Most people don’t think of séances and claiming to be a centuries-long deceased monk when they think of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, but they should. Spiritualism, a belief in ghosts and spirits and attempts to communicate with them, swept across the United States in the mid-1800s. Table tapping, séances, planchette boards (which Ouija boards are based on), and spirit writing were popular methods.
Bill Wilson, like his cultic mentor Frank Buchman, was an avid spiritualist. In the house he finagled AA into giving him, Stepping Stones, Bill held “spook sessions” in a parlor dedicated to the occult. The spook room was outfitted with Ouija boards, books on the occult, and draped fabrics reminiscent of a fortune teller’s caravan. It is still in place at the house, which is now a museum/religious site for the AA faithful.
The official AA history and biography PASS IT ON describes occult practices of AA founders and elders. This book was written by AA (World Service Organization) staff members based on autobiographical tapes recorded by Will and Lois Wilson in the months before and during his slow death by emphysema and pneumonia.
“One of Bill’s persistent fascinations and involvements was with psychic phenomena… This was not a mere pastime. It was a passion directly relatd to AA which went on for many years.”
Bill W. claimed to be naturally adept at channeling spirits. Another passage in PASS IT ON explains how that looked, largely in what sound like Bill’s words.
“The ouija boards got moving in earnest. What followed was the fairly usual experience — it was a strange mélange of Aristotle, St. Francis, diverse archangels with odd names, deceased friends — some in purgatory and others doing nicely, thank you! There were malign and mischievous ones of all description, telling of vices beyond my ken, even as former alcoholics. Then, the seemingly virtuous would elbow them out with messages of comfort, information, advice — and sometimes just sheer nonsense.”
Once while visiting friends in Nantucket he claimed to have channeled the spirits of three dead locals during his morning prayers. Over the course of the day he just so happened to lead his hosts to a commemorative plaque and historical ledger with all three names on them. He presented this as proof of his ability to commune with the dead (rather than his ability to visit a few local sites and jot down some names to impress people with the next morning.)
Whether one believes in spiritualism, ghsts, and communion with them or not, this has all the markings of a faked psychic hoax. At the very least we must consider the possibility Bill W. was deluded, that famous philosophers and saints and archangels werw not speaking to him. Which then begs the question, can we be certain the “conscious contact” he sought with God was any more genuine?