Ouija Boards


Public domain, 1892 first board

Ouija Boards

~ By Thomas Baurley / Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Research 9/7/2017.

By far one of my most favorite occult tools would be the Ouija Board, made famous throughout history by none other than the game manufacturer “Parker Brothers”. But how old is the Ouija Board? is it just a board game? does it work? Is it demonic? Those are just a handful of questions people have over the instrument made to communicate with the dead. So controversial even Pagans and Witches have mixed reactions with it, from outright scared avoidance to obsessive usage.

In print, the Ouija board was first referenced in February 1891 C.E. in newspaper advertisements promoting the “Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board” as a new and popular toy that answered questions of “the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy.” It guaranteed that it would have “never-failing amusement and recreation for all classes”. It was promoted as having a link “between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial”. It originally sold for $1.50 a board and planchette. It was officially authenticated and patented by the U.S. Patent Office. In order to be approved by the Patent Office on February 10, 1891, it had to be “proven” to work, and it was, so permitted to proceed. Some Psychologists suggest that it may offer a link between the known and unknown. It has been rationalized as operating under the ideometer effect – that automatic muscular movements take place without the conscious will or volition of the individual. This has become the explanation for the successes of other devices as well such as pendulums, dowsing rods, and the more commonly popular fake bomb detection kits.


Public domain, 1892 first board

The Ouija board consists of a flat board with the letters of the alphabet sprawled upon it in either a circle or crescent, arch or straight text, but most commonly as two semi-circles above the numbers of 0 through 9. It also has the words “yes” and “no” on it, most commonly in the uppermost corners, sometimes with the word “goodbye” most commonly placed at the bottom of the board. It commonly comes with a tear-drop shaped device called a “planchette” either of wood or plastic, but has also involved downturned cups, glasses, or circular pieces of translucent glass. Some of the planchettes have a small window or clear/translucent piece or glass embedded in it that manuevers over numbers or letters.

The board is often placed on a table, or the knees of two people facing one another, with each person placing their finger tips on the planchette. One of the users would ask the board (actually the spirit(s) being communicated with) a question and the planchette in response would move from letter to letter, number to number, and spell out the response.

Boards today are usually cardboard, with a laminate printout of the design, but in earlier days was wood, stone, or more durable materials. I used to make them from tree trunk slices and a circular pattern of letters and numbers in a Celtic-styled design. The planchette today is primarily plastic, though earlier and more elaborate boards still use glass or wood.

Historian Robert Murch claims that he’s been researching it since 1992 and most of its history is obscure, unknown, and mysterious. It has been proposed that its only as old at 19th century American spiritualism when it became “cliche” and “trendy” to communicate with the dead. While Spiritualism is pretty old in Europe, it didn’t really popularize in the Americas until 1848 when the Fox sisters claimed to receive messages from spirits by rapping on walls answering questions and conducting seances/ channelings in parlors utilizing pieces of paper or cardboard on a table with a upturned wineglass or by means of automatic writing. Back in the day, it was popular to communicate with the dead especially to assist in the passing process of the deceased.

The first producers of the Ouija Board game was the Kennard Novelty Company who sold it to the mainstream audience as a toy. It was promoted by the Associated Press in 1886 as a board with letters, numbers, and a planchette as a phenomena being used in spiritualist camps throughout Ohio. The investor Charles Kennard of Baltimore in 1890 rounded up investors such as attorney Elijah Bond, surveyor Col. Washington Bowie and himself to create the Kennard Novelty Company to exclusively make these bards for profit, rather than spiritualism. It was called the “Kennard Talking Board”. The name “Ouija” was created by Elijah’s sister-in-law Helen Peters. (It was not the combination of the French word “oui” for “yes” and German “ja”.) Apparently the board itself gave the name “Ouija” when asked what it should be called, and came with the meaning of “Good Luck”. Apparently Peters had been wearing a locket during the reading that had a picture of the famous author and women’s right activist “Ouida” but had “Ouija” (misread) above her head in the picture. Peters apparently was also present to demonstrate to the Patent Office that the board actually worked. The chief patent officer asked the board to spell out his name (unknown to those in attendance) and it did. There was no explanation by the Patent Office how it actually worked, just that it did.

By 1892 the Kennard company expanded from one factory in Baltimore to two, then two more in New York, two more in Chicago, and one in London. By 1893 the Company was managed by William Fuld. Fuld died in 1927 from a freak fall off the roof of his new factory that the board told him to build.

The board became extremely popular in the 1910-20’s after World War I, Prohibition, and Norman Rockwells illustration of it on the May 1920 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It came in great demand during the Great Depression as well. By 1944 a single department store sold 50,000 boards in just 5 months of carrying them. In 1966 Parker Brothers bought the game, and by 1967 sold over 2 million boards. Macabre and eerie stories about its use became widespread by then and started to give the board a bad name. Fundamentalist Christianity attacked it claiming it to be the tool of the Devil. This just increased sales and never harmed its distribution.

By 1973, “The Exorcist” hit the theaters and began scaring people from the implication that the 12 year old Regan was possessed by the devil after playing with the board by herself, leading to people’s fear that one should never use it alone. From this point the board was feared and became a target for banning. By 1991 Hasbro took over manufacturing and selling the board acquiring it from Parker Brothers. It became commonplace in Hollywood horror films and as early as 2001 in New Mexico was burned on bonfires alongside Harry Potter and Snow White books. Catholic.com calls it even today “far from harmless” and Pat Robertson claims demons reach people through the boards. Infantile and newbie Pagans, Wiccans, and Heathens also think its a dark tool. Experienced and well versed Pagans, Witches, and Druids however utilize it as a very valuable tool, comparable to a cell phone with service to the dead.

Today it has a reborn popularity and sales have once again increased. It was made popular again from its use in “Castle”, “Breaking Bad”, “Rizzoli and Isles”, Paranormal Activity 1&2. It became iconic fashion for the Goth music industry and imprinted on bras, underwear, and shirts by Hot Topic. There are apps on i-phones, programs on the computer as well as the internet to use the game online. (see http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/WebOuija.html) By 2015 there were glow-in-the-dark versions made by Hasbros.

In May of 2012, City Officials in San Francisco consulted a ouija board to determine the outcome of a vote on whether or not to recommend naming a Navy ship after slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Officials claim they made contact with his spirit and that Milk spelled on the board “Good riddance to don’t ask, don’t tell”. (Harvey Milk was shot in 1978 by Dan White)

Bibliography/References:


  • McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez 2013 “The STrange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board” Smithsonian.com. Website referenced 9/6/17 at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/?utm_source=onesignal.
  • Wikipedia n.d. “Ouija”. Website referenced 9/7/17 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouija.

  • Yahoo News: 2012-05-23 “City Officials Consults Ouija Board Before Vote”. Website referenced June 2012. http://news.yahoo.com/city-official-consults-ouija-board-vote-130857601.html.

Want to follow the travels of Sir Thomas Leaf? Click Here!
Share