheets of paper. Finally there was some more text by Joe Ryder. None of the thoughts were very interesting--just the kind of stuff someone might say if he were working a ham radio: "Hi! How are you doing? My name is Joe." From the abrupt changes in style and modes of expression, it looked as though it came from four different people. I told Mac and the others what I thought.

"Where do you think it's coming from? Do you think we're crazy?"

"No. A shrink might say it's coming out of your subconscious minds, and a lot of people might say you've gone bananas, but I think it's coming from ghosts."

"Yeah, that's what we thought. Do you think it's dangerous?"

"It may be ... I don't know ... I've heard it is ... but from what I've seen so far, it doesn't look that way. The one who calls himself Joe Ryder seems fairly straight, and none of the others have said anything out of line. They were just gabbing."

"Do you think we should go on with this?"

"Beats me. Even if it is real--and it may not be--from what I've seen, it doesn't seem to be worth much. All it suggests is that there are such things as ghosts, which has been mentioned all over the world since the dawn of history, and it doesn't even prove that. So, all I can say is, if you want to go on with it, I would treat the whole thing like a ham radio--don't take it too seriously, and decide what kind of folks you're talking to by what they say and how they say it."

"Good idea. Thanks."

So I finished my coffee and went home thinking that was the end of that.

Wrong.

A month later, I went to the alert barracks for a week on duty, and there was Mac. I was surprised to see him. We had not been on alert at the same time for years, because his crew and mine were on opposite sides of the scheduling cycle. But there he was, glad to see me--and he had brought his Ouija board.

After supper that night, he invited me to his room. When I got there, he had the board set up and ready to go. He said he wanted to run some tests, to see if this was real. I thought, "Yeah, well ... I gave him some advice, so I guess I should follow it myself."

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Some people have found the report of this experience offensive because it includes the verbatim transcript from a week of messing around with a Ouija board. Some parts are confusing and some are not pleasant, but that's the way it happened.

Because this was an excursion into something hidden and forbidden (occult), and thus might lead someone astray, I kept these records buried in my files for almost thirty years. Now I feel that I should make available what I learned, and how I learned it, because it is a disservice to encourage people to listen to God without explaining what else they may encounter; because many do not believe spirits are real; and because so many are either in or about to enter the same type of situation that I and several others meandered into in 1964.

After I began circulating this transcript in 1993, I received some feedback.

Several people said they were turned off and stopped reading halfway through it:

"I can't read this. It gives me goose-bumps and cold chills."

"I don't believe in ghosts."

"Have you sought competent psychiatric help?"

A few were fascinated and said they were going to get a Ouija board and check it out for themselves. I was afraid of that and tried to warn them against it.

On the other hand, one man said, "After I read your paper, I dug our old Ouija board out of the closet and threw it in the trash. It is not a game, and I don't want my kids playing with it."

A few were horrified: "This is not Christian! It isn't even religious. It's some sort of spiritism."--and that is true, but the development of religion did not start with Christianity, or even monotheism: it began in spiritism, all over the world.

One was angry: "What is your purpose? Why did you release this document? Don't you know it will lead many people astray? Or don't you care? Or is that what you intend? I counsel you to give up all forms of spiritism and confine your efforts to the study of God's Holy Word."--but I have heard that door slam shut before.

Other reactions were more positive:

"This is the first place I ever saw an explanation of what happened to me."

"I am intrigued by the way you chose one spirit and rejected another. It seems to me, discernment is the key to this whole business, but I'm not sure I would have been as quick about it as you were. Thanks for pointing it out."

"Thank you. This is valuable. I guess all the religions except maybe Buddhism probably started here, didn't they? Somebody heard a spirit talking to him."

"It reminded me that Jesus was tempted by the Devil."

Most of the people who received this transcript did not reply at all. However, most of those who did reply said something like: "Thanks. I always wondered if there was anything to all this stuff about good and evil spirits."

The most useful comments came from my closest friends: "Go through it and add more notes and explanations from your present perspective. Make this a teaching document. You can't expect everyone to draw the same conclusions from this experience you did. Let what you learned be very clear, and don't worry about how many pages it takes. You have a tendency to write too tersely, so the reader may not be able to pick up the full implications of what you are saying. Add some more background about yourself, so people will know where you are coming from."

I tried to incorporate those suggestions, but even so, the transcript may be difficult to read. Therefore, I decided to extract the first and last sections here, and place the entire report in an appendix. That way, you can read it or not, as you please.

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After a week of using a Ouija board from two to ten hours per day with observation or participation by six other Air Force officers, my assessment was and still is:

Yes, there are disembodied spirits. They come in many varieties. Some are good; some are better. Some are bad; some are worse. Some are decent; some are lost. Some have lived in a human body, and some have not. Some guide people toward God and Jesus; some help themselves to what they want; some help the Devil. At this point, we had conversed with at least one entity in each of those categories.

I believe what we encountered is a sample of the basic reality behind all religions, spiritualism, witchcraft, and many other phenomena such as haunted houses and demonic possession. All these are various aspects of the same reality.

The difference between prayer, mediumship, and sorcery depends on the type of spirits involved, and that depends on what one wants as well as on who one calls.

Using a Ouija board is dangerous because it invites any spirit that happens to be hanging around to come and take partial possession of your subconscious mind. Passiveness, eagerness to receive, and indiscriminate acceptance are especially dangerous, because they are an open invitation to every spirit that has an agenda.

Life after death is a fact, but that is not necessarily good news. Some ex-human beings are not enjoying it much. I would not like to be the one named Maxine who was still grieving over a house that washed away in 1550. And I certainly don't want to be surrounded by evil spirits. I didn't like that--a lot.

Now I can believe Jesus was tempted by the Devil. I also believe that anyone who chooses to follow in his footsteps should be prepared to encounter, recognize, and reject disembodied tempters, as he did (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1-13).

In retrospect, we were fortunate. Every one of us had some personal background and parental training in the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Although we were naive, we recognized good and evil, and chose the good. That is what kept us from being led farther and farther astray; otherwise we might have been trapped. But we did not escape the traps set for us entirely by our own efforts. We had the unstinting assistance of a gentleman named Liri--on whom be peace.

This was not the end of our difficulties. We still encountered evil spirits, but we became much quicker at identifying them and much less likely to listen to them.

And more important, we had learned what attracts them. In our case, it was our desire to get psychic powers, miracles, predictions, knowledge, and guidance. As Liri said, "Get, get, get ... get devil. Get devil, him get. Devil fill Id. I hate get, get." Thirty years later, I cannot state that spiritual truth any more neatly than he did.

Conversely, the desire to give--to serve rather than be served--turns our spiritual direction upward, and the results follow automatically. Liri said, "Give, give, give ... give God" and "Help God. Give greatly." I am very glad I learned that lesson, even though I did learn it the hard way.

The general principle is this: what you want determines the type of spirits you attract. Thus, whether good spirits or evil spirits come to you is within your control, whether you know it or not. If you change your own desires--what you actually want, your real purpose--you thereby select the type of spirits that come to you. This was the most useful lesson I learned from this experience.

By actually wanting to give and not get, to help and not hurt, to serve rather than be served--in a specific situation at a particular moment--I tune myself so as to attract good spirits and not evil ones. This is a key for avoiding serious trouble. Over the past thirty years, I have proved this principle in myself again and again, and so have several others to whom I explained it. But it doesn't work if I merely think about what I want and don't want. It only works if I actually control my desires. That is not easy to do, but it can be done.