To some, it's a harmless parlor game or children's toy. Others
call it a tool of Satan. For still others, it is a tool for reaching the subconscious
mind or the spirit world. "It" is flat board imprinted with the letters
of the alphabet, the numbers from 0 through 9 and the words yes and no. It comes
with a little plastic heart-shaped table with a window cut out of its middle.
You probably know it as the Ouija Board, manufactured and sold by Parker Brothers,
but the Ouija Board has been around for a lot longer than that.
Spiritualists have always employed tools of some sort to help
interpret messages sent from the 'Other Side'. One favorite method was 'glass
writing'. The medium would place an upside down glass on top of a piece of paper
on which was written the alphabet. The medium would then place his or her fingers
on the glass, and it would move to cover certain letters, spelling out words.
In 1891, the U.S. Patent Office awarded a patent for the Ouija
Board to Elijah Bond (with Charles Kennard and William Maupin), three Baltimore
businessmen. The Ouija board may not actually have been their invention - there
is at least one published account of a session using an alphabet board and a
planchette that appeared in the New York Tribune in 1886 - but it was Kennard
who first marketed the Ouija Board to the public. His Kennard Novelty Company
continued to manufacture and sell Ouija Boards until the patent and all rights
were sold to the Parker Brothers game company in 1966. Parker Brothers continued
to sell the Ouija Board nearly exactly as it was originally created until 1990,
when it discontinued the traditional Ouija Board, and introduced a smaller,
glow-in-the-dark version which is still available.
Kennard himself, though, left the company less than a year
after the patent was granted. The Kennard Novelty Company was taken over by
William Fuld, a long-time employee. It was Fuld who declared that the name 'Ouija'
was a combination of the French and German words for yes, in contradiction of
his former boss' statement that it was the Egyptian word for 'good luck', and
that the board itself had given him the name. Fuld marketed the board for years
with fantastic claims of its abilities to contact the spirit world and facilitate
communication with the dead. A typical ad was this one, which appeared in newspapers
A WONDERFUL TALKING BOARD
Interesting and mysterious; surpasses in its results second sight, mind reading,
will give intelligent answer to any question.
Proven at patent office before patent was allowed.
Since its introduction, the Ouija Board's popularity
has waxed and waned. Because it is so simple to use, it has always been a favorite
'toy' among those who have a passing interest in the occult. Its popularity
sparked warnings from spiritualists and from religious figures that it was dangerous
- that meddling with spirits was not a game for amateurs, that opening yourself
to communications without preparation could open the door to possession by evil
spirits and worse. Given human nature, these warnings only sparked further interest
in experimentation with the Ouija Board. In fact, even J.B. Rhine, most well-known
for his interest in ESP and his experiments using Zener cards, conducted experiments
using the Ouija Board.
Do Ouija Boards work? That's a subject that has always been
open to debate. It's certain that they often spell out intelligible and intelligent
messages - but whether those messages are communications from beyond the grave
or from the subconscious of the users is a subject that is still undecided.
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