Written by Gary Mullen from HandcraftedUK, supplier of Ouija Boards:
Paranormal tool to communicate with the dead or, a meaningless board to fool the naive? Whatever your opinion of the Ouija Board there is no denying that they are a source of intrigue and fascination for many people. But where do these boards come from? Do they have their roots in ancient spiritual practices or, are they nothing more than a modern toy?
The exact origins of the Ouija Board cannot be traced but there is evidence to suggest they may have arisen from ancient civilizations. Perhaps they are based on the ancient Chinese divination method of fuji? Dating back to 1100BCE fuji involved guiding a stick around a tray filled with sand. The messages spelt out in the container were thought to be communications from the spirit world.
In its early years the Ouija Board was referred to as a Talking Board and looked very different from the boards we recognise these days. These early designs had a pencil fitted to the planchett which was rested upon sheets of blank paper. The participants would ask a question and the planchett would travel across the paper until it had spelt out the messages from the spirits. Over time, the design was modified until the boards had letters, numbers and words fixed upon them.
The modern Ouija Board which we know today dates back to the late 19th Century where they were first sold as novelty items. William Fuld of the Kennard Novelty Company was the first to introduce the Talking Board to the mainstream and in 1901 patented the term ‘Ouija Board’ to market them. This was the perfect time to introduce these boards to the general public as interest in spiritualism was growing in popularity.
An interesting side-note is that the original Ouija Boards did not have the words "hello" and "goodbye" on them. It was only added by the Victorians who didn't want to anger the spirits with bad manners so demanded a courteous opening and closing to their Ouija sessions!
Fuld claimed the word Ouija was from the Egyptian for 'good luck'. In fact, this is untrue. However, the name can be linked to the words for yes in French and German, "oui" and "ja" respectively. One of the earliest mysteries surrounding the boards can be attributed to the death of Fuld himself. In 1927, whilst attempting to repair a flag mast on the factory roof that produced the boards he fell to his death. The official explanation is that one of the supports gave way however, others believe a more sinister force was at work and something supernatural caused his demise!
The Fuld family eventually sold the trademark ‘Ouija Board’ to the toy and game manufacturer Parker Brothers in 1966. Parker Brothers still own the trademark to this day. To date, they are estimated to have sold up to 25 million units.
Much of the opposition to using Ouija Boards comes from religions groups with many of them believing the boards carry a threat of demonic possession. Some fundamentalist Christian groups have burnt the boards as they see them as symbols of witchcraft! However, there is much scientific study to suggest Ouija Boards are nothing more than a toy and it is only the conscious/unconscious activities of the participants that is responsible for making the boards 'work'.
So the Ouija Board we know today may have their origins in ancient China. The methods used to use the Boards have changed through time but the debate as to their credibility is still a source of great debate. Perhaps Parker Brothers summed this up perfectly with their marketing slogans: "It's just a game…isn't it?"