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What is a Ouija Board?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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Heightened interest in the world of spiritualism during the 19th century ultimately led to the creation of the Ouija board, a commercialized form of "talking board" often used by spiritualists and psychic mediums. Two business partners named Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard developed their own version of a spirit board, combining the French and German words for "yes". Thus, the Ouija board was born. This type of board contains letters, numbers and common words such as "yes," "no," and "goodbye." Users hold a device known as a planchette and supposedly allow the spirit to move it around the board.

Although Bond and Kennard are credited with inventing the modern Ouija board, it was an employee named William Fuld who took over the commercial production of the official Ouija game. Fuld could not completely prevent competitors from marketing similar spirit boards, although the name Ouija was a recognized trademark. Fuld died in 1927, but his estate did not sell the manufacturing and trademark rights to the game company Parker Brothers until 1966. Although dozens of talking or spirit board games still exist, only Parker Brothers can call their product a true Ouija board.

The acquisition and use of a Ouija board has always been controversial, to say the least. Proponents of the Ouija board believe that the participants hands are guided by benevolent spirits. The board itself is only a medium between the spirit world and the players, although some enthusiasts claim the board itself cannot be destroyed. After contacting a willing spirit, players make light contact with the planchette and allow it to move across the board. Individual letters and numbers are often dictated to a non-participant for later deciphering. Simple yes or no questions can be answered directly.

Many critics of the Ouija board believe the planchette's movements are not caused by spiritual intervention, but by involuntary movements created by the players themselves. One or more participants may be forcing the answers, or the players' collective muscle tension could create movement, a phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect. A Ouij player desperately seeking a spiritual connection with a loved one could also be subconsciously guiding the planchette towards an idealized answer.

There is also a strong religious objection to the Ouija board phenomenon. According to mainstream Christian thought, Satan could disguise malevolent spirits as the harmless spirit guides sought out by Ouija users. These evil spirits could use the board as a means of possessing the user's thoughts or to cause personal harm. Prominent critics have documented evidence of lives permanently altered following malevolent Ouija sessions. One legend warns against playing the game alone, while another suggests that the spirits must be approached in a specific way to avoid encountering evil imposters.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon271454 — On May 26, 2012

The ideomotor effect doesn't explain the things I saw while experimenting with ouija on repeated occasions.

First of all, we didn't use a board, but a normal table with paper letters, and instead of a planchette, we used an inverted glass, which is considerably heavier. We touched the glass just with fingertips, barely touching it at all, precisely to avoid cheating.

In that position, it's physically impossible to move a glass with your hand. Even if you could push it, you could never pull from it towards you; that would require much more pressure over the object.

Second, the answers we got didn't seem like the kind of thing we would have in our minds at the time. They made perfect sense in context, but used strange expressions, as though the "entity" who talked didn't know our language properly. Also, whenever you asked about its name or age, it came out with a nonsensical string of numbers and letters. If all was simply mind suggestion, there'd be no reason to not answer that particular question, but answer the others instead. Your mind could have used any random name to fill the gap.

This is my personal experience, but I don't think is unique in any way. There must be hundreds of persons who have seen it as well.

All this makes me think that the ideomotor theory is just a poor attempt at explaining something that defies common science, made by people who haven't even tried ouija in the first place.

By pollick — On Sep 22, 2009

As far as the ideomotor effect is concerned, one of the recommended ways of playing with a Ouija board is to have at least two players rest their hands on the pointing device. Even if both participants try very hard to remain neutral and relaxed, both of them may have a preconceived answer in their minds (yes, no, whatever) and their muscles will respond to those thoughts almost involuntarily. With one player, this may not be such a problem, but the ideomotor effect is multiplied every time someone else lays his or hand on the pointer.

By mexicana — On Sep 08, 2009

My mother never let me play with Ouija boards when I was younger even though they were all the rage among my friends. She was afraid that we were inviting evil spirits in. I still find them very intriguing, and I probably wouldn't find them as much so if she had been more lenient!

I'd also like to learn more about this ideomotor effect - how does that work?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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