The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board

Original_ouija_boardThe last time we posted a story about ouija boards (How Ouija Boards Work) our commenters had some nasty back and forth. I’m sure you’ll be civil this time, right? From Smithsonian.com:

In February, 1891, the first few advertisements started appearing in papers: “Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board,” boomed a Pittsburgh toy and novelty shop, describing a magical device that answered questions “about the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy” and promised “never-failing amusement and recreation for all the classes,” a link “between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial.” Another advertisement in a New York newspaper declared it “interesting and mysterious” and testified, “Proven at Patent Office before it was allowed. Price, $1.50.”

This mysterious talking board was basically what’s sold in board game aisles today: A flat board with the letters of the alphabet arrayed in two semi-circles above the numbers 0 through 9; the words “yes” and “no” in the uppermost corners, “goodbye” at the bottom; accompanied by a “planchette,” a teardrop-shaped device, usually with a small window in the body, used to maneuver about the board. The idea was that two or more people would sit around the board, place their finger tips on the planchette, pose a question, and watch, dumbfounded, as the planchette moved from letter to letter, spelling out the answers seemingly of its own accord. The biggest difference is in the materials; the board is now usually cardboard, rather than wood, and the planchette is plastic.

Though truth in advertising is hard to come by, especially in products from the 19th century, the Ouija board was “interesting and mysterious”; it actually had been “proven” to work at the Patent Office before its patent was allowed to proceed; and today, even psychologists believe that it may offer a link between the known and the unknown.

The real history of the Ouija board is just about as mysterious as how the “game” works. Ouija historian Robert Murch has been researching the story of the board since 1992; when he started his research, he says, no one really knew anything about its origins, which struck him as odd: “For such an iconic thing that strikes both fear and wonder in American culture, how can no one know where it came from?”

The Ouija board, in fact, came straight out of the American 19th century obsession with spiritualism, the belief that the dead are able to communicate with the living. Spiritualism, which had been around for years in Europe, hit America hard in 1848 with the sudden prominence of the Fox sisters of upstate New York; the Foxes claimed to receive messages from spirits who rapped on the walls in answer to questions, recreating this feat of channeling in parlors across the state. Aided by the stories about the celebrity sisters and other spiritualists in the new national press, spiritualism reached millions of adherents at its peak in the second half of the 19th century…

[continues at Smithsonian.com]

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  • echar

    Some people have a problem with this game. A friend of mine from back in the day told me a story about his board telling him it would drop a ceiling fan on him while he slept. This was the LSD and Necronomicon days though. I can’t help but wonder if he was tripping.

    I also remember another story of this girl who was a peer whom said her board lifted up and flew across the room. Most likely she had watched Witchboard and/or the Excorcist and wished to get some attention.

    WITCHBOARD (1986)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eopr3V5DGYA

  • DeepCough

    The Ouija Board, like Tarot Cards, are little more than pseudo-occult trinkets to be purchased at your local Borders Barnes & Noble store.

    • oneironauticus

      From an atheistic perspective, they could be seen simply as tools for exploring your own subconscious…no reason to discount them just because you can purchase them anywhere (maybe even wally world).

      Then again, no reason to stick to these tools, either…you could probably design a similar game / system of subconscious exploration with a little fore-thought and creativity…

      • Poop

        Say what you want about the tenets and exploration of the occult dude, at least it’s an ethos.

        • Matt Staggs

          I don’t scry on Shabbas.

          • echar

            Can you bend the rules a bit, and get someone else to do it for you? I am selling my services as a proxy scryer. I prefer the black mirror over the quija, but am willing to make compromises.

        • oneironauticus

          “Say what you want about the tenets and exploration of the Jedi religion dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

          And?

          • DeepCough

            You’re such a Nihilist.

          • oneironauticus

            Moi? Poop’s comment should have been directed towards you.

          • DeepCough

            You take this stuff too seriously.

          • oneironauticus

            That’s funny, since I just said the same thing about you.

      • DeepCough

        Exactly my point: there is nothing special about these devices. They’re for entertainment purposes only (like a television psychic).

        • oneironauticus

          That’s not my point. I think you would get more use out of silent contemplation with such a device (or another of your own choosing) than what you would get from the TV psychic.

          Or do you not believe the unconscious mind exists?

          • DeepCough

            No, I don’t believe in an “unconscious mind,” (because,
            technically speaking, you’d have to be “clinically braindead”
            to have an unconscious mind) anymore than I believe in a subconscious mind, because that is an outmoded psychological and metaphysical idea, mm’kay.

          • oneironauticus

            What crawled up your ass?

            I didn’t use the wrong term. “Unconscious” is commonly used in this context: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconscious_mind

            As in, your unconscious mind is making you needlessly defensive.

          • Andrew

            Not mm’kay.

          • DeepCough

            It’s easy, mm’kay.

          • Andrew

            I find it very difficult, actually.

          • Andrew

            But seriously, is this along the line of what you’re getting at?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconscious_mind#Controversy

            I’ve read that the subconscious has been conclusively proven to not exist, and I’d be interested in reading about the experiments that disproved it, if you know of a good link.

          • DeepCough

            The “unconscious/subconscious mind” was a concept invented by Sigmund Freud to explain the irrational nature of human behavior, which is a part of the id of a human being. Because Psychology and Neurology were so intertwined, that the words “mind” and “brain” were interchangeable as they were thought to be one in the same. As the 20th century came about, these two courses of study split, as Neurology went on to actually study the wiring of the human body called the “central nervous system,” whereas Psychology, to this day, remains for the most part in the realm of metaphysics. Freud’s studies were all basically primitive neuroscience, as he was trying to affect the functions of the brain with esoteric methods like hypnotism and cold reading. The unconscious mind is a most unfortunate term in itself, because it’s so conflicting, you could call it bipolar. In order to “mind” something, it requires a conscious thought. To be unconscious makes it very difficult to mind anything, which makes it no matter at all (to wit).

            Of course, if you don’t like my explanation, E.M. Thornton has an interesting piece worth reading.

            http://www.bfms.org.uk/Text_Assets/E%20M%20Thornton.pdf

          • Andrew

            No, I think your explanation is very cogent and reasonable. I don’t completely agree with it, yet, but I’m definitely going to keep it in mind as a probability.

          • DeepCough

            Dat’s cool, man.

          • oneironauticus

            Now why exactly wouldn’t you respond to me when I asked?

          • DeepCough

            Why are you so petty? First you like one of my comments, then you unlike it so you can dislike it. You wouldn’t happen to be the same person to give me those 5 downvotes would you?

          • oneironauticus

            Are you serious? You’ve down-voted all of my comments for two days.

            One person can’t give 5 down-votes on one comment. The level of involvement it would take to accomplish such a feat (especially given all of the blocking add-ons and crap I would have to configure) is not worth the effort. I know you’d like to think you’re that important, but even if I actually did have a personal problem with you, it wasn’t that shocking of a comment.

          • DeepCough

            You’ve down-voted all of my comments for two days.

            Really? Tell me more about how I’ve downvoted all of your comments and yet I notice at least three, including your initial reply with currently six upvotes, remain unfettered by any downvote.

          • rachel

            “No complaint…is more common than that of a scarcity of upvotes.”

            -Adam Smith

          • DeepCough

            Tell that to @disqus_KSFnt63Yjs:disqus, she’s the one who won’t stop complaining.

          • oneironauticus

            You do know that everyone can still read both of our previous comments, right?

            Like the one where I said to you: “I had no idea these little things mattered so much to you”…

            …and the one you posted afterward wherein you replied: “Why are you so petty? First you like one of my comments, then you unlike it so you can dislike it”…like a whiny baby?

            Who’s complaining? I’m going to ask again: do you smoke a lot of crack cocaine? Because you appear to have some sort of memory issue which is detrimental to clear communication.

            I will not respond further because I think you might actually be mentally challenged, or otherwise compromised.

          • DeepCough

            Or maybe at the subconscious level, you’re just a quitter.

          • oneironauticus

            Declined.

          • Ted Heistman

            I don’t think its discredited. For example what is the neurological materialist reductionist explanation for dreams and archetypes? Why should people have similar dream symbolism?

            Do you think all mental process are completely conscious? You don’t think lots of things go on outside our awareness? You have never noticed that something is bothering you yet you weren’t completely sure what it was?

          • DeepCough

            Et tu, Theodore? Well, if I had to give a “neurological reductionist” view of dreams, it would be thus: dreaming is nothing more than neurological defragmentation. And as far “dream archetypes,” well, that depends a lot on a person or a people’s acculturation and global perspective.

            And I acknowledge that the term “braind dead” is an
            unfortunately absolutist term, the word “conscious” can be subjective as well as objective. Sure, there are things going on beyond the scope of my five senses, most definitely on different frequencies and spectra, it’s just I don’t attribute them to any supernatural or metaphysical explanation, because such arguments are incredibly fanciful and opinionated, rather than having any grounding in hard facts.

          • Ted Heistman

            Well, I think what it is, is that things have become more specialized since Freud. Really there are barely any generalists left. So I think as things become more specialized fields with a common origin develop misunderstandings between each other.

            But Think people pick specializations initially that interest them and other specializations didn’t interest them. It sounds to me like you simply aren’t all that interested in dreams. So to you maybe they don’t require any complicated explanation.

            Some cultures like India, dreams were one of the Central ideas of the entire civilization. We are talking a High civilization here Massive Architectural structures still around today, ancient scriptures still being read today. The animating idea was that of the dream. That is why Hindu Deities are depicted with closed eyes. If an idea is fruitful enough to create an entire High Civilization around, one of the Greatest in Humanity, rivaling Egypt, then obviously there is something to it, beyond “nothing more than neurological defragmentation”

            That’s not taking anything away from what you may know about neurology. That’s just waht specialization does. People get deep insights into a narrow field of specialization and then make the mistake of thinking areas outside this don’t really amount to anything much.

            Anyway i enjoy your contributions on stuff.

          • jnana

            if there is no unconscious…
            then please tell me how zen chicken sexing is possible.
            ;)

          • DeepCough

            Very simple, grasshopper. If the chicken has no cock, it clearly a hen.

          • oneironauticus

            What if the cock has no cock?

            (Psst, chickens and other birds do not have “cocks” and “vaginas”. They have cloacas.)

          • Calypso_1

            Some male birds are equipped as such.

          • oneironauticus

            Not. Chickens.

            :|

            Probably.

            (Damn it. Okay, well “rudimentary”, what are we talking here–do you need a microscope? Do you have to really dig into the cloaca to find it? …Ugh…I think this research just put me off Thanksgiving turkey… :P)

            Further research suggests that ducks, rather than chickens, have what one might call a penis. Chickens, however, mate by “cloacal kiss”.

          • Calypso_1

            duck, duck, goose.

          • Calypso_1

            “dig in”…. let’s see. Are you sure you’re cut out for the farming life?

          • oneironauticus

            I’m not “digging” artificial insemination, in general. I just start thinking about how humans would feel if aliens were always violating them and forcing them to become pregnant and then I start to think I should give vegetarianism another go…

            Well, at any rate, I’d rather let nature take it’s course. I think I’ll stop at goat cheese and eggs. Vegetables are not a problem. I think compost is neat.

          • Matt Staggs
          • oneironauticus

            HAH, awesome. :D

          • DeepCough

            The problem with your subconscious is that it’s completely humorless.

          • oneironauticus

            No, you’re just not funny.

          • DeepCough

            See, I told you that you took this shit too seriously.

          • oneironauticus

            “it’s just I don’t attribute them to any supernatural or metaphysical explanation…”

            Ah, so from the very beginning, even though I clarified “atheist position”, you’re putting a whole lot of other meanings into the words “unconscious/subconscious” that I didn’t mean at all.

            Fascinating.

          • DeepCough

            So what do you mean by “atheist position?” If you were an “atheist” toward Occult practices like scrying or seances, you’d be just as dismissive as I am about this subject. Instead, you insist this object is about “subconscious exploration” (which was not the original intended use of the Ouija Board), a concept that is a bogus and outdated–and unproven!–practice of psychoanalysis, and that’s not even the topic of this goddamned post. Way to circumlocute the issue, man.

          • oneironauticus

            (What the…what? Why can I edit everyone’s comments? That wasn’t there before, was it? …’Scuse me, side-tracked for a moment.)

            I don’t CARE what the original intent of the Ouija board was. That is utterly irrelevant. That is why I specified that one could just as easily make up your own game / whatever.

            “that’s not even the topic of this goddamned post. Way to circumlocute the issue, man.” –No one else here has a problem with making the connection between what I said and the topic of this post.

            Given your inability to see how the two are connected and your utter failure in understanding that the original purpose of the Ouija board is irrelevant to my point, I’m beginning to think there is a real communication problem on your end.

            There *is* scientific research into the minute movements one makes *without conscious awareness that one is doing so* which leads the pointer (or whatever) to the places the operator wishes for it to go. I don’t see any reason whatsoever to *not* call these “sans consciously aware” impulses the…wait for it…UNCONSCIOUS.

            Consider the following concept: are your actions sometimes affected by things such as hunger or fatigue? Do you accept that you may not always be aware of the reasons why your conscious thoughts and actions are being affected, at the actual moment? Is this not an example of the unconscious? Do you believe that you are a brain driving a body?

            “A concept that is bogus and outdated” –by whose authority?

            You’re still being a dick, either way. There was absolutely no reason for you to act the way you are acting. Why are you defensive about your position? Could it be that you’re insecure in your belief?

          • echar

            My guess is that Disqus is glitched right now. I sent them an email. Hopefully they fix it, because it could be used nefariously.

          • oneironauticus

            Aw, I don’t think it works. I was going to reply within your comment, but it didn’t post.

            Too bad. ;P

          • echar

            I tried the same. No worky. Still glitched though.

          • Calypso_1

            [Damn it, It won’t save edits to others posts]

          • DeepCough

            I don’t CARE what the original intent of the Ouija board was

            Then…..why so bitchy?

          • oneironauticus

            You, last week:
            “because that is an outmoded psychological and metaphysical idea, mm’kay.”

            Me, last week:
            “p.s. Why are you being so shitty? I didn’t do anything to you.”

            Do you, by any chance, smoke a lot of crack cocaine?

          • DeepCough

            Why do you keep dredging up the past? And why do you think I am the mayor of Toronto?

          • oneironauticus

            Pathetic back-peddling.

          • DeepCough

            For someone who is on the internet, I’m surprised you can’t dig up a link to support your assertions. Now that’s pathetic, and it’s lazy to boot.

          • oneironauticus

            You’re not worth the effort.

          • DeepCough

            I accept your capitulation.

          • oneironauticus

            Dismissed.

          • Andrew

            I accept that both of you insist on having the last word.

          • oneironauticus

            I accept that he obviously has a crush on me.

            Also, that my last words are better than his–he has no sense of drama (I’m three replies away from bringing back “talk to the hand”).

          • DeepCough

            Hugbees.

          • oneironauticus

            By the way, why do you assume that “atheism” is analogous to “scientism”?

          • DeepCough

            I made no such assumption. You just used “atheism” as a red herring.

          • oneironauticus

            *forehead slap* it was in the original comment, to which I was referring…

          • DeepCough

            First the red herring, next the non sequitur. I’m surprised you even know what scientism is.

          • oneironauticus

            I’m surprised you do, since it’s often used in a derogatory manner towards those who believe in absolute materialism…or perhaps it’s not the first time someone has accused you of such.

          • DeepCough

            If I’m not going to give credence to the notion that a simple piece of cardboard with fancy letters is going to put me in touch with spirits deep into the vast aether of existence where all souls go to rest, what makes you think I’m going to buy the notion that there is a thing called the “subconscious,” a concept that I have at least had the chance to explain to you, but you yourself cannot explicate in your own words or with a historical reference? (By the way, if you had actually read that Wikipedia link, you might understand why I thoroughly criticize the concept of the “Subconscious/Unconscious mind, rather than be a zealous bitch about it.)

          • oneironauticus

            Why do you expect respect when you give none?

          • DeepCough

            I didn’t ask for respect. But again, I bet you noticed that without me having to point it out to you.

          • oneironauticus

            THEN STOP TALKING TO ME.

          • DeepCough

            Can’t finish what you started?

          • oneironauticus

            Rejected.

          • DeepCough

            Furthermore, you really meant “by” instead of “towards,” right?

          • oneironauticus

            “Scientism is a term used, often pejoratively,[1][2][3] to refer to belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

          • DeepCough

            And let’s not forget this meaning:

            “To indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims.[21] This usage applies equally in contexts where science might not apply,[22] such as when the topic is perceived to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry,

            and in contexts where there is insufficient empirical evidence
            to justify a scientific conclusion. It includes an excessive deference to claims made by scientists or an uncritical eagerness to accept any result described as scientific.

            In this case, the term is a counterargument to appeals to scientific authority.”

          • oneironauticus

            K. Glad we agree.

          • jnana

            ironic that psychology’s cures are much more effective and humane than neurology’s cures

          • DeepCough

            I think you got that back-asswards.

          • jnana

            neurology seeks to manipulate the physical brain through medication and technology. Much of psychology seeks to teach the individual to have control over their own mind. Psychology teaches the man to fish, neurology gives him a fish, fostering dependency

          • DeepCough

            That made no fucking sense whatsoever.
            But you know what else doesn’t make sense?
            Ouija Boards.

          • jnana

            the neurological materialist mindset inspires dependency on altering brain chemistry through pharmies and soon to be dependency on technology that can change brain waves.
            although psychology is a diverse discipline, it is generally open towards what materialists might call “subjectivity” and cures through helping the patient change their mind. instead of taking a pill to be happy, you can dig deep into your unconscious to figure out what might be causing your unhappiness. at first you may depend on the doctor to do this for you, but eventually you can learn to do this on your own.
            if this doesn’t make sense to you, that’s your problem. it sounds to me like you could just use a good nap.

          • DeepCough

            Sounds to me like you’ve jumped on the Irrelevant Tangent Train that should’ve derailed 10 comments ago.

          • jnana

            its all irrelative, man

          • oneironauticus

            Jesus Christ, man. You’re not even TRYING to understand. Are you seriously too thick to comprehend, or are you just that stubborn?

            You can disagree with the points all you like, but can you act with the basic respect to at least attempt to understand? (Hah…what am I asking from a “New Metal” fan? Manners? Sheesh…)

            We can both comprehend your point of view. I don’t even necessarily DISAGREE with your point of view. You just assume that I do because you’re a jerk-face-poop-head-blah-blah-blah.

            So there.

            *shits in hand and throws it at you*

            Yeah. There’s some subconscious for ya.

          • DeepCough

            I don’t even necessarily DISAGREE with your point of view.

            It seems that your subconscious is clearly suffering from the feminine psychosis known as “hysteria,” because of persistent anal retention likely due to your chronic diarrhea, thus explaining the nature of your comments.

          • oneironauticus

            Wow. Talk about outmoded concepts…

          • DeepCough

            Exactly my point. Glad we finally came to a consensus.

          • Calypso_1

            Not an ‘anal phase’ disorder.

          • DeepCough

            You know I was being sarcastic, right?

          • Calypso_1

            Me? unable to detect sarcasm!? I must have swooned from the cloacal vapors.

          • DeepCough

            Yeah, I’m starting to get a pounding headache myself.

          • oneironauticus

            My other comment won’t post yet because it contained a wikipedia link, but “unconscious” was not incorrect. Freud used the terms interchangeably, at first.

            Where is your proof that the “unconscious/subconscious” has been completely discredited? You do realize that when speaking about psychology, this is all theoretical, right? Neuroscience would still say you have genetic and instinctual impulses that one could very well term a sort of “unconscious”…

            p.s. Why are you being so shitty? I didn’t do anything to you.

          • DeepCough

            Where is your proof that the “unconscious/subconscious” has been completely discredited? You do realize that when speaking about psychology, this is all theoretical, right?

            Well, thanks for defeating your own premise there, man.
            And as a matter of fact, I am right.

          • oneironauticus

            “Mmmkay”, “proof” was a poor word choice, but I mean a link, a reference, anything other than more shitty, pointless snark.

            Why are you so defensive on *this* issue, of all fucking things?

          • DeepCough

            My attitude toward this subject, from the get-go here Doktor Freud, has been completely dismissive. But I bet you already noticed that.

          • DeepCough

            Why the hell are you going off on this retarded tangent about the “unconscious/subconscious mind?” This thread is in no way germane or even halfway tangential to the content of the post. How about staying on topic instead of insisting on concepts you barely understand.

          • oneironauticus

            :D

            No one is making you respond, child.

          • DeepCough

            Is that to imply you are “No one?”

          • oneironauticus

            Are you still mad about me saying I’d rape you with your own dick and shit in your chest? I thought it was understood that I only meant *after* your funeral. No worries.

          • DeepCough

            I would like to state for the record that you’re the one who brought it up, not me. Maybe some “silent contemplation” will help ease your butthurt.

          • oneironauticus

            Aw…pobrecito…didn’t realize you were so sensitive. I promise to use plenty of lube on you.

          • DeepCough

            On second thought, maybe a transorbital lobtomy will do you some good.

          • oneironauticus

            You’re just mad your original comment got 5 down-votes while mine got 5 up-votes. I had no idea these little things mattered so much to you. Here, will this help?

            Maybe now you’ll stop being a whiny baby.

          • DeepCough

            No, please give me more downvotes, you know want to.

  • Nils Laersen

    The keyboard infront of you is just like a ouija.You send &recieve information- messages from the other side.The people on the other end could very well be dead long time ago,they just dont know it. The afterworld is said to be a replica of this one.

    • oneironauticus

      Like…woah…

    • echar

      Yeah, ima’ make a movie outa that gem.

  • echar
    • DeepCough

      I have to admit, that’s the coolest coffee table ever.

  • oneironauticus

    “The last time we posted a story about ouija boards (How Ouija Boards Work) our commenters had some nasty back and forth. I’m sure you’ll be civil this time, right?”

    No such luck, I’m afraid…you know, maybe you should just avoid this topic. It does seem to get people rather…”bedeviled”.

    *baddah-chah!*

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