History of the Spirit (Talking) Board

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The first mention of divination —called planchette writing—was in China around 1100 B.C. The first undisputed use of spirit boards came with the Modern Spiritualist Movement in the mid-19th century. Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard obtained a patent in 1891 for a spirit board. William Fuld named the boards "Ouija” and started production in 1901. The boards enjoyed a heyday from the 1920s through the 1960s. In 1966, Fuld’s estate sold the business to Parker Brothers, who holds all trademarks and patents. Ouija has become a trademark that is often used generically to refer to any spirit board. See the William Fuld website for a history of the Ouija board discussed in OUIJA - For the Record.

Explanations - The so-called scientific explanation is that users subconsciously direct the path of the planchette to produce a word that is in that person’s subconscious, known as automatism or ideomotor action (coined in 1882). Spiritualists claim the board has no intrinsic power, but is used simply as a tool to aid a medium while communicating with spirits.

Criticisms - Although Ouija boards are sold as simple toys, many believe they are harmful. Harry Houdini wrote in 1924 that five people were driven insane by using a board. That same year, Dr. Carl Wickland said "the serious problem of alienation and mental derangement attending ignorant psychic experiments was first brought to my attention by cases of several persons whose seemingly harmless experiences with automatic writing and the Ouija board resulted in such wild insanity that commitment to asylums was necessitated."

In 1944, Manly P. Hall, the founder of the Philosophical Research Society and an early authority on the occult, said "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." He went on to say that, "I know of broken homes, estranged families, and even suicides that can be traced directly to this source."

In 1965, parapsychologist Martin Ebon (Satan Trap: Dangers of the Occult), stated that it starts harmlessly when the board reveals startling information, establishes credibility, or identifies itself as someone who is dead. It is common that people are told they were chosen for a special task. Quite often the Ouija turns vulgar, abusive or threatening. It grows demanding and hostile and sitters find they are using the board compulsively, as if possessed by a spirit.