The stigma around Ouija boards

21st March 2020. Reading Time: 15 minutes Paranormal Investigation, General, Paranormal Equipment. 4161 page views. 0 comments.

Nothing can clear a room faster than cracking open a Ouija board. Is it really evil or just another tool of communication? Let's look at the history of the Ouija board and explore the stigmas around them.

My first experience with an Ouija board was when I was in my first year of high school I sat on the school oval with my new friends. We didn’t have an actual Ouija board with us because well it would just be weird to bring one to school. For some reason, us being 12-13 years old thought that we would absolutely be able to hold a séance/Ouija board session on the school oval at lunch and get ‘real’ responses. So we got our blue pens out and made a makeshift Ouija board using one of our exercise books. We used a 50 cent piece as the planchette and decided to try and communicate with … well whatever we could. There were around 5 of us and each put a finger on the coin. Almost straight away it started moving and spelling out our names. "Wow!" the other girls were thinking. A couple was even getting scared. Me? I called bullshit straight away. I knew it was one of my friends. In fact, I knew exactly who it was. Even though she denied it, you couldn’t fool me, not even back then. The smirk on her face said it all. I lost contact with her a couple of years later but I bet she is out there somewhere using ghost apps trying to pass the photos off as genuine. It is a common thing for young teens and up to have an interest in the paranormal. It isn’t long before they start looking into things like Ouija boards. Just like bloody Mary and other games, it is what kids do. Don't you remember doing all of this when you were a teenager?  The curiosity gets the better of us and we have to try things for ourselves. The question is, should we be scared of them or are they just a toy?

The history of the Ouija board

Ouija boards, also known as talking or spirit boards, date back to the late 1840s. There was a big spiritualist movement at the time led by mediums. Their claim as we know today is that they could communicate with the dead. They acted as the intermediary between the living and the dead, hence the term medium. There were a few techniques they would use to show their followers that they were in fact communicating with someone who had passed over. The first was table-turning or more well known as table tipping. The medium would call out the letters of the alphabet and ask the spirit to knock the table which would make a noise on the floor when they reached the letter that was relevant to the word they were trying to spell out. Another method was that of using a pencil that was attached to the end of a small basket. The medium had to touch the basket which was enough for the spirit to take over and write a message. Eventually, they would eliminate the basket which is where automatic writing came from. The basket evolved into a heart-shaped planchette and it was soon discovered that it also made a good pointer.

Table tipping was a long process and people would get bored. The basket and pencil technique was difficult to read. Mediums began adapting and creating their own devices including things like dial plates. Somewhere along the line, the alphabet board as it would be referred to at the time was created. Again there were lots of different versions and combinations created. Toy companies who had previously made the planchettes to sell for novelty value in order to capitalize on the spiritualist movement at the time started buzzing about a new talking board craze. There were different incarnations of the board that we now know of today. There was originally the ‘witch board’ and the ‘espiritio talking board’ which were essentially the same concept as the ouija board, but different layouts. These were all marketed as a novelty item that could allow people that were not mediums to communicate with the dead. In 1891 Charles Kennard who was one of the toymakers claimed that Elijah J Bond (one of the listed creators of the boards) had his sister-in-law do a session on the newest board that they had created. She asked the spirits what they should name the board as they had received advice from the spirit world through the boards before and had good results. It spelt out O U I J A. She then looked at her neck chain which had a locket at the end and on the locket was a picture of a woman with the word ‘Ouija’ on it. When they asked the board what the word meant, the reply was ‘good luck’. This is the story according to the founders of the board. It is thought however that the woman on the locket was a popular woman’s rights activist Ouida who the sister-in-law Helen Peters was a fan of. We will never really know but the rest is history as they say. What is worth noting is that even back in the late 1800s, this was marketed as a novelty item. It was hugely popular and was almost like it was the thing to do on a Saturday night with all of your friends. Remember they didn’t have Netflix back then so there wasn’t much else to do!

The Ideomotor Phenomena

One of the arguments against the legitimacy of the results that come through the Ouija board is what is known as the Ideomotor effect.  This term was originally coined by William B. Carpenter in 1852. He used this as an explanation for the movement of dowsing rods, pendulums, sticks, or even a planchette on an Ouija board. He wasn’t at all claiming that people were being deliberately deceptive but were completely unaware that their slight muscle movements were causing these items to move. One of the examples he commonly used to demonstrate this was that of dowsing rods. Using dowsing rods to track water, if you were to tell someone who hasn’t used the rods before that there is water at a certain point in the ground when they reach it, their rods will cross. They aren’t doing this deliberately. It is because subconsciously they know where the water is so their subconscious is controlling the muscle movement.  The same applied to Ouija boards.  Often it seemed people were unknowingly moving the planchette to spell out names of people or words that were significant to them.

One thing investigators commonly do with Ouija board sessions to try and rule out any subconscious influence is to place a blindfold over the participants on the board.  When they cannot see, they cannot unknowingly move it to the correct letter.  An argument I have heard from people is that the spirits use your body and need to be able to see so this is why when people use a blindfold it doesn't seem to work.  Personally, I am not one that believes that defence but that is just me.

Why the stigma?

When I first delved into the world of the paranormal, Ouija boards were a topic that would often come up. I was advised not to mess with them because I would be opening a door to evil. At this point in time, it was hugely unpopular for any group to publicly use an Ouija board due to being heavily criticized and accused of being reckless and dangerous. Things have changed and people are a lot more willing to apply critical thinking and in a lot of ways are a little more skeptical ask more questions and need more proof which I love, but there are still a lot of people that believe the boards are completely evil and should not be used. I have been told many stories of how Ouija boards have ruined people’s lives and not to mess with them. Even my Auntie has told me a story where my Nan used to use a board with her sister and weird things started happening in the house so they buried the board in the backyard. When I was starting out in the field, I listened to the stories, and to be honest some of them I did believe at the time. Part of me wanted to fit into this new world I thought was completely awesome and also I believed because of some weird things that had happened to me on some investigations. I wasn’t necessarily convinced that using a board would bring in some sort of evil spirit, but I also didn’t want to take the risk, you know just in case. It didn’t take long for me to start asking questions and start using my logic. The stories always seemed to have a few things in common. The events never seemed to happen to the people I was talking to. It was always a friend or a friend’s sister. It happened 20 or so years ago but they still remember it like it was yesterday. The next line seemed to be ‘they were sitting around drinking one night’. For someone like me who picks apart everything, there were some obvious red flags.  We also need to consider the concept of false memories.  It is something I have written about previously, however, we know our brain is not exactly reliable in remembering things how they really were.  We can even be tricked into thinking that something happened to us when we were not even there at all.  As time goes on, Ouija board stories from 20 years ago begin to sound like they were straight out of a horror movie.  This is where I think a lot of the stigma comes from as this stigma was not around during the spiritualist era when pretty much everyone was using a board.  Most horror movies have Ouija boards as the catalyst for activity.  There is also some reality television that tells its viewers it will summon demons.  They are such popular figures with such a large following that their followers will believe anything they say.

I have been criticized in the past for potentially 'opening a door' by using a board, but I don’t know where this has come from. Putting aside the fact that boards have been completely overdramatized by movies, I think the more general complaint people that don’t like the boards have is that they think by using an Ouija board, you are opening that door or that portal of communication to something evil. Like with any door, good or bad things can come through and Ouija boards seem to have the reputation to invite evil things in. My question for you though would be is that not like any other piece of equipment? How is using an Ouija board any different from using a spirit box or turning on a digital recorder to record EVP. Why is it just an Ouija board that brings in evil or opens that door? Why doesn’t turning on a k2 meter have the same effect? It is all the same intention and in all these instances I am just trying to open up that line of communication. I personally believe that anytime you start an investigation and open yourself up and invite something to come and communicate with you, it is no different to sitting and doing the same at an Ouija board. Either way, you are asking something to come forward. I don’t believe it is just a board that opens that door.  Another argument is that the difference is that you are potentially asking the spirit to use your body.  The same could be said with pendulum divination, which people don't seem to have a problem with.  Why?  You don't hear any stories related to a pendulum session gone wrong and you don't really see pendulums being used in movies, however, many investigators do in fact use this method.  Some even use a pendulum on a board that says yes or no.  This is literally the same as using an Ouija board, it just looks different.  Same with automatic writing and scrying.  These are also techniques people use to communicate within the paranormal, yet don't carry the same stigma as the board.

Ouija boards are not for everyone

I won't deny that certain people should not be using Ouija boards.  Sometimes people can become 'obsessed' with the idea that their house is haunted or that they have some sort of negative force in their life.  They often attribute this to the board and almost fuel this negative force with their own belief.  I have consulted in many private cases in the past which have stemmed from people using an Ouija board and wanted whatever they feel is around them gone.  When you tell them to stop using the board, they won't.  This alone speaks volumes as to what is happening.  I also think that if you are someone who is scared and does think a board will open doors then again you shouldn't use one.  Your fear of using the board could drive you to believe something bad is happening or it could even go further and fuel something negative.  Belief and intent are extremely powerful.  We know our mind can be a very powerful tool not just mentally, but perhaps even when it comes to psychic projection.  If in doubt, I say don't do it, because you could end up fulfilling this prophecy you set for yourself.  

For myself, I have participated in countless Ouija board sessions and in all but one session, the planchette did not move.  In the session it did move, I must say I spent the entire time trying to figure out who was moving it and I was unable to.  So why is it that most times I use a board that nothing happens? Some people have said I am too skeptical, closed, and not open-minded enough for it to work. They have said that the spirit is controlling the person moving the planchette so if I am skeptical, of course, a spirit cannot make it move. When it has worked, is it paranormal or is it this ideomotor effect?  An observation I have made is that from sitting there for a really long time holding the planchette and waiting for something to happen, you start to get tired. Your muscles contract and you find the planchette moves slightly. Not enough to move across the board to a letter but it moves. Are we subconsciously finishing this movement without even realizing it? I will let you develop your own opinions here on how and if you think the board works, these are just my experiences and observations. Regardless of whether the board works or doesn’t work, somewhere along the way, we can all agree that the boards have developed a reputation.

Like with anything, it comes down to what you believe. If you believe the boards are evil, that is up to you. If you believe they are just a toy, again that is up to you. If you swear that you have had the most amazing communication sessions on the board, I am not here to tell someone that they didn’t have an experience. I wasn’t there so who am I to judge. It just hasn’t happened for me and for that reason I do not believe that the boards are the evil tool people think they are.  To me, they are no different from any other piece of equipment you use to potentially communicate with the other side.  It is your intent and belief that will fuel the outcome. Maybe you do need a genuine medium or a sensitive person on the board for it to work. It was originally used by mediums so maybe that is a key component. I also have seen and I know how well our subconscious can play tricks on us so the ideomotor effect for me is a very plausible answer too. I am not saying my opinion is the final answer on Ouija boards. This is based on my experiences and research. Maybe one day I will have that experience that will change my mind completely on the Ouija boards.

Nothing clears a room faster on a tour than when you bring out an Ouija board.  Education again can be key here.  Knowledge is power.  When it comes to our kids as mentioned above, I think it is important to give them some knowledge too.  They are likely messing around not quite understanding things and also have in the back of their head all of the things they have seen on YouTube.  Some may also be wanting bad things to happen because hey they are teenagers.  Again as mentioned above, they could end up making it all happen with their imagination and giving them a really good scare too.  Sometimes you get what you ask for.  Again, knowledge is power.  I have had people who were terrified of the boards, however, they didn't seem to know why, all they knew was they were scared to use one.  Once I gave them all of the information and provided them a safe space to do the board with someone they trusted, they dove straight in and wondered what all the fuss was about.  For one person, that trust element was extremely important to them.  She felt it was a space where you were sharing your personal energy with another human.  This I found to be a really important point too that I had not considered before.  Be mindful of who are you are getting on a board with as not everyone has the same intent and belief that you do.  Sometimes there are people that just scream negative energy.  Sometimes it may just be they aren't in a great place themselves.  This is not someone I would get on a board with.  Choose your sitters wisely.  If you believe in protection, do your protection and groundings.  Remember that is also a personal choice.  What works for one person is totally different to another.  Don't push your own fears and beliefs onto another person.  You are in the driver's seat here and at the end of the day, if it is something you are not comfortable doing, there is nothing wrong with saying no.  Just don't judge those who do!

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