I actually wrote this post a few years ago but decided I wanted to expand a little bit upon it so enjoy!
Awhile back I came across an article on the internet that listed a bunch of different style Spirit Boards (i.e. “Ouija Boards”), I shared this to my personal facebook page because I absolutely love Spirit Boards. Not surprisingly, most of the comments were about how terrible Spirit Boards are. (I posted this on my facebook page again, lets see if it happens again!) Spirit Boards are unfortunately one of the most controversial tools used in mediumship today, despite the fact that they were once considered to be an essential tool for spirit communication.
The concept of a spirit board developed through a combination of two forms of physical mediumship: ‘table-tipping,’ where the alphabet was spoken allowed during a seance and the spirits would ‘tip’ the table when the correct letter was chosen, and “planchette writing” where a small wooden board would be used to produce automatic writing (early versions sometimes had small wheels on them, and would have a space for a pencil to be attached). These tools were combined to make an easier method, where the planchette could be moved by the spirits to point to letters pre-written on a small board.
In 1890 businessman Elijah Bond designed and patented a spirit board he termed the “Ouija Board.” This patent would eventually be acquired a few years later by William Fuld, who is truly responsible for the popularity of the Ouija Board and is considered the “Father of the Ouija Board.” Through a hugely successful marketing campaign he turned the concept of a “Ouija Board” into a household name.
Early Spiritualist literature promoted the uses and benefits of spirit boards for developing mediumship. In Spirit Mediumship by Rev. E. W. Sprague he lists these methods among forms of physical mediumship, and in Genuine Mediumship by William Walker Atkinson, he actually mentions Ouija Boards by name, stating, “Ouija Boards are sold at a moderate price, and will be found a valuable adjunct to any spiritualist circle.” He also gave instructions on how to use them, also explains how the reader can create their own at home.
Unfortunately, with its mass production the spirit board became removed from it’s spiritual purpose and became to be seen as a parlor game to entertain and frighten people. This lead to misuse and misunderstanding, which then ended up causing these simple boards to be surrounded in urban legends and Hollywood Horror pop culture.
I remember asking for a Ouija Board for probably my eighth or ninth birthday. I remember mostly playing around with it and looking at it, but having very little desire or interest to conduct a seance, I mostly just wanted to own it because I thought it was fun looking and ‘spooky’. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I would seriously begin to practice and use one. I used it as a way to practice physical mediumship and communicate with my spirit guides: both in solitary sittings by myself, and also fairly often with a good friend of mine who was also interested spiritualism and spiritual phenomena (and is also a fantastic medium!).
Thankfully due to a new generation of freethinking Spiritualists, the taboos surrounding Spirit Boards are slowly beginning to be overcome, and the practice is making a bit of a resurgence. It may take awhile for the image to recover from all the damage done, but it seems that the Spirit Board is finally being restored back to its rightful place as a Spiritualist tool of healing and spiritual development.
I’ve wanted to write this for awhile.
Before I actually begin: this is going to be specifically about my own personal devotion to Santa Muerte, not me teaching about her or anything like that. So, if you find yourself wanting to learn more about Santa Muerte I highly recommend reading Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint by R. Andrew Chesnut.
Again, because of the nature of this post I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about who she is and about her history, but to offer an extremely brief explanation: Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is a female skeletal folk-saint from Mexico.
When I was 16 I stumbled into a Botanica in Indio, California. Looking back on it, it’s more likely that I was drawn in there by spirits rather than it just being random. I was in a small section of the city tagging along on an errand that wasn’t even for me, and I saw a small storefront that would have blended in with all the others if it wasn’t for a life sized statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a slightly smaller statue of St. Jude in the window. I remember actually thinking that it was a store that sold art.
I went inside and that pretty much set the course of my life from then on. I was absolutely mesmerized by everything there: the scents, smells, shelves of candles, incense, statues, etc. It was like I walked into a place I had only ever dreamed of existing. I visited the store probably three times that week, and the first object I bought from there was a small statue of Santa Muerte after having asked the owner of the shop about how to properly pray to her.
Back in 2006 there was barely any decent information available in English at the time about Santa Muerte. I don’t recall actually even owning a book in English about her until around 2008. The few things I could find available to read at the time were mostly articles here and there on the internet, but I mostly learned from just asking around locally: I asked the owners of the botanicas I went to (after discovering one, I discovered several more) and the people that ran the stands at the public market that sold spiritual supplies. I actually also bought a few booklets and chaplets in Spanish and just went to work on slowly translating portions of them with my somewhat limited knowledge of Spanish and a Spanish-English dictionary.
My devotion to her at first was mostly like any of my other saints that I prayed too. However very quickly, she took a much more central role in my own spirituality as well as spiritual work that I performed for others. When I was approached by clients or friends for spiritual work or readings, she tended to be the first spirit to stand in to offer assistance in whatever was asked. She would give me instructions for works in dreams, such as where I needed to go to get a particular herb or powder for a certain kind of work. She also began to assist me by pointing out and guiding me in the direction that my spiritual path was going, opening the way to learn more about Spiritualism, Espiritismo, and a few other related traditions.
All while this was going on for myself she started to become more and more popular in the United States, which has been pretty fantastic to witness. I went from being mostly alone, to having this vast open network of other people that wanted to write about her, work with her, pray to her, and discuss her. While I’m not a huge fan of some of the products and trends that are out there, there are also some pretty great resources now available due to her rise in popularity.
I honestly can’t even begin to list the things that she’s done for me. She’s been my guide, a consistent spiritual lighthouse for me for over a decade now. She’s saved my life at least twice that I know about. She’s gotten me several amazing jobs, and so many other wonderful things.
In the past few years I found out that she’s become fairly popular here in Rochester, something I hadn’t guessed would happen. Apparently the products and amulets that are sold at one of the Botanicas here that are specifically for her are among the most popular, and I’ve seen several of the more New Age/Metaphysical oriented stores here sell spiritual supplies for her, particularly statues and incense.
Though rarely asked, I do perform readings, consultations, and spiritual work with her solely as a Santa Muertero. I keep a few tools of divination that I have dedicated to use solely for consultations under her guidance, and I can also perform pretty much all of my regular services from the standpoint of working specifically with her, such as cleansings, working with candles, etc.
I recently felt moved that I needed to share my devotion to her publicly as a personal testimony. While I’m fairly open about my devotion to Santa Muerte when asked, I tend to not set my devotion front and center when discussing my spirituality with others. I’ve found that her devotional practices (and by extension my devotion to her) has been a complex thing for me to explain to people, because while she has many different paths of devotion the fact of the matter is that devotion to her is not quite a full blown religion: it lacks an official initiation or baptism (though some traditions have this) and is very much still a tradition of Mexican folk Catholicism. All of this being said, I’d like to commit to changing my own approach to being open regarding her, as it’s only fair that a spirit so important to my personal path be rightfully acknowledged as such.
A point I would like to include, as it’s come up fairly recently in a few different discussions that I’ve had with people. While it’s very, very well known that Santa Muerte has many different paths, in my own journey with her, she is first and foremost the Curandera par excellence. This is essentially how she’s shown herself to walk with me, and how she has wanted me to walk with her. She’s the Healer and Herbalist, grounded in the damp wet earth, both the source of healing herbs, and where our bones will one day rest, after she has guided our souls to the world of Spirit. That is really, truly, the core of my own relationship with her.
So, I’d like to say, thank you: thank you so much Madrina, Godmother, for all you have done, and continue to do for me, and for others.
“He lifted up his eyes and saw certain trees by the road with an almost infinite number of birds; whereat St. Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: "Ye shall await me here on the road, and I will go and preach to the birds my sisters"; and he went into the field and began to preach to the birds which were upon the ground; and anon those which were in the trees came to him, and all of them stood still together until St. Francis finished preaching.” The Little Flowers of St. Francis
One of my favorite aspects of American Spiritualism, is that it’s near universally accepted that animals have spirits and souls. Although Spiritualists aren’t alone among the world religions in affirming this, American Spiritualism has really embraced the idea of accepting animals as family members, complete with animal friendly services, funerals for pets, allowing public prayer for family pets in services, and the belief that animals can come through in mediumship just as well as any loved one.
These beliefs go back to the early Reform Movements and the Victorian era where companion animals, and the animal welfare movement and vegetarianism became popular among the middle class, especially Spiritualists. Spiritualism offered an alternative religious tradition to the prevailing traditions of the day, where animals tended to be viewed as property or things rather than individual creatures capable of thought and emotion.
An early work of popular Spiritualist inspired literature Animal Ghosts Or, Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell presented both traditional folkloric ghost stories involving animals as well as those submitted by individuals who encountered spirit visitations from beloved pets as well as farm animals.
More recently, popular beliefs such as the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ the blissful garden of the afterlife where pets and owners are reunited are heavily influenced by the peaceful Spiritualist idea of Summerland a land of eternal spiritual ‘summer’ where souls are in communion with God.
The Spiritualist community of Lily Dale, NY is an excellent example of Spiritualist kindness to animals. The Lily Dale Spiritualist Camp had a pet cemetery built very early on for it’s animal residents, cats are safe to walk the streets, squirrels are as well fed as any household pet, and within the last few years a dog park was built.
It’s therefore really no surprise that St. Francis of Assisi the “little poor man” who preached to the birds, universally loved, has entered into Spiritualism via this love of animals, and all of creation. Not only was St. Francis extremely aware of the presence of God as Creator in the laws of nature, he was very much in tune with his brothers and sisters the animals, and has become somewhat of a spirit guide for pets and animals among Spiritualists.
The famous Prayer of Saint Francis is found in the NSAC Hymnal set to music, and a small shrine to him is located in the center of the Lily dale pet cemetery. Many Spiritualist churches will also have a special pet blessing service on or near his feast day in October.
Though this love of St. Francis tends to transcend denominations, he’s truly found himself among friends with Spiritualists.
The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.