Although the term Ouija board and its most common form found today is a relatively modern invention, the concept is a very ancient one. The Ouija board is simply an instrument used in automatic writing – an idea in which unseen forces and spirits use a human channel to produce their written work. The earliest known evidence of automatic writing practices are found in Chinese documents dating from 1100 AD but similar ancient historical data also exists for India, Greece, Rome and other parts of Europe. But is the ouija board a real thing?
What is a Ouija board and how is it used?
Most typically, the Ouija board is a flat board marked with all the letters of the alphabet and the numbers from 0 – 9. It usually has a ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ marked out somewhere on its surface and may have other symbols depicted. The other part of the Ouija board is a separate movable indicator known as a planchette which sits on the board. Many people make their own make-shift Ouija boards using whatever is to hand – letters written out on paper or an upturned glass as a planchette for example.
There is no limit on the number of participants who can take part but the minimum is most usually two persons. Each sits around the Ouija board and places their fingers on the planchette. Some-one is assigned the task of asking questions of any spirits present and the answers, when they are received, are spelled out by the planchette moving towards letter sequences.
The emergence of the Ouija board
The story of the introduction of the Ouija board as we know it today, and quite who is responsible, is as shrouded in doubt and mystery as the board itself, it would appear. Some sources name Elijah Bond – the man whose name appears on the 1891 patent – as the inventor while others give credit elsewhere.
According to historians Brandon Hodge and Robert Murch, Elijah Bond was just one of the 5 investors in the Kennard Novelty Company along with Charles Kennard, Colonel Washington Bowie and two others. None of these people are thought to have had any spiritualist interests – they were simply business men looking to cash in on the age’s fascination with all things related to the spirit world.
Other sources suggest William Fuld was the inventor but Hodge and Murch tell us he was just a protégé of Bowie’s who bought the company in 1919.
What we do know for certain is that the term ‘Ouija board’ came into existence through this company and they were the first to manufacture them commercially after obtaining a successful patent in 1891. The rest is, and probably always will be, open to debate.
Parlour game to … something else
Somewhere between 1891 and the present day, the common perception of Ouija boards went from harmless parlour game to almost complete demonisation for the average person in the street. Quite how or when this happened is not truly understood but there seem to have been many factors at play and the theories regarding this are diverse and varied. One often bandied about theory is that the 1973 horror film ‘The Exorcist’ played a significant part in implanting the idea that a Ouija board and demonic possession went hand-in-hand – the 12 year old ‘heroine’ of this tale became possessed after playing with a Ouija board. This wouldn’t be the first time that just one film had the power to open floodgates and alter people’s thinking en-masse – ‘Psycho’ did it for showers and ‘Jaws’ did it for sharks – so of course it is possible.
Mainstream religious groups, most notably certain Christian church factions, have openly spoken of their beliefs that the Ouija board is the work of the devil and have done so almost since the beginning of the Ouija board’s history which will, no doubt, have added fuel to the fire.
The popular press have also kept the link between Ouija boards and the sinister alive with occasional stories of murder trials in which the defendant claims his actions were due to messages received through Ouija board sessions such as this story printed by ‘The Daily Mail’ in 2012 . There was even a much publicised case of a murder retrial in 1994 – ordered after it emerged that the original jury members had attempted to contact one of the victims through a Ouija board, as reported by the BBC and ‘The Independent‘ among others.
Many of the horror stories related by individuals in connection with Ouija boards often seem to have 2 common denominators – there is a group of young people who suddenly decide to try it for fun; there is often alcohol involved. Perhaps this has some bearing……..maybe not.
What do the psychics say?
In the main, it would appear that respected psychics and mediums are neither fans nor advocates of the Ouija board and advise against casual use. Although the Ouija board itself has no evil properties, the communications it sets up with the spirit world can be psychologically harmful. According to Dale Kaczmarek of the ‘Ghost Research Society‘, the Ouija board in unskilled hands tends to establish links with spirits dwelling on the lower astral planes and includes the confused and lost. The energies which are uppermost here may include the most violent and negative and the Ouija allows them a gateway into this realm.
What does Science say?
Perhaps surprisingly there has been significant scientific research conducted with regard to Ouija boards and some of the findings make for interesting reading. The overall consensus among those in the science fields is that all automatic writing resulting from Ouija board practice is due to something known as the idometer effect – muscle movements which take place without conscious will.
Although the subject is far too complex to go into any depth here, you can read more on this on jstor.
Is there such a thing as “safe use” ?
Do not watch at night!
There are, along with the many negative stories, accounts of good things resulting from the Ouija board’s spirit messages. Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Merrill, attributes much of his epic and critically acclaimed 1982 published poem, ‘The Changing Light at Sandover’, to occult messages received through Ouija board séances. There are also those who claim the Ouija board is a legitimate divining tool for discovering insights through the spirit world.
Those who advocate the use of Ouija boards tell us that there are certain rules to be followed to ensure safe use. These include the Ouija board prayers and a long list of good practice advice. These rules can be seen in full at www.museumoftalkingboards.com and www.theouijablog.wordpress.com
What can be said in conclusion?
Is the ouija board real?
It would appear the jury is still out on the question of the Ouija board’s value as a psychic tool and whether the results are obtained through involuntary muscular actions, supernatural forces or maybe even something else entirely. If contacting the spirit world is something which appeals to you it might be better to play it safe and put yourself in the hands of a reputable psychic medium. However, the choice is of course yours.
Picture originally by Morgan Davis – Thanks!