One of the most classic items that appears in horror movies and tv shows is the ouija board. A flat board with letters, numbers, and the words “hello”, “goodbye”, “yes”, and “no”, written on it, it’s designed for two or more people to use it. The game is played with a plastic planchette, a triangular piece that everyone playing puts one hand on. The participants then try to establish a connection with the spirit world and ask questions through the board. The planchette will move along the letters, spelling out a word. There are many people who believe that Ouija boards can work as portals, allowing demons and evil spirits to enter our world. These spirits can wreak havoc and even possess people. Yet other people believe that the entire phenomenon can be explained through science. I’ll cover both opinions in the post, so you can make your own decision.
The first record of devices similar to Ouija boards being used comes from Ancient China. Known as fuji or planchette writing, it was a form of spirit writing. During fuji, two people hold a stylus while one of them is possessed by a god or spirit. The person who’s possessed then moves the stylist over a sand table to create Chinese characters that were then written down and interpreted. This form of talking with spirits first became popular during the Song Dynasty and flourished so much during the Ming Dynasty that the Jiajing Emperor had a fuji altar built in the Forbidden City. While the practice was outlawed in the Qing Dynasty, at Daoist temples it is still practiced today.
In the 1840s, the English speaking world became obsessed with ghosts and the world beyond. Beginning in upstate New York, it was originally centered around the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and Franz Mesmer (1734-1815). Both authors talked about communicating with the spirit world; Swedenborg discussed communicating with spirits while he was awake, while Mesmer used hypnosis. The movement focused on talking to ghosts and spirits on the other side, and in 1886 an Ohio newspaper reported on the frequent use of talking boards in spiritualist camps.
The first modern Ouija board was introduced by Elijah Bond in 1890 and was normally considered a parlor game. It wasn’t until Pearl Curran, an American Spiritualist, started using it that the board became associated as a divination tool. In 1901, William Fuld took over the production of these talking boards and this was the first time they were called Ouija boards. Charles Kennard, who helped produce the boards, said that the name Ouija had come when he asked the board what it called itself. According to Kennard, the board said that Ouija was Ancient Egyptian for “good luck”, a story that Fuld spread once he started producing them. In reality, the name comes froms from the French word “oui” and the German word “ja”, both meaning “yes”. So, quite literally, the name of the board is “yes yes”.
Fuld would eventually perpetuate the idea that he was the one who created the Ouija board and ended up suing many other companies over similar games. These boards had their hey day from the 1920s to the 1960s. When Fuld died, his estate sold the business to the Parker Brothers in 1966 who would then sell it to Hasbro in 1991. Hasbro still has the rights over the Ouija board production, though including the Oujia board, there are about ten different talking board types being sold under different names.
Harmless Kids Game?
There are many people out there that believe in the Ouija board’s power. They believe that it can open a gateway and call forth demons and ghosts that will wreak havoc on the living world. Yet others believe that the board is simply a game, mass produced by Hasbro. Experts from both sides of the argument have come forward to try and explain the phenome. I’ve added the scientific explanation below so you can make up your own mind about the Ouija board.
On the scientific side of things, the easiest explanation of the board’s power is that someone playing is moving the planchette. While this is sometimes the case, many people who play claim that they are not moving the planchette at all. Science also has an explanation for this as well, ideomotor response. This is when one person is moving the planchette without actually realizing it. Rather than ghosts, it’s just someone’s motor skills acting without their knowledge.
So the decision is left up to you, reader. Are Ouija boards harmless kid toys, demonic gateways, or something in between? The world (and the mods) remains split over whether or not Ouija boards are truly dangerous.