Ouija Boards


Ouija boardBy D. J. McAdam

The name “ouija” comes from the French and German words for yes, “oui” and “ja.” There are many different types of Ouija Boards, which can have differing layouts and can be made from a variety of materials. The board usually consists of the letters of the alphabet, 0-9 in numbers and the words, “Yes” and “No.”  The user or users of the board lightly touch a pointer (sometimes called a planchette) and the pointer moves and spells out the answers to questions asked of the Ouija.  Usually this pointer is mounted on castors to help it move freely about the board.

Ouija boards became very popular in the 1960’s, a time of resurgent interest in all things occult and metaphysical, and were sold in many countries as a board game. Some believe that the Ouija offers proof as to life after death. Others, though, believe that the answers to the ouija come from the unconscious mind of one or all of the sitters. Persons of a nervous disposition can be frightened easily when using a ouija board and it is suggested that they should therefore avoid them.  It must also be pointed out that there is no scientific proof that they actually work, although there have been many claims over the years.


Who Invented The Ouija Board?Antique ouija board

We recently received an e-mail asking whether or not the ouija board was invented by the Devil.  Perhaps the most accurate way to answer this is to say that, if the Devil did invent the Ouija board, he neglected to file a patent for it.The earliest known patent for a talking board in the patent offices in London, England was filed by Adolphus Theodore Wagner, a professor of music and resident of Berlin of the Kingdom of Prussia.  Wagner described his device as a “PSYCHOGRAPH, OR APPARATUS FOR INDICATING PERSONS THOUGHTS BY THE AGENT OF NERVOUS ELECTRICITY” on January 23, 1854. This patent goes on to describe the device and identify it as a talking board.

The apparatus consists of a combination of rods or pieces of wood joined so as to permit of free action in all parts. From one of the legs of the instrument hangs a tracer; on one or more of the other extremities is fixed a disc, upon which the operator is to place his hand, and from this extremity or these extremities depends another tracer. The other parts of the apparatus consist of a glass slab or other non-conductor, and of an alphabet and set of figures or numerals. Upon a person possessing nervous electricity placing his hand upon one of the discs the instrument will immediately work, and the tracer will spell upon the alphabet what is passing in the operator’s mind.”

In 1861 a Frenchman, Allan Kardec, described ouija boards (or talking boards) in his Le Livre des Mediums thusly:


“In order to render spirit-communications independent of the medium’s mind, various instruments have been devised. One of these is a sort of dial-plate, on which the letters of the alphabet are ranged like those on the dial of the electric telegraph; a moveable needle, set in motion through the medium’s influence, with the aid of a conducting thread and pulley, points out the letters. We cannot help thinking, however, that the independence of the medium’s thought is insured as well by the raps, and that this independence is proved more conclusively by the unexpectedness and pertinence of the answers, than by all the mechanical contrivances yet invented for this purpose. Moreover, the incredulous, always on the lookout for wires and machinery, and are more inclined to suspect deception in connexion with any special mechanical arrangements than with a bare table, devoid of all accessories.

“A more simple contrivance, but one open to abuse, as we shall see in the chapter on Frauds, is the one devised by Madame Emile de Girardin, and by which she obtained numerous and interesting communications; for that lady accomplished and clever as she was, had the weakness to believe in spirits and their manifestations. The instrument alluded to consists of a little table with a moveable top, eighteen inches in diameter, turning freely on an axle, like a wheel. On its edge are traced, as upon a dial plate, the letters of the alphabet, the numerals, and the words “yes” and “no.” In the centre is a fixed needle. The medium places his fingers on this table, which turns and stops when the desired letters is brought up under the needle. The letters thus indicated being written down one after the other words and phrases are obtained, often with great rapidity.

“It is to be remarked that the top of the little table does not turn round under the fingers, but that the fingers remain in their place and follow the movement of the table. A powerful medium might probably obtain an independent movement; in which case the experiment would be more conclusive, because less open to the possibility of trickery.”

(Note: The above information on the history of the Ouija board, as well as the image of the Ouija board at the top of this page, appear courtesy of Robert Murch.)


Can Using A Ouija Board Make You Psychic?

There is evidence to suggest that using a Ouija board can “open one up” in terms of sensitivity.  Pearl Curran, a housewife from St. Louis, began using a friend’s ouija board in 1913.  The Ouija board began to spell out communications that were purportedly from a spirit contact by the name of Patience Worth.  Pearl and Patience then began collaborating via automatic writing, and their output was prodigious: Patience “dictated” over a million words of poetry, plays and novels to Mrs. Curran.  The works were of sufficiently high literary quality to be published and to enjoy some success among readers, and were rich in historical detail.

Not all cases work out so well.  If using the Ouija board is the equivalent of opening a door into the unknown, then it should be understood that the user of the board has no control as to who might walk through that door and into his or her life.  It could be a pleasant and helpful spirit, as Patience Worth seemed to be.  It could be a malevolent spirit.

Of course, other arguments can be raised.  Perhaps Pearl Curran was herself the reincarnation of Patience Worth, and had tapped into the mind of herself in a previous lifetime.  Or perhaps Pearl Curran (in spite of all evidence to the contrary) was really a great writer herself with a knack for historical detail, and had simply created the persona of Patience Worth, albeit unconsciously.  In that sense, then, the Ouija board is still useful – it is a method of reaching the unconscious mind and hearing what it has to say, much as dreams are.



1.  As translated by Anna Blackwell.