Throughout history man has been obsessed with his mortality, fascinated by what lies beyond this life. The ouija board is probably the most famous tool used for communication with the dead, and it seems to have been around for centuries. In China there are records dating from 1,200 BC, claiming ouija instruments were frequently used in written communications with the dead, while 13th century Mongols were said to use a table and "rapping noises" for the same purpose. In 540 BC the Greek philosopher Pythagoras and his sect held frequent séances or circles at which 'a mystic table, moving on wheels, moved towards signs.
Pythagoras and his pupil supposedly interpreted the board's actions to the audience, describing them as revelations from the unseen world. The results were compiled into an "Apocrypha" (meaning "those having been hidden away - a book of uncertain authorship.
Today's ouija board was designed in Baltimore in 1892 by Elija J Bond and William Fuld, when the boards became popular for use in "parlour games". It's a refined version of one invented in 1853 by French spiritualist Monsieur Planchette. The earlier board was a large piece of paper with a two wheeled heartshaped wedge which had a pencil attached to one end. Today's board is inscribed with numbers and letters, and the wedge is now called a "planchette".
The layout of the ouija board varies slightly from country to country. The original and most popular layout places the "yes" at the top of the circle and the "no" at the bottom. The letters are placed in a circle starting with the letter A next to the word yes and continuing around until the letter Z ends up on the other side of the word "yes". The ten numbers from one to zero are placed at the bottom next to the "no". The ouija board usually requires a minimum of two people to operate it. It is very rare that one person has the power to operate the board.
Ouija boards have become an iconic part of culture, and featured in a number of books and films. Their roles vary from being a benign object to an evil entity. A more peculiar role of talking boards in literature stems from authors using the board to channel written works from the deceased:
- Pearl Curren held public séances, and claimed her ouija board allowed her to communicate with the spirit of Patience Worth, resulting in Curren publishing a number of poems and prose.
- Sylvia Plath's poem "Dialogue over a Ouija Board" incorporates the text of one of the sessions she held with her husband using a ouija board.
- Emily Hutchings claimed in 1917 she had communicated with Mark Twain, who dictated a book she wrote through the ouija board. Twain's descendents halted publication of the book through the courts, which was later said to be so badly written it could not have been written by Twain - dead or alive.
- James Merrill used messages he claimed he obtained from various deceased people while using a ouija board in his poetry "The Changing Light at Sandover".
- John Fuller worked with a spirit medium while researching his book "The Ghost of Flight 401", which was about a flight which crashed into the Everglades en route to Miami. They claim they contacted the flight engineer through the board, and the information obtained was not known to either him or the medium.
- Writer GK Chesterton used a ouija board to try and break a period of skepticism and depression. His experiments with the item launched his interest in the occult.
- Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous used a ouija board to contact spirits. His wife claimed he would receive messages directly without using the board. For a while, his participation in AA was deeply affected by his involvement with the ouija board. Wilson claimed he received the twelve step method directly from a spirit without the board and wrote it down.
Although ouija boards are considered harmless toys to many people they are a force for evil, opening a door for demons and other malevolent entities to enter our world and create havoc or even destroy a person. The very thought of the potential power of a ouija board is thought to have a very negative effect upon a fragile mind. And that thought alone should be enough to warn us of their power - benign or otherwise.
By Sarah Todd - Contributing Author