Ouija Board Through The Ages
The Ouija board is a popular way to communicate with spirits and other unseen forces, including angels and demons. But where did this communication platform come from, and how did it become so widely used?
The history of the Ouija board is a tale of chancers, mediums, big business, death and an undertaker.
To tell this intriguing origin story, we must go back to the mid-1800s, when a brand of spiritualism was gaining popularity in America.
The Spiritualist Movement
In the mid-1800s, a religious movement called Spiritualism held great influence in parts of America. Spiritualists like the famous Fox sisters of upstate New York were ardent believers in communicating with the supernatural through mediums, séances, and other methods.
One of these methods was the use of a small wooden board with a pencil attached. The pencil would move across a sheet of paper and spell out messages from the other side.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, after the American Civil War, there was even greater interest in contacting the departed as families sought to connect with sons, husbands, and fathers lost in the war years of 1861 to 1865.
The Opportunist And The Coffin Maker
Charles Kennard was a Baltimore businessman who was always chasing the main chance. He wasn’t terribly successful at business, and he wasn’t interested in spiritualism either. However, he saw an opportunity to make a buck in the physical world by tapping into consumer enthusiasm for the spirit world.
E.C. Reiche was a coffin manufacturer and undertaker who sometimes did business with Kennard. In 1886, the two teamed up to start producing wooden boards with letters, numbers and symbols. This was a precursor of today’s Ouija board.
Kennard recruited Elijah Bond, a lawyer and inventor, to help him patent the game and find investors.
Elijah Bond’s sister-in-law, Helen Peters, was a medium with psychic abilities. She helped to patent the board after Ouija spelt out the name of the patent office employee handling the application. The rather shaken patent officer (whose name wasn’t known to the applicants prior) quickly granted the patent in February 1891.
Peters was also instrumental in naming the talking board. She asked what it wanted to be called. And it spelled out ‘O-U-I-J-A’, which it said meant ‘G-O-O-D L-U-C-K’ (apparently an Egyptian phrase).
Investors joined the party, and the Kennard Novelty Company began producing and marketing Ouija boards in earnest. Kennard cut E.C. Reiche out of the business before the money started rolling in.
The Scheming Foreman
Kennard would soon be cut out himself. A scheming employee and shareholder, William Fuld, managed to take control of operations in 1893.
Fuld started manufacturing and selling Ouija boards under his own name. He claimed to have invented the Ouija board’s name. He explained it was a combination of the French and German words for ‘yes’ (oui and ja). Fuld was an audacious salesman, and his ‘talking boards’ became all the rage.
The jilted investors tried to reclaim their rights, but Fuld remained one step ahead in the legal wrangles. He and his family firm, the Fuld Company, raked in the profits for decades.
Fuld met an unfortunate end in 1927. He died in a freak fall from the roof of his new factory – a factory he said the Ouija board told him to build.
Parker Bros And Hasbro
The game company Parker Brothers bought the rights to the Ouija board in 1966. 2 million boards were sold the following year. This exceeded even Monopoly sales.
In 1991, Hasbro acquired Parker, and the toy conglomerate owns the game today.
Media And Cultural Influence
Movies, books, and television shows have depicted the Ouija board as a tool that can summon malevolent spirits or lead to demonic possession. Ever since Linda Blair dabbled with Ouija in the 1973’s ‘The Exorcist’ and became possessed, the horror genre has been rife with scary Ouija tales.
A short list of film and TV titles featuring Ouija boards include:
- Paranormal Activity
- The Witchboard franchise
- What Lies Beneath
- Sorority House Massacre II
- The Curse of Bridge Hollow
- Lovecraft Country
- Ouija film franchise
Portrayals in pop culture have shaped Ouija’s public image. Fears of opening the portals of hell have seen Ouija boards condemned by religious groups and burned on bonfires.
How Does The Board Work?
Talking board features
The modern Ouija is a flat board inscribed with:
- Numbers (0-9)
- Letters of the alphabet
- The words ‘yes’ and ‘no’
- Sometimes ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye‘
- And perhaps graphics or symbols
The board comes with a movable pointer that is intended to indicate the answers from the spirit entity. This is the planchette – often a plastic heart-shaped item with a hole cut out of it.
Using an Ouija board in a séance
In a traditional séance to contact spirits, the family or participants all put their fingers on the planchette. It’s moved about the board to spell out words or answer questions that people ask. You can ask open-ended questions for more definitive answers. This is an advantage over other communication aids like an amethyst pendulum or archangel oracle tarot cards.
It’s best to hold the séance in a room where the spirit is most active or has been detected recently. It’s advisable to never use Ouija alone. And to avoid questions about death and evil, and to always say goodbye after the session.
Is Ouija A Game?
The Ouija board was first marketed as a game meant to add excitement to parties. Or encourage a little light-hearted intimacy between couples – as seen in early advertisements in publications like the Saturday Evening Post. These ads often showed couples sitting across from each other with the board on their knees and hands joined on the planchette.
The ‘game’ represents different uses for different folk:
- Many seek to genuinely communicate with the dead, especially lost loved ones.
- Divination and fortune-telling: The Ouija board is frequently used as a tool for discovering hidden knowledge, predicting the future, or exploring past lives.
- Entertainment and curiosity: Some use it as a fun and spooky activity, telling stories and bonding with friends.
- Evil ends: Ouija boards have been used to try to conjure malevolence and evil, including demonic possessions.
What are some safety tips and precautions for using the Ouija board?
The Ouija board shouldn’t be treated as a joke or toy. Always be cautious and respectful, and apply common sense. Don’t use it alone or if you have fear of what it represents, and always say goodbye afterwards.
What are other names for the Ouija board?
The Ouija board is also known as a spirit board or talking board. Over the years, it has also been called the ‘WE-JA’, the ‘Mystifying Oracle’, the ‘Egyptian Luck board’, and the ‘Hindu Luck board’.
Before We Say Goodbye…
As leading board game historian Robert Murch says: The Ouija board has “always been a board game, a parlour game, but it has always been more than a game for some people, too”.
However, you engage with the Ouija and whatever spirit board type you favour, remember to treat this powerful communication platform with care and respect. If you want to try the game for yourself, we recommend you learn how to use the Ouija board first.