“Where are you?”, the couple asked, as they watched the planchette begin to slowly move again across the lettered board. The arrow passed several of the symbols, before clearly coming to rest on the letter “H”. Hovering there for a moment, the arrow began drifting to the left, now hovering over the letter “E”. After a pause, the couple felt the planchette moving beneath their fingers again, this time more purposefully, gliding sharply to the right and coming to rest on the letter “L”, where it stayed.
“Hell,” she read aloud to him, looking up to meet his frightened gaze.
Chris had never believed in the supposed “power” of Ouija boards. When he agreed to play this game with Jessica, rather than going out to the movies as they normally would on a Friday night, he had done it mostly for her amusement. But within the first few moments after the planchette began to move eerily amidst the symbols across the board, he became fascinated—if not a bit unsettled—at the story which seemed to now be revealing itself to them.
Through their questions, and the movement of the planchette, a narrative emerged, as told from the perspective of a young girl, saying she had died more than a century ago in a small town in the Western United States. She, like many others at that time, had been a victim of consumption; but this apparent conversation with a ghost hadn’t been what frightened them. In addition to being aware of her death, the girl also expressed a desire to be reborn, and through the lettered face of the Ouija board, told Chris and Jessica she would come into the body of their eventual firstborn child.
This hadn’t set well with the young couple, hence prompting Chris to ask about the child’s whereabouts.
“Why are you in Hell, if you died as a child?” Chris then asked.
“I” was the first letter the planchette indicated, followed by a pause. It then slowly drifted over to the next sequence of letters, “K”, “I”, and “L”, where it stopped again.
“I kill?” Jessica gasped. Chris had already felt her fingertips trembling across from his on the face of the planchette.
“What are you?” Chris asked. The planchette moved again, spelling the letters “D”, “E”, “M”…
It would be the final word the planchette rested on that night, in addition to marking the last time either of them ever touched a Ouija board. The experience, though badly frightening for them, certainly opened the couple’s minds to the strange kinds of experiences Ouija boards seem to be able to elicit, as so many others have described over the years.
Among all the modern implements of the occult, perhaps there is nothing else that remains so disturbing in people’s minds as the Ouija board. Despite their sale as common playthings in most department stores today, there are a striking number of individuals, like Chris and Jessica’s story above illustrates, who claim to have had unsettling experiences with the devices. Thus, even in modern times there are many look to biblical passages as evidence of their wicked nature, such as that which appears in Deuteronomy 18:10-11, reading: “There shall not be found among you anyone… that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” Similarly, many interpret this passage from the Quran to be in reference to such things, which it calls an abomination: “O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination; of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.”
Perhaps the earliest historical mention of Ouija-like devices began to appear in China at around 1100 BC, although the rise of the Ming Dynasty coincided with the use of a stick or stylus crafted from the branch of a willow or peach tree called the “Fuji method”, which roughly resembled a dowsing-rod. By around 540 BC, Pythagoras and his students were widely believed to have used some sort of table mounted on wheels to communicate with the spirits of the dead.
The modern Ouija board, despite its similarity to ancient divination practices, appeared only as recently as the 1890s when two business-men, Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard, leapt on the idea to combine the popular planchette of spiritualist practices with a board covered in letters of the alphabet. On May 28, 1890, the duo filed for patent protection of their new idea, which became the first official Ouija board to be marketed and sold, with production duties handed to an employee named William Fuld in 1901.
The famous “talking boards”, as they became known, would first be marketed under the name “Ouija” by Fuld, who also rewrote the history of the devices, claiming that not only that he was the true inventor, but that his employers Bond and Kennard had stolen the idea from him. Once other companies began to produce the Ouija boards, Fuld sued many over the use of what he believed to be “his” design, until his death in 1927. In 1966, William Fuld’s estate sold the rights to the Ouija name to the famous maker of children’s games, Parker Brothers, who today holds all official trademarks and patents for the item.
Despite being generally marketed and sold as a plaything, the Ouija boards have remained controversial, due in no small part to the negative experiences so many have claimed to have with them. The famous esotericist Manly P Hall was quoted as far back as 1944 in Horizon Magazine saying that, “During the last 20-25 years I have had considerable personal experience with persons who have complicated their lives through dabbling with the Ouija board. Out of every hundred such cases, at least 95 are worse off for the experience.”
Some of the stories related to me personally over the years do seem to underscore the strange, and often unsettling nature of the Ouija experience. My earliest experience with such a tale dates back to my childhood, when my mother talked about an experience she had with a neighbor of hers, Nancy, while experimenting with a Ouija board. The story related to them during the experience involved a young man who, about a decade earlier, had become trapped under his convertible after he drove off the side of a bridge; pinned beneath the wrecked car, he drowned before help could arrive. After this experience, my mother maintained a strong aversion to Ouija boards, and was resolute in telling me not to use them, either.
On one occasion, a young man in Australia named Artemis wrote to me years ago, asking about whether I thought Ouija boards were “safe” to use. This was just after an experience he had with one he had obtained recently, believing his deceased grandfather had spoken to him through the device.
“What did he tell you?” I asked.
“He told me not to play with Ouija boards!” Artemis said. I figured that the response he received was more or less self-evident.
Perhaps the most unique story about Ouija boards ever shared with me was told by the American singer and songwriter Ellis Paul, who I met in 2007. “I have a song called ‘Conversation with a Ghost’ that’s about my one weird paranormal experience,” Ellis told me, during a live radio interview in Asheville, North Carolina. “I was out for a run with a buddy of mine named Vance in Boston, and he said ‘why don’t you come over for dinner?’ I said sure, and before we left we sat and had a glass of eggnog, since it was around Christmas time.”
“Once we got over to his place, his girlfriend, Margaret, was working on dinner in the kitchen, and I said ‘Well what have you been up to?’ She said, ‘I just bought this Ouija board for a dollar at a garage sale.’ She said she’d kinda been addicted to it, talking to some ‘spirit’ with a friend of hers named Beth. She’d been on it like most people get on the Internet, just going haywire. I told her, ‘You know, I’m kind of a doubter on that kind of thing, so why don’t we get it out as part of the dinner party?’ I thought we’d take it for a spin, and see what happens.”
“There were about fifteen of us there, and we went into the living room. I was the one asking questions to the ghost, whose name was ‘Pug’—Margaret Putnam was her real name, but ‘Pug’ was sort of a handle she apparently used communicating through the Ouija board. I asked Pug, with Beth and Margaret on either side of the board handling the little wooden triangle, ‘what song did I play last night?’ It spelled out R-A-I-N. Sure enough, the night before I had played a song called ‘Let it Rain’.”
Initially Ellis laughed about this, and noted that “if you’re gonna pick a title for a song, ‘rain’ might be in a good percentage of them.”
“Then, I asked ‘what’s the name of my booking agent’, which was something I knew neither of the women operating the Ouija board new. It spelled out G-E-R-M-A-N-E, or Germaine.” Indeed, this was the name of his booking agent at the time, despite the name being “misspelled it by one letter.”
The final question Ellis asked the board was, “What did Vance and I have to drink before we came over here?” As the planchette moved, it spelled out the letters N-O-G.”
“I got up and I locked myself in the bathroom for a while, freaked out,” Ellis confided to us. “I ended up writing a song about it, based on someone who had passed away, using a Ouija board to communicate.”
Ellis Paul’s unique story didn’t end here, though. “What’s even weirder about that story,” he told me, “is that after I calmed down a bit, I decided to go down to the Courthouse and dig through records to see if I could find this ‘Pug’ anywhere in Boston’s history, since she had told Beth and Margaret a few things about herself. For instance, she had been married to a doctor, and also described roughly the time and circumstances of her death. Sure enough, looking around I found that a Margaret Putnam had not only existed, but had lived there in Boston, and even married a prominent doctor operating in town at the time. I was floored.”
When considering stories like those of Ellis Paul and countless others, it becomes difficult to rule out the possibility that Ouija boards may indeed serve as a mode of communication between this world and the next. The view of modern science attributes no such “mystical” capacities to the function of the board, however, instead suggesting that a psychological effect known as ideomotor phenomenon can explain this, which similarly explains such spiritualist practices as automatic writing, dowsing, and other varieties of facilitated communication that purportedly links the living world to the afterlife in some way. The term was first used by researcher William Benjamin Carpenter in 1852, after which an alternative name for the phenomenon, “The Carpenter effect”, was derived.
Could the Ouija board truly be nothing more than a simple device, designed as a parlor game and long heralded since its conception as a tool of divination, which relies on mysterious functions of our deeper psyche? In truth, if this were indeed all there is to the “magic” of the Ouija board, one might argue that it would make the strange devices—and the bizarre stories associated with them—no less interesting. Whether their mystery stems from this world, or worlds beyond our own, it seems that there is much about the function of the human mind that eludes us… and hence, the inner space within each of us seems to remain, at the end of the day, the greatest mystery of our time.
Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests include history, science, current events, cultural studies, technology, business, philosophy, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. With his writing, he has covered topics that include controversial themes such as artificial intelligence, government surveillance, unconventional aviation technologies, and the broadening of human knowledge through the reach of the Internet. Micah lives in the heart of Appalachia near Asheville, North Carolina, where he makes a living as a writer and musician. You can find his podcasts at GralienReport.com and his books at Amazon.com