Ouija

Ouija

[wee-juh or, often, -jee]

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.

History

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.

Etymology

There are several theories about the origin of the term "Ouija". According to one of these, the word is derived from the French "oui" (for "yes") and the German "ja" (also for "yes"). An alternative story suggests that the name was revealed to inventor Charles Kennard during a Ouija séance and was claimed to be an Ancient Egyptian word meaning "good luck." It has also been suggested that the word was inspired by the name of the Moroccan city Oujda. Despite its common usage, "Ouija" is a registered trademark (but the term "Ouija Board" has been abandoned as a registered trademark).

Explanation

Scientific explanation

Users subconsciously direct the path of the triangle to produce a word that is in that person's subconscious thought process. This subconscious behavior is known as ideomotor action, a term coined by William Carpenter in 1882. It is also known as automatism. Some people may be convinced that the "powers" of the ouija board are real because they are unaware that they are in fact moving the piece and therefore assume that the piece must be moving due to some other "spiritual force". The subconscious thought process may produce an answer that is different from what the user expected in their conscious thought process—thus perpetuating the idea that the board has "mystical powers". Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode on Ouija Boards, ran an experiment using unbiased participants. Questions were being asked to the late William Frawley with very strong answers. The participants were then blindfolded and the board was turned 180 degrees without their knowledge. With continued questioning, the planchette then traveled to bare areas of the board where the participants believed the "Yes" and "No" marks were located.

Spiritualist explanation

Spiritualists who believe Ouija boards can be used to make actual contact with the spirit world feel that the act of hindering a medium’s ability to use his or her own eyes while the board is in use effectively places too great of a handicap on the whole exercise (see ad hoc hypothesis). This argument stems from the belief that contacted spirits actually utilize the eyes of the medium during a Ouija session in order to point to the letters and words needed to form a message. Most believers of this notion believe that the board has no intrinsic power in and of itself, but rather, is used simply as a tool to aid a medium while in communication with the spirit world.

Literature

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.

Sylvia Plath's poem Ouija was influenced by the experiments she and Ted Hughes made with a board. Her Dialogue over a Ouija Board, written in 1957, incorporates the text of one of the sessions.

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).

Criticism of ouija boards

Although ouija boards are viewed by some to be a simple toy, there are people who believe they can be harmful, including Edgar Cayce, who called them "dangerous. Critics warn that "evil demons" pretend to be cooperative ghosts in order to trick players into becoming spiritually possessed.

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.

Crowley and modern occultism

Little is published regarding Aleister Crowley's advocacy of the ouija board. Yet, he had great admiration for the use of one and the Ouija board played a passing role in his magical workings.

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."

Other notable users

  • G. K. Chesterton used a Ouija board. Around 1893 he had gone through a crisis of skepticism and depression, and during this period Chesterton experimented with the Ouija board and grew fascinated with the occult.
  • Poet James Merrill used a Ouija board for years, and even encouraged entrance of spirits into his body. He wrote the poem "The Changing Light at Sandover" with the help of a Ouija board. Before he died, he recommended people to not use Ouija boards.
  • Rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony often mention the Ouija board and what it tells them to do
  • Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi claimed under oath that, in a séance held in 1978 with other professors at the University of Bologna, the "ghost" of Giorgio La Pira spelled the name of the street where Aldo Moro was being held by the Red Brigades in a Ouija. According to Peter Popham of The Independent: "Everybody here has long believed that Prodi's ouija board tale was no more than an ill-advised and bizarre way to conceal the identity of his true source, probably a person from Bologna's seething far-left underground whom he was pledged to protect."
  • Bill Wilson the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous used the Ouija Board to contact spirits. His wife said that he would get messages directly without even using the board. For a while, his participation in AA was deeply affected by his involvement with the Ouija board. Wilson claimed that he received the twelve step method directly from a spirit without the board and wrote it down.
  • Art Bell, the former host of the paranormal-themed radio show Coast To Coast AM (which on Halloween became Ghost To Ghost AM) had once used an Ouija board, and experienced something he's been wanting to forget ever since. He refused to tell any of the callers/listeners about the actual experience and he always advised not to use a Ouija board - ever.
  • The Fiery Furnaces said that they used a Ouija board to write lyrics for their album Widow City.
  • On the July 25, 2007, edition of the paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM, host George Noory attempted to carry out a live Ouija board experiment on national radio despite the strong objections of one of his guests, Jordan Maxwell, and with the encouragement of his other guests, Dr. Bruce Goldberg, Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Jerry Edward Cornelius. In the days and hours leading up to the show, unfortunate events kept occurring to Noory's friends and family as well as some of his guests, but these events would likely be considered coincidences by skeptics. After recounting a near-death experience in 2000 and noting bizarre events taking place, Noory canceled the experiment.
  • The singer Morrissey has a song titled Ouija Board, Ouija Board.
  • Matthew Bellamy, front man of the rock band Muse, has said that his mother was a medium. When he was a young boy, he and his family played with Ouija boards.
  • In 2008, progressive rock band The Mars Volta released an album titled The Bedlam in Goliath in an attempt to reverse the bad luck from a Ouija board that guitarist/producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez bought while visiting Jerusalem and later buried after a disastrous tour. The vinyl release will come with its own Ouija board built into the gatefold.
  • Sheryl Crow makes a reference to the Ouija board in a text passage of A Change Would Do You Good.
  • Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett has a signature guitar model with a Ouija board motif, actually spelled wrong, which he used live.
  • N.W.A They were seen using the board, during one of their home videos

Other types of boards

Other iterations of the board exist in Asia. These are all home-made, with words written on paper in local languages. The planchette is replaced by other items, most commonly a pen, a dish (Chinese condiment saucer) or a coin. It is often played by inquisitive teenagers.

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.

See also

In popular culture

  • In the daytime soap opera The Young and The Restless, Jana Hawkes often uses the Ouija Board.
  • On some episodes of Friends, Phoebe and Monica can be seen playing with a Ouija board.
  • Young Regan, played by Linda Blair, becomes mysteriously possessed after playing with a Ouija board in the 1973 movie The Exorcist.
  • The 2007 Philippine movie Ouija (film) has a Ouija board as the main plot.
  • In the movie What Lies Beneath, Michelle Pfeiffer and her friend try to contact the ghost in her house with a Ouija board.
  • Ouija boards are central to the plots of Witchboard, and its sequels Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway and Witchboard III: The Possession.
  • In season 2 episode 1 ("In My Time Of Dying") of Supernatural, Sam uses a Ouija board to talk to his brother Dean, who is in a coma and running from the grim reaper.
  • In the first season of the FOX TV series House, a boy who believes he was cursed by a Ouija board is admitted to hospital and thinks he will die.
  • In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Video Ouija", Meatwad contacts spirits through a Ouija video game.
  • The popular "Yu-Gi-Oh" Trading Card game has a trap card called "Destiny Board" that in Japanse is directly related to the Ouija Board. In Japanese, the letters spell out "Death" once a player places all five cards in play. In English, the cards were 'Americanized' to simply spell "Final".
  • In season 1 episode 6 of the television series Kyle XY, some of the characters use a ouija board during a power outage.
  • In the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, Clare and her friends are playing with a Ouija board.
  • The videogame Castlevania oftern portrays the ouija board as an enemy, but the boards looks like a little desk with a vase.
  • In an episode of the sitcom Reba, Barbra Jean believes her house to be haunted, so she and Reba use a Ouija board to speak to the ghost. Reba pranks Barbra Jean near the middle of the episode, but the planchette moves on its own at the end of the episode, scaring the women.
  • In an episode of "Grounded for Life" Lily and her friends are using the board in the attic at Brad's house when her dad, Sean, barges in.
  • In an episode of "I Love Lucy", the character Mr. Merriweather is seen using one (in the episode "The Seance") while trying to contact the other side
  • In an episode of the sitcom Birds of a Feather, the three main characters use a Ouija Board to contact a spirit that is in their home. The spirit spells its name as Smym.
  • The tv series of Charmed featured a Ouija board.
  • The horror film Long Time Dead is about a group of students who use a Ouija Board and inadvertently summon a demon.
  • In the 2001 movie Sugar & Spice the girls are seen using a Ouija Board.
  • In the show Queen Bees the girls are seen using an Ouija Board
  • In the show "So Weird" one of the episodes in Season 3 is mainly about the Ouija board.
  • In the movie Tower of Blood, a handful of teens play with and discuss a Ouija Board.
  • A ouija board is a recurring theme in the packaging of Bright Eyes' 2007 album "Cassadaga". The band also sells shirts with ouija boards on them.
  • In episode #24 of the radio program My Favorite Husband (starring Richard Denning and Lucille Ball as Mr. and Mrs. Cooper), precursor of television's "I Love Lucy," the plot centers around a Ouija board the Copper's milquetoast landlord uses to contact his deceased battle-axe wife. The episode entitled "Numerology" was first broadcast on December 25th, 1948.
  • In an episode of Steptoe and Son, they play with a ouija board, Albert briefly believes that they have contacted the ghost of Adolf Hitler, but he soon realises Harold is deliberately moving it.
  • In the fourth episode of Hollywood East's hit web-based show, "New Kids on the Rock", the main characters use a Ouija Board to receive a message from the studio.

References

Footnotes

Books

External links

Information on talking boards

Skeptics

Others

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