A ouija board (correctly pronounced "wee-jah" /wiʤə/ although often pronounced "wee-gee" /wiʤi/ and commonly known as a 'Spirit Board' ) is any flat board printed with letters, numbers, and other symbols, to which a planchette or movable indicator points, supposedly answering questions from people at a séance. The fingers of the participants are placed on the planchette that then moves about the board to spell out messages. Ouija is a trademark for a talking board currently sold by Parker Brothers. While the word is not considered a genericized trademark, it has become a trademark that is often used generically to refer to any talking board. In popular culture these boards are considered to be a spiritual gateway used to contact the dead; however, there is no evidence of any truth to this.
The first historical mention of something resembling a Ouija board is found in China around 1200 B.C., a divination method known as fuji 扶乩 "planchette writing". Other sources claim that according to a French historical account of the philosopher Pythagoras, in 540 B.C. his sect would conduct séances at "a mystic table, moving on wheels, moved towards signs, which the philosopher and his pupil, Philolaus, interpreted to the audience as being revelations supposedly from an unseen world. However, other sources call both claims into dispute, claiming that fuji is spirit writing, not the use of a spirit board, and that there is no record of Pythagoras or his students actually having used this method of achieving oracles or divinations. In addition, the claim of ancient Greek use is called into doubt by questions of historical accuracy, as Philolaus was never the pupil of Pythagoras, and indeed was born roughly twenty-five years after Pythagoras's death. The first undisputed use of the talking boards came with the Modern Spiritualist Movement 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 predate modern Spiritualism.
During the late 1800s, planchettes were widely sold as a novelty. The businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard had the idea to patent a planchette sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed. The patentees filed on May 28, 1890 for patent protection and thus had invented the first Ouija board. Issue date on the patent was February 10, 1891. They received . Bond was an attorney and was an inventor of other objects in addition to this device. 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 reinvented its history, claiming that he himself had invented it. Countless talking boards from Fuld's competitors flooded the market and all these boards enjoyed a heyday from the 1920s through the 1960s. Fuld sued many companies over the "Ouija" name and concept right up until his death in 1927. In 1966, Fuld's estate sold the entire business to Parker Brothers, who continues to hold all trademarks and patents. About 10 brands of talking boards are sold today under various names.
Talking boards have become an iconic part of culture, demonstrated by their appearances in many books and movies. Their roles in such vary from being a benign object to an evil entity. A more peculiar role of talking boards in literature stems from authors using the board to channel complete written works from the deceased.
In the early 1900s, St. Louis housewife Pearl Curran used her Ouija board communications with the ubiquitous spirit Patience Worth to publish a number of poems and prose. Pearl claimed that all of the writings came to her through séances, which she allowed the public to attend. In 1917 writer Emily G. Hutchings, a friend of Pearl Curran's, believed she had communicated with and written a book dictated by Mark Twain from her Ouija board. Twain's living descendants went to court to halt publication of the book that was later determined to be so poorly written that it could not have been written by Twain dead or alive.
Author John G. Fuller used a Ouija board in his research for his 1976 book The Ghost of Flight 401. As he was skeptical of its effectiveness, he worked with a medium and claimed they both contacted Don Repo, the flight engineer on the flight which crashed into the Everglades en route to Miami. According to Fuller, the information divined described facts that neither he nor the medium previously knew.
More recently, Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Merrill used a Ouija board and recorded what he claimed were messages from a number of deceased persons. He combined these messages with his own poetry in The Changing Light at Sandover (1982).
Some practitioners claim to have had bad experiences related to the use of talking boards by being haunted by "demons," seeing apparitions of spirits, and hearing voices after using them. A few paranormal researchers, such as John Zaffis, claim that the majority of the worst cases of so-called demon harassment and possession are caused by the use of Ouija boards. The American demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren stated that "Ouija boards are just as dangerous as drugs." They further state that "séances and Ouija boards and other occult paraphernalia are dangerous because 'evil spirits' often disguise themselves as your loved ones—and take over your life."
In 1944, occultist Manly P. Hall, the founder of the Philosophical Research Society and an early authority on the occult in the 20th century, stated in Horizon magazine that, "during the last 20-25 years I have had considerable personal experience with persons who have complicated their lives through dabbling with the Ouija board. Out of every hundred such cases, at least 95 are worse off for the experience." He went on to say that, "I know of broken homes, estranged families, and even suicides that can be traced directly to this source.
Many Christians hold the belief that using a Ouija board allows communication with demons, which they say is Biblically forbidden as a form of divination. Some people who claim to have been oppressed by evil spirits after using a board say that they could only get rid of these problems after Christian deliverance. Many Christians believe that no dead person's soul can be summoned, and that the only summoned spirits are demons who are trying to harm humans.
As early as 1924, Harry Houdini wrote that five people from Carrito, California were driven insane by using a board. That same year, Dr. Carl Wickland in his book stated that "the serious problem of alienation and mental derangement attending ignorant psychic experiments was first brought to my attention by cases of several persons whose seemingly harmless experiences with automatic writing and the Ouija board resulted in such wild insanity that commitment to asylums was necessitated.
The former medical director of the State Insane Asylum of New Jersey, Dr. Curry, stated that the Ouija board was a "dangerous factor" in unbalancing the mind and believed that if their popularity persisted insane asylums would be filled with people who used them.
Decades later, in 1965, parapsychologist Martin Ebon in his book Satan Trap: Dangers of the Occult, states that "it all may start harmlessly enough, perhaps with a Ouija board," which will, "bring startling information... establishing credibility or identifying itself as someone who is dead. It is common that people... as having been 'chosen' for a special task." He continues, "Quite often the Ouija turns vulgar, abusive or threatening. It grows demanding and hostile, and sitters may find themselves using the board compulsively, as if 'possessed' by a spirit, or hearing voices that control or command them.
In her 1971 autobiography, the psychic Susy Smith said, "Warn people away from Ouija and automatic writing. I experienced many of the worst problems of such involvement. Had I been forewarned by reading that such efforts might cause one to run the risk of being mentally disturbed, I might have been more wary.
Additionally, the late Roman Catholic priest Malachi Martin believed talking boards are dangerous and claimed that by using these devices a person opens themselves to demonic oppression or possession, topics upon which Martin spoke and wrote extensively for many years.
Jane Wolfe, who lived with Crowley at his infamous Abbey of Thelema, also used the Ouija board. She credits some of her greatest spiritual communications to use of this implement. Crowley also discussed the Ouija board with another of his students, and the most ardent of them, Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones): it is frequently mentioned in their unpublished letters.
in 1917 Achad experimented with the board as a means of summoning Angels, as opposed to Elementals. In one letter Crowley told Jones: "Your Ouija board experiment is rather fun. You see how very satisfactory it is, but I believe things improve greatly with practice. I think you should keep to one angel, and make the magical preparations more elaborate."
Over the years, both became so fascinated by the board that they discussed marketing their own design. Their discourse culminated in a letter, dated February 21, 1919, in which Crowley tells Jones, "Re: Ouija Board. I offer you the basis of ten percent of my net profit. You are, if you accept this, responsible for the legal protection of the ideas, and the marketing of the copyright designs. I trust that this may be satisfactory to you. I hope to let you have the material in the course of a week." In March, Crowley wrote to Achad to inform him, "I'll think up another name for Ouija." But their business venture never came to fruition and Crowley's new design, along with his name for the board, has not survived.
Crowley has stated, of the Ouija Board that, ''"There is, however, a good way of using this instrument to get what you want, and that is to perform the whole operation in a consecrated circle, so that undesirable aliens cannot interfere with it. You should then employ the proper magical invocation in order to get into your circle just the one spirit you want. It is comparatively easy to do this. A few simple instructions are all that is necessary, and I shall be pleased to give these, free of charge, to any one who cares to apply."
Various horror movies have been made about the consequences of playing with these incarnations of the board, most notably by the Hong Kong and South Korea movie industry. One of the more well-known movies to date is the 2004 South Korean film Bunshinsaba.