Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Mysterious Ouija Board

Since it's debut on the market in 1891, the ouija board has captured the public's imagination. It was based on various talking boards being used in the 1890s by spiritualists. The movement had been around since the 1840s and was gaining popularity in America and England. They wanted a more efficient device to connect with the dead, so started using various alphabetic boards to try to get more precise answers. In 1890 Charles Kennard, and some other investors invented the device which was a board with letters, numbers and yes, no and goodbye written on it as well as a teardrop shaped planchette. They actually took it to the patent office to get a patent and to prove it worked. The story is that the skeptical patent officer was spooked when the device spelled out his first name, not known to the inventor. After that The Kennard Novelty Company received their patent.

First marketed as an mysterious and entertaining device, it was sold in novelty shops along side games, just as it is today. It did not have the reputation it does now, as many people saw it as either harmless fun or as a tool for spiritualism, which was seen as compatible with mainstream Christianity. It was not unusual to attend a seance one night and a bible meeting the next. As such, the ouija board was not seen as cause for alarm.

Contrary to popular belief the name is not a combination of the French oui and German ja, but rather the result of Kennard and friends asking the device what it should be called. During a session they were told that was the name and that it was an ancient word for good luck.

The Ouija board has peaked in popularity during times of war and uncertainty. During the first and second World Wars and during the depression, it was very popular. And during the Veitnam war it became so popular, that in 1967 it out sold Monopoly. It was seen as a very normal, if slightly odd, past time. Norman Rockwell even painted a picture of people playing Ouija in May of 1920. so why all the fuss today?

The mostly harmless reputation of the Ouija board changed in 1973 when the movie The Exorcist came out. In it, a young girl plays with a ouija board alone and is possessed by a demon. The terrifying movie was enough to instil in some people's minds that the game was not harmless. Almost overnight, people were decrying it as a tool of the devil and horror writers had a hay day playing on people's fears. It has taken on a new and sinister reputation over the last 40 years.

These days its popularity is back. You can find it on mint tins, t shirts and phone cases (my cell phone case is a ouija board). But it's sinister reputation is as strong as ever. I watched a Ghost Adventures episode last week where it was claimed a demon could come out of a board and haunt people. There is also the new horror flick "Ouija" out in theatres for Halloween.

This is my Spirit Board which is not a ouija board but another kind of talking board. I use it on Samhain/Halloween night and have recieved excellent results. I also find it doesn't frighten people as it is a very positive looking board without the negative association now attached to Ouija.

So what is your take on it? Harmless fun, or tool for demonic possession?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. I adore all the different art on ouija boards but haven't used one. I believe in ghosts so the idea is scary to me. while some people say it couldn't work as it is just a game, I think calling up spirits of the dead could have unforeseen consequences and should never just be a game.

  2. I understand the irony of commenting on this with a username like mine.
    Anyway, this was a really intriguing post, especially since there is a lot of myth around the Ouija board, especially around the internet. I kind of like the different designs of them, though. ;)