The Truth About the Ouija Board
Ouija (pronounced wee-juh or wee-jee) refers to the belief that one can receive messages during a séance by the use of a Ouija board (also called a talking board or spirit board) and planchette. The fingers of the participants are lightly placed on the planchette which then moves about a board covered with numbers, letters and symbols so as to spell out messages.
Ouija is a trademark for a talking board currently sold by Parker Brothers. It is also the term most often used generically to refer to any talking board.
The use of talking boards began with Spiritualism movement that started in The United States in the mid-19th century. Methods of divination at that time used various ways to spell out messages, including swinging a pendulum over a plate that had letters around the edge or using an entire table to indicate letters drawn on the floor. Often used was a small wooden tablet supported on casters. This tablet, called a planchette, was affixed with a pencil that would write out messages in a fashion similar to automatic writing. These methods may actually predate modern Spiritualism.
During the late 1800s planchettes were widely sold as a novelty. In 1890 businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard had the idea to patent a planchette sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed, and thus had invented the first Ouija board. An employee of Kennard, William Fuld took over the talking board production and in 1901, he started production of his own boards under the name "Ouija".
The Fuld name would become synonymous with the Ouija board, as Fuld claimed that he himself invented it. Many other boards from Fuld's competitors were also sold and all these boards enjoyed success from the 1920s through the 1960s. Fuld sued many companies over the "Ouija" name until his death in 1927. In 1966, Fuld's estate sold the entire business to Parker Brothers, who now holds all trademarks and patents.
How is it done?
A Ouija board is operated by one or more users. They place the planchette on the board and then rest their fingers lightly on the planchette. The planchette reportedly moves around the board spelling out words directed by the entity (or entities) summoned by its use. Eventually the planchette will come to rest on one letter after another, spelling out a message. Often an additional participant records the messages on paper. As with automatic writing, the messages are often vague and open to interpretation, or complete gibberish.
Some talking boards have words or phrases written on them to simplify the interpretation of the messages. Some boards have Tarot, zodiac, and other esoteric symbols, along with dramatic and mystical artwork.These boards are much more rare than the board now produced by the Parker Brothers.
The concept of using a Ouija Board is that it is a way of communicating with spirits. There are different opinions as to the value of this mode of spirit communication. Some contend that they are in control of their own actions, but that the talking board allows communication with their inner psychic voice or subconscious.
Some proponents of Ouija boards claim the activity is harmless fun. Others believe that they are communicating with spiritual entities but there is no harm in doing so provided that basic guidelines are followed. These rules often vary from user to user, but usually include things like never playing alone, beginning and ending a séance "properly", and always using the board in a "comfortable" environment. Numerous superstitions surround Ouija board use.
- Never play alone
- Never ask about God
- Never ask when you are going to die
- The first Ouija boards were made from the wood of coffins
- A ouija board will scream if burned
Few people who have investigated Ouija boards from a skeptical viewpoint accept that a piece of cardboard sold as a game can conjure spirits, evil or benevolent. The accepted theory among psychologists and skeptics is that the participants are subconsciously making small, involuntary, physical movements using a well-known, and well-understood, phenomenon called the Ideomotor effect. Experiments consistently suggest that, at best, the messages are received involuntarily from the participants themselves, and, at worst, by a manipulative player, possibly with the connivance of confederates within the group present.
In some instances, users of Ouija boards have communicated with "spirits" of people who were not dead, as demonstrated by the British mentalist Derren Brown in his 2004 television special Derren Brown: Séance. Skeptic and magician James Randi, in his book An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, points out that when blindfolded, Ouija board operators are unable to produce intelligible messages. Magicians Penn & Teller performed a similar demonstration in an episode of their television show "Bullshit!"
Ouija is the brand name of one type of talking board patented in 1891. Charles Kennard's company was the first to market it. Kennard said the board directed him to use the name "Ouija," which he incorrectly claimed was Egyptian for "good luck." In 1901, a former company employee named William Fuld conducted a takeover and replaced Kennard as president. Fuld convinced the public that he was Ouija's original inventor. In addition to operating the novelty company, Fuld also worked as a customs inspector and served in the Baltimore General Assembly. He credited his success to reading the Ouija board.
Fuld's death in 1927 occurred under curious circumstances. While supervising the installation of a flagpole on the roof of his building, Fuld fell for no apparent reason. He caught himself briefly on a window, but the window slammed shut and Fuld continued to fall. Though he had suffered only broken bones and a concussion, a fatal injury was delivered during transportation when a broken rib pierced Fuld's heart.
The Ouija board was marketed as a novelty and often played by children. The board pictured here belonged to the offspring of Clarence Pennock, Wichita. The children's names are inscribed on the back. The 1902 design was the first produced after Fuld's takeover of the Ouija company. Fuld's descendents eventually sold the rights to Parker Brothers in 1966.
One of the Pennock siblings donated the original Ouija board to the Kansas Historical Society in 1955. It is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.
My experiences with the ouija board have been many. The strangest was in the early 1970s at a friend's apartment. My friend had been complaining that unexplained events occurred in her apartment... kitchen cabinet doors opening on their own, strange noises in the middle of the night, etc. So, six of her friends, including myself, decided to use a Ouija Board to try to communicate with the spirit who shared her apartment. Because I have had some success with using the board and am a sensitive, my friend and I were the first to try the board. We put our fingers on the placette and began asking questions. The placette didn't move... not only didn't it move, but it felt to both of us as if someone/something was actually preventing the placette from moving. Instead of spelling out a message we discovered that it wouldn't move at all... even when we both attempted to move it on purpose. WE COULD NOT MOVE THE PLACETTE even when we both made our best efforts to push it. This was more evidence that we communicated with a spirit then it would have been if the placette had moved all over the board spelling out a message. However, I do believe that the movement of the placette does have a lot to do with the mind set of the people who have their hands on it.
On another occasion, I used an Ouija board at a Halloween Party. I warned the homeowner, who insisted that I direct the festivities concerning the board, that some times the use of the board could bring in unwanted spirits to a home where it is being used. She laughed and persisted, so I brought my board to the party. When we tried using the board nothing much happened. After several people attempted to communicate with any spirits that might have been a the party, we stopped and began to play cards. After the party when everyone left two very strange events occurred at my friend's home. The first was that night a heavy clock dropped from the wall it had been hanging on for several weeks. When my friend's sister found the broken clock she noticed that the nail that had held the clock to the wall was still in the wall. A few minutes later in the kitchen, as my friend was cleaning up from the party, she saw a bowl slide across her counter of its own accord while she watched it.
Two weeks later my friend was outside watering her garden. She heard a crash in her living room. She put down her hose and went back into her house to find a clock that had been hanging on her wall for years in the MIDDLE of her living room floor. Once again the nail that had been holding the clock on the wall was still securely in the wall... and the clock was at least 5 feet from the wall it had been hanging on. Now the question is, was the warning I gave my friend before the party based on my experience, or was my warning based on a premonition that the use of the board might start some mysterious things happening in my friend's home? Who knows?
The best course of action when using a Ouija board would be not to take it too seriously. If the information that is obtained while using a Ouija Board can be confirmed, than it's possible that a spirit had a hand in it's movements. In most cases, however, the information most often cannot be corroborated. If you are entertained by its use, then you had a fun evening and no harm was done. I do not use an Ouija board to communicate with spirits when doing a paranormal investigation because in most cases the results cannot be authenticated.
MARK TWAIN AND THE OUIJA BOARD LAWSUIT
Did Mark Twain dictate a book via the ouija board seven years after his death?
Emily Grant Hutchings, along with spiritualist Lola Hays, claimed to have communicated with the spirit of Mark Twain by using the ouiji board in the composition of an "after death" manuscript titled JAP HERRON. Hutchings, like Sam Clemens, was a native of Hannibal, Missouri. Emily attended the public schools in Hannibal. She eventually moved to St. Louis where she worked as a feature writer on the St. Louis Republic and contributed to such magazines as Cosmopolitan and Atlantic Monthly. She married Charles Edwin Hutchings in 1897. Emily actually knew Mark Twain and corresponded with him in 1902 after he visited St. Louis advising her on her writing.
JAP HERRON was published during a time when the ouija board communications of "Patience Worth" via St. Louis writer Pearl Curran, a friend of Hutchings, was also capturing national attention. Prior to the book's release, the Literary Digest of October 14, 1916 reprinted the rumor which has circulated in the Newark Star-Eagle:
Nearly everybody in St. Louis is monkeying with "weejie-boards" and talking to dead novelists!
The call for the little heart-shaped things on wheels, known as Ouija-boards by the elect, has sent prices shooting skyward, and shipments of them are coming to St. Louis from all over the country.
Mark Twain is the latest author said to speak to those on earth by this unearthly means, and it is whispered there is discord among those spooks who are seeking possession of the mental pipe-lines to the mystic pointers. (Literary Digest, October 14, 1916, p. 960.)
Hutchings's JAP HERRON was published in the fall of 1917 by renowned book dealer Mitchell Kennerley and contained a portrait of Mark Twain drawn by artist John Cecil Clay. The introduction to the book was written by Emily Grant Hutchings describing how she and Lola Hays began receiving messages from Twain in 1915 using the Ouija board.
On September 9, 1917The New York Times published a less than flattering review of JAP HERRON. Shortly thereafter, Twain's surviving daughter Clara Clemens and Harper and Brothers publishers, who for seventeen years had owned the sole rights to Mark Twain's works, went to court to halt the publication. The case never went to trial, however. Mitchell Kennerley and Hutchings agreed to halt the distribution of the book. Hutchings and Kennerley agreed to quietly withdraw the book from publication and most of the copies were destroyed.