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The Origins of Ouija

Updated on July 11, 2008

Recreational Game or Divination Tool?

Mystery, superstition, and even outright fear have surrounded the legendary Ouija board since it first came onto the market in 1890. Spiritualists have hailed it and religious groups have shunned it. Serious occult followers have used it fervently while groups of gigglig girls have dabbled with it during sleepovers.

Everyone has heard of the Ouija board, but few know its true origins or the history behind it and similar divination devices.

Some say the concept of the Ouija goes back thousands of centuries, while others claim it is simply an evil creation of Satan.

Here, we'll take a look at where the Ouija board comes from, a little bit of its history, and go about shedding some light on a few of the myths and fears surrounding the elusive board.

The History of Divination

The word "divination" comes from the Latin divinare, which means "to be inspired by a god".

The concept of "divining" information using tools, omens, or spirits has been around since the beginning of time. Early man often looked to the stars and patterns in nature for clues as to the future, and countless early tribes and cultures had specific individuals - shamans, witch doctors, oracles, soothsayers, wise women, etc. - who performed the art and magic of prophecy for their people.

With the onset of mainstream Christianity during the Age of Exploration - from the early 15th century to the late 17th century - divination, now deemed a damnable sin, was swept underground. When practiced at all, it was done in private or secrecy.The interest in divination, in the form of the Ouija board and other, similar tools, was reborn in the morbidly curious Victorian era after Spiritualism took hold and gained immense popularity.

Though often a parlor game or done for frightening fun, the Victorians - whose lives were often in constant contact with death - were intrigued by the idea of being able to contact the dead, or perhaps reconnect with lost loved ones.

The maker of the Ouija board picked up on this "new craze", and the famous and "mysterious" oracle board was born.

The History of the Ouija Board

The Spiritualism religion was all the rage in the United States between the 1840s and 1920s. The premise behind the faith was the belief in a spirit world - one loosely connected to our own - that all of us go to after death. Spiritualists believed in the ability to contact the spirits of the dead and receive information, even hints as to the future, by using divination.

Spiritualists often engaged the help of a medium to make contact or attempted to divine the information from the spirits themselves. It was into this interesting time, in May of1890, when three men filed a patent for the then well-known "planchette" and "talking board".

Up until this time, most people made their own Ouija-board-like devices; trial and error had led to the development of the letter board and planchette we know today. It is doubtful any of the men - Elijah J. Bond, Charles W. Kennard, and William H. A. Maupin - actually invented any of the items or concepts of the Ouija board; they were, however, the first to patent them.

Kennard named their new novelty "Ouija", claiming the board had told him this was the Egyptian word for "luck" (it isn't).

When William Fuld took over Kennard's company in 1892, he reinvented the history of the board. He claimed he had come up with the name "ouija", which was a combination of the French and German words for "yes" - "oui" and "ja" respectively.

In 1966, Fuld's family sold the popular board and all rights to Parker Brothers.

So Does It Really Work?

Though the game was thought by the superstitious and morbidly-curious people of the Victorian-era to be able to contact spirits, such claims have never, of course, been proven. The game is mostly played by young children at slumber parties and is rarely used by authentic fortune-tellers or mediums.

Whether the board can actually contact the spirit world is up for speculation, and self-exploration. Most people still view the Ouija Board as no more than an interesting parlor game. Others are positive of its being a doorway to the other side, while others firmly believe the board is evil and the work of Satan.

It's really something that's up to the individual - after trying the board for themselves - to decide.

In the end, though, not truly knowing is part of Ouija's allure.


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    • profile image

      joc 7 years ago

      ouija has been around for much longer than you think, ours was hand made over 400 years ago.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 9 years ago from London UK

      Very interesting article!!

      I have heard soo many true stories about the ouija board and from what Ive heard i don't want to see one, touch one, or talk about it!!......Oops too late:(


    • skatoolaki profile image

      skatoolaki 9 years ago from Louisiana

      Thank you all for the compliments & comments. I think all of us have freaky Ouija stories from our past!

      We played with one at a slumber party, and really scary things happened - things that to this day the old woman whose house we did it at remembers the messages we got and how they related to a young girl she knew of who died close by (drowned in the bayou).

      The best part of the story, though, was when I told my hairdresser about the incidient, and she *freaked out*. She was a very devout Christian, and she called up the girl who had the slumber party (where the Ouija board - which was mine - was at) and told her to *destroy it* immediately but NOT TO TOUCH IT!

      When I got home I called my friend and asked her not to destroy it; it was my mother's from her childhood bought in the 60s. I told her I would come and get it - she brought it out on her porch (in the box, mind you) and left it there for me, holding it with a towel so the box wouldn't actually touch her skin.

      I still chuckle about that today.

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 9 years ago from USA

      I had a very scary freaky story about the Ouija board as well!!  oooo   you think everyone has these experiences with this thing?  Sally  I will tell you that story...should be share stories if we dare???

      It gives me the jeebers even thinking of it and you have one in your closet   eeeeek

      LOL  wonder what would happen if it was burned...anyone ever burned one?? and lived to tell the tale??

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 9 years ago from California

      Another fascinating Hub. The board has absolutely freaked me out, from the day I discovered it, at a neighborhood girls slumber party. My parents were just as freaked out when I informed them of this "cool thing that could tell you the future." Immediately "banned from the board" I have never even had a curiosity to explore since that day. Interesting history behind the board, but I simply don't have a desire to dabble!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I have a Ouija board up in my closet, and I haven't taken it off the shelf for years. I think I will soon, but not until I have someone safe to use it with. In the past, the board has truly freaked me out, and I don't need any freak outs these days.

      Thanks for a very cool hub with a lot of good history.