Halloween is coming up, and while the Internet is full of helpful advice on how to throw a hens night/baby shower/engagement party, there is a dearth of information on how to throw a bangin’ séance. As the certified "spooky" one among my friends (I’ve been wearing all-black outfits since the age of six and I told my year five teacher I wanted to be Morticia Addams when I grew up) I am well qualified for this task.
Séances first gained widespread popularity during the Victorian era, when inviting a medium to your party was considered the perfect way to spice up the evening. Originally, the Ouija board was considered a harmless parlor game for spelling out silly words, and it wasn’t until the spiritualist movement of the 1890s latched onto it as the perfect way to holla at the dead that it gained the occult status it carries to this day.
Pro Tip: A belief in ghosts and the supernatural is not actually necessary for throwing a séance. Plenty of enthusiasm and a few glasses of wine will do just as well.
First things first, you’re going to need a spirit board. You can buy one online, like this super fun Parker Brothers glow in the dark Ouija board I scored on Amazon for a mere $19.60 plus shipping, or you can DIY your own. For the DIY route, just cut out some scrap paper, write a different letter on the alphabet on each piece, and arrange them in a circle. An upside down wineglass will make a decent planchette in a pinch.
Other equipment: candles (the drippier the better), a bundle of dried sage (try your local organic store or new age hippie boutique), and copious amounts of black eyeliner.
The best place to hold your séance is on the floor in a dark, quiet room. If someone in your party has a bad back and can’t deal with that, you can use a table, but you need to institute a no-elbows-on-table policy or it will negatively impact the movement of your planchette.
Lighting is key to creating the perfect atmosphere. Pitch darkness is no good, since you won’t be able to see the spirit’s answers, but you basically want to get it as dark as you can without anyone tripping over the rug on the way to get more wine. Try turning off all overhead lights and placing some lamps around the room with sheer scarves thrown over them, and then whip out up every single candle you have. Even the scented ones. ESPECIALLY the scented ones. Not only will these set the mood, but everyone will look gorgeous under all that flickering candlelight.
If you really want to go all out with the decor, fill the room with vases of wilted roses and mark a Pentagram on the floor with washi tape to mark the spot where you will be placing your board. Seriously, what can’t you do with washi tape?
As for catering, keep the eating portions of the evening isolated to before and after the séance itself. Nothing breaks the mood faster than listening to someone try to discreetly crunch Doritos in an otherwise silent room. When it is time for food, however, I suggest this sassy witch cake from the 1980 Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book. I had it for my 7th birthday and I can guarantee it is a crowd pleaser.
Now that you’ve sorted out the mood and the food, it’s time to get down to some occult shenanigans. It’s important to keep in mind that you are not just playing the role of hostess, you are also a medium. The job of a medium is a lot like being captain of a party boat: you need to keep things flowing smoothly, make sure everyone is having a good time, but also don’t be afraid to lay down the law if necessary. Have everyone sit in a circle around the board and place one finger lightly (LIGHTLY!) on the planchette.
Rule number one: You are the only person that gets to ask the spirits questions. People can suggest questions to you, but nobody else can talk to them. It just doesn’t work well if everyone is shouting stuff out all the time, plus this means you can steer the evening in the right direction -- remember, you’re aiming for spine-tingling thrills, not utter terror. Use your powers for good -- I once legitimately convinced my office accounts lady via a séance that there was a body buried under her shed, and I still feel a tiny bit bad about it.
Before you even start the questions though, you have to get everyone in the mood. The goal of the exercise is not to get the "spirits" to move the planchette, it is to allow the spirits to work through the people at the board. Have everyone close their eyes and do some deep, slow, breathing -- you want to get them into a relaxed, calm, suggestible state.
A good question to start with is "Is there anyone there?" Don’t be put off if nothing happens at first -- just keep trying different questions, and stop for more deep breathing if you feel like the mood isn’t right. If anyone is misbehaving and giggling too much or obviously pushing the planchette around, shut that shit right down. In the immortal words of Tyra Banks, “You’re not bossy, you’re a boss.”
Once you get an answer, keep the questions flowing. It’s a good idea to pick one person to be in charge of reading the letters out loud as they are picked. Don’t just limit yourself to asking questions about the spirit -- Ouija boards are mega fun for fortune telling! Ask it whether you should take that new job or whether your friend Emily needs to stop texting that jerk she met on Tinder last week.
When you’re ready to wind up, make sure to say a firm goodbye to any spirits you’ve been chatting to, and whip out your bundle of dried sage. After disabling all nearby fire alarms and checking to make sure no one has asthma, blaze that puppy up and wave the smoke around the four corners of the room. Some mystic Latin chanting wouldn’t go amiss here, if you have it in your repertoire. Sage has a nice, aromatic, dank smell that I really like, and it’s excellent for cleansing away demonic residue.
Here are some final guidelines to keep in mind when planning your séance:
- Don’t force anyone who doesn’t want to participate, or nag them about their reasons. Respecting people’s beliefs is cool, yo.
- Topics to avoid: Dead relatives, dead babies, religion, politics. A poorly managed séance can get awkward fast.
- Never, ever, ever invite the spirit to possess the creepy porcelain doll you conveniently have lying around. IT IS NOT GOING TO END WELL.