Everybody has heard of a Ouija board. You can probably picture one right now with a fair degree of accuracy–even if you can’t spell the name off the top of your head. That’s a lot of vowels. But where did the name come from, and why do some people think it can lead to demonic possession?
Spirit or talking boards have been used for millennia in cultures across the world. In Victorian England and post-Civil War America, spirit boards and séances were a surprisingly common way to get in touch with deceased loved ones. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Ouija board as we know it came into existence.
A man named Elijah Bond patented the first Ouija board in 1891; however, an employee of his named William Fuld essentially stole the concept and started producing them himself. Many more copycats became available as people turned séances into a fun party game.
Where did the name come from? The original explanation was that it came from an ancient Egyptian good luck blessing. Fuld later said that the name was a mashup of “oui” and “ja,” the French and German words for “yes.”
Wait, does this mean we’ve been saying the name wrong? I usually end up on something like “wee-jee,” but if we’re following Fuld’s advice, it should be “wee-yah.”
Some scientists believe that the planchette–that’s the heart-shaped thing you rest your fingers on–moves because of the ideomotor response. Basically, if you are swept up in the séance and convinced that a spirit is about to speak, a reflexive muscle spasm can actually move the planchette without your conscious thought.
The same explanation has been applied to other traditional forms of divination such as automatic writing or dowsing. Some proponents of divination would argue that tapping into our unconscious desires is actually the point, but critics will quickly debunk the idea that any kind of spiritual communication could come through a parlor game.
However, skeptics aren’t the only ones who have beef with Ouija. Certain Christian groups believe that using a spirit board is as good as inviting the devil into your home… and maybe even your body.
In 1949, a teenage boy tried to contact his late aunt through a Ouija board. What followed was a nightmarish ordeal in which the boy and his home began to exhibit strange behavior. Eventually, his family called in a team of Jesuit priests to exorcise the evil spirits they believed had taken root in the soul of “Roland Doe” (not his real name).
If certain details of that story sound at all familiar, it’s because Peter Blatty based his bestselling novel The Exorcist on it. Was Roland mentally ill? Was he playing a mean-spirited prank? Or was he possessed? The jury is still out on that one, although people have been searching for answers over the last seventy years.
Hollywood loves Ouija boards as a plot device. Innocent kids or flirty teens break out the ol’ spirit board during a slumber party, unwittingly unleashing hell on Earth.
Check out the trailer for Ouija: Origin of Evil, made by the same folks and featuring many of the same actors from The Haunting of Hill House. Spooky, right?
Have you ever tried to use a spirit board? I’ve got one around here somewhere… but I’m not exactly eager to try it out by myself. Maybe it’s all just unconscious reflexes, but you can never be sure what’s lurking beyond.