Do you know what a planchette is? If yes, you might know it best as the little pointer device used with Ouija boards, but it turns out that planchettes have a longer history than that. Instead of just appearing in conjunction with alphabet boards, planchettes used to include a little pencil, which spirits then used to "write out" their ghostly messages at whatever the 19th century equivalent of a slumber party was. It's one of the devices included in the short documentary "Ghosts and Gadgets: Communicating With The Spirits," which looks at how spiritualists have used devices through the years to communicate with the dead.
The doc, by filmmaker Ronni Thomas for the Morbid Anatomy Museum, talks to Brandon Hodge of The Mysterious Planchette, which looks at the props used by the spiritualist movement that hit its peak in the Victorian era (and counted notable Victorian intellectuals like Arthur Conan Doyle among its fans). The documentary is less than eight minutes long, and makes a spooky addition to your lunch break (or to your pre-Halloween activities — there's more than one way to pre-game). Covering 19th century seances through the Spiritoscopes of Doctor Robert Hare, the documentary makes a case that these devices aren't just silly or spooky' they're also an important part of history. Take a look:
Of course, as far as we know you can't really talk to the dead. (Sorry, I know that is decidedly not what we want to hear at this time of the year). And the devices are just borne of their time — planchettes, after all, came to popularity in the time of telegraphs and telephones, two inventions that must have seemed equally extraordinary and mysterious to people of the day. But Hodge argues that even without any ghosts moving planchettes around, they're still impressive and powerful. "Even if you attribute it to ideomotor response," Hodge says in the video, "and it is unconscious muscular action, it's pulling information out of your subconscious and translating it onto this novelty board that glows in the dark with a plastic planchette in these modern times, it's still amazing that the human brain is capable of autonomously and cooperatively producing these messages."
"When you've experienced that and see how powerful that is even as a skeptic," Hodge says. "It's quite easy to see how much more powerful that is to a believer." So make sure, if you hold a seance this Halloween, that you get a believer in there.