Thursday, October 15, 2009

Séances and the Ouija Board

A séance is a meeting in which a person attempts to communicate with the spirits of the dead. The popularity of séances grew with the Spiritualist movement of the 1800s. The movement began during March of 1848 in Hydesville, New York, at the home of John and Margaret Fox and their two daughters, ten year-old Margaretta and seven year-old Catherine, whom they called Kate. The family had been plagued during the winter by unexplained rapping and knocks. The children nicknamed the unseen entity they believed caused the noises Mr. Splitfoot because of their mother’s fear the sounds were the ‘work of the devil’. One night young Kate asked Mr. Splitfoot to repeat the knocks in a certain order. The entity complied. She did it again. Once again, the knocks repeated in the order she requested. Her mother, overhearing her daughter’s conversation with the entity, intervened and began to ask her own questions. They asked the spirit to answer with one knock for no, three for yes. Each question was answered correctly. Word spread and people arrived to witness the rapping. When the sisters moved to Rochester to live with their older sister, Mrs. Leah Fish, the loud spirit rapping’s which seemed to center around Margaretta moved with them. Leah became aware of the financial possibilities connected with her sisters’ contacting Mr. Splitfoot and asked her friends to come to the house to witness the events. Soon she began organizing public demonstrations.

People were fascinated by the séances they witnessed. Spiritualism exploded across the country and remained popular for several decades after. There were many types of séances held. Some in grand parlors, community halls, or in darkened rooms with only very few people. One of the methods of conducting a séance was to use the Ouija board.

The Ouija (commonly pronounced wee-gee) board as we know it today was developed around 1890 though it is believed that similar ‘talking boards’ or ‘spirit boards’ were used even in ancient times. In ancient China, Greece, Rome and even certain tribes of American Indians some manner of spirit boards were used which they claimed assisted them in communicating with the dead. The classic Ouija board in use today is a flat board marked with letters and numbers, as well as the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’. An indicator, commonly called a planchette, is used for the spirit to spell out the messages or answers to the questions the person using the board has asked.

A coffin maker in Chestertown, Maryland, named E.C. Reiche had an interest in séances and wanted to create a simple method of communicating with the dead. Together with his two friends, Elijah J. Bond and Charles Kennard they developed what Kennard called the ‘Ouija’ board. He claimed that while using the board a spirit told him what the device was called explaining the word was Egyptian meaning ‘good luck’, though no such word seems to exist. Others claim the name is a combination of the words for French and German meaning ‘yes’. Oui and Ja.

The Kennard Novelty Company was formed in 1890 and the Ouija board was sold for public use for $1.50. No séances or mediums were necessarily required since anyone could use it. Isaac and William Fuld took over the company and renamed it the Ouija Novelty Company in 1892. Finally, in 1966, the Parker Bros. acquired ownership and the Ouija board was recast as a toy status. Children were given the board as Christmas and birthday presents by unsuspecting parents.

There is much controversy even today on the true abilities of the Ouija board. Stories abound of practitioners inadvertently opening a portal for spirits or those posing as spirits to gain access to their homes. A novel published in 1971 called The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty was based on a 1949 exorcism he heard about while he was a student at Georgetown University. Supposedly a young boy used the Ouija board to communicate with his deceased aunt and instead invited something entirely different into his body. The novel was the basis for the movie with the same name released in 1973.

The Ouija board is still sold in stores today usually with no paper instructions accompanying it. Séances are also still conducted in one form or another, sometimes by teenagers playing at slumber parties or by those with serious intentions for speaking to the spirits. In any form of spirit communication caution must be observed. After all, who knows for certain what’s really out there?


  1. Great post, Tricia. I loved my Ouija board when I was young. It gave me many a goosebump. I finally stored it away because, uh, it got a bit too creepy, even for an imaginative teenager who watched Dark Shadows. Very intersting history lesson.

  2. Another wonderful post. I had a Ouija board when I was young. We used to bring it out for slumber parties and such. I tell you it did really move around the board with us barely touching the planchette. It was definitely eerie. Later someone gave me a "spirit board" Basically the same thing just someone put their own spin on the board with a picture of a haunted house--I believe. It's been so long since I've looked at it. This is packed away on a high shelf in the closet. Probably the best place for it. lol

  3. I used to love my Ouija board as a kid, but I don't know where it is now. I don't think it moved with me when I got married, so I suppose Mom still has it. One night friends and me managed to get it to turn off the light and another time it talked about eggs and when we left, the car had been egged. Creepy.

  4. These things always wigged me out! Great post.

  5. Awesome post, Tricia. I loved the Ouija board as a kid. Still do. Who's to say the dead can't communicate with us? I have seen too many strange things to not believe. I have a graveyard for my back yard and it has a ghost. I've seen him 1 time. My neighbors have too. My flesh turned to goosebumps in seconds on a 90* day.

    Met John Edwards from Crossing Over 10 years ago and the man told me things no one on this planet could have known about my family. True believer in heaven and hell and all that goes bump in the night.

    Never really got a straight answer from the board though. I think I got my inability to spell from the entity I was talking to:)

  6. Thanks Michele, Karen, Karilyn, Catherine and Jaclyn for your great responses. This topic was alot of fun to research. My husband and I stored our Ouija board away, too. The last time he and his mother used it, she said she saw insects with men's faces on them. I think it was probably the pain medication she was taking at the time...maybe? But it spooked us enough and we haven't used it since.

  7. Ho boy! Tricia, excellent research and information. I had a Ouija board as a kid and would take it next door and use it with a neighbor who was much older than me. Her mother had died in the house and the house always bothered me. Well anyway, one night we were playing around with the Ouija board and it really began to freak me out so I never touched it again. I really can't even remember why. I was very young and it was too many years ago, but I know it scare the bejeebers out of me and that was it.

    We did try to have seances as well when I was young but again we'd get frightened and that was the end of that, LOL

    Mickey, as most people who know me know I am a diehard Dark Shadows fan. In fact, I have over forty VHS tapes of the show, not the entire collection but about two years of it and all the movies including the two remakes with Ben Cross as Barnabas. I thought about selling them but can's seem to let them go, LOL


  8. Thanks Dayana! My aunt introduced me to the Ouija board when I was really young. Though we played it, I was always skeptical about it. I was convinced she was making it move. I guess it didn't scare me since I didn't really believe in it then.

    And speaking of Dark Shadows...I LOVE that show!! I have 3 of the DVD collections at the moment but I have tons on VHS, too. I have so many fond memories of watching it with my mom when I was a kid. Dark Shadows was the spark that lit my interest in the paranormal. Talk about inspiration!! That show was incredible!