As Ouija boards are brought out of the closet and people go in search of scares this Halloween, some might encounter an entity they wish they hadn’t. Zozo (alternately Zaza, Mama, Oz, Zo, Za, and Abacus) is a name people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe are encountering when they’re talking to spirit boards. Some believe this is a made-up entity, fueled by the instant access of the internet. But others are not so sure. So who—or what—is Zozo? Is it a ghost, trickster entity, deity, or demon? The history is fascinating—and conflicted.
The first mention of Zozo, now commonly referred to as the Ouija demon, occurred in an 1818 reference guide written by Jacques Colin de Plancy, a self-proclaimed occultist and author, in his Dictionairre Infernal.
Basically, the story goes like this: In 1816, a girl from a town called Teilly in the Picardy region of France found out she was pregnant. She immediately claimed that she was possessed by three “imps”—one named Mimi, one named Crapoulet, and the third Zozo. The girl would walk around the town on all fours, or on her hands, and generally acted as if she was possessed. A Jesuit from Spain performed an exorcism on the girl, which was described in the text:
Mimi went quietly; Zozo was more tenacious and broke a window of the church when he tried to escape through the roof. As for Crapoulet, he was pursued in vain, even with the blessed tool [I think this tool is a holy item such as an Aspergillum] he could not be removed, and eventually took a position in the genitals of the girl, only leaving at the Jesuit’s insistence.
Eventually, the town leaders put the pregnant girl in the hospital and the Jesuit was prohibited from doing more exorcisms and told that if he did, he’d be arrested as a fraud. That being said, keep in mind that this is the same France who, a few years later, would do its best to commit Bernadette Soubirous to an asylum after he began to see the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Nineteenth century France in the wake of the revolution and the ascendance of Napoleon, prided itself on its science and logic. What’s striking about that incident is that the manifestations the girl claimed line up with the characteristics of the Zozo entity appearing today.
With books, movies, and documentaries appearing about the Ouija demon, Zozo is gaining a foothold in the modern, non-superstitious world of today. And that foothold is growing.
Because of the prevalence of videos online that catalog encounters with the Ouija demon, the Zozo phenomenon is gaining awareness. A simple search turns up roughly 289,000 videos purporting to be encounters with Zozo—and that’s on YouTube alone. That’s nearly two times the number of videos from the same search conducted in 2015. Some of those encounters are violent. Some are, frankly, ludicrous. By taking a look at the historical, cultural, and linguistic roots of Zozo, we can begin to narrow down the background of the entity.
Linguistically, Zozo seems to originate in its modern sense from France or French-controlled areas. Aside from the Teilly incident in 1816, and the citation of the entity’s existence in both the 1818 and 1862 editions of the Dictonairre Infernal, the word ‘zozo’ has roots in patois—the language that African slaves created that blended their native tongues with French. In Haitian Creole, the word ‘zozo’ means bone, and is used as slang for the penis. In Louisiana French Creole, ‘zozo’ means blackbird or raven—a word which survived from the medieval Basque language of southern France/northern Spain. During the early twentieth century, French travel guides referred to Zozo as an alternate name for Pazuzu in Greece. In Zulu, the word ‘uzozo’ means a wound that never heals, and moved into modern slang when the small huts crafted of tin in the poor areas of African cities as ‘izozo’ or today’s ‘zozo huts’. In current French slang, ‘zozo’ means nitwit or dude.
Throughout these definitions, a linguistic profile of the entity appears—male, trickster, and sex. There are indications that the entity was known as far back at the 14th century in Europe, and perhaps farther still in Africa. What makes this fascinating is that the different areas of the world where the terms ‘zozo’ are so similar do not share root languages. Basque and French—and by extension the Haitian and Louisiana Creole patois—are romance languages, primarily derived from Latin with some Greek roots. But none of the romance languages are connected with African languages until France began to colonize Africa and the Caribbean—and the subsequent slavery they profited from. As a consequence, not only did the languages become mated in the Creole tongues still spoken today, but the religions and cultural elements as well. Masters compelled their slaves to adopt the Judeo-Christian beliefs of their society. But the Africans sought to keep the religion of their origins, and found a way to incorporate them into the repressive culture they were forced to serve—a subculture that rather quickly gained real power. From that combination, come the religions of voodoo, hoodoo, Santeria, and Palo Malombe—and in some measure, apparently, the Zozo entity as well.
Disturbingly, these words in vastly different languages encapsulate what the Ouija demon purports to be. The Zozo entity frequently presents itself as male, is known for malevolent mischief or trickery, and has been tied to numerous sexual assaults upon both men and women, but more often females. Blackbirds/crows or ravens have been associated with pagan beliefs for centuries—from Africa to the Inuit tribes of Alaska, to the Norse and Celtic religions. The modern incarnation of the entity, therefore, correlates with both the linguistic roots of the word and the cultures.
While there are known Zozo cases in America dating back to the 1950s, the most famous modern Zozo encounters begin in the 1980s. For paranormal researcher Darren Evans, his own Zozo odyssey began in 1982. After a contractor found a strange Ouija board buried in the crawlspace of a house his girlfriend’s family inhabited in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, Evans embarked on a 35-year search for answers to the Zozo question.
Interestingly, the Ouija board the worker had found was two sided—a familiar William Fuld board, standard issue for the 1930’s on one side, and on its flip side what Evans called the dark side. The dark side was painted black and featured a raven’s wings around the word Zozo, which appeared in the center where the word Ouija does on regular boards. Upon further examination of the spot where the board had been found, Evans discovered jars of dead, preserved blackbirds had been buried at each of the four corners of the Ouija board. Upon the jars was a white, chalky substance. In many ancient cultures, white chalk or lime was used to purify oneself before battle or as part of an important magical ritual—both in Europe and Africa, and both quite independent of each other.
This means the significance of the blackbirds increases not only because of the definition of Zozo but the dead ones buried around the board Darren Evans discovered, and its cultural implications. This led to an interesting line of inquiry.
“It sounds as though the birds are ‘guarding’ the board so something can’t come through it. I’ve never heard of what you speak of, but I would suspect someone called a being through the board and this was their way of trying to keep it from coming ‘through’, though that is a misunderstanding of spirits. Similarly if I block you on my phone, you can still come to my door or wait in an alley – just cutting you off from a means of communication does not remove you. Well, that spirit may have been contacted through the board but it was (and likely is) already there. I would say what’s going on in that location is someone drew the attention of something rather nasty and tried to rid themselves of it but were incapable of so doing.”
In multiple cultures, the blackbird or raven was a common familiar for witches or shamans and an alternate form for a shape-shifter. The raven also represents the soul of a dead person in ritual magic, and have ties to other famous hauntings over the past twenty years as well. While Zozo has its roots in ancient cultures and languages, it became empowered only after those societies were comingled in the colonization of the Caribbean and the Americas, as a brutal response to enslavement. That lines up with the 1816 possession, the 1906 travel guide to Greece, and the twentieth century incarnations of the Ouija demon after the invention of spirit boards in 1896 and the subsequent popularity of spiritualism in America and Europe. Logically, that seems to be the best fit.
And yet, there may be a darker interpretation. It’s entirely possible that “Zozo” is just a masquerade—a disguise, of sorts, to mask the intentions of an evil spirit. Noted demonologist John Zaffis has pointed out that demons must be compelled to reveal their true names, whereas Zozo announces his name (or alias) immediately upon connecting through a spirit board. The subsequent paranormal activity that occurs as the result of contacting Zozo, however, is a very real and pressing issue. Zaffis has worked on multiple cases involving the entity over the past few years, and all of them began with Ouija boards. As more people use spirit boards and knowledge of Zozo increases, more reports of contacting the entity swell the internet with videos and accounts—which lead to more still. This creates an endless loop of energy, and the entity feeds upon it.
As Zaffis said in a 2010 interview with Denise Jones of Haunted Radio: “When you recognize something, you’re fueling it. You’re giving it energy. And the law of attraction is when you’re opening yourself up you can draw something actually toward you.”
While that might explain the fate of those who intentionally seek out the entity using spirit boards, it doesn’t explain the frequency of Ouija users who run into Zozo without intending to. Although it’s possible that Zozo is an extension of a tulpa (being created by sheer mental discipline) like the Peter experiment (researchers invented a spirit and subsequently paranormal activity occurred) or the ideomotor effect (involuntary hand movements powering the planchette), it seems unlikely that either could be replicated so successfully by people completely separated by distance and ideology.
Regardless of its origins, the fact remains that Zozo is demanding attention and gaining notoriety on a weekly basis. Over thirty pages of videos show up in a Google search just for the month of October. A general analysis of the increase in encounters dating from the 1950s shows a definitive upsurge in cases from the mid-eighties on, and in the last two years contact has more than doubled judging from search engines, articles, documentaries, and film. As long as the entity continues to show up in Ouija sessions, on EVP, and in video evidence, the search for answers will continue. With LiveSciFi and Darren Evans combining their expertise in a three-day investigation of the house that began it all in 1982, perhaps more answers can be discovered
You can find out more about Zozo in Darren Evans and Rosemary Ellen Gurley’s book The Zozo Phenomenon, available on Amazon, and on the LiveSciFi.tv website and YouTube Channel. Tune in on October 21, 2016 at 10:00 PM EST for the joint investigation of the Zozo House. You can find more of Celina Summers’ paranormal articles on her website and blog.