Stanley Krippner, Ph.D.
The term “ritual” can be conceptualized as a prescribed, stylized, step-by-step, goal-directed performance of a mythological theme. It is “prescribed” by such practitioners as shamans, religious functionaries, or family or community elders. It is “stylized” in a form that symbolizes deeper meaning to the participants. It is “mythological” in the sense that myths are imaginative narratives concerning vital, existential human concerns, narratives that have behavioral consequences. It is “goal-directed” in that its performance is expected to lead to practical, observable results (Krippner, 2000).
Rituals are found in a variety of settings including children’s games, life passages, institutionalized religious routines, obsessive-compulsive activities, and cultural practices. It is likely that ritualized behavior served an evolutionary function as part of a repertoire that detected and responded to external threats (Boyer & Lienard, in press).
Healing rituals are interventions founded on patterned interactions between clients and practitioners within the framework of a culturally shared belief system. Rituals maintain and improve the bond between them and provide both with a conceptual framework that provides a sense of direction, mastery and self-worth. As a result, rituals help clients overcome despair and combat demoralization (Frank & Frank, 1990). The emotional intensity of rituals awakens confidence, hope, and a healing expectation, and thereby builds the morale that is necessary for staying engaged in the sometimes painful process of healing, rehabilitation, or personal change (Achterberg, Dombrowe, & Krippner, in press).
The Ouija board was first introduced to the American public as a parlor game in 1890. A typical Ouija board has the letters of the alphabet inscribed on it, along with such words as “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” and “goodbye.” A pointer of some type is manipulated by those using the board; someone (including the person or persons holding the pointer) asks a question and, for one reason or another, the pointer generally moves, stopping at certain letters or messages. These selections often spell out the answer to the question asked; at other times, the letters will produce gibberish.
The Return of Marilyn Monroe
While working at Maimonides Center in Brooklyn, I once joined a group of friends for an Ouija board session; they had been trying to contact the “spirit” of Marilyn Monroe, but without apparent success. Shortly after I joined the group, the Ouija board seemed to be providing answers to our questions. For example, when asked “How did you die?” the board responded “beautiful.” The answer to the next question was “goodbye,” and I commented that, like a sensible actress, Miss Monroe knew when to make a graceful exit.
Whatever the source of the answers provided by the Ouija board, its proper use demands a ritualistic approach. The session that I attended had started with the burning of a candle, the joining of hands, and a plea to the “spirits” to take the group’s questions seriously. Following the departure of Marilyn Monroe’s alleged “spirit,” the group engaged in another ritual, thanking the “spirit” for her effort and holding hands again to complete the session. In my opinion, the use of ritual was an appropriate safeguard for those group members who were highly dissociative during much of the session.
The movement of the pointer often is attributed to invisible agencies such as “spirits,” but most psychologists have concluded that those using the pointer are consciously or unconsciously selecting those letters that are being “read.” When unconscious forces are at work, the user is often unaware of what is transpiring and may be engaged in “dissociation.” I would define dissociation as reported experiences and observed behaviors that seem to have been partitioned from conscious awareness, behavioral repertoires, and/or self identity. These partitioned experiences and behaviors can be unconsciously directed to divert or to block streams of information from conscious awareness.
The movement of the Ouija board’s pointer in the Marilyn Monroe session may have occurred while one or more members of the group was dissociating, allowing ideomotor effects to direct the pointer’s movements. The term “ideomotor effects” refers to involuntary, unconscious motor behavior performed under the influence of suggestion or expectancy (Hyman, 1977). Hence, the Ouija board ritual can hardly be considered anomalous, but information yielded by this ritual sometimes is not easily explainable.
The Ouija Board from Maine
The Ouija board had played a unique role in my life a few years before the Marilyn Monroe session. Even though I had complained of various symptoms, they had not been picked up by physicians during several annual physical examinations. Suddenly, I was hospitalized for internal bleeding in 1965. On the same day, Shirley Harrison, a “psychic sensitive" friend of mine from Maine, told her daughters she had to fly to New York City because "Dr. Krippner needs me." Harrison added, "He is seriously ill with bleeding ulcers and will be operated on before Monday evening." The operation for duodenal ulcers took place on Monday morning.
How did Ms. Harrison arrive at her diagnosis, a diagnosis that physicians had failed to detect despite my list of symptoms (abdominal pains, sudden weight loss, vomiting after meals, etc.)? Each night she consulted her Ouija board, asking her “spirit guides” to alert her regarding the well-being of her family and friends. When the Ouija board alerted her that someone was in danger, Ms. Harrison took immediate action. In this instance, she arrived in New York City, and spent the night praying for my welfare with a circle of my local friends.
However, my troubles were not over. The post-operative wound in my right side, left open to permit the drainage of waste fluids, did not close. Ms. Harrison visited me in the hospital, bringing her Ouija board along with her. It was a small-size version of the one I had seen earlier, but she did not want to alarm any hospital personnel who might enter my room at an inconvenient time. She was now so familiar with the process that she felt she did not need to employ a pointer. Her “spirit guides” communicated through the mini-board as she touched it, and her fingers rapidly moved around the letters and numbers as she verbally reported the message. I noticed that her words did not always match the letters that her fingers touched, and concluded that the Ouija board served as a “focusing device” for her, perhaps in the same way that I had observed a crystal ball or pendulum “focusing” the efforts of other “psychic sensitives.”
Ms. Harrison told me that four stitches needed to emerge from the wound in my side before it would heal properly. Nevertheless, she continued, this would occur within three days. She gave me no information as to how these stitches would emerge, but expressed her confidence that my ordeal was nearing its end.
Nothing else had worked, so I took Ms. Harrison at her word, using mental imagery to evoke images of what she had termed “the loose stitches.” On the second day of my attempts, two double-stitches emerged from the cavity, and on the following day the wound closed (Krippner & Welch, 1992, pp. 2-3). My surgeon was delighted and in a few days I was released from the hospital.
Diagnosis in a Dream
There was one more round of anomalous information involved with my surgery. My physician had told me to avoid aspirin, because I was now quite allergic to the substance. Several years later, I was living and working in California but returned to the East coast from time to time, and still had a part-time position at Maimonides.
On one occasion, I returned for a lecture in Philadelphia and another in New York City. While in Philadelphia, I visited a walk-in clinic because I had developed a head cold. I had become accustomed to the sunny California climate and was not used to the chilly winters of the East coast.
The physician at the clinic told me that I did not have a fever and told me to buy a particular type of gum that would keep the cold in check. The name of the gum was “Asper-Gum” and I did not have enough sense to read the list of contents. If I had done so, I would have discovered that aspirin was the chief active ingredient.
The Asper-Gum worked well, and I went to bed in New York City thinking that I would be in good shape for my lecture the following day. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a dream. In the dream, I was examining an X-ray of someone’s stomach. The physicians agreed that it portrayed someone with a newly-developed ulcer. I awoke, wrote down the dream, and went back to sleep.
The next morning, upon visiting the bathroom, I noticed blood in my stools. I called a taxicab and checked myself into Maimonides Medical Center as an emergency patient. The same surgeon who had operated on me years ago was on duty and immediately ordered an X-ray. Indeed, an ulcer had developed—a small one, but one that would prevent me from delivering my lecture later that day. I was told that the entire audience offered prayers in my behalf, and my aborted presentation was published in the proceedings; the topic of the conference was unconventional healing (Krippner, 1978).
I spent three days at Maimonides, and the ulcer healed rapidly. I promised my surgeon never to take aspirin again in any form. Before I left the hospital, he told me, “I rarely recall my dreams, and I have never had a dream about you. But the night before you showed up in the emergency room, I had a dream that you had returned to Maimonides.”
Reports such as this can not be considered evidential. I had conducted enough research at Maimonides and elsewhere on anomalous dreams to know the role played by coincidence, faulty memory, and actual prevarication (Ullman & Krippner, 2002). But, for whatever reason, my surgeon’s dream report coincided with my own dream, one that diagnosed the medical emergency.
My dream probably reflected my body’s knowledge of its own condition, and there is some evidence that dreams often contain medical information (Smith, 2000). But if my surgeon’s dream report was accurately reported, it was a remarkable coincidence, perhaps even an anomaly.
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Heinze (Ed.), The nature and function of rituals: Fire from heaven (pp. 191-212). Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
Smith, R.C. (1990). Traumatic dreams as an early warning of health problems. In S. Krippner (Ed.), Dreamtime and dreamwork: Decoding the language of the night (pp. 224-232). Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
Ullman, M., & Krippner, S., with Vaughan, A. (2002). Dream telepathy: Experiments in nocturnal extrasensory perception. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads.
The preparation of this paper was supported by the Chair for the Study of Consciousness, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, San Francisco, California. It was presented at a workshop on Personal Mythology, Harmony Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia, August 11, 2007.