THE HAUNTED MUSEUM:
MYTHS AND MYSTERIES OF THE OUIJA BOARD AND OTHER SPIRIT COMMUNICATIONS
Since the beginning of recorded time, man has claimed to be able to communicate with the spirit world. However, it would not be until the heyday of the Spiritualist movement that he would begin claiming to do so as an everyday occurrence. That particular movement was founded by two young girls, Kate and Maggie Fox, who established a way to communicate with a ghost. They used a series of knocks and raps that answered “yes” and “no” and eventually assigned a code for letters of the alphabet. In this way, they were able to spell out longer and more detailed messages.
As Spiritualism grew in popularity, those with an interest began to establish what were called “home circles”, small groups of friends and family members who would gather around and attempt to communicate with spirits. They experimented with the knocking and rapping sounds and later with Table Tilting, which was accessible to everyone and no professional mediums were needed. The knockings and rappings of the early movement continued to spread in other directions as ordinary people began experimenting with their own skills as mediums. Soon, the tiresome and time-consuming method of knocking and tipping tables began to fall out of fashion and so mediums began a new form of contact called “automatic writing”. While practiced almost solely by spirit mediums, it still became very popular at séances as a direct line to the spirit world.
Automatic writing was defined as writing that was done while the medium was under the control of the spirits. It was believed these ghosts would guide the medium’s hand and spell out messages for the sitters who were present. Most likely (ignoring cases of outright fraud), automatic writing actually consisted of material that was gathered in the unconscious mind of the medium and then put to paper as a message from the dead. However it may have worked, it soon replaced the slower methods of communication and soon mediums claimed to receive more complex messages from the beyond.
Obviously, many questions remain as to the authenticity of automatic writing, although in some rare cases, the messages received were eerily precise. Just like with the other facets of spirit communication still to come, a number of mysteries remain unsolved.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE OUIJA BOARD
While automatic writing was being embraced by mediums, those who satisfied their curiosity about the spirit world in the "home circles" were also searching for a more efficient way to reach the other side than by rapping on tables.
In 1853, a French Spiritualist named M. Planchette (according the to the stories anyway -- it should be noted that "planchette" in French translates to "little plank", making this story a little dubious) invented a device that could do much more than tap on the table. The “planchette” was a small, heart-shaped table with pencils attached to its legs. Those who used it claimed that it operated by spirit force and ghosts were able to write out messages from beyond. The invention was often used by the mediums as a more elaborate form of automatic writing, but it really did not hold wide appeal for the general public.
However, a short time later, another invention would come along that could be used by everyone. No experience was required and no real psychic skills were needed. This new device would revolutionize the Spiritualist movement and have an impact that still resounds today. The Ouija board was born.
Shortly after the planchette came to America, a cabinet and coffin maker from Maryland named E.C. Reiche created a new method of communicating with the dead. He devised a wooden lap tray with the letters of the alphabet arranged in two lines across the center of the board. Below these letters, he placed the numbers 1-10 and the words YES and NO in each lower corner of the board. He used the planchette with his board but removed the pencil tips and placed wooden pegs on the bottom of it. In this way, the planchette was free to move about the board.
It was always believed that Reiche named his board the "Ouija" because the name represented the French and German words for “yes” (oui and ja) but this was not the case. He named it that because he believed that the word "Ouija" was actually Egyptian for luck. Needless to say, it's not, but since he claimed to receive the word from a spirit on the board, the name stuck.
But Reiche was more interested in spirits than making money and he sold the invention to his friend, Charles Kennard, who soon founded the Kennard Novelty Co. with borrowed money and began producing the first commercial Ouija boards around 1886. The first patent for a "talking board" was filed on May 28, 1890 and listed Charles Kennard and William H. A. Maupin, both of Baltimore, as the assignees.
Shortly after the company started, the shop manager, William Fuld, decided to go into business for himself. He forced Kennard out of the business and changed the name to the Ouija Novelty Co. He began producing the "Fuld's Talking Board" in record numbers and became a successful businessman. He was a member of the Baltimore General Assembly in later life and remained in control of the company for the next 35 years. Finally, in 1927, during a brief slump in sales, Fuld strangely took his own life. He climbed to the top of a Baltimore building and jumped to his death. Other versions of the story have it that Fuld died accidentally while supervising the replacement of flagpoles on top of the building. A support post that he was holding onto gave way and he plunged to his death. This is likely the more accurate version of events, although Fuld committing suicide gave the Ouija an eerie taint over the years.
The Ouija Board was anything but a curse to Fuld's company though. It became the most successful talking board manufacturer of all time, selling millions of boards as well as other toys and games. Fuld had created a new industry with the Ouija board, which he claimed to have invented himself. He started the apocryphal tales of the naming of the board (using oui and ja) and claimed many of his successful sales plans came from the board itself.
His heirs maintained the company until 1966, when they sold out to Parker Brothers. This company, also known for their success with toys and especially board games, produced not only reproductions of the Fuld board but also made a deluxe wooden edition of the board for a time. They hold all of the patents and trademarks to the board today and they still produce it in large numbers. In spite of the fact that it is now sold in toy stores, it remains a near duplicate (albeit a more cheaply made one) of the Spiritualist board that was sold many years ago.
USING A TALKING BOARD
The Talking Board is perhaps the most controversial method of spirit communication, mostly because it can be used by anyone and requires no special powers to navigate. This may be why most psychics discourage the use of the board. It enables the average person to produce “medium-like” effects without a psychic actually being present.
Regardless, the boards have been both condemned and praised in equal amounts as a way to communicate with the spirits and as a direct link to the dark side. Many people ask if these boards are dangerous, but I think that this depends on the person. In all honestly, I can’t offer many clear-cut observations on the power of talking boards because my own experimentations with them have been uneven (at best). When asked, I usually just tell people that they probably shouldn’t mess with it unless they are prepared to handle whatever consequences may come up. However, I can offer instructions on the best way to use the board (should you wish to try it) and you can decide for yourself if you are actually talking to spirits or if you are merely taking part in an interesting experiment in psychic phenomena.
The board should be used by at least two persons at a time and can be placed on the laps of the sitters, or on a small table within easy reach of everyone. The sitters place their fingers lightly on the edges of the planchette, being careful not to push down too hard. If you should ever take part in a talking board session (or witness one) where you can hear the sound of the planchette scraping on the board, or it seems to be unusually loud as it moves, there is probably something fishy afoot. What this means is that someone is accidentally (or purposely) guiding the pointer and the session should be stopped immediately. Any information received from the board is bound to be false.
Once the session begins, it is recommended that the sitters invite a spirit to come through and speak to them. The sitters are advised to add that they wish to communicate with a “willing” spirit. The reason for this is that it’s been suggested that negative spirits will try to come through and confuse the sitters. For this reason, it’s best to state up front what you are looking for from the session.
Then, the questions should be asked and repeated in a slow and deliberate manner. Only one question should be asked at a time, and by a single person, to avoid confusion. The answers to the questions will be theoretically spelled out using the planchette.
THE STIGMA OF TALKING BOARDS
But how does it work? Many feel that the answers provided by the board are simply the unconscious movements made by the people touching the pointer. If this is true, then the board is operated by nothing more than the power of suggestion. But how can we explain the accounts of boards providing information that none of the sitters could have possibly have known?
On that note, it has been suggested that the Ouija is actually powered by the psychic portions of the human mind, spelling out answers to questions either by precognition, telepathy or unknowing communication with spirits. By the latter, the board would be a mystical tool that is guided by the sitter’s unconscious movements, which are in turn manipulated by the spirits. On the other side of the same coin, many researchers use the Ouija as a way to experiment with the effects of psychokinesis, noting the movement of the planchette as it is propelled by the human mind.
Some people believe that it isn’t that complicated though. They believe that the planchette is actually moved by the direct force of spirits, guiding the hands of the sitters. The Spiritualists believed this, as do some ghost hunters today, feeling that the Ouija is an important tool in spirit contact, both good and bad.
And this brings us to the reputation of the Ouija, which has become pretty bad over the years, especially with parents and religious groups. They often cite the overwrought (and usually unsubstantiated) cases of so-called “spirit possession” that occur after teenagers use the Ouija. Apparently, malevolent forces, masquerading as good spirits, possess children and impressionable adults and cause emotional damage (and even suicide) among those who dare to use the board. (cue the spooky music!)
But how common is this really? Not nearly as common (and I have yet to see an authentic case) as our society watchdogs would have you think. However, I will say that I think it is possible for people to become dependent upon, or even obsessed with, the Ouija. Of course, with that in mind, it’s possible for people to become dependent on or obsessed with anything, like religion for instance.
In the end, I am not going to say that it’s impossible for spirits to come through the Ouija board and cause problems for the users. There is really no way that I (or anyone else) can make a definitive statement on that. At this point, there are simply too many variables as to how the board even works, let alone if it is a doorway to the other side.
But what do you think as a well-rounded reader? Is the Ouija a harmless toy or a way to way to communicate with the dead? You will have to judge that one for yourself for now, but I do want to leave you with a couple of thoughts.
Frankly, I don’t believe that the Ouija is as harmful as some would have you believe. I don’t believe there is any inherent danger in its use, especially as it does seem to be a way to test and perhaps even generate PK. However, I don’t recommend that it be used by teenagers, overly emotional people or anyone not equipped to handle what may occur as a result of the board’s use. There are many accounts of people using the Ouija and then discovering that “things begin to happen”. Some of these experiences are alleged voices and the movement of objects in their home. Those who believe the Ouija achieves spirit contact will say that the person used the board unprotected and thus attracted “lower entities”. It’s possible though (as mentioned) that the Ouija induces PK effects and that the lingering activity has more to do with the generation of psychic activity that ghosts. For this reason though, people who are overly excited should avoid the use of the board.
It’s possible (and this is my own personal belief) that the Ouija works as a sort of “lightning rod” for activity. The forced concentration of the sitters incites a PK effect that possibly creates a directed energy, or perhaps even opens a sort-of “doorway” to the other side. I have seen the Ouija used as a way to stir up activity in a haunted location as the energies of the sitters are directed toward a common purpose.
So, yes, I do believe that the Ouija is a paranormal tool. However, I don’t think that it works as a legitimate tool to be used in ghost investigations -- or that it should be used to try and "conjure up spirits". There is more to fear from the human mind than from anything a Ouija Board might come into contact with.
OUIJA BOARD STORIES AND ACCOUNTS
As mentioned already, many people have a fear of and are stigmatized by their using a Ouija Board -- for both good purposes and bad. There seem to be many unanswered questions as to whether or not talking boards are worthwhile channels to the other side or merely sinister board games nut in spite of this, there have been many stories and apocryphal tales that have come along over the years to cement the Ouija's less than savory reputation. Here are a few of them but remember that we make no claims as to the truth of the stories -- the veracity of the tale is up to the reader to decide!
- One of the most mysterious looking buildings in Los Angeles is the famed Bradbury Building. Over the years, a variety of Hollywood film makers have been drawn to it and have shot films like DOA, Blade Runner and Seven here. Legend has it that George Wyman consulted his dead brother using a Ouija Board about it before he built it for Louis Bradbury in 1893. Wyman had little architectural experience at the time and debated on whether or not to take on the monumental task. His brother convinced him, through the board, that the building would make him famous -- and it did.
- Arthur Henry Ward (better known as Sax Rohmer), the author of the famous "Fun Manchu" adventure novels, was also a member of the Golden Dawn and penned a number of occult books as well. According to his own account, he started his lucrative writing career on advice gained through a Ouija board. He asked how to best make a living as a writer and the board spelled out "c-h-i-n-a-m-a-n". The novels that followed brought him fame and fortune and franchise that is still popular today.
- A St. Louis housewife named Pearl Curran stunned the literary world in the early 1900's by channeling a spirit through the Ouija Board and producing thousands of pages and novels and poetry that allegedly came through a spirit named Patience Worth. Click Here to Read the Complete Story
- Starting in 1919, author Stewart Edward White and his wife, Betty, spent 17 years studying Betty's mediumship with a group of entities who called themselves the "Invisibles". She made initial contact with them using a Ouija board and then continued the communications through automatic writing. The White's later produced the Betty Book to chronicle the events in 1937.
- In 1933, Dorothea Turley and her 15 year-old daughter, Mattie, were convicted of the murder their husband and father. On the witness stand, Mattie stated how the Ouija board, which had been directed by her mother, had told her that it was all right to kill her father so that her mother could marry "cowboy". Mattie later killed him with a shotgun. The jury determined that the crime had more to do with insurance money and Dorothea's lover than a Ouija board and Dorothea went to prison and Mattie for reform school, where she stayed until she was 21. Her mother was released on an appeal three years after the original trial.
- In 1972, poet Jane Roberts founded the "channeling" movement when she had a paranormal experience that she described as "feeling her consciousness leave her body". She and her husband began experimenting with a Ouija Board and made contact with a being known as "Seth". The result of this was several popular books that were dictated by Seth himself, including Seth Speaks.
- According to legend (and boy, is this one questionable!) musician Alice Cooper allegedly named his band (and himself?) after the spirit of a 17th century witch with this name that he claimed to have contacted through a Ouija Board. He and his band mates thought the name so cool that they decided it was the perfect moniker for the group -- except for one hold out, who thought the name was stupid. It should be noted that earlier names of the band had been the Earwigs, the Spiders and Nazz, so perhaps "Alice Copper" was an improvement. Regardless, this was the first story of the band name's origin and there have been others since then. It's likely that they don't even remember what really happened!
- In 1990 (or 1991) several students allegedly decided to try out a Ouija Board at a small cemetery on the campus of Benedictine University in Chicago. One of the young men who participated in the session allegedly became “possessed”. He started screaming and howling uncontrollably and his companions were unable to calm him down or to keep him from kicking, biting and flailing about. Campus police were said to have assisted in getting the young man back to his room and he ended up being taken to an area hospital, where he was sedated and treated. The story of the incident was told, re-told and embellished around campus over the course of the next few days and interesting elements began to be added to the tale. One of the most popular was that the boy was taken to Benedictine Hall and locked in a room all night, in hopes that he might tire himself out. When the door was unlocked, he was sitting quietly in a chair and looking out a window that was covered with swarming flies! Unfortunately, the real story was not so chilling or exciting. According to reliable sources, the boy simply freaked himself out during the Ouija session. The spooky setting and the excitable nature of the boy combined for a disaster when one of his friends decided to play a prank and make everyone think the ghost was close by. The young man became hysterical and the events that followed were a result of his own overactive imagination.
Rather than the story of the “possessed” boy being a cautionary tale, Ouija boards became even more popular on campus in the weeks that followed. Some credited the boards with terrible powers, including one girl who blamed her séance for a mysterious fire that started in her room on Neuzil Hall. She had left her Ouija board sitting on her sofa when she went to dinner but was called back to her room when the sofa somehow went up in flames. After the fire was put out, no trace could be found of the Ouija Board!