The Spirited History of Ouija Boards

The Ouija board (Wee-ja), also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, numbers 0-9, and the words “yes”, “no”, and  “hello” and “goodbye”. The “invention” of the original design in unknown. American history can trace the first time people claimed to have communicated with spirits using a table that led to its original design to two sister. In 1848 in Hydesville, New York, two sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, contacted the spirit of a dead peddler using their table. They became instant celebrities, and sparked a national obsession that spread all across the United States and Europe. It was the birth of modern Spiritualism.

The original form of allowing spiritualists to communicate with the dead was by way of using a table. This process involved placing ones hands on top of the table and asking the spirits to communicate. The message from the spirits was literally “knocked out” on the floor by use of the table legs or by the table literally tilting off its legs. This involved counting out the amount of times the table hit the floor and corresponding it to the letters of the alphabet. Since this process become tiresome over the years, this method of communicating with spirits eventually died out. Eventually a wooden board came onto the scene with letters and numbers available to spell out a message. Thus the “spirit” board was born.

This first patent, filed on May 28, 1890 and granted on February 10, 1891, lists Elijah J. Bond as the inventor and the assignees as Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin, all from Baltimore, Maryland. Whether Bond or his Baltimore friends actually invented anything or merely took advantage of an existing fad using their own design is fairly obvious, but there is no question that they were the first to market the board as a novelty.

Charles Kennard stated that he named the new board Ouija after a session with Miss Peters, Elijah Bond’s sister-in-law: “I remarked that we had not yet settled upon a name, and as the board had helped us in other ways, we would ask it to propose one. It spelled out O-U-I-J-A. When I asked the meaning of the word it said ‘Good Luck.’

Through generations of families and under the name of different toy companies, the look of the board kept changing. It was not until 1897 that William Fuld held the sole legal right to manufacture and sell the boards.  Although Fuld himself did not believe that the boards were actually communicating with spirits, he did believe that the subconscious minds of the users were pushing the planchette towards answers.

The Ouija board was regarded as a harmless parlor game unrelated to the occult until American Spiritualist Pearl Curran popularized its use as a divining tool during World War I.  Mainstream religions and some occultists have associated use of the Ouija board with the threat of demonic possession and some have cautioned their followers not to use Ouija boards.

Despite being repeatedly debunked by the efforts of the scientific community and denounced as a tool of Satan by conservative Christians, the Ouija Board remains popular among many people today.



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