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The Ouija Board

The Ouija Board

The Wonderful Talking Board, Part 1

Nothing divides a room than a discussion about playing with the Ouija Board. On one side sits the ardent not-in-a-million-years group. On the other, the occasional player. Where do you fall?

America was in a frenzy with the rise of Spiritualism in 1848. Spiritualism was compatible with Christian ideology. Séances were en vogue. Mediums enjoyed a celebrity type status. A simplified planchette was manufactured and sold across the country. However, a savvy businessman saw the potential to make millions.

The man who brought Ouija to the masses was in it for the money. Kennard Novelty Company patented the Ouija Board (Patent Number US446054 A) in 1891. Ironically, in order to receive a patent, the company had to demonstrate that the board actually worked. The Ouija Board game was introduced as a parlor wooden board game in the early 1900s—right as interest in the afterlife was growing. It was priced at $1.50 and consisted of a wooden board and wooden planchette.

Where does the name originate? Despite numerous stories, the name is not a combination of the words “Yes” and “No.” The most likely source of the name comes from co-founder Elijah Bond’s sister-in-law Helen Peters, a medium in her own right. Peters asked the board what it wanted to be called, and the response was “Ouija”—loosely translated as “good luck.” Dig a little deeper and you learn that Ms. Peter’s was sporting a locket containing the picture of women’s rights activist Ouida. Hmm.

Norman Rockwell

Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Norman Rockwell, May 1, 1920.

The Ouija Board was a mainstream activity in homes. Norman Rockwell added one in his May 1, 1920 illustration for The Saturday Evening Post. Polite society sat in their parlors and attempted to communicate with the dead. All hands would lightly rest on a teardrop-shaped planchette. A question would be called and mysteriously the planchette would move to reveal an answer. The answer may come in the form of a “yes” or a “no.” Or the spirit may spell out the answer one letter at a time. Or indicate a number. This process of deciphering a message from beyond the Veil could take hours. And many waited.

By the time the Kennard Novelty Company sold the game to Parker Brothers in 1967, the game turned into a multi-million dollar business. All was good until 1973 and The Exorcist. The sole factor in how a seemingly harmless parlor game turned into the portal of evil rests squarely on one motion picture. The Exorcist is loosely based on one pre-teenage girl (in real life it was a boy) who played with the Ouija Board and let loose the Devil. Parker Brothers was sold to Hasbro, current owner of the game. Since the movie’s premiere, the great divide on where people stand on the board has widened. Ouija Board games are ceremoniously burned with the likes of Harry Potter. Pat Robertson warns that demons can reach us through the board. Church leaders denounce the usage. The board game became spooky. But is it really? “Good-Bye.” For now…