Image Source: Melissa Valeriote's Fantastical World of Holidays.
It's funny that parents are more or less tolerant of children's imaginations when it comes to their kids seeing ghosts (see here). But Ouija boards, claimed to be tangible means to communicate with demons and spirits, are a whole other matter. Pretty much everyone, no matter what their stance toward the paranormal, thinks they are a bad idea: psychologists, Christians (see also here), religious studies experts, New Age gurus, psychics (see also here), believers and spiritualists. Non-skeptics think that using these séance toys opens doors and issues invitations to malevolent entities from 'the other side.' Skeptics think that Ouija boards can spark dissociative disorders. They have been debunked by the scientific community as working through the ideomotor effect. Vegas headliners Penn and Teller, who are skeptical illusionists, have declared that Ouija boards are total bullshit (see here, here and here). Many atheists regard them as bunk: boring, stupid and a totally harmless conduits of auto-suggestion (as here and here). But some skeptics toss their skepticism out the window and consider them somehow harmful, either morally or psychologically, and so does almost everyone else.
The name literally means 'yes yes' - a combination of French and German versions of the word. They grew out of 19th century spiritualism, the selling point of which was amateur access to divination. Elijah Bond introduced the "Ouija or Egyptian luck-board" to the United States, filing a patent for the board as a toy in 1890-1891. The patent is here; you can also view it here. The boards became immensely popular in World War I and after, when people were desperate to contact deceased loved ones. One phenomenon associated with this period is the author Pearl Curran, who wrote several novels and poetry which she claimed were dictated by a 17th century female spirit talking to her through a Ouija board. Sales of the toys stayed high through the 1930s and 1940s and exploded in response to occult and Eastern spiritualist fads in the 1960s. The William Fuld Company made Ouija boards starting in 1902, until Parker Brothers/Hasbro acquired the company in 1966 and gained control of the trademark. The official William Fuld site has a history of the board's early manufacture and marketing here.
Even though 'witchboards' are pretty commonly regarded as dangerous toys, they remain popular. The trailer to the 1986 movie, Witchboard, is here. If you go to eBay, you will find hundreds for sale. And the tool keeps appearing in new forms: there is a discussion about online Ouija boards on Yahoo Answers, here.
Guiding Light Angel Boards cost 40 bucks.
Ultra New Agey types have recently gone in for so-called Angel boards, which are really Ouija boards, and hide behind benevolent soft Christian imagery and the claim that they draw only good spirits; they are divination tools that some associate with holistic healing (as here). No matter what you think of Ouija boards, the moral inversion of symbolism around a thing normally associated with evil spiritualism is disturbing. See warnings against Angel boards here, here and here. They were developed in the mid-1990s by Ernest Chapman, after a supposed near-death experience.
The Fuld site claims the Ouija board is a 19th century invention; this is true, in terms of the board that we now recognize, the design of which is clear in Elijah Bond's patent. But the practice of divination through tables or boards with moving components goes back over one thousand years, and possibly a thousand years earlier than that. Spirit-writing had its roots in Chinese folk religion, and was historically noted during the Liu Song Dynasty (420-479 CE). Talking spirit boards and automatic writing were employed in 1100 CE China, under the Song Dynasty. Whole spiritual scriptures of the Daozang were taken down as a result of automatic writing produced by mediums who used planchettes and boards to contact the world of the dead and the world of spirits. Wiki: "Two examples [of scriptures written by these means] are the Zitong dijun huashu 梓潼帝君化書 "Book of Transformations of the Divine Lord of Zitong" (tr. Kleeman 1994, see Huashu) and the Taiyi jinhua zongzhi 太一金華宗旨 "Great One’s Secret of the Golden Flower" (tr. Wilhelm 1931)." The themes of these works are described here as a weird combination of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and early scientific research in the field of alchemy. The practice of automatic writing using fuji was forbidden by the Qing Dynasty. Others find the origins of the board in Ancient Egypt. But the device was widespread in the ancient world: similar tools were used in Ancient India, Greece, Rome, and medieval Europe.
Below, Richard Wilhelm's 1931 translation of Great One’s Secret of the Golden Flower, claimed to be a result of planchette-based contact with, and automatic writing from, the spirit world. (Excerpts from Googlebooks).
Below, Terry F. Kleeman's 1994 translation of The Book of Transformations of Wenchang, the Divine Lord of Zitong, supposedly produced through the technique of fuji. (Excerpts from Googlebooks.)
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See all my posts on Ghosts.
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