Ouija Board: Toy or Tool?

 

This topic is presented for entertainment purposes. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the topic.

It’s Freaky Friday again. Do I hear spooky music in the background? I hope so because we’re talking about the Ouija board today.

The Ouija board (AKA the talking board) as we know it has been commercially manufactured since the late 1800s. The concept of using a talking board to communicate with the spirit world, though, is ancient.

    • Centuries before the birth of Confucius (551? – 479 B.C.), similar devices were commonplace in China as a means of communication with the spirit world.
    • In Greece, Pythagoras (550 B.C.) is said to have used a special talking table on wheels.  When hands were placed upon the table, it would move toward different symbols.  These movements were supposedly revelations from the spirit world.
    • As early as the third century A.D., Romans used similar tools to predict who would replace the reigning emperor. Needless to say, the person named was executed for treason.
    • Ouija-esque gadgets were used by Mongols in thirteenth century Tartary.
    • Long before the arrival of Columbus, early Native Americans used an apparatus called a squdilatc board to communicate with spirits.  This board also transmitted instructions on when and how to perform religious rituals.

In 1853, a French spiritualist named M. Planchette invented a utensil similar to the one that now comes with the “toy” Ouija board. It had a heart shaped platform raised on three legs, one of which was a pencil. When the planchette moved, it was supposed to write coherent messages.

Victorian Planchette

In 1854 England, Adolphus Theodore Wagner filed the the first known patent for a talking board.  The description read, “Psychograph, or apparatus for indicating persons thoughts by the agent of nervous electricity.”  Notice the description does not mention spiritualism or the supernatural.

An 1880s New York Times article documented the widespread use of homemade talking boards.  It seemed there was a market for this device, spiritual or no.  Several businessmen teamed together to create a commercial talking board.

In 1890, The Kennard Novelty Company was formed.  The first patent on an Ouija or talking board was granted in 1891 to Elijah Bond, and the word Ouija was patented by the Kennard Company that same year.

Early Kennard Novelty Company Talking Board

In 1892, a big shake-up occurred among the founders of the Kennard Novelty Company. William Fuld–who is considered the father of the Ouija board–was put in a supervisory position.  The company became the Ouija Novelty Company.

I’m going to stop there on the history of the American manufacture of the Ouija board.  It’s long, complex, and convoluted.  If you’re interested in learning more, visit the William Fuld website.  For a lark, check out this page which lists other Ouija trademarked items.  Ouija oil anybody?

The Oriole Talking Board was created by William Fuld’s brother Isaac

The origin of the name Ouija is associated with some debate.  Though impossible to confirm, one legend says the board’s original inventors received a message from the spirit world revealing the true name of the board–Ouija.

According to the spirit, Ouija was an ancient Egyptian word for Good Luck.  Modern Egyptian language scholars say this word never existed in any Egyptian language.

Another–more widely believed–explanation states that Ouija is simply the combination of the French and German words for “yes.”

 

In 1966, Parker Brothers purchased the right to manufacture and sell Ouija Boards.  The board is sold as a game.  The most recent version glows in the dark.  I also found a Buffy the Vampire Slayer version.

Glow in the Dark Ouija Board

But is it just a toy?  Historically, Ouija board sales have risen during turbulent times.  The boards were in great demand in the thirties, forties, and sixties.  This idea has been around since ancient times.  Perhaps is some truth to it.  Some people certainly believe.

Beginning in 1912, a woman named Pearl Curran began communicating with a spirit she would later call Patience Worth.  Patience Worth would tell Pearl she lived during the 1600s in England.

Together, Curran and Worth authored several novels including Telka, The Sorry Tale,  and Hope Trueblood, some short stories, and many books of poetry.

Pearl Curran claimed a spirit helped her write novels

In the 1960s, Jane Roberts became an established authority in the world of paranoramal phenomena when she authored the Seth Material.  Jane met Seth through an Ouija board in 1963.  She claimed Seth took control of her body and spoke through her.  The Seth Materials were the result of their partnership.

In movies, the Ouija board always leads to bad stuff.

Tawny Kitaen in Witchboard

The Exorcist (1973) began when a little girl conjured up an entity calling itself Captain Howdy.  In Witchboard (1985) the very sexy Tawny Kitaen becomes ensnared by an evil spirt she meets while using an Ouija board.

Watch the trailer:

The famed Ouija board bathroom séance in What Lies Beneath (2000) led Michelle Pfieffer to a truth she didn’t want to know.  The use of an Ouija board in Paranormal Activity (2007) gave the entity unimaginable power.

My limited experience with an Ouija board has been pretty benign. All I got was random letters. I always wondered if my friend was making it happen.

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