Ouija Board n : is an instrument which allegedly can be used to contact or channel spirits of the deceased. A modern day ouija board is usually a wooden or cardboard device, inscribed with the alphabet, the words 'yes', 'no', 'hello', 'goodbye' and the numbers 0 to 9. There is usually a slideable piece of apparatus on rotating castors or wheels with a pointer. The operators of the board lightly place their fingers on the slideable device and wait for it to move. When the pointer comes into contact with, or moves over one of the letters, numbers or words printed on the board, a record of this is kept and later used to see if an intelligible message can be obtained.
A simplified version of the board can easily be produced in the home, by tearing up and arranging the numbers, words and letters of the alphabet in a circle. The letters form the outer circle and the numbers and words are arranged within. The sliding pointer of the ouija board is replaced by an upturned glass or tumbler upon which the operators place their fingers, and it is this that acts as the message indicator.
The theory behind the practice of using the board, and the placing of fingers on a glass or slidable message indicator, is to facilitate communication with the spirits of the dead. Once fingers are lightly placed upon the apparatus of choice, a question is asked out loud and the spirits are said to reply when the tumbler or 'planchette' (slideable apparatus), appears to move of its own free will. It is sometimes thought that the spirits are invoked or channeled and work through the fingers of the operator(s) by moving the planchette towards letters, words or numbers. From these letters and numbers it is hoped that intelligent messages will build up to answer any given questions put to the board. Many ouija board users claim that often information is imparted that no one present could possibly have known. Such claims over the years has helped to add to the whole aura of danger and mystery which still surrounds the ouija board today.
The ouija board has undergone a variety of developmental stages since early reports of its existence which date as far back as 540 BC in the days of Pythagoras. Indeed the board has assumed a number of guises and names, but undoubtedly the birth of the modern day ouija board began as a response to the growing fascianation with spiritualism popularised by the Fox sisters in the 1840's.
The whole idea of contacting spirits of the deceased, by the standards of the 1800's was by no means unusual or an unheard of phenomenon. The old and new testaments have many reports of discarnate entities communicating in a variety of ways. Jesus himself was said to have appeared no less that eleven times after his death. The virgin Mary too has reportedly appeared all over the world throughout the last 2000 years.
Other famous episodes of spirit communication include the alleged correspondence between the 16th century astrologer Dr John Dee. He apparently spoke with the deceased on a regular basis with the aid of his medium and friend Edward Kelly. Indeed throughout the ages and across a wide variety of cultures, ghosts, spirits and discarnate entities are said to remain ever present and ready to impart wisdom to those seeking that type of information.
Spiritualism was not unheard of, nor was it uncommon throughout time, however it did not gain its noteworthiness as a serious religion until an unusual turn of events at Hydesville near Rochester in New York in the 1800's. It was here that the Fox sisters first embarked upon a deliberate spirit communication on March 31st 1848. The spirit communications began when Catherine (Kate) Fox aged 12 and Margaretta (Maggie) Fox aged 14, moved into Hydesville near Rochester, New York State with their family and parents John and Margaret Fox. Their house was reputedly haunted and it was only 3 months into their occupancy around the middle of March, that the family were increasingly disturbed by banging and rapping that shook the house.
Eventually on March 31st 1848, Kate Fox 'challenged' the ghost and asked it to repeat 'the snaps of her fingers'. The ghost obliged, duly stopping when Kate did. Maggie continued with the communication asking the ghost to copy her counting as she clapped her hands. Again the ghost obliged. Mrs. Fox even managed to get the ghost to rap out the successive ages of all of her children, including the age of a younger child who had since died. The credibility of the whole story was increased when a sceptical neighbour called William Duesler was able to ascertain from the raps that the spirit was that of a murdered peddler called Charles B Rosa. Apparently he had been murdered five years earlier for $500 and his body and his tin box buried in the cellar. In 1904, after the collapse of the cellar wall, a skeleton, believed to be that of the peddler was unearthed together with his tin box. This turn of events added considerable weight to the affair. Even after the Fox children were moved out, their spirit communications both followed and intensified. However this was offset by the children's increased ability to control the activity. Tables were said to move, causing a rapping with their legs, unseen fingers played musical instruments and objects allegedly moved around the room. The Fox sisters with their public demonstrations of physical mediumship opened the door to a wave of spiritualist writings and demonstrations. The way had been paved for;
"ordinary people who had not understood or developed their innate spiritual and mediumistic abilities, to find a place - and for some women, a new career - in a religion that promised eternal life in a comprehensible form."
Of course it soon become patently clear that in order to converse with spirits, then suitable equipment was required. Isaac Post a family friend recalled that the girls' brother David Fox;
"had used an alphabet system to communicate with the Hydesville ghost"
It was this same alphabet system that was possibly one of the earliest fore runners to the ouija board. By using this alphabet system, the spirits allegedly told David Fox:
"Dear friends, you must proclaim this truth to the world, this is the dawning of a new era; you must not try to conceal it any longer. When you do your duty God will protect you and good spirits will watch over you."
eventually the pressures of "sustaining their gifts", alcoholism and a denial by Maggie of her original talents, led to the whole affair being denounced as a hoax. However the time was just right and on 14 November 1849 the first small group of Spiritualists gathered in the Corinthian Hall in Rochester.
By 1852, Spiritualism had arrived in England, brought by the Boston medium Mrs. Hayden, who 'shockingly' charged for her sťances. By 1855 'Spiritualism had more than two million followers' worldwide. Soon 'home circles' became popular with small groups running their own little sťances. However, possibly the two main events which helped to drive the popularity of the movement were the American Civil War and the First World War. These two dramatic historical events and their subsequent carnage on a scale never witnessed before; drove some desperate families towards Spiritualism and the 'home circles'. In an age of poor communications it was an attempt to tap into the great unknown, for news of their serving loved ones, both living and dead. It has even been alleged that Queen Victoria and Albert experimented at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, where they saw a table move on its own. Rumours also abound that Queen Victoria's 'ghillie' John Brown exerted a hold on Victoria because of his mediumistic abilities.
The consequence of all of this was that suddenly a large gap had appeared in the market for a device which could help with spirit communication. Between 1890 and 1950 numerous manufacturers whose names included: Kennard, Fuld, Haskerlite and Lee, stepped forward to fill it. As a result the original, noisy rapping or table tilting methods employed by the Fox Sisters gave way to a small basket with a pencil attached. The medium placed his or her hand on the basket and writing was said to be produced. Unfortunately these methods were either quite slow, unintelligible or noisy and this then gave rise to a heart shaped device. This device was named the 'planchette' or in English 'little plank'. There are some rumours that suggest the apparatus was the invention of a medium called Mme Planchette, but this has not been substantiated.
The planchette was a heart shaped moveable board suspended upon two castors, with a pencil at the tip of the heart. Again as a device for spirit communication it was by far not ideal. It was very time consuming and, in their boredom, sitters would look to alternative methods of communication. These methods often involved dispensing with apparatus entirely. Sitters would instead go into a trance or use a pencil to generate automatic writing. Many others began to fashion their own quite unique and elaborate devices called 'dial plates' or 'psychographs'.
However according to the online resource 'The Museum of Talking Boards', a new type of board hit the headlines in 1886, when details about it emerged in a 'Sunday supplement of the New York Tribune'. The newspaper article dated march 28th 1886 and titled "The New Planchette", heralded the arrival of a new "Talking Board". The article also contained a description of the apparatus, namely; a rectangular board of about '18 x 20 inches', containing 'yes and no', 'good evening' and 'good night' and the letters of the alphabet. On top of this stood a little table 3 or 4 inches high on four legs. Participants would rest their fingers upon this little table and duly ask questions. According to an extract from the newspaper report the little table was:
"to be grasped with the thumb and forefinger at each corner next to you. Then the question is asked 'Are there any communications?' Pretty soon you think the other person is pushing the table. He thinks you are doing the same. But the table moves around to 'yes' or 'no'. Then you go on asking questions, and the answers are spelled out by the legs of the table resting on the letters one after the other. Sometimes the table will cover two letters one after the other. Sometimes the table will cover two letters with its feet, and then you hang on and ask that the table will be moved from the wrong letter which is done. Some remarkable conversations have been carried on until men have become in a measure superstitious about it."
The 'New Planchette' appeared to require no formal training or psychic ability to operate it, this certainly helped increase its universal appeal. According to an article from the online resource 'The Museum of Talking Boards', the first patent for a similar device to the 'New Planchette' was filed on '28 May 1890 and granted on 10 February 1891.' The inventors were listed as: 'Elijah J Bond', with 'Charles W Kennard and William H A Maupin' as assignees, all from Baltimore in Maryland. The article goes on to credit these persons as the 'first to market the boards as a novelty.'
The new device was named Ouija, by Charles Kennard and not by William Fuld as appears to be commonly thought. However there is some speculation as to the name's origins. Some believe that Kennard was told on using the board that Ouija was the Egyptian name for good luck. Apparently it is not, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this is how the name originated. Possibly one of the most likely ways the board came by its name was from the Moroccan City spelled Ouida, Oujda or Oudjda. Soon Charles Kennard and 'The Kennard Novelty Company' began producing the 'first ever commercial line of Ouija or Egyptian Luck Boards'.
After ten years of trading as the 'Ouija Novelty Company', William Fuld, often remembered as the 'father' of the Ouija Board became a senior employee. Charles Kennard had long since departed, lasting only fourteen months into the original venture. He continued to work in the toy industry and although he went on to patent other versions of the board, it is normally William Fuld's name that is synonymous with the Ouija Board.
He earned his inextricable link to the board as a result of a successful business venture, which he commenced with his business partner and brother Isaac in 1901. Although record numbers of Ouija boards were manufactured and sold, Isaac was sacked for 'accounting misconduct', which caused a great family rift. Isaac continued from his workshop at home to make Ouija-like reproductions, which he named 'Oriole Talking Boards'. However it was William who became the master of the market, helped along by a series of highly successful public relations stunts. These included his re-invention of the Ouija Board's history. Not only did he take credit for its invention, he went on to suggest that the name Ouija was a combination of the French word for yes 'oui' and the German word for yes 'ja'. After running his company through its ups and downs for twenty five years, he fell to his death in 1927 from 'the roof of his Harford Street factory in Baltimore'. He was supervising the replacement of a flagpole.
His children continued on in the family tradition and continued to market a variety of boards including the Art Deco 'Electrifying Mystifying Oracle'. Eventually the children retired and sold the business to the Parker Brothers (now part of Hasbro), who continue to hold all of the patents and trademarks. It is still possible to acquire variations of the original Ouija Board. Indeed Parker Brothers (now part of Hasbro), only as late as early 1999 ceased the production of Fuld's Classic Ouija Board. It has been replaced by a smaller less detailed 'glow in the dark version' and is still available today.
So what might the future hold for the Ouija Board? It would appear that even in the fast pace of the twenty first century the board has managed to keep up. It now has a computerised counterpart! David Kelly from the Department of Mathematics at New Hampshire University was looking for 'a natural application of the CGI image map' and felt that a virtual ouija board fitted the bill. He was curious to see how difficult it would be to program. The result was a computerised version or 'virtual ouija board'. It consists of a screen image that has the required words, numbers and letters of the alphabet printed on it, and the electronic mouse pointer acts as the message indicator. To operate the board, the user moves the mouse and when the electronic pointer comes to rest over one of the letters, numbers etc. that character is clicked and the same character is reproduced at the top of the screen. This makes it easy to record and keep track of the chosen letters and decipher any messages. David Kelly notes his surprise at the popularity of the board. unfortunately he had to change the name of his original concept from the 'World Wide Web Ouija' to the 'World Wide Web Talking Board', because as he states in his own words:
"The previous name, the World Wide Web Ouija, made use of a trademark, ouija, which is owned by Hasbro Inc. Their lawyers did not like the use of the word and asked me to change the name of these pages."
Whether or not it is advisable to purchase or fashion a version of the Ouija Board in order to try it is a matter of great debate. The Ouija Board has its history firmly rooted among the popularisation of spirit communications and conversations with the dead. As a result, it could hardly fail to become shrouded in mystery and superstition. Some of the more popular myths and superstitions surrounding the board include:
1). Never play the board alone.
2). Should the planchette move to the four corners of the board then an evil spirit has been invoked.
3). Should the planchette fall from the board a spirit will get loose.
4). A Ouija Board will scream on attempts to burn it, and if it is heard the unfortunate listener will have a mere thirty six hours to live.
5). Never ask about the following: potential death dates (when might I die?), God or buried gold and treasure.
These are to name only a few. However even though the board has quite a formidable reputation as a tool to be avoided, it would appear that two distinct camps have arisen over the years. There are those who vehemently oppose and warn against the use of the Ouija Board and those that are arch sceptics. The latter, or more sceptical tend to cite a variety of wholly interesting but very down to earth phenomena to explain away the seemingly inexplicable movements of the planchette. The former and more superstitious camp tend to use words like, demon, possession, evil spirits etc. Some even go as far as to quote passages from the bible. Regardless of opinion, passions about this subject tend to run exceptionally high.
During the 1930's an American researcher called J B Rhine took the whole area of psychical research into the laboratory. On doing this he managed to ascertain the existence of psychic ability, but this served only to widen the growing split between Spiritualism and the scientific study of psychic phenomena. This meant that for the sceptics the spirits were beginning to lose their grip. Demons, evil spirits and communication from beyond the grave, were now being replaced by terms like Ideomotor Effect or action, automatism theory, autosuggestion, facilitated communication, self delusion, telekinesis and telepathy.
The ideomotor action was a phrase coined by William Carpenter in 1882 and it was an umbrella term for a variety of 'involuntary or unconscious motor behaviour' which he used to explain away a wide variety of paranormal phenomena. This included the seemingly involuntary movements of dowsing rods, pendulums, pointers on ouija boards and tilting tables. Carpenter believed that muscular movement could in fact be initiated by the mind, independently of 'volition or emotions'. In other words a person may in fact be moving something, but even though it is them doing it, they are not actually consciously aware of the fact, thus giving rise to a feeling of paranormality. Automatism theory, autosuggestion, facilitated communication and self delusion are all variations of this theme, i.e. the individual is responsible for board movements, but for whatever reason is not aware of the fact. Telepathy and telekinesis have also been cited as possible candidates to help explain the ouija board, but conclusive proof of their existence also remains debatable.
Despite the apparently mundane psychological explanations for the workings of the ouija board, a recent poll conducted by the www.about.paranormal.com website revealed some interesting results. It was shown that sixty five percent of respondents still believed that the ouija board was a dangerous tool. Only forty one percent believed that the board was controlled by the users' subconscious, a staggering thirty seven percent believed that it was controlled by spirits and fourteen percent 'feared that it was under the influence of demonic spirits.' It is certainly hard to take a wholly sceptical approach when so many stories abound of previously unknown or unheard of information being revealed to users, that is verified at a later date. It is at this point that the ideomotor response falls somewhat short and once again the ouija board moves from the hands of the sceptics back into the realms of the unknown; and for many into the to the darker side of the paranormal.
One person who takes the warning of others about the dangers of the Ouija Board very seriously is Dr Jimmy Lowery. He has even gone as far as to publish a copyright free article proclaiming the dangers of opening up what he perceives as 'the playground of Satan'. In his article he provides biblical quotes from the New International Version. Some of the examples given include:
"Leviticus 19:31 Do not turn to mediums or seek out spirits, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God"
"Leviticus 20:6 I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spirits to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people."
"Samuel 15:23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry."
Despite all of the warnings either biblical or superstitious there remains advocates of the Ouija Board. The author Keith Morgan argues in his book titled "How to Use a Ouija Board", that the Ouija Board:
"like the use of the Tarot for a method of divination that has been used for millennia, has been seen by many people to be a gateway to danger, this is an inaccurate superstition."
He goes on to suggest that the much maligned Ouija Board:
"Does not bring bad luck or harm, it is just an object with letters and numbers printed upon it, it is just an object with no power of its own, its use and any effect that occurs comes directly from you and our use of it, no spirits flow into the board, or the glass. No bogeyman sits on your shoulder to deceive you as regards any answers you get."
Morgan's account of the board is interesting in so far that his theory about the how the board works is a combination of both the ideomotor effect and a communication between the spirit world. Instead of the board's movements coming from the subconscious of the sitter he suggests that:
"The board acts as an indicator for your subconscious linking your physical body in with the world of spirit."
Using the board is a relatively simple affair, although its use is certainly not recommended if you are of a superstitious or nervous disposition. In order to use the board it is recommended that you find someone who is willing to sit with you, usually at night. A quiet candlelit, atmospheric room can be conducive to a session. It is also thought useful to remove any distractions such as clicks, watches, radios, televisions etc. Arrange all of the persons present around a table within easy reach of the board or glass. Everyone should place their fingers lightly on the pointer or glass. One person who was previously selected to act as the medium for the session should then issue a simple question requiring only a yes or no answer. A frequently used question popularised by the movies is: "Is there anybody there?" It may be necessary to repeat the question a number of times before receiving any response. However once the glass or pointer moves ensure that someone is present to take notes. Should any vulgar, rude or obscene comments arise simply end the session by closing the board. It is not advisable to ask silly questions such as "When will I die?" if an answer of three months is indicated then this is highly likely to be false and cause a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. When the session is drawing to a close, slide the planchette to goodbye and remove all hands from the apparatus. Some literature advocates the use of elaborate cleansing rituals, both before and after a session, although this will have very little bearing upon whether or not the board actually works. These rituals are possibly more useful as reassurance to nervous sitters and those that are susceptible to greater levels of superstition. However it is still prudent to add a cautionary note. Quotations from the online Sceptic Dictionary, by a sceptical Robert T Caroll, point out that:
"Susy Smith in 'Confessions of a Psychic' in 1971 claims that using a Ouija Board caused her to become mentally disturbed. In 'Thirty Years Among the Dead' (1924), American psychiatrist Dr Carl Wickland claims that using the Ouija Board 'resulted in such wild insanity that commitment to asylums was necessitated."
Indeed ghost researcher Dale Kaczmarek of the Ghost Research Society in his article 'Ouija, Not a Game' cites Rev Morris Cerullo, president of World Evangelism and author. 'The Black Side of Satan', Illinois, 1973:
"Many people have related to me weird tales of answers given by the Ouija Board. This and other occult games may seem intriguing but the implications are serious and not to be tampered with, it can lead to dangerous waters indeed".
The latest serious study of the Ouija, as an attempt to help solve some of the mystery surrounding the board, was documented in the Daily Mail, Friday 15th Aug 2003, and written by the medical correspondent Jenny Hope. The report found that suggestible men and women were much more likely to believe paranormal events had occurred even when they had not. The article stated that:
"Researchers found that one in three of those taking part in fake sťances claimed to have seen a table levitate - even when it remained still. Around one in five believed they were witnessing paranormal phenomena when they saw candlesticks moved by trickery and balls lifted up into the air using hidden pales. The experiments by Dr Richard Wiseman, a leading investigator of the paranormal - confirmed that suggestible men and women were more likely to be fooled.
He found that believers in the paranormal had a greater tendency to report strange happenings than sceptics, who assumed they were being hoaxed. 'Suggestible people remained convinced even after they were told it was a fake sťance,' he added. Dr Wiseman went on to say of his experiments, 'It shows eyewitness accounts are unreliable and we need better evidence."
As a final note about this enigmatic subject; the Ouija Board, whether it be deemed apparatus to communicate with the dead or simply something to help demonstrate harmless psychological behaviour, it is probably best avoided.
Cassandra Eason - Encyclopedia of Magic and Ancient Wisdom - Judy Piatkus (Publishers Ltd) 2000 - ISBN 07499 22400
Keith Morgan - How to Use a Ouija Board - Mandrake Press Ltd - ISBN 1872189717
Jenny Hope - article - Daily Mail, Friday 15th Aug 2003
The Museum of Talking Boards - www.themuseumoftalkingboards.com
The Sceptics Dictionary - www.skepdic.com
Dale Kaczmarek - article - Ouija Not a Game
The Museum of Talking Boards
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