The Mystery of the Ouija

I’m still playing the vagabond on my Tour of Fives blog tour (at K.B. Owen’s place tomorrow talking about 5 Reasons I’ve Come to Appreciate History). So we’re doing something special here today.

It’s Metaphysical Monday with Kirsten Weiss.

Take it away, Kirsten!

One of the things my metaphysical detective, Riga Hayworth, has not done to summon the dead is use a Ouija board. In my mystery novels, this is for practical reasons – Riga doesn’t have to summon the dead. They’re constantly underfoot.

But Ouijas are cool. (Unless you think they’re demonic; then they’re bad.)

It’s unclear where the name, “Ouija,” came from. Back in the 19th century era of spiritualism, mediums and table knocking were the rage. But contacting the departed was also complicated. Automatic writing often produced nonsense, and rapping for letters (one knock for A, two knocks for B…) took a boring amount of time.

Innovations resulted, such as a dial plate with numbers and letters set into a wooden table. These inventions grew in complexity. Even more elaborate devices, such as Robert Hare’s Spiritoscope, were developed to prevent fraud.

A Spiritoscope

A Spiritoscope

But you needed to be a professional, or obsessed, to afford one of these contraptions.

spiritoscopes used to catch fraudulent mediums

Spiritoscopes were designed to keep mediums honest, but they were expensive.

The early iteration of a Ouija board married the French invention of a planchette, used for automatic writing, with an alphabet board – a board with letters printed on it – to create the “talking board.”

a planchette

Planchette circa 1860’s (photo by Brandon Hodge, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The religious community reacted predictably to the spiritualist craze, labeling it necromancy. And technically, since any calling up of the dead is necromancy, they were right.

Perhaps that’s why in February, 1810, Charles Kennard and his Kennard Novelty Company patented the Ouija board – not as an occult item, but as a party game. This likely broadened its marketing appeal. But the board didn’t take off until the 1960s, when Parker Brothers bought the rights to the board, selling two million boards in 1967.

Ouija Board

I know psychics who swear Ouija boards are portals to hell, and refuse to keep them in the house. Others say they’re just paint and wood, and much like Tarot cards or any other tool, can be used responsibly, or not.

What do you think of Ouija boards? Did you play with them at sleepovers or Halloween parties when you were a kid?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten is the author of the Riga Hayworth paranormal mystery novels: The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, and The Infernal Detective (click on the books in the carousel above to see more about them). Each book explores a different branch of magic. Book 5, tentatively titled The Elemental Detective, will explore Hawaiian magic and huna. She’s also working on a Steampunk YA mystery, which might just feature a steam-powered Spiritogram.

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13 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Ouija

  1. Kassandra Lamb

    Great post. Kirsten! My friends and I were fascinated by Ouija boards as teenagers. I never realized they were originally designed to contact the dead (creepy). We thought it could predict the future so we’d ask it who we were going to marry. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Weiss

      Ah ha! You practiced necromancy – diving the future through the use of the spirits! Which begs the question – how do the spirits know the future? And are they reliable?

      Reply
      1. Kassandra Lamb

        Yeah, well, it always told me I was going to marry whatever boy I had a crush on at the moment, so either it was my own wishful thinking pushing that planchette around (my suspicion) or the spirit I connected with wasn’t any better than I was at predicting the future. 😀

        Reply
  2. shannon esposito

    So funny that a game company made it popular. I’ve always been leary of them, probably because of all their appearances in horror fiction I’ve read like Alexandra Sokoloff’s The Harrowing. Great book, by the way. My friend and I did play around with one once but we didn’t try to ask it questions. We would pick a number or letter on the board and the other person would try to guess which one we were thinking of. Eventually, we could run our hand over the board and feel a warm spot over whichever symbol the person was thinking of. Needless to say, it started freaking us out and we put it away.

    Reply
  3. Nancy Levine

    I always thought they were pretty cool. Someone did have one at a sleepover when I was a kid. And later when my mom and I were looking at them in a store, the clerk said they were demonic.

    Reply
    1. Kirsten Weiss

      I hear a lot of people say they’re demonic. There seems to be a common belief – especially among psychics I know – that the very existence of a ouija in one’s home opens up a portal to the underworld. Maybe the psychics I know are especially paranoid. But I think that like any occult or magical device, the power is all in the user.

      And there are some gorgeous ouija boards out there! If you’re interested, check out the Museum of Talking Boards by Kipling West here: http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/kips.html

      Reply
  4. Catie Rhodes

    I think Ouija Boards are neat. I had a Parker Brother’s version as a kid. I took it with me when I got married, but it has disappeared over the 21+ years of my marriage. I never got much out of it, no otherworldly experiences. But … I still thought it was neat.

    Reply
  5. K.B. Owen

    Hi, Kirsten! Fab post. I did some research on “talking boards” for my second novel…very cool. That link has some great resources. I remember Ouija boards as a kid on sleepovers. It creeped me out, even though I figured the kids were manipulating things. Not really into it, but I could see how folks might see it as a bad thing…kind of an early scene in a bad horror movie, LOL.

    Reply
  6. Debra Eve

    Fascinating post, Kirsten. I’ve been in on Ouija sessions a few times. I really, really wanted something cool and otherworldly to happen. But seriously…someone (not otherworldly) at the table always controlled the planchette and often it was quite obvious who. It can be fun, but I’ll take Scrabble anyday 🙂

    Reply
  7. Nancy Wood

    Great post! We used them at sleepovers to find out “who likes who!” I knew they were used to contact the other side, but never knew the history. Thanks Kirsten!

    Reply

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