Lesson 5) I Speak Dead People...
The ambience in the Divination lounge is quite strange -- even stranger than usual. The lighting is low and the few candles flicker on the small coffee tables. Unusual chamber-style music plays from a rust-covered gramophone, which seems to be well over a century old. As the music ends, a new piece of music crackles, causing a sound akin to rustling paper, before a screeching witch begins to sing about lives and love lost due to a boating tragedy.
Moments before the bell chimes the start of class, Professor Cattercorn walks in. Her usual pace seems to be gone and she’s wearing a solid black robe with her arms within the opposite sleeves, crossed. She stands at the front of the class and, as the bell chimes, addresses her students.
Ahh, so lovely to see you all here today! While it is Week Five and we will be having our mid-year assessment at the end of the lesson, we do have a lot of rather fascinating topics to discuss today. Those of us who have been paying attention over the last few weeks should now have an understanding of clairvoyance, particularly seeing the past, present, and future through means such as retrocognition, remote viewing, and precognition. Today we will shift our focus slightly to an alternative means of clairvoyance, which is also used at times. I must warn you though, even among magical folk this form of clairvoyance is considered suspicious or simply wishful thinking due to the nature of the vision and how it is received. Please, I ask of you, for this lesson open your minds to the possibility before choosing if you believe in this method or if you think it is a load of hooey.
While I am expecting a lot of personal opinions to arise during this lesson, I would rather not get sidetracked. For peace of mind, there will be an opinion-based assignment this week to allow you the opportunity to share your belief without imposing it upon others. Over the last few weeks we have looked at the skills that allow precognition, retrocognition, and remote viewing. Another means of clairvoyance would allow the seer, in this case also called a medium, to communicate with those who have departed from this world. Yes, there is a chance that there are some among us that can communicate with the dead. However, some individuals are skeptical that this skill exists and we will discuss this skepticism towards the end of today’s lesson. Now, let us start at the very beginning, as that is quite a wonderful place to start.
Hello… It’s Me
Picture this. A dear friend dies unexpectedly. You had spoken with them just a day earlier and they were excited for an upcoming voyage with you. You receive an owl, early in the morning from a mutual friend, announcing the death. After going through the initial shock of their death, you wish nothing more than to speak with your dead friend, coming to terms with the fact that this trip -- and perhaps the rest of your life -- will be just a little bit lonelier.
At this point, unless the person has chosen to remain as a ghost, this idea would be impossible. You would be faced with the task of moving on, which is a difficult task for many, and is accomplished differently by each person. Some prefer to celebrate the deceased's life, others begin periods of contemplative mourning, and others -- though I do not recommend this -- simply attempt to pretend there is no need to adjust and bottle up those emotions. However, some are of the opinion that there is another choice: seeking the services of a seer who has the ability to converse with the dead.
Ghosts From the Past
Historically speaking, many civilisations have documented circumstances where single individuals have displayed the ability to converse with the dead. Illustrations and cave paintings detailing the afterlife and discussions between clanspeople and the spirit world have been discovered in many different Aboriginal heritage sites of Australia, some dating back well over 20,000 years. Meanwhile, cave paintings in Indonesia show seers and spirits engaged in discussion. More, during the 1800s, the higher classes of both the Muggle and magical world became fascinated with the belief that some seers could communicate with the dead and as such, the service of these seers were in very high demand.
One example of a seer rumored to possess those abilities is Drucilla Wormwood, a well-known medium of 19th century London. She documented her appointments for the year 1867, during which time she managed to oversee more than 700 appointments, averaging a minimum of two a day. These numbers do not sound all that impressive but let me explain: according to those who ascribe to this practice, seers who can communicate with the deceased experience a feeling of extreme exhaustion, a feeling which in all honesty would take the average person days to bounce back from. However, the mental fortitude of a seer -- honed by our years of heavy concentration -- permits them to have multiple sittings in one day, if they wish to. As logic dictates, the more capable and accurate a seer, the more appointments they make. As expected, the more appointments and experience a seer had with communicating with the deceased, the stronger the ability became.
It was the need for the service of the seers in the 19th century, and the want to communicate with deceased relatives, that saw the creation of the Ouija board in 1890. Considering the relative difficulty of booking a verified seer1 -- and not simply a very intuitive Muggle capitalizing on the fad -- to speak with the deceased, a wizard by the name of Elijah Bond saw a business opportunity. Mr. Bond contacted Ms. Wormwood and together they began a business which created enchanted boards used solely for the purpose of contacting the deceased.
Known as Ouija, or Ouiji, boards, the board resembled a simple piece of cardboard or light wood with the letters of the alphabet arranged upon it along with the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Typically, below the alphabet arrangement are the numerals 0-9 and the phrase ‘Good bye’. The product of Bond and Wormwood was quite simple and extremely popular, so popular that even Muggle individuals of the 19th century purchased the Ouija boards when a modified version was marketed to Muggles as ‘parlour games’ without the magical aspect. But the question is, how exactly are Ouija boards supposed to work?
Essentially, they have been enhanced with charms to increase divinatory power, like many top-of-the-line tarot cards or scrying tools, as well as modifications that allow it to house small amounts of magic, as if it is “charged”, and allow magic to pass through it without causing negative effects. After all, if mediums are using this object to contact the deceased, they will be channeling their magic through the item to aid their inner talents. However, should you have no ability in the area of divination, no amount of spells in the world will be able to make up for it. Though, it can be a fun party trick!
Still in circulation today, Ouija boards have become a popular method for individuals who believe in the ability of the board to contact the deceased. Typically, users of a Ouija board will sit with a number of other like-minded individuals -- ideally ones that have some middling or developing inner sight -- and place a planchette upon the board. The planchette, or wooden piece has little “legs” on the bottom, which allows the wooden piece to move around the board freely. The next step sees all individuals sitting around the board place a single finger upon the base of the planchette. Finally, those present must address any spirits present by asking a series of questions in order to receive a response which is translated through the planchette moving, by its own momentum, to point to a series of letters, numbers, or the words yes or no. If the Ouija board successfully contacts a spirit, the contact will end when the spirit decides they have said all that they wish to say and moves the planchette to point to ‘Goodbye’. Of course, this is where the practice of Ouija gets significantly debatable. How are we to know, as individuals, that another at the table is not pushing the planchette in the direction they wish? The short answer is, we simply cannot.
Another downside of Ouija, though completely different from concerns about its innaccuracy, is that it can, on occasion, be a frightfully disturbing practice. There is, unfortunately, no way to choose who you contact. Using a Ouija board is like walking into the Great Hall and striking up a conversation with the first person you see. While ghosts cannot physically harm us, and spirits contacted by the board even less so (as they have no corporeal representation), there are those beings that have passed on that you… simply do not want contact with, to put it lightly. Imagine, for a moment, accidentally conversing with a crazed murderer, or Lord Voldemort himself. While all they can do is communicate, there have, sadly, been a number of witches or wizards that have gone a little funny due to messages received that haunt them, due to their graphic nature, or the repeated frequency of the messages. As is common, there are some things you may learn through divination that you wish you had never discovered. Before you attempt this method, be sure you are prepared for any kind of contact. Additionally, be sure to end your conversations properly when done conversing with your spirit, or else you never know who will greet you next, even if the first spirit was completely lovely.
The Other Side of the Coin
As we have acknowledged many times this lesson, not many in the magical world believe in this practice. You will likely have noticed my qualifiers throughout the lesson such as “alleged” or “claimed”. It is not because I do not believe in the practice -- I simply prefer to keep an open mind and allow my students a chance to develop their own opinions without accidentally transmitting mine. We have talked significantly of how communicating with the dead is supposed to work, now let us speak of why there are those that do not believe.
The first issue that many magical folk have with this belief is that we are among the privileged few on this Earth to actually be able to see the dead. Ghosts are among us now in these very halls and, if they wished, could give a guest lecture! Not only does that make it less exciting and fantastic, but also gives us a healthy dose of skepticism as to the laws of the afterlife. Perhaps, many think, that we are only meant to communicate with those that choose not to pass through the veil. If we can interact with and see ghosts, maybe this is the only way to communicate with the dead. More, everyone in the magical community is able to communicate with ghosts, not just a select subgroup.
Essentially, the opposing argument boils down to the fact that there is little we can do to “prove” this ability. With more traditional divination -- take precognition for example -- one can verify their predictions. If someone predicts something, says they have found something via remote viewing, or is able to sense things via ESP, this is quantifiable. We can point to the proof. Because there is no manifestation of the dead, though, the magical community is left to just “take our word for it”.
How It Works
Despite the fact that this facet of divination may never be proven or accepted, it is important to understand how it works -- or how it is supposed to work. Seers who claim to speak to the departed explain the discussions as strange, often one-sided, and generally based on the conditions of the spirit with whom they are conversing. Drucilla Wormwood detailed her conversations with the deceased in her famous diary “Life with the Life-less”. Ms. Wormwood explains that her conversations often occurred without warning with the spirit appearing to her whilst she was walking or carrying out her typical day. Sometimes, the spirit did not appear but instead began to chat to Ms. Wormwood, manifesting as a voice inside her head, and often blurting out long and detailed speeches as they had been attempting to reach their loved ones for so very long and they were worried they might not have another chance to have them heard! Because of the spontaneity of these occurrences, Ms. Wormwood would often keep a notebook or pieces of parchment at hand in case a spirit made contact and she would jot down any important information that must be passed on to the loved ones in question.
Theorists -- skeptics and believers alike -- have worked out a theory partially based on the accounts of these seers, others by those who have had near-death experiences, and even partly based on the very little information published by Unspeakables. The working theory is that there is an area of the afterlife -- or whatever you’d like to call it -- where the dead can communicate with the living. It is colloquially referred to as the crossroads. No one, not even those who have had near-death encounters, has been able to describe it with much accuracy, often substituting physical descriptions with vague feelings they had while in this place. However, these descriptions always have a common thread of calm inquisitiveness, and usually being received by someone, talking with them before they go back.
It is thought that the dead are able to “touch” this midway place and able to see the living. However, they are not able to reach out that tiny bit more and communicate with them except for in extraordinary circumstances… such as a near-death experience or, some would argue, if a properly clairvoyant person is available, focusing and ready to listen. An extraordinary theory, to be sure! Though, like the divinatory ability, is not likely to be ever concretely proven.
Time to Depart
For now, the time has come for your midterm assessment. You will find that you have two set assignments, a test which will address content from this year and an essay which addresses the content of this lesson. I warn you now, your O.W.L.s are fast approaching and they will test content from all years of Divination. It would be a good idea to revise all content covered so far over the coming weeks in preparation. I wish you luck!
1. At this point, I feel it is important to stress that among these alleged mediums and empaths, there were many verified seers (although, as is the norm, there were quite a few Muggle charlatans as well), and it is those I am speaking of in this lesson. The question is not whether they possessed the sight, but rather, if it is even possible to communicate with the dead at all.