We all know the name; it’s part of our common mythology, The Ouija Board® the mystifying oracle, the talking board, the witch board.  But where did it come from and how does speak to us?  The history and origins of the talking board are in some ways as mystifying as the oracle itself.

In the late 1800’s the talking board created a revolution in the spiritualist world - for the first time a medium or channel was not needed to communicate with the spirit realm. Anyone who could afford the modest price of the board could talk to the spirits of the dead or other entities.  This very American approach to the unseen world is both liberating and dangerous at the same time.  Without an experienced medium to guide the operators of the board, they are free to explore the unseen realms at their will but at the same time they run the risk of encountering entities whose malevolence is unknown to them.

It all began with a cabinet and part time coffin maker from Maryland named E.C. Reiche.  He is credited with creating the first talking board, what would later come to be called an Ouija Board®.  It is said that his first talking boards were made from the leftover wood he used to make coffins.  His creation came into the hands of Elijah J. Bond who was granted a U.S. patent in 1891. He later sold his rights to the Fuld brothers William and Isaac. William Fuld gave the talking board the name Ouija® and said the name was Egyptian for good luck.  He also claimed that the name Ouija was divined by the board itself but upon closer examination it’s more likely that it has its origins in the French and German words for yes: Oui and Ja.  That is why one later version of the board is known as a Yes Yes Board.  In 1901 the Fuld brothers not so amicably parted company.  William retained the rights to the Ouija Board® and Isaac started his own novelty company that also sold talking boards under the name Oriole.  In 1927, William climbed to the roof of his three-story factory to aid in the installation of a flagpole. When the railing against which he was leaning gave way he fell and later tragically died at the hospital.  (It is unknown if anyone has tried to contact William Fuld with one of his own boards.)  The Fuld family continued to own the rights to the Ouija® board until 1966 when they sold them to Parker Bros. who hold the rights to the Ouija® board to this day.

There are many claims that the talking board is an ancient spiritual instrument with its origins in China, Greece and elsewhere but there is little evidence for this.  We know that there were two types of related instruments that directly preceded the talking board in the mid to late 1800’s.  One was the dial plate psychograph and the other was the planchette.  The dial plate psychograph is an instrument that uses a disc shaped array of letters and a message pointer combination that somewhat resembled a bathroom scale.  The hands of the medium would rest on the plate and would cause the pointer to move around the letter dial to spell out the message.  These devices were intended to make spiritual communication simpler by having messages literally spelled out.  The planchette on the other hand, named after a fictitious French spiritualist took a different approach; a small rolling table holds a pencil at one end and moves on two small wheels at the other that allowed the device to move freely over a piece of paper to facilitate the medium in writing a message.  The planchette had the advantage that it was easy for the medium to use and gave a written record of the processings but much of what written was often unintelligible gibberish at best.  When the two approaches are combined - the array of letters of the psychograph with the moving table as a message indicator - the talking board as we know it was created.

Antique board & planchette in the author’s collection.

The talking board speaks, at times with uncanny accuracy, but how does it speak, how does the planchette of a talking board move apparently of its on accord?  This phenomenon is known as automatism, other forms include; automatic writing, table tipping and dowsing to name a few.  Automatism is where the subconscious mind of the operators produces involuntary movement of a message indicator without the operator’s awareness in response to his questions.  In essence it is the subconscious mind communicating to the conscious mind through the board.  The real question is where does the subconscious mind get the information it reveals to the conscious mind?  In the case of the Ouija Board ® the most common theory is that it comes from the spirit realm and the messengers are spirits, demons and angels.  Other theories include Jung’s Collective Subconscious or Cayce’s Akashic Records or what others would call the Higher Self.  It is possible that these theories are all interconnected.  Speculation on the relationship between these theories is beyond the scope of this work and unknowable for now.

What is known is that the board behaves in accordance with theories and beliefs of the operators.  In other word if an operator believes that angels speak through the board then that’s how the board behaves.  It seems that what one believes can became manifest through the board.  This is why it is good practice to work with a partner and not alone.  No two operators will have the same set of beliefs and expectations so one operator acts as a filter for the other, helping to screen out false beliefs and expectations.  Another good practice is to make use of a statement of intent that expresses what can and can not be manifest through the broad.  Here’s an example of one from the early nineteen hundreds.

There is a land where we all go,
Whence ne'er the frost nor cold wind blow,
And friends remembered reunite,
And those who hate, forget their spite,
In glow surround these gentle beings,
We call you now to bless our meetings,
Heaven's promise, our spirits thrive,
So now for the living, let the dead come alive.
Greetings spirits,
Speak thee to us?

From "The Spirit Speaks! Weekly Newspaper" 1901

A more modern statement of intent might run something like this.

Be it known that,
I (insert name here) control this board and open it only to those entities of compassion and truthfulness.
Only they may speak through this board by their own free will.
And when I bid them leave they shall depart in peace.
By the free will of all an' it harm none so let it be done.

The worst possible statement of intent and the one that is most commonly used is.
Hello…..is any one there?

This is roughly the equivalent of surfing an internet chat room and posting your name and social security number in it.  It’s just a bad choice.  There are many stories of hauntings and possession due to the improper use of the talking board.  Talking boards have been called a dangerous toy - that’s because it’s not a toy.  The talking board is a tool and when it is used correctly it is safe and easy to use.

Over the century and a half that talking boards have been in use there have been many stories told and retold leading to the creation of a large body of legends and superstitions surrounding the boards.  Most are due to people treating the talking board as a toy or misunderstanding the limitations of the board.   Some of the beliefs about talking boards appear strange, others seem to make sense, but all of them reflect the nature of the people who have made use of the talking board in the last one hundred fifty years.  The list below is a sample, and is indicative of the overall nature of the beliefs that surround talking boards.

  • Never ask about the nature of God.
  • Never ask where treasure is hidden.
  • Never ask about your own death.
  • Never play alone.
  • Never let the spirits count down through the numbers or go through the alphabet as they can get out of the board this way.
  • If the planchette goes to the four corners of the board it means that you have contacted an evil spirit.
  • If the planchette falls from an Ouija board, a spirit will get loose.
  • If you should get an evil spirit, quickly turn the planchette upside down and use it that way.
  • Never use the Ouija when you are ill or in a weakened condition since this may make you vulnerable to possession.
  • Evil spirits contacted through the Ouija board will try to win your confidence with false flattery and lies.
  • Always be respectful and never upset the spirits.
  • Never use the Ouija in a graveyard or place where a terrible death has occurred or you will bring forth malevolent entities.
  • Sometimes an evil spirit can permanently "inhabit" a board. When this happens, no other spirits will be able to use it.
  • When using a glass as a message indicator, you must always cleanse it first by holding it over a burning candle.
  • Ouija boards that are disposed of improperly come back to haunt the owner.
  • A Ouija Board will scream if you try to burn it. People who hear the scream have less than thirty-six hours to live. There is only one proper way to dispose of it: break the board into seven pieces, sprinkle it with Holy Water then bury it.
  • If you must use a Ouija board, make your own. Arrange the letters and numbers into a circle so whatever is trapped within that circle can't escape.
  • If you place a pure silver coin on the board, no evil spirits will be able to come through.
  • Never leave the planchette on the board if you aren't using it.
  • Lecherous spirits from the Ouija board will sometimes ask young women to do rather . . . ah, odd things. Ignore them and always remember that your Ouija partner (i.e. boyfriend) has nothing to do with this.

Many of the superstitions and beliefs are concerned with some form of evil escaping through the board.  Others deal with the management of spirits speaking and still others deal with the nature of questions asked through the board.  But all ultimately reveal the talking board is a mirror of the soul of the user.  Maybe that is its greatest revelation.

Sources:

Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience
R E Bradley
Harper Collins 1991

Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board
J. E Cornelius
Feral House 2005

The Museum of Talking Boards
www.museumoftalkingboards.com