The History of the Ouija Board
Whilst the historical origins of the ouija board are long and colourful, sources can sometimes disagree about exactly how far back it dates and whether ancient forms can really be classed as ouija boards or other forms of divination. There is however one thing for certain – the name ouija can be formally (legally) attributed to the talking board from the late 1890s. There are however many forms of divination through history (this being mediums inquiring into spiritual realms, revealing the hidden and foretelling the future). In the history of the ouija board I think it is only fair to keep all forms of divination at the back of our minds, including automatic writing, planchette writing, astrology, tarot cards, haruspicy (sifting through animal entrails) and rune stones.
What is an Ouija Board?
‘Ouija’ is games company Hasbro’s trademarked name for a talking board. Talking boards have been used for many centuries to act as a direct communication channel between the living and spirit worlds and predicting what is yet to come. You can read more about what ouija boards are and how they work in my article How Ouija Boards Work [link to article] but in essence they are a board with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0-9 and a few key words on them such as ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘goodbye’. A heart-shaped piece, known as a planchette, is placed on the board and moved between the board markers by the players in answer to the questions asked of the spirit they are communicating with. There is much speculation about whether it is the spirit or the players who are unconsciously (or consciously!) moving the planchette.
Ouija Boards around the World
Various forms of spirit writing have been practised around the world since ancient times – from India to Greece, China to Rome. Greek philosopher Pythagoras (perhaps most famously known to us from our childhood mathematics and the Pythagorean Theorem between triangles of a^2 + b^2 = c^2) is believed to have used talking boards at seances around 540 BC, unearthing messages from the “unseen world” for himself and others. In an interesting side note for JKS Astrology readers, it is said that he may have also created a doctrine called ‘musica universalis’ – the Harmony of Spheres – a philosophy linked to astrology, that the sun, moon and planets move according to mathematical equations, resonating to produce an inaudible symphony of music.
On the other side of the world but further on in our history of the ouija board, automatic writing methods (called Fuji, spirit writing or planchette writing) gathered momentum in China dating back to the Song dynasty of 960-1279AD. In this method, a suspended sieve of sand, and later a stick not unlike a dowsing rod, were used to communicate messages from the spirit world.
But whilst through the history of the ouija board many ancient and modern societies have embraced the ouija board, its reputation is not welcome amongst all, not least Christian denominations who strongly disagree with divination. It is perhaps this view of the board being connected with devil worship and bringing evil spirits into the world that gives this occult item a cult following amongst horror lovers, witches and teenagers looking for some fun.
The Birth of the Board we know Today
It’s 1890 in Baltimore, America, when the history of the ouija board we know and love today began its life. Charles Kennedy, a businessman teamed up with an attorney, Elijah Bond, to create and market their talking board under the company name, Kennard Novelty Company. There is some speculation around how the name ‘ouija’ was decided upon, but many stories seem to point towards the board communicating this strange word, which means ‘good luck’ in Egyptian. The ouija board was a huge success at the time and started taking the United States by storm.
This was a time of spiritualism, but also deep sorrow and longing for the lost brothers, fathers, friends and others who were lost or killed during the American Civil War. Survivors were longing for a sense of connection with their loved ones. Business for mediums was lively. It is probably this reason that still draws many today to reach for the planchette. In these times of uncertainty, people were instantly drawn to this “Wonderful Talking Board” which promised a link “between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial.” And what better way to ratify the efficacy of a new product than to have it proven to work by a medium at the patent office (this by Helen Peters, Bond’s sister-in-law). The patent was granted on 10th February 1891, but just a few years later in 1901, Bond sold his rights to employee, Willian Fuld who continued to manufacture and sell the talking boards under the name ‘Ouija’.
The Modern Ouija Board
Upon Fuld’s death at his factory in 1927, his children inherited the talking board company. They waited forty years until selling to Parker Brothers (Hasbro) in 1966. Currently, ‘Ouija’ is Hasbro’s trademarked name for Parker Brothers’ talking board set. It is one of a number of sets readily available if you know where to look (hint: not very hard, Amazon as a first port of call, this ouija board is one of many.
Providing given rules are followed, provides a safe, fun and insightful game or exchange. News reports and horror films over the past few decades would have you believe that the ouija board is ‘evil’, lead to hauntings and murders, but we must always remember that there are some things in this world we cannot explain, and some we can through science. It is your decision to make.
WICCSTAR is the most popular brand on Amazon’s UK store and as with tarot cards, these talking board sets come in a wide range of artistic and beautiful designs, prices, sizes and materials, so choose one which you feel drawn to. It should come with instructions, but if not, be sure to buy a book which will give you insight into how to correctly use the board.
In the famous words of the ouija board… good luck.
This quirky doormat/rug is ideal for anyone who is a lover of Ouija. It can be purchased from the Amazon store.