Ouija History

Learn the history and the mystery of the Ouija board.

Communicating with the spirit world has always been an obsession for mankind. What will happen to you today, tomorrow, after you die? People have always clamored for the unknown. In many cultures, select people were said to be able to communicate with spirits, often using arcane methods"┬Žbut western man is a do-it-yourself breed. Although mediums, psychics, palm readers and such abound, there is a nagging belief that if they can do it - anyone can do it. So, beginning with the Spiritualist movement of the 1800s, people began to look for ways to communicate with the spirit realm alone.

In 1853, a French Spiritualist invented such a way...or at least, that's what the legend says. M. Planchette created a small heart-shaped table that had pencils for legs. As the planchette, as it came to be known, moved, it wrote out spirit messages. This was a form of "automatic writing" and was often difficult to decipher. Actually there is some question about whether M. Planchette ever really existed, especially since the word planchette (little plank) would be a logical name for the little automatic writing tool, even without the inventor's name.

A forerunner of the Planchette was a homemade communicator made from an overturned basket with a pencil attached to one end. The medium would touch the basket lightly and the "spirits" would take over to move the basket and write messages. Although these various forms of automatic writing were a vast improvement over the knocking and table jumping employed by such Spiritualists as Kate and Margaret Fox, they still produced disappointing results far too often. The writing was frequently too light to read or too illegible. A clearer communicating device was needed.

This new device was the brainchild of two friends, E.C. Reiche and Charles Kennard, who came up with the idea of using the planchette as a pointing device, instead of a writing implement. The planchette would rest on a wooden lap tray with the numbers 1-10, the letters of the alphabet, and the words yes and no imprinted on it. The planchette rested on wooden pegs and moved about the board when a medium (or two) rested fingertips against it. While using this new invention, Reiche received a message to call the board Ouija after the Egyptian word for luck. Unfortunately, ouija is not the Egyptian word for luck but it is such a cool sounding word that it has remained the name of the most popular talking boards to this day.

Kennard marketed these talking boards through the Kennard Novelty Company, beginning in 1890. His advertisements claimed the Ouija board would "give an intelligent answer to any question". Unfortunately for Kennard, his shop foreman orchestrated a hostile takeover by his financial backers and by 1892, the Ouija board was in the hands of William Fuld.

Fuld reinvented the history of the Ouija board once he owned the company. He claimed he had invented the talking board and that the name came from a combination of Oui [French] and Ja [German] - making the name of the board "Yes, Yes." Not the most sensible of names but a better story, at least the languages were correct. He also claimed to be guided in business by the board. William Fuld manufactured Ouija boards until 1927, when he died in a fall from the roof of his Baltimore factory. Witnesses reported Fuld's fall was an accident, but rumors persist that Fuld committed suicide.

After Fuld's death, his children ran the company until 1966, when they sold the business to Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers moved the manufacturing of Ouija boards to Salem, Massachusetts. In the first year of production in Salem, Ouija boards outsold Monopoly. Over two million boards were shipped. Today, Parker Brothers owns all the trademarks and patents to the Ouija board, though they stopped manufacturing the traditional Fuld Ouija and sell a smaller glow-in-the-dark version instead.

Parker Brothers does not manufacture the only talking board, however, and many styles exist to match prevailing trends in mysticism and New Age beliefs. Some of the prettiest boards claim to put the user in touch with angels and carry the angle motif on both the board and the planchette.

The Ouija board is meant to be used by two people. It can be placed on a table or directly on the laps of the users. Both people place their fingertips lightly on the planchette and wait. Sometimes it is recommended that the users speak an invitation to a willing spirit for information only. Some advise that the users state their goals for the session early, to avoid being confused by hostile spirits. Some people believe that Ouija board use can cause users to be possessed by the spirits they call forth, or beleaguered by hostile spirits. These ideas have been the fodder for many classic horror movies including The Exorcist and Witchboard.

So what does happen when the Ouija planchette moves? Some people believe spirits are contacted - either the spirits of the dead, or spiritual beings such as angels or demons. Some people believe Ouija boards can be used to contact aliens. Others believe it is merely the subconscious minds of the users that produce results. Whatever makes the planchette move, those movements have been part of one of the most controversial "toys" ever manufactured.

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