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The Mystery and History of the Ouija Board


Diagram for a spiritoscope

One of the things my metaphysical detective, Riga Hayworth, has not done to summon the dead is use a Ouija board. In my mystery novels, this is for practical reasons – Riga doesn’t have to summon the dead. They’re constantly underfoot.

But Ouijas are cool. Unless you think they’re demonic. Then they’re bad.

It’s unclear where the name, “Ouija,” came from. Back in the 19th century era of spiritualism, mediums and table knocking were the rage. But contacting the departed was also complicated. Automatic writing often produced nonsense, and rapping for letters (one knock for A, two knocks for B…) took a boring amount of time.

Innovations resulted, such as a dial plate with numbers and letters set into a wooden table. These inventions grew in complexity. Even more elaborate devices, such as Robert Hare’s Spiritoscope, were developed to prevent fraud.

But you needed to be a professional or obsessed to afford one of these contraptions.

The early iteration of a Ouija board married the French invention of a planchette, used for automatic writing, with an alphabet board – a board with letters printed on it – to create the “talking board.”

The religious community reacted predictably to the spiritualist craze, labeling it necromancy. And technically, since any calling up of the dead is necromancy, they were right.

Perhaps that’s why in February, 1810, Charles Kennard and his Kennard Novelty Company patented the Ouija board – not as an occult item, but as a party game. This likely broadened its marketing appeal. But the board didn’t take off until the 1960s, when Parker Brothers bought the rights to the board, selling two million boards in 1967.

I know psychics who swear Ouija boards are portals to hell, and refuse to keep them in the house. Others say they’re just paint and wood, and much like Tarot cards or any other tool can be used responsibly or not. What do you think?

About the Author:

Kirsten Weiss is the author of the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mysteries: the urban fantasy, The Metaphysical DetectiveThe Alchemical DetectiveThe Shamanic DetectiveThe Infernal Detective and The Elemental Detective.


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