Often called a spirit board or talking board, the Ouija board is a device used to communicate with the other side. It has a smooth surface and is usually marked with the letters of the alphabet, numerals 0-9, and the words “Yes”, “No”, and “Goodbye” though some variations also have the word “Hello” as well. Other than the board, the only other piece is the planchette, which is used a pointer to spell out words using the writings on the board.
The board is used by lightly touching the planchette and letting the spirits guide the planchette to spell out words and answer questions, often leading to terrifying results.
The boards range from beautifully handmade wooden specimens with hardwood and glass planchettes to boards to mass manufactured of printed cardboard with plastic planchettes.
Known as fuji (扶乩), this form of automatic writing has been used in China as long ago as 1100 C.E. This planchette writing was often used in rituals. Over the centuries various forms of planchette writing have been used in many cultures. In America especially the boards have gained popularity since the rise of mysticism around the time of the Civil War.
Commercialization as a Game
The board was first commercialized in 1890 by Elijah Bond and filing a patent on the design. Later in 1901, William Fuld, an employee of Bond took over the production of boards and changed the name of the board to the Ouija board, Ouija being a combination of the French and German words for “yes”.
Later in 1907, Elijah Bond tried to copyright the name Nirvana for his version of the board, adopting a swastika as the logo for his new business venture The Swastika Novelty Co. These boards are extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors.
Fuld rewrote the history of the game claiming that he was the inventor and sued many of his competitors over the name. Fuld passed away in 1927 at the beginning of a period of extreme popularity for the boards that would last until the company sold the rights to Parker Brothers in 1966. Ironically he died by falling off the roof of a factory that he was told to build while using one of his Ouija boards as told in this article.
It was around this time that Lee Industries produced cardboard Ouija boards, apparently without legal action from the Fuld estate. Ouija branded boards are currently produced by Hasbro who purchased rights in 1991.
Use of the Board
The board is used by one or more person sitting at the board with their hands in front of them, fingers barely touching the planchette that is resting on the board. Often times there is a ritual, spell, or prayer spoken to initiate the communication, with the participants asking questions in the hopes that spirits or other supernatural entities will answer by moving the planchette across the board to either “Yes” or “No” or to spell out words using the letters printed on the board.
Use of these boards walks a strange line between urban legends and new age mysticism, in fact, urban legends about the dangers of the Ouija board are almost infinite in number.
Here are a few anecdotal comments stripped from a website about True Ouija Board Stories
Many specifically detail the difficulty of disposing of a Ouija board that has become problematic, often telling of how a friend of a friend had one and burnt it to get rid of it only to find it back in house in it’s normal place at a later time, unburnt; or that you will be cursed and die a horrible death in a few hours.
Method of Action
From a scientific perspective, Ouija boards and many other talking boards work on the principle of ideomotor response. This means that slight subconscious muscle movements translate to the planchette through the touch of the operator(s), however light it is, guiding it along the surface of the board. The movements of the planchette creates a very real illusion of the planchette moving on its own. This illusion is multiplied when there are multiple operators touching the planchette and it becomes even more difficult to recognize the source of the planchette’s movement.