Ouija Board History

Karen Frazier
Example of Ouija board; copyright Atomazul at Dreamstime.com

The Ouija board has a storied history spanning over a century to the spiritualism movement. Ouija board history added a popular footnote to the mainstream during the spiritualist movement in the mid-1800s America.

Learning From Ouija Board History

For more than a century, interest in the Ouija board has ranged from devoted communication with the spirits to a novelty game item at slumber parties. The roots of the modern Ouija board are found in the Spiritualism movement that grabbed hold of the U.S. consciousness in the mid-nineteenth century. Spiritualism supported a monotheistic belief in God, but it also included the belief that spirits of the dead were accessible through channels such as trained mediums.

Original Ouija Boards

The first Ouija board was advertised in newspapers 1891 as "The Wonderful Talking Board." However, as early as 1886, the Associated Press reported about a simple talking board one could use to attract spirits. This led a group of entrepreneurs to create a company called the Kennard Novelty Company, which created a nameless talking board made simply with letters, numbers, and yes and no.

Naming Ouija

The Ouija Board name has a few different origin stories. The first is that it is a combination of the French and German words for yes, oui and ja. And while this makes a certain type of sense, another origin story suggests one of the Kennard Novelty Company's investors, Elijah Bond, was playing with the board with his sister-in-law, Helen Peters, and a few others. hey asked the board what it wanted to be called. The board spelled out "O-U-I-J-A," thus effectively naming itself. The board also "told' the group the meaning of Ouija was "good luck."

Choice of Mediums

In the late 1800s, the Ouija board became the tool of choice for many mediums. Manufacturers went out of their way to produce multiple versions of the basic Ouija board, which included a flat surface detailed with letters and numbers as well as spots for yes and no replies. The board was used during séances conducted by mediums. Everyone would place their fingers on the planchette. This is the device that glides across the surface of the board to the particular letters, numbers, or yes and no replies that would make up the spirit's response. This planchette and board set up became the standard for the Ouija board that still remains so popular today.

William Fuld Takes Over

In 1892, William Fuld entered into the mythos surrounding the Ouija board. As owner and president of the Kennard Novelty Company, he renamed his company the Ouija Novelty Company. He declared through his enthusiastic marketing that the Ouija was constructed from Egyptian wood because of the country's fascination with the far and near east.

Into the Modern Era

Following Fuld's death, the Ouija Board Novelty Company was sold to Parker Brothers. Over time, the Ouija board featured in the channeling of multiple spirits, some quite well-known. It has also featured in pop culture and urban legends, including a having a prominent role in the movies The Exorcist and Paranormal Activity, among many others. Today, Hasbro manufactures several versions of the Ouija board, which remains a fun game or a spooky portal to Hell, depending on who you talk to.

How to Use a Ouija Board

If you want to use a Ouija board, you need two or more people to sit opposite each other at a table. The board should face the person who is asking the questions. In response, the heart-shaped planchette should glide smoothly over the board. When you are ready to ask your question, everyone places their fingers on the planchette and lets the answer flow through them to the planchette.

Ask simple questions. The letters can be used to spell out the name or initials of who is communicating, and the yes and no spaces can answer basic questions. Despite the popularity of the Ouija board, it is often associated with controversy as a gateway to another plane of existence and demon possession.

Ouija Board Superstitions

Ouija board history and superstitions go hand in hand. People who worry about the safety of the Ouija board fear using one can expose the soul to malevolent spirits. This fear has spawned a set of precautions to take when using the board, although some people think these precautions are merely superstitious. They include the following:

  • Place a silver coin on the board to block spirits at the gateway.
  • Never use the board in a cemetery.
  • Never use a the board where an unnatural death has taken place.
  • Never use it when you are physically, mentally or emotionally ill.
  • Never play alone.
  • Never let the planchette fall.
  • Do not let the planchette roam the alphabet in direct order.
  • Making a figure eight several times indicates an evil spirit.
  • If you contact an evil spirit turn the board over.

While opinions continue to vary, users of the Ouija board (for fun or for serious spiritual exploration) try to follow these "rules" just in case. Theorists speculate that micro-muscle movements from the subconscious to the hand are what cause the planchette to move, while true believers remain steadfast in their faith of spiritual guidance.

Today's Ouija Boards

Does nineteenth century spiritualism have a place in a twenty-first century world? Apparently it does because Ouija board history continues to be made. From pop culture references to urban legends to fictional support, the Ouija board continues to play an important role in modern perceptions.

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Ouija Board History