The origins of the Ouija board

Throughout history man has been obsessed with his mortality, fascinated by what lies beyond this life. The ouija board is probably the most famous tool used to communicate with the dead, and it seems to have been around for centuries. Records in China dating back to 1,200 BC state that ouija instruments were frequently used in written communications with the dead, while 13th-century Mongols were said to use a table and “noises at once” with the same purpose. In 540 BC, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras and his sect held frequent sessions or circles in which “a mystical table, moving on wheels, moved towards the signs.” Pythagoras and his student supposedly interpreted the board’s actions to the audience, describing them as revelations from the unseen world. The results were compiled into an “apocrypha” (meaning “those that had been hidden, a book of uncertain authorship.

The current Ouija board was designed in Baltimore in 1892 by Elija J Bond and William Fuld, when the boards became popular for use in “parlour games”. It is a refined version of one invented in 1853 by the French spiritualist Monsieur Planchette. The previous board was a large piece of paper with a two-wheeled heart-shaped wedge that had a pencil attached to one end. Today’s board is inscribed with numbers and letters, and the wedge is now called a “planchette.”

The layout of the ouija board varies slightly from country to country. The original and most popular design places “yes” at the top of the circle and “no” at the bottom. The letters are placed in a circle starting with the letter A next to the word yes and continuing until the letter Z ends on the other side of the word “yes”. The ten numbers from one to zero are placed at the bottom next to “no”. The ouija board usually requires a minimum of two people to operate it. It is very rare that a person has the power to operate the board.

Ouija boards have become an iconic part of culture and have appeared in several books and movies. Their roles vary from being a benign object to an evil entity. A more peculiar role of talking boards in literature comes from the fact that authors use the board to channel written works of the deceased:

~ Pearl Curren held public séances and claimed that her Ouija board allowed her to communicate with the spirit of Patience Worth, which led Curren to publish a number of poems and prose.

~ Sylvia Plath’s poem “Dialogue over a Ouija Board” incorporates the text of one of the sessions she had with her husband using a Ouija Board.

~ Emily Hutchings claimed in 1917 that she had communicated with Mark Twain, who dictated a book she wrote through the Ouija board. Twain’s descendants stopped publication of the book through the courts, which was later said to be so poorly written that it could not have been written by Twain, dead or alive.

~ James Merrill used messages he claimed to have obtained from various deceased people while using a ouija board in his poem “The Changing Light at Sandover.”

~ John Fuller worked with a spirit medium while researching his book “The Ghost of Flight 401,” which was about a flight that crashed in the Everglades en route to Miami. They claim that they contacted the flight engineer through the board and the information obtained was not known to him or the medium.

~ Writer GK Chesterton used a ouija board to try to break through a period of skepticism and depression. His experiments with the object launched his interest in the occult.

~ Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, used a Ouija board to contact spirits. His wife claimed that she would receive messages directly without using the board. For a time, his involvement in AA was deeply affected by his involvement with the ouija board. Wilson claimed that he received the twelve step method directly from a spirit without the board and wrote it down.

Although ouija boards are considered harmless toys by many people, they are a force for evil, opening a door for demons and other malevolent entities to enter our world and wreak havoc or even destroy a person. The very thought of the potential power of a ouija board is believed to have a very negative effect on a fragile mind. And that thought alone should be enough to warn us of its power, benevolent or not.