The Ouija Board, once a trademark of the ‘Parker Brothers’. Today the trademark and surrounding rights are held by Hasbro, Inc. A compound of the French word Oui, meaning “yes” and the German word Ja, also meaning “yes”. A name almost consistently mispronounced, the world over. Patented on May 28th, 1890. Officially, the Ouija board (Spirit/Talking Board) is patented as a toy and a game. It is alleged to be a means of communicating with “spirits”, via the manipulation of an indicator (planchette) being aligned over letters, numbers, “YES”, “NO” and “GOOD BYE”.

Is there indisputable proof that the Ouija board does (or ever has done) the one thing it claims to do, produce a viable means of communication with the dead?

No, there isn’t.

Not for lack of trying. Harry Houdini made it his public ambition that after death he would do anything he could to commune with his wife. As it stands, even with the regular séances (held even to this day) to contact him, he’s never reached out to reveal the secret he left to prove authenticity. That doesn’t disprove the functionality of the Ouija board. But it sure as hell doesn’t help either.

There isn’t indisputable proof to back up a great many things that billions of people believe around the world. Which is essential for peaceful life on this planet, freedom of belief should be a protected human right. No matter how absolutely, uncannily ridiculous something may seem. We should disagree, peaceful disagreement makes life more interesting. Some days I believe certain things, other days I might not. But in regards to the Ouija board, maybe it requires very specific circumstances? Very specific individuals in very specific locations. Or maybe it was in fact, merely a late Victorian novelty that allowed men and women to touch knees, awkwardly flirt and pass the long dreary hours between the deaths by childbirth and public floggings.

Never the less, in most instances where Ouija boards are used now, it’s usually among groups of teenagers trying to get a rise out of one another. Some feign shock and awe while others are genuinely terrified. Everyone swears they aren’t manipulating the planchette but the thing drifts around the board with ease. Only while everyone’s touching it, of course. In the rare instances where people have attempted using Ouija boards blindfolded, the results are rarely even decipherable. Again, maybe somehow the spirits can only see through the eyes of those manipulating the board or something equally elaborate?

One of the interesting things people say about Ouija boards, especially those that subscribe to the notion that they do work; Is in a solemn warning tone they’ll say, “never use a Ouija board on your own!”

Which is brilliant advice because the likelihood of anything happening while one genuinely intrigued, albeit naive individual sits alone waiting for a planchette to move over a Ouija board, is very, very low. To prove a point to myself, at the time of writing this, I actually dug out an old Ouija board and asked the questions people ask, “is anyone here?” etc. I only dedicated 10 or so minutes, (the time it takes to slowly drink one beer) before calling it quits. If there are any spirits here, apparently they’ve got nothing they want to say to me. Or I am simply too dense, unworthy or inept of hearing from them. The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps, I should have first consulted the instructions that were once supplied with the board, some 117 years ago:

Original instructions provided with the commercially sold Ouija Boards in 1902, written by William Fuld (sourced from The Museum of Talking Boards):

⦿ 1: “Place the board upon the knees of two persons, lady and gentleman preferred, with the small table upon the board. Place the fingers lightly but firmly, without pressure, upon the table so as to allow it to move easily and freely. In from one to five minutes the tablet will commence to move, at first slowly, then faster, and will be then able to talk or answer questions, which it will do rapidly by touching the printed words or the letters necessary to form words and sentences with the foreleg or pointer.”

⦿ 2: “Care should be taken that one person only should ask questions at a time, so as to avoid confusion, and the questions should be put plainly and accurately.”

⦿ 3: “To obtain the best results it is important that the persons present should concentrate their minds upon the matter in question and avoid other topics. Have no one at the table who will not sit seriously and respectfully. If you use it in a frivolous spirit, asking ridiculous questions, laughing over it, you naturally get undeveloped influences around you.”

⦿ 4: “The Ouija is a great mystery, and we do not claim to give exact directions for its management, neither do we claim that at all times and under all circumstances it will work equally well. But we do claim and guarantee that with reasonable patience and judgment it will more than satisfy your greatest expectation.”

⦿ 5: “In putting the table together wet the tops of the legs, and drive them firmly into the table. Care should be taken that they are firm and tight.”

⦿ 6: “The board should be kept smooth and free from dust and moisture, as all depends upon the ease with which the feet of the table can glide over the surface of the board. Rubbing with a dry silk handkerchief just before use is advised.”

Well, it does indicate in step one that a minimum of two people are generally required, so my experiment was for naught. But part of the difficulty I have in understanding even the basic concept of the spirit board, is what significance is there behind the cardboard and the small piece of wood or plastic? What is so special about these mass produced objects, being printed out by the same machines that make Monopoly boards, that allow them to act as conduits for the spirits?

Why can’t spirits manipulate monopoly pieces? Or even things that aren’t on boards? There will always be questions asking why not and there’s an equal amount of answers that will claim to know exactly why. Whichever voice is loudest doesn’t indicate who is correct, it just depends on whoever is most fervent in the declaration of whatever opinion happens to matter most to them.

The board and the planchette are essentially novelty tokens. Even the name ‘Ouija’ invokes terror into many superstitious people. But the fact of the matter is, communing with the dead isn’t likely an easy feat, as if it was we’d be hearing from the some (estimated) 102 billion of our species that have already crossed over into the afterlife. Either the living participant is capable of something supernatural or the anomaly resides is the presence of a “spirit” capable of actually manipulating the physical world.

Either occurrence must be very, very, very rare. Something that may exist. But to this day, hasn’t been adequately documented or proven. Maybe there was a legitimate boom during the 19th Century that had some connection to the rise of the spiritualist movement?

The word séance is French for “session”. Throughout the Spiritualist movement that stretched from the 1840’s until around 1930, a great amount of time was spent conducting these “sessions” attempting to commune with the dead. Through various methods, automatic writing, mediums, spirit boards, etc.

Those leading the way were primarily self-proclaimed mediums and spirit guides, but the bulk of the numbers (estimated to be over eight million world wide at its peak) were middle and upper class Americans and Europeans who saw the communion with the dead as a sort of parlor trick. An eerie, macabre, yet intriguing experience. A great many of these “experiences” were proven to be fraudulent.

One interesting coincidence relating to the Spiritualist movement (purely my personal observation), is that these people of this 19th and early 20th century seem to be how we now (in the western world) imagine ghosts. Of all the ages of human development to take shape as ghosts, we seem to see people of the Victorian age dominate film and literature. It could also be that was the earliest period to be photographed with the growing ease of access to cameras. So their many cold, ghostly expressionless faces have seeped into our imaginations.

So in an ironic sort of way, they did achieve communing between the dead and the living. Only they now fill the role of the dead in our depictions of eerie past socialites, reaching out from the beyond the grave.

So whether you consider it group hysteria, bogus, legitimate or pure evil (as the spirits are instead demons attempting to prey on unsuspecting mortals) the Ouija board continues in sales today. Selling millions of boards worldwide every year.

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