Ouija is the subject of terror in many entertainment mediums, including books, movies, and television. Did you play the game when you were a child or teenager, even though your parents warned you against it? You’re among millions who have tempted fate with Ouija. This talking board has a bad reputation and a fascinating history, and it has crossed over into today’s technology-driven world.
China’s Song Dynasty
Historians date Ouija back to the Song Dynasty in China, which ran from 960 AD to 1279 AD. Historical documents from the era discuss automatic writing for the first time in 1100 AD. The Chinese referred to automatic writing as “fuji,” which means planchette or spirit writing. Fuji was conducted under supervised rituals, because the Chinese believed that the writing allowed them to commune with the spirit world. They also believed it enabled necromancy, which raises a body from the dead by turning the person’s spirit into an apparition. Fuji was practiced in Quanzhen School, the Northern China branch of Taoism, until the Qing Dynasty took power in 1644 and forbade it from the curriculum.
The 19th century ushered in a spiritualist movement in the United States. Mediums in the U.S. began to practice communicating with the dead, especially after the Civil War. Many relatives of those killed in the nation’s bloodiest battle weren’t ready to say goodbye just yet, and they enlisted the help of these mediums to contact their loved ones in the great beyond. The practice of automatic writing using talking boards was officially recognized in 1890 in Baltimore, Maryland, although spiritualist camps in Ohio had been using them so much that by 1886, planchette writing became a hot news topic, and a businessman with a knack for making money decided to capitalize on spirit writing by turning it into a game.
Elijah Bond was a lawyer and inventor who held numerous patents. One of those happened to be for the planchette board. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Bond came up with an idea to turn automatic writing into a parlor game. He designed a board that had the alphabet on it. His board resembled existing talking boards, but Bond was smart enough to file a patent for his invention on May 28, 1990. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the application and issued exclusive rights to the planchette board on February 10, 1891 under U.S. Patent No. 446,054. Bond turned his invention into a popular parlor game that many played with abandon. Some took it seriously, others not so much.
In 1901, William Fuld, who was also born in Baltimore, Maryland and worked for Elijah Bond, took over Bond’s planchette board production. He tweaked the design a little and gave it the name “Ouija.” The idea for the name was that of Charles Kennard whose company, Kennard Novelty Company, manufactured Fuld’s board design. Kennard said a talking board told him to call it Ouija, and that the board claimed Ouija means “good luck” in ancient Egyptian tongue. This being said, Fuld preferred to claim that Ouija was a combination of “the French and German words for ‘yes’,” according to Wikipedia. People accepted this interpretation more widely than Kennard’s explanation.
Even though it is still called Ouija today, neither Fuld nor Kennard could have ever imagined that the talking board would make its way onto the Information Superhighway, much less, what an Information Superhighway even is. In the 21st century, software engineers found a way for people to communicate with spirits via online Ouija, and an electronic talking board can now be downloaded onto a computer’s desktop or as a smartphone application. For those who do not fear the Ouija and reject that it encourages demonic possession (as taught by many religious sects), communicating with spirits or deceased loved ones has never been easier, and science even backs the practice up.
In 2012, scientists tested the Ouija boards “Yes” and “No” answers and found them to be more accurate than a simple guess. They believe the answers come from your subconscious mind, so perhaps Ouija isn’t a portal into the spiritual realm but rather a portal into your deepest thoughts. Either way, you can see what Ouija says using the Internet, so there’s no need to dig out and dust off that board game that’s been sitting in your attic for decades.