As a teenager, did you ever sit around at a sleepover and play with a Ouija board with your friends? You may have gotten chills down your spine as you felt the spirits sliding the planchette across the board. But were you really communing with spirits, or was one of your friends secretly pushing the planchette?
Ouija boards have been a source of mystery and truth for almost 150 years. Read on to learn more about the history of these boards and the truth of how they work.
Invention of the Ouija Board
No one knows quite where or how the Ouija board was invented or who the first person was to sit at a board and place their fingertips on a wooden planchette. The first mentions of the Ouija board came in 1886, when the Associated Press reported that there was a new spiritual phenomenon sweeping spiritualist camps in Ohio. People, it seemed, wanted a faster and easier way to communicate with departed spirits, so they developed the Ouija board.
The Ouija board came about at a time when Americans were looking for a way to communicate with a world beyond our own. The average lifespan at that time was less than 50, and tragic losses were common. Americans wanted a way to reach out to their lost loved ones and find comfort in their grief.
Origins of the Name “Ouija”
There is a legend that the name “Ouija board” comes from a combination of the French word “oui” and the German word “ja,” both meaning “yes.” The name was said to refer to one of the markings on the board, a “yes” spot, accompanied by the opposite “no” and the full alphabet. In fact, the origin of the name is much more mystical.
The founders of the first company to market Ouija boards say they sat around a table with the eponymous board and asked what they should call it. The board spelled out the name “Ouija” and, when asked what the word meant, replied only, “Good luck.” (One of the people present, however, did admit she was wearing a necklace with the name “Ouida” on it, so the inspiration may have come from more mundane sources.”
How the Board Got Patented
It wasn’t long after the Ouija board got its start that it became a commercial item. By 1890, Charles Kennard, Elijah Bond, Washington Bowie, and two others founded the Kennard Novelty Company to make and market Ouija boards. By 1891, the first advertisements for these boards started appearing in Pittsburgh papers, marketing the boards for $1.50 each.
But before these founders could start marketing their Ouija boards, they had to get a patent, and in order to get a patent, they had to prove the boards worked. The founders brought a Ouija board to the patent office and offered a demonstration to the chief patent officer, who demanded the board spell out his name (which the founders supposedly didn’t know). The board did, indeed, spell out the officer’s name and, white-faced and shaken, the man signed their patent application.
Popularity of Ouija Boards
It didn’t take long for the Ouija board to find enormous success in America. The Kennard Novelty Company started with one factory in Baltimore, but they had soon expanded to two in Baltimore, two in Chicago, two in New York City, and even one in London. In 1898, Kennard Novelty Company licensed exclusive rights to make Ouija boards, and the business continued under various names until it was bought out by Parker Brothers in 1966.
Ouija board popularity rose during times of chaos in the United States. In the wake of WWI, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and WWII, people wanted the reassurance of communing with their loved ones. In 1967, the year of the Summer of Love and the Vietnam War, Ouija boards outsold Monopoly.
The Darker Turn
But the golden age of the Ouija board had to come to an end, and the board’s death knell came in 1973. That year, The Exorcist appeared in theaters and changed the face of American pop culture forever. In the terrifying movie, a twelve-year-old gets possessed by a demon after playing with a Ouija board.
Thanks to the national trauma The Exorcist caused, Ouija board popularity plummeted overnight. Suddenly, these boards were the tools of the devil, and communing with spirits was no longer a harmless pastime, but a dangerous practice. The Satanic Panic of the 1980s only reinforced this belief, and by 2001, Ouija boards were being burned on bonfires along with copies of Harry Potter.
Resurgence in Popularity
In recent years, we’ve seen Ouija boards come back into style a bit. The spiritual and religious panic of the late 20th century has faded, and these days, many people are a little more open to alternative ideologies. The Ouija board retains some of its spooky reputation today, but they aren’t viewed as dangerous.
In fact, some scientists have begun to study Ouija boards and the mystic phenomena that make them work. These studies have revealed some fascinating insights into these boards that have dominated popular culture for nearly 150 years.
How Do Ouija Boards Work?
So how do Ouija boards work, both in theory and in fact? A Ouija board consists of a flat board with an alphabet, the numbers 0 through 9, and the words “yes” and “no” printed on it. There’s also a planchette, a rounded arrow-shaped board with casters or felt feet that help it slide more easily across the board.
Participants sit around the Ouija board and place their fingertips on the planchette. Then they ask the spirits questions, and the spirits move the planchette to different letters or numbers to spell out answers. Each person in the circle swears they aren’t moving the planchette, and mystical truths are supposedly revealed.
The Ideomotor Effect
Studies have revealed that Ouija boards in fact work through something called the ideomotor effect. Our brains sometimes move our muscles without us thinking consciously about it – your heart beats, your eyes blink, and your lungs expand and contract as you breathe. Ouija boards engage these same unconscious muscular movements to slide the planchette across the board.
The simple truth is that because we’re looking for answers when we use Ouija boards, our brains provide us with them. We may not feel like we’re moving the planchette, but our brains are guiding our hands to spell out the answers we need.
Using Ouija Boards for Self-Examination
Although the truth behind Ouija boards may not be spiritual or mystical, it reveals the power we have hidden within our own brains. Ouija boards can be a fantastic tool for self-examination and introspection. Even if your conscious brain may not know the answer, your subconscious brain might be able to tell you what you need to hear.
Next time you’re trying to decide how to handle an impossible dilemma, try breaking out a Ouija board and asking what you should do. If you’re feeling lost in life, use the board to ask what you really want and how to get there. The answers you get might surprise you, but they come from deep within your own mind.
Learn More About the Ouija Board Game
The Ouija board has been a fixture in pop culture for nearly 150 years, and although it isn’t as mystical as we originally believed, it can still offer deep truths. These boards are excellent tools for introspection and can show us what’s going on in our subconscious minds. Next time you need some inner truth, sit down at your Ouija board game and consult your own inner spirits.
If you’d like to learn more about Ouija boards, check out the rest of The Shankara Experience site.
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