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The Ouija (// WEE-jə, /-/ -jee), also known as a spirit board, talking board, or witch board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the Latin alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words "yes", "no", and occasionally "hello" and "goodbye", along with various symbols and graphics. It uses a planchette (a small heart-shaped piece of wood or plastic) as a movable indicator to spell out messages during a séance. Participants place their fingers on the planchette, and it is moved about the board to spell out words. The name "Ouija" is a trademark of Hasbro (inherited from Parker Brothers), but is often used generically to refer to any talking board.
Spiritualists in the United States believed that the dead were able to contact the living and reportedly used a talking board very similar to a modern Ouija board at their camps in the U.S. state of Ohio in 1886 to ostensibly enable faster communication with spirits. Following its commercial patent by businessman Elijah Bond on 1 July 1890, the Ouija board was regarded as an innocent parlor game unrelated to the occult until American spiritualist and professional Chessmaster Pearl Curran popularized its use as a divining tool during World War I.
Paranormal and supernatural beliefs associated with Ouija have been criticized by the scientific community and are characterized as pseudoscience. The action of the board can be most easily explained by unconscious movements of those controlling the pointer, a psychophysiological phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect.
Mainstream Christian denominations, including Catholicism, have warned against the use of Ouija boards, considering their use Satanic practice, while other religious groups hold that they can lead to demonic possession. Occultists, on the other hand, are divided on the issue, with some claiming it can be a tool for positive transformation, while others reiterate the warnings of many Christians and caution "inexperienced users" against it.
The popular belief that the word Ouija comes from the French and German words for yes is a misconception. In fact, the name was given from a word spelled out on the board when medium Helen Peters Nosworthy asked the board to name itself. When asked what the word meant, it responded "Good Luck."
One of the first mentions of the automatic writing method used in the Ouija board is found in China around 1100 AD, in historical documents of the Song dynasty. The method was known as fuji "planchette writing". The use of planchette writing as an ostensible means of necromancy and communion with the spirit-world continued, and, albeit under special rituals and supervisions, was a central practice of the Quanzhen School, until it was forbidden by the Qing dynasty.
As a part of the spiritualist movement, mediums began to employ various means for communication with the dead. Following the American Civil War in the United States, mediums did significant business in allegedly allowing survivors to contact lost relatives. Use of talking boards was so common by 1886 that news reported the phenomenon taking over the spiritualists' camps in Ohio. The Ouija was named in 1890 in Baltimore, Maryland by medium and spiritualist Helen Peters Nosworthy.
Charles Kennard, the founder of Kennard Novelty Company, claims to have invented the board with his business partner, Elijah Bond, who patented it with help from his sister-in-law, spiritualist and medium Helen Peters Nosworthy. The local patent office at first refused a patent. Bond and Nosworthy then traveled to Washington, D.C. where they were also denied a patent until the chief patent officer asked the board to spell out his name, which it did. In 1901, an employee of Bond, William Fuld, took over the talking board production under the name "Ouija."[failed verification]
The Ouija phenomenon is considered by the scientific community to be the result of the ideomotor response. Michael Faraday first described this effect in 1853, while investigating table-turning.
Various studies have been conducted, recreating the effects of the Ouija board in the lab and showing that, under laboratory conditions, the subjects were moving the planchette involuntarily. A 2012 study found that when answering yes or no questions, Ouija use was significantly more accurate than guesswork, suggesting that it might draw on the unconscious mind. Skeptics have described Ouija board users as "operators". Some critics have noted that the messages ostensibly spelled out by spirits were similar to whatever was going through the minds of the subjects. According to professor of neurology Terence Hines in his book Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (2003):
The planchette is guided by unconscious muscular exertions like those responsible for table movement. Nonetheless, in both cases, the illusion that the object (table or planchette) is moving under its own control is often extremely powerful and sufficient to convince many people that spirits are truly at work ... The unconscious muscle movements responsible for the moving tables and Ouija board phenomena seen at seances are examples of a class of phenomena due to what psychologists call a dissociative state. A dissociative state is one in which consciousness is somehow divided or cut off from some aspects of the individual's normal cognitive, motor, or sensory functions.
Some involuntary movements are known as "Automatism".
This correlates with the ideomotor phenomenon because both rely on unconscious movement. The difference is that the ideomotor phenomenon is based on the idea that just the idea that something can happen tricks the brain into doing it. For example, thinking about not moving the planchette leads to the possibility of the planchette moving, which then makes someone unconsciously move the planchette.
Ouija boards were already criticized by scholars early on, being described in a 1927 journal as "'vestigial remains' of primitive belief-systems" and a con to part fools from their money. Another 1921 journal described reports of Ouija board findings as 'half truths' and suggested that their inclusion in national newspapers at the time lowered the national discourse overall.
Further information: Christian views on magic
Since early in the Ouija board's history, it has been criticized by several Christian denominations. The Catholic Church in the Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly forbids any practice of divination which includes the usage of Ouija boards. Catholic Answers, a Roman Catholic Christian apologetics organization, claims that "The Ouija board is far from harmless, as it is a form of divination (seeking information from supernatural sources)."
In 2005, Catholic bishops in the Chuuk State of the Federated States of Micronesia called for the boards to be banned and warned congregations that they were talking to demons when using Ouija boards. In a 1995 pastoral letter, The Dutch Reformed Churches encouraged its communicants to avoid Ouija boards, as it is a practice "related to the occult". The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod forbids its faithful from using Ouija boards as a violation of the Ten Commandments.
In 2001, Ouija boards were burned in Alamogordo, New Mexico, by fundamentalist groups as "symbols of witchcraft". Religious criticism has expressed beliefs that the Ouija board reveals information which should only be in God's hands, and thus it is a tool of Satan. A spokesperson for Human Life International described the boards as a portal to talk to spirits and called for Hasbro to be prohibited from marketing them.
These religious objections to use of the Ouija board have given rise to ostension type folklore in the communities where they circulate. Cautionary tales that the board opens a door to evil spirits turn the game into the subject of a supernatural dare, especially for young people.
Ouija boards have been the source of inspiration for literary works, used as guidance in writing or as a form of channeling literary works. As a result of Ouija boards' becoming popular in the early 20th century, by the 1920s many "psychic" books were written of varying quality often initiated by Ouija board use.
Aleister Crowley had great admiration for the use of the ouija board and it played a passing role in his magical workings. Jane Wolfe, who lived with Crowley at Abbey of Thelema, also used the Ouija board. She credits some of her greatest spiritual communications to use of this implement. Crowley also discussed the Ouija board with another of his students, and the most ardent of them, Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones): it is frequently mentioned in their unpublished letters. In 1917 Achad experimented with the board as a means of summoning Angels, as opposed to Elementals. In one letter Crowley told Jones:
Your Ouija board experiment is rather fun. You see how very satisfactory it is, but I believe things improve greatly with practice. I think you should keep to one angel, and make the magical preparations more elaborate.
Over the years, both became so fascinated by the board that they discussed marketing their own design. Their discourse culminated in a letter, dated 21 February 1919, in which Crowley tells Jones,
Re: Ouija Board. I offer you the basis of ten percent of my net profit. You are, if you accept this, responsible for the legal protection of the ideas, and the marketing of the copyright designs. I trust that this may be satisfactory to you. I hope to let you have the material in the course of a week.
In March, Crowley wrote to Achad to inform him, "I'll think up another name for Ouija." But their business venture never came to fruition and Crowley's new design, along with his name for the board, has not survived. Crowley has stated, of the Ouija Board that,
There is, however, a good way of using this instrument to get what you want, and that is to perform the whole operation in a consecrated circle, so that undesirable aliens cannot interfere with it. You should then employ the proper magical invocation in order to get into your circle just the one spirit you want. It is comparatively easy to do this. A few simple instructions are all that is necessary, and I shall be pleased to give these, free of charge, to any one who cares to apply.
Ouija boards have figured prominently in horror tales in various media as devices enabling malevolent spirits to spook their users.
In the 1960 supernatural horror film 13 Ghosts the family Zorba plays the game "Ouija, the mystifying oracle."
Episodes of Lost in Space ("Ghost in Space" (1966)) and The Waltons ("The Ghost Story" (1974)) have spirit boards as part of their plots.
A Ouija board is an early part of the plot of the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Using a Ouija board the young girl Regan makes what first appears to be harmless contact with an entity named "Captain Howdy." She later becomes possessed by a demon.
Based on Ouija Board, a song and album of the name, Ojah Awake, by Osibisa, was released in 1976.
The 1986 film Witchboard and its sequels center on the use of Ouija. The 1991 film And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird features use of a Ouija board in an important early scene. What Lies Beneath (2000) includes a séance scene with a board. Paranormal Activity (2007) involves a violent entity haunting a couple that becomes more powerful when the Ouija board is used.
Aparichithan (The Stranger) is a 2004 Indian Malayalam-language horror film. The plot centers around a Ouija board and spiritualism.
Another 2007 film, Ouija, depicted a group of adolescents whose use of the board causes a murderous spirit to follow them. In 2011, The Ouija Experiment portrayed a group of friends whose use of the board opens, and fails to close, a portal between the worlds of the living and the dead. The 2012 film I Am Zozo follows a group of people that run afoul of a demon, based on Pazuzu, after using a Ouija board. The 2014 film Ouija features a group of friends whose use of the board prompts a series of deaths. A 2016 prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil, also features the device.
Romancham (Goosebumps) is a 2023 Malayalam-language horror-comedy film. The plot involves several bachelors from Bangalore who improvise a Ouija board from a Carrom game.
The British singer Morrissey released a controversial single titled "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" in 1989. The lyrics and the video of the song mockingly play with the idea of supernaturally contacting dead persons.
Jeremy Gans' nonfiction book, The Ouija Board Jurors: Mystery, Mischief and Misery in the Jury System, based on an article he wrote for the University of Melbourne, recounts an incident in which four jurors sought the help of a Ouija board during a double murder trial, both for guidance and to relieve the stress precipitated by the brutal images of evidence.
The National Geographic show Brain Games Season 5 episode "Paranormal" clearly showed the board did not work when all participants were blindfolded.
The sitcom Steptoe and Son in Series 8 Episode 6, includes a scene with a Ouija board where Harold briefly fools Albert into believing that they are in contact with the ghost of Adolf Hitler.
Ouija boards appear in Phasmophobia (video game) as an item investigators can use to communicate with the ghost, although using it can prove dangerous.
Practically since its invention a century ago, mainstream Christian religions, including Catholicism, have warned against the use of Oujia boards, claiming that they are a means of dabbling with Satanism (Hunt 1985:93–95). Occultists, interestingly, are divided on the Oujia board's value. Jane Roberts (1966) and Gina Covina (1979) express confidence that it is a device for positive transformation and they provide detailed instructions on how to use it to contact spirits and map the other world. But some occultists have echoed Christian warnings, cautioning inexperienced persons away from it.
In particular, Ouija boards and automatic writing are kin in that they can be practiced and explained both by parties who see them as instruments of psychological discovery; and both are abhorred by some religious groups as gateways to demonic possession, as the abandonment of will and invitation to external forces represents for them an act much like presenting an open wound to a germ-filled environment.
A final way we misuse God's name is when we use any type of witchcraft such as crystal balls, Ouija boards, tarot cards, etc. Using these things are sinful because we are asking the devil to help us instead of God. In the Second Commandment God not only commands us not to do these things, but he also commands us to do certain things.