| As performed by|
|By the powers of woo|
| —Your typical |
Unsurprisingly, these alleged spirits never seem to have anything the least bit useful or specific to convey. On the contrary, their only hobby seems to be freaking out teenage girls during sleepovers.
What is it?
It consists of a board with all of the letters of the alphabet, along with the digits 0–9 and short words like "yes", "no" and "bye". It also has a pointer of some sort, either a triangle or a magnifying glass, that passes easily over the board; this is known as a planchette. According to believers, once everyone has a hand on the pointer, then the spirits will move it over the letters to answer questions asked by the group. In actuality, it is a classic example of the ideomotor effect. (Of course, fundamentalist Christians who believe in them think that demons are the ones controlling the planchette.) The idea that one person might be unconsciously moving the device is usually not considered.
The name was simply made up, but later was marketed as coming from "oui", which means "yes" in French, "ja", which means "yes" in Dutch and German, and "board", which means "board" in English (because it's a board).
Automatic writing boards have existed since ancient times, but they became a fad in the late 1800s. In 1890,
an early patent troll a businessman named Elijah Bond had the good sense to patent a planchette sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed, thus "inventing" the Ouija board as far as the U.S. Patent Office was concerned. In 1901, one William Fuld took over production, came up with the "Ouija" name, and proceeded to rewrite history claiming that he invented it, suing everyone who argued otherwise until he died in 1927. In 1966, Fuld's estate sold the business to Parker Brothers, who in turn became a subsidiary of Hasbro in 1991.
In other words, it's no more supernatural than Monopoly or G.I. Joe. To their credit, Parker Brothers and later Hasbro always insisted that the Ouija board is merely a board game, though that hasn't stopped them from licensing the rights to it to make 2 supernatural horror movies in 2014 and 2016.
Initially, Ouija boards were seen as a harmless parlor game. Their association with Spiritualism didn't take off until World War I, when one Pearl Cullan started saying that it could be used to contact spirits. Thousands of Americans bought Ouija boards hoping to contact loved ones lost in the trenches of France.
Ouija boards are almost exclusively used by teenagers seeking cheap thrills, yet some fundamentalist Christians see them as a major route to demonic possession. These beliefs give rise to a sort of supernatural play called ostension. When respected adults in your community inform you that you can get Satan's party line via the Ouija board, of course you're going to check it out.
They also associate the boards with the New Age movement and neopaganism, even though use is widely frowned upon by both of those groups (though not unheard of). This is especially true in New Age circles, who prefer significantly softer, lighter practises (such as polishing pretty rocks and drawing pictures of dolphins). The main organised religion to use the boards is the Spiritualist church, who seem to be ignored by most people.
- Chris French "The unseen force that drives Ouija boards and fake bomb detectors', The Guardian, 27 April 2013
- What happens when you blindfold Ouija board users? on the official YouTube channel of National Geographic
- How not to pronounce "ouija board" on YouTube