Often used by Hollywood as an impetus for catastrophic and horrific events, the Ouija board has become as much feared as misunderstood. In 1973’s The Exorcist, a young girl named Regan uses an Ouija board to speak with Captain Howdy, a seemingly benevolent spirit, to disastrous effects. Throughout the course of the movie we come to find that Captain Howdy is a front for a demon called Pazuzu (similar to the renowned Ouija demon Zozo), and that sweet Regan has become a vessel for the demon to exert its will—yikes! This story, along with many others of a similar ilk, in film, literature and folktale, can be credited for molding—to some degree—our modern conception of the ouija board. And being that Parker Brothers—yes, the makers of Monopoly, Clue, and Sorry!—own the rights to the Ouija board, it has created a situation where popular society cannot rightly decipher if the board is meant for serious communication with other realms, as a portal to the very depths of hell, or as a gag game to be used at slumber parties—a confusion said company no doubt benefits from.
Historically, other talking boards were used in ancient China, around the time of 550 B.C., as a commonplace way to speak with deceased ancestors. During a similar time-frame, the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras suggested that his followers use the board to gain revelations from other realms. Some pre-Columbian Native Americans are said to have used a similar type of board, called a squdilatc board, but with the purpose of finding lost persons or items. Notice that none of these practices assume anything but positive consequences from the use of a board like the ouija board. Our modern understanding is more likely inherited from the occult and spiritual practices of Victorian England, where séances and the like were common and often used as parlor games to illicit shock on stormy nights. In 1966 Parker Brothers purchased the rights to the Ouija board from the estate of American entrepreneur William Fuld, and began a mass production of Ouija boards that, at one time, outsold Monopoly.
Whether or not the Ouija board is actually a means for spiritual communication, a gateway to hell or a simple gag game seems to be based, more than anything else, of how one conceives of the board. Among individuals who believe that the ouija board does do something, there is a central, ideological divide, namely does the movement of the planchette (the triangle shaped window piece where one places their hands) stem from otherworldly forces or from the participants themselves. The former states that, yes, in fact, other forces, worlds, and spirits can exert a physical or metaphysical force over the planchette and thus communicate with the participants; the latter suggests that the planchette and board become meeting places for all the subconscious minds of those participating, thus, through unconscious micro-movements of the hands, spinning stories and situations out of everything that lurks within. Each explanation seems ready to account for malicious as well as benevolent entities, along with the corresponding situations; the board becomes a tool for divination or self-divination. One can also easily imagine a person going into an ouija session knowing or hoping they will find a malicious spirit and thus encountering one, either by spiritually calling it forth or by subconsciously creating it.
If you, Dear Novice, decide to engage with an ouija board, or a board of similar construction, for recreational, spiritual or curiosity-based reasons, I suggest doing so with respect and a positive energy; no matter which side of the ideological divide you sit on, holding a positive energy only aids your chances of having a positive experience. In a future post, I will elaborate on what I find to be the best practices to accompany a ouija board session. And if you have any ouija board experiences, of any sort at all, that you feel like comfortable sharing, please feel free to comment below or write to CATALYST Magazine, care of Z. Smith, at 140 McClelland St E, Salt Lake City, UT 84102. I’d love to hear your experiences and findings. Until next week, Novices, stay studious.
*The word “ouija” is often used to refer to any talking board. When capitalized, Ouija refers to the product made and trademarked by Parker Brothers..
Smith is a cookie connoisseur, moonlight meanderer, and aesthete at large. His work has appeared in 13 Experiments, Folio, Stone Soup Review, SLUG Magazine, Salt Lake City Weekly, and CATALYST Magazine. He earned his BA in English from The University of Utah and currently writes from a room with many plants.
This post made possible by a generous contribution from:
Crone’s Hollow | 3834 S. Main St. SLC, UT
Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland
The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies & Magic by Migene González-Wippler
Ouija, The Most Dangerous Game by Stoker Hunt