Ouija Boards | Talking Boards
The use of talking boards has roots in the modern Spiritualism movement that began in The United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Methods of divination at that time used various ways to spell out messages, including swinging a pendulum over a plate that had letters around the edge or using an entire table to indicate letters drawn on the floor. Often used was a small wooden tablet supported on casters.
This tablet, called a planchette, was affixed with a pencil that would write out messages in a fashion similar to automatic writing. It should be noted that many of these methods predate modern Spiritualism.
During the late 1800s, planchettes were widely sold as a novelty. In 1890, businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard had the idea to patent a planchette sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed, and thus had invented the first Ouija board. An employee of Kennard, William Fuld took over the talking board production and in 1901, he started production of his own boards under the name “Ouija” .
The Fuld name would become synonymous with the Ouija board, as Fuld reinventing its history claimed that he himself had invented it. Countless talking boards from Fuld’s competitors flooded the market and all these boards enjoyed a heyday from the 1920s through the 1960s. Fuld sued many companies over the “Ouija” name and concept right up until his death in 1927. In 1966, Fuld’s estate sold the entire business to Parker Brothers, who continues to hold all trademarks and patents. About 10 brands of talking boards are sold today under various names . See also: Ka-Bala
How is it done?
A Ouija board is operated by one or more users. They place the planchette on the board and then rest their fingers on the planchette. The users start moving the planchette around the board and speaking to the entity (or entities) they wish to summon; They then begin asking questions of it. Eventually the planchette will come to rest on one letter after another, spelling out a message. Often an additional participant records the messages on paper. As with automatic writing, the messages are often vague and open to interpretation, or complete gibberish.
Some talking boards have words or phrases written on them to simplify the interpretation of the messages. Tarot, zodiac, and other esoteric symbols are frequently incorporated into talking board’s design, along with dramatic and mystical artwork. Some users prefer to improvise their own Ouija board. They may use a sheet of paper with the alphabet written on it or lettered cards placed around a table, together with an object like an overturned glass or coin as the indicator. Hand-made Ouija boards produced by artists are valued by talking board enthusiasts and collectors.
Many users feel that the spirit with whom they are communicating is controlling their motions to guide their hands, spelling out messages. They see the board as a tool or medium through which they communicate with the spirit realm. These believers often take offence at the dismissal of the talking board as merely a game. Other users contend that they are in control of their own actions, but that the talking board allows communication with their inner psychic voice or subconscious.
Proponents of Ouija boards do not believe there is any harm in communicating with spiritual entities, provided basic guidelines are followed. These rules often vary from user to user, but usually include things like never playing alone, beginning and ending a séance “properly”, and always using the board in “comfortable” environment. Numerous superstitions surround Ouija board use.
Few people who have investigated Ouija boards from a skeptical viewpoint accept that a piece of cardboard sold as a game can conjure spirits, evil or benevolent. The accepted theory among psychologists and skeptics is that the participants are subconsciously making small, involuntary, physical movements using a well-known, and well-understood, phenomenon called the Ideomotor effect. Experiments consistently suggest that, at best, the messages are received involuntarily from the participants themselves, and, at worst, by a manipulative player, possibly with the connivance of confederates within the group present.
In some instances, users of talking boards have communicated with “ghosts” of people who were not dead, as demonstrated by the British mentalist Derren Brown in his 2004 television special Derren Brown: Séance. Skeptic and magician James Randi, in his book An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, points out that when blindfolded, Ouija board operators are unable to produce intelligible messages. Magicians Penn & Teller performed a similar demonstration in an episode of their television show Bullshit!.
These failures indicate, as skeptics believe, that people are simply very willing to fool themselves, for example, by the Forer effect. The public (and frequently energetically flaunted) expression of native and genuine fears and subconscious desires, often concerning death or sex, while appearing genuine, can frighten impressionable people, or cause them to loosen their purse strings (or both). It is for this reason alone that many skeptics suggest that the Ouija board is best avoided, particularly when each player may not absolutely trust, or know, every other player.