Where did the Ouija board originate? What is the over all history of 'spirit boards'? I have been thinking about this lately as I wait for the arrival of the Ouija board I won as a contest prize. My earliest memories of the Ouija are trying to summon spirits at birthday slumber parties, or using one to mess with other kids by faking spiritual contact (pushing the planchette around). Over the years I have heard the various rumors surrounding this 'divination tool', and many of them focus on the board being evil. An instrument for summoning demons, which of course would HAVE to lead to possession...*insert eye-roll here*... My general opinion about items used for contacting spirits is you get what you attract. It's how you prepare yourself, and how 'you reach out' that dictates what an individual will get. In just about any situation, whether it be this world or the spirit world, if you go looking for trouble you are most likely going to find it.
I decided to look into a bit of the history of the 'spirit board' to see how far back it goes. I did find a web site where the sites creator, a self professed aficionado of the Ouija, said that he thought the historical information was bogus and that any "ancient accounts" are only in writing because they were suggested in the movie "Witchboard" from the 1980's. Me thinks that if that person does carry a distinction of being an aficionado of anything, it would HAVE to be "self professed"...it didn't take much reading of the site to see that not only did the person not have a handle on the basics of grammar, they hadn't seemed to have done much (if any) research on the subject of 'spirit boards'. Although "Witchboard" is the better of the spirit board related movies I have seen (and there aren't many TO see), that's not saying much. To say that the writers of that movie created the histories of the spirit board...well, to quote the great Bugs Bunny, "what a maroon".
The earliest accounts I could find online were on Wikipedia, along with a few other supplemental sites. Wikipedia is a great source of information. I do realize that most anyone can post information on the site, so in some instances information can be a tad suspect, but that aside I find it to be an interesting resource. (These days I think they police the postings a bit better, and information is more reliable.)
The earliest accounts of "automatic writing" using methods related to the Ouija are from China c.1100 CE. A supposed official term at the time was "Fuji Planchette Writing". Automatic writing was used to contact the dead under special supervisions during rituals, and was said to be a central practice of the 'Quanzhen School' (a school of Taoism, founded in the 12th century by Taoist Wang Chongyang). Eventually, the method would be forbidden by the Qing Dynasty. The 'Daozang' (a treasury of Dao or Daoist Canon that contains about 1400 collected texts c. 400 CE) is said to contain entire scriptures that are supposedly works of automatic planchette writing. Other similar methods of automatic writing have also been widely practiced in Medieval Europe, Ancient Greece and Rome, and the list goes on. Okay, moving on from the land of Wikipedia.
The term most frequently used during my research was "automatic writing". Although, the use of a planchette (which I will get into) does involve spirits moving an object (the planchette) with the help of the living, that is not what I immediately think of when I read the term "automatic writing". There is a common method where a psychic holds a pen or pencil in their hand, places the tip of the writing implement on a piece of blank paper, and enters a trance-like state...the actual writing is done by a spirit through the arm of the psychic.
As for the 'planchette' ( french for "little plank") there are a couple of planchette types. The first is the one made more common by the Ouija board. It is a small, heart shaped, flat...well, I was going to say wooden, but the ones in the Ouija box are plastic these days. I believe that it's safe to say that the preferred planchette would be wood and in the past they were definitely wood (as were the boards). This type of planchette is on three casters that allow it to easily move over a board. An open circular space in the face or top of the planchette reveals letters printed on the board as they are selected via spiritual contact (participants rest the tips of their fingers lightly on the planchette's edge). The second type is similar, but instead of it having three casters and the open circular space, this planchette has two rotating casters and a pencil that is placed point down on a piece of paper. Obviously, during a session/seance, the spirit is said to convey it's message(s) through writing it out on the paper. (Some say that a french medium named M. Planchette invented the tool, but there is no real information to back up the claim.)
I found other information about how the planchette evolved, which led to the addition of a board into the mix. Two women, the Fox sisters, are credited with starting the modern spiritualism craze back in 1848. Those who had the gift of being able to open up communications between humans and the spirit world, also known as "mediums", were in great demand. The increase in their popularity led to them coming up with various tools to aid them. One of the earliest methods was "table tipping", but it proved to be too involved, time consuming, and noisy...a medium and any others present would rest their fingers on the tables edge, and a spirit would move the table rapping on the floor with a table leg to respond to letters of the alphabet that were called out. (note: I have had a personal experience with table tipping that is detailed in the post "Spirited, or Tipping The Table...". It was a bit different than the descriptions I got doing this research.)
Another technique was to use a small basket with a pencil attached to an end. The medium would touch the basket, get in contact with a spirit, and the spirit would take over writing out it's responses from the "other side" by moving the basket and pencil around. Eventually the basket evolved into the planchette. The two caster and pencil design, being the first. Using this planchette proved to be difficult due to its being hard to keep the pencil on the paper, and the messages being virtually indecipherable. Some mediums gave up on the planchette all together and preferred the mental approach by going into a trance like state to communicate more directly with spirits. Others ditched the planchette and kept the pencil to automatic write with their hand (the method I mentioned earlier).
Some refused to let the use of a 'gadget' go. A number of other gizmos were created, but due to being a tad "over worked" they proved to be more trouble than they were worth and didn't stay around long. As far as when the alphabet board came into use with the planchette, it's an unknown. However, it looks to be earlier than most people think. I found information from an October, 1871 issue of The Quarterly Review on one site, that talked about the use of a board and planchette in a seance. Not only were the tools used by what would be termed 'serious mediums', but planchettes were also sold as a novelty and parlor game. This brings me to the more commonly known history that most people believe to be the extent of the spirit boards' existence.
I found a few variations of this particular story, so I have melded the main aspects. This is the better known history of the Ouija. The "invention" of the Ouija board is attributed to Elijah J. Bond, and two assignees, Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin. (There are other versions that name Bond and Kennard as the joint inventors.) The patent was filed on May, 28, 1890, and was issued on February 10, 1891. This is where the story kind of goes all over the place, but there is a common thread I'm going to follow. It is said that Kennard left the company after a little over a year, and his remaining business partners joined up with a powerful Baltimore capitalist named Washington Bowie. With Bowie, the company continued and eventually was renamed 'Ouija Novelty Company'. Kennard was said to have founded his own business, the Northwestern Toy Company, in Chicago where he started producing a Ouija knock-off called the Volo board. Bowie filed a suit on copyright infringement stopping the production of the Volo. Kennard continued on unfazed, producing various spirit boards until 1919. There is a lot of back and forth finger waving on who was the actual inventor, who was entitled to this or that, but I am going to gloss over it and hit the finer points. Washington Bowie would remain the head of Ouija Novelty Company.
|'Electric Mystifying Oracle'|
Oh, I almost forgot another piece of the story. The naming of the board. There are also differing stories on how the Ouija name was arrived at. Some say that Charles Kennard learned the name while using the board. He said it was an ancient Egyptian word that means 'good luck'. Others say that Fuld came up with the name by combining the French and German words for 'yes'...this etymology seems to be the more widely accepted version.
|(Some early competing spirit boards from left to right: Haskelite's "Mystic Board"; "The Wireless Messenger"; Haskelite's "Mystic Tray")|
|(More early boards: Gift Craft's "Swami"; "I Do Psycho Ideograph"; Lee's "Magic Marval")|
"WEEGEE WEEGEE TELL ME DO"
(Ouija, Ouija Tell Me Do)
Lyric by: William Jerome
Music by: Harry Von Tilzer
There is a game played by nearly every family. Seems to be the thing. Rich and poor folks play this little game to see what future days may bring.
Right across the hall from me...there lives a girlie dear. And when her girlfriends call each night...Why this is what I hear?
Wee Gee, Wee Gee tell me do...Tell me if my loving baby loves me true...Tell me quick and tell me fast is our love to pure and good to really last?
Oh Wee Gee, Wee Gee you know me...I will never tell him don't you see?
Once he used to bring me candy by the box. Now he only calls to have me darn his socks. Is he true, the sly old fox.
Tell me Wee Gee do...do...
This little board is the ruler of the nation now. Some game talk of fun. Right in your own home settles any little row most every home has one.
Old maids love it most to death and play it night and day. And one maid laughed and lost her breath. When she heard one girl say.
Wee Gee Wee Gee tell me do. Are the men who marry girlies always true? Should the supper table wait for the ones who really love to come home late?
Oh Wee Gee Wee Gee should I swear? If up on his coat I found a hair? If your husband is talking in his sleep says "Pearl"...Does it mean a present or some other girl? Is it girl or is it Pearl?
Tell me Wee Gee do...do...
The Ouija design has also found it's way into the materialistic world, with it's trademark logo and board design showing up on musical instruments, jewelry, clothing...I really like that lunch box.
Below are the Ouija designs of today with the common glow in the dark version, and a pink version (don't know when that was introduced). Below those are some examples of other 'spirit boards' being sold these days.
Am I believer or non-believer in the Ouija, or spirit boards as a whole? I've had some experiences over the years that have raised my eyebrows...nothing that has raised my blood pressure though. I find them interesting as I do most things that deal with the 'great beyond'. I will be getting my Ouija board soon. Do I plan on trying it out? If I do, I definitely don't plan on trying it solo. Whether one thinks the Ouija board a portal of evil, or just a neutral means to communicate with the spirit world, solo sessions are just not advisable. If I do 'take it out for a drive', I will most assuredly share it on here. My jury is still out though...
(If you are interested in checking out the boards I mentioned in this post for yourself, you can find links to them along with a few others on the Amazon.com page. Just click on Amazon.com at the top of this blog page.)