By Dusti Lewars
When I was a child, I (like many other bored and curious suburban kids) owned an Ouija board.
I can’t say I necessarily believed in its power (though I sure wanted to). I’d seen others use them, very obviously manipulating the plastic letter indicator (the planchette) as they asked questions about marriage and wealthy futures. So while I enthusiastically used the board and talked to a spirit named Glen who claimed to have been a vet, I did so with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Then one of my best friends got a board, and insisted that his board’s spirit was related to my board.
My level of skepticism hit new heights.
I invited Jason to bring his board over, with the goal being that we were going to get in touch with a real spirit this time.
We assumed the position in a closed basement room: knee to knee, board balanced on our laps, each placing our twenty collective fingers on the planchette. My brother stood off to the side, teasing us unmercifully for believing in ghosts of any kind…then, as he quieted down and left us alone, messages started to be spelled out on the Ouija board.
What the heck is an Ouija board, anyway?
“Talking boards” were first dreamed up around 1886, when modern Spiritualism was in its heyday. Everyone, it seemed, was trying to communicate with the dead. Automatic writing (where mediums scribbled across reams of paper, hoping that somewhere among the scribbles a ghostly message would appear) and table tilting (having spirits use the rocking of a table to tap out messages from beyond the grave) were all the rage, but the discriminating medium wanted an easier, more sophisticated method of communication.
Enter the “talking board” – a piece of wood with the alphabet, plus the words “hello” and “good-bye,” printed across its surface. One or two people could quietly, privately converse with the spirit world by placing the board across their laps, lightly touching their fingers to a tiny arrow-shaped table called a “planchette,” and allowing the “planchette” indicator to move at will.
History didn’t capture the name of the person who invented this contraption. However, use of the “talking board” spread like wildfire through America, and in 1890, three men shared credit for the patent of a new invention called “Ouija” (purportedly taken from the Egyptian word for “luck”, but – since this word was taken from a spirit rather than a dictionary – it’s more likely a warped spelling of a Moroccan city, Ouija).
Out of these three patent holders – Elijah J. Bond, William H. A. Maupin, and Charles W. Kennard – only Kennard took the financial risk and started manufacturing Ouija boards for fun and profit. Sadly, neither lasted very long, and by 1892 Kennard’s company was in the hands of new management – William Fuld.
It is Fuld who is known in the history books as “the father of the Ouija board,” and Fuld who claimed credit for the creation of this wildly popular tool/toy. Fuld and his family enjoyed great success with this product, and it wasn’t until 1966 that Parker Brothers took over, using the original Fuld design until 1999, buying the rights to the Ouija patent and trademark.
Though there have been many beautiful and bizarre variations on the Ouija theme over the past 100+ years, it’s the Fuld design that most people are still familiar with. And certainly, it’s Fuld’s board that has been seen in such movies as The Exorcist, Thirteen Ghosts, and Witchboard.
The horror story appeal is an obvious one. (We are, after all, speaking with the dead here!) But is there any reason to be afraid of Ouija boards?
It depends on who you ask.
Some people absolutely believe that to tinker with a Quija board is to bring something evil into one’s life. Others accept the Parker Brothers definition – it’s a game, nothing more, nothing less. (‘After all,’ the argument goes, ‘if you were dead, would you be wasting your time making a little plastic arrow move across a lacquered board so that you can communicate with the living?’) Perhaps the planchette moves as a result of your subconscious desire to see your questions answered. A quick search on the Internet or in one’s local library will reveal many stories and much advice about how to safely go about communicating with the dead…if, of course, this is what’s really happening. (The jury will probably always be out concerning that particular question.)
My own belief is that it really depends on the people involved.
For example…my friend Jason was not (in my humble opinion) talking to a spirit At least, not until he and I sat down and worked with it.
You see, I watched Jason’s face intently as text started being spelled out by his Ouija board that day.
The words were, apparently, from a “new” spirit – Jason’s previous entity never made another appearance.
He got rid of his board soon after that. My Ouija, after being stored under my bed and inspiring a series of very disturbing dreams, ended up being unceremoniously thrown away, as well.
And my brother eventually admitted that the reason he had stopped teasing us was that, as he had been doing so, he felt a cold wind blow right through him and towards the board – and immediately after that, the planchette had started moving. Which was more than enough reason for him to decide that he wanted nothing to do with talking boards ever again.
Am I a believer now? Am I a believer?
Oh, yes. Absolutely.