It’s Halloween, so it’s no surprise to see a few holiday themes trending on Twitter today. Among them: Happy Halloween, #BadHauntedHouseThemes and
Ask yourself: How much do you know about the history behind the Ouija Board? As it turns out, despite gaining popularity over the past 100 years, the game was apparently shrouded in mystery, with details only reportedly coming to light in recent years due to the work of a historian named Robert Murch.
WHAT’S THE HISTORY?
So, let’s start with the name “Ouija.” Murch, who specializes in tracing the origins of the board, told the Guardian that the name of the talking board came from a medium named Helen Peters; she was reportedly using the board at a house in Baltimore, Maryland, one day in 1890 when she asked the board what she should call it.
That’s when Peters reportedly received a response: “Ouija” — a word that apparently means “good luck.” And, from there, the name stuck. As it turns out, Elijah Bond, Peters’ brother-in-law, was among the original investors who came together to try to turn the idea into a product back in 1890, the Smithsonian Magazine reported. And on Feb. 10, 1891, the Ouija Board — which looked almost exactly like what toy stores sell today — was given a patent and soon went on sale for $1.49.
It was businessman and inventor William Fuld who soon aggressively marketed the board. He was reportedly put at the helm of the Kennard Novelty Company, the board’s first manufacturer, which figured out how to successfully sell it to the masses.
Of course, at this point you might be wondering: What was it about the board that led it to become to popular in the first place? Before we continue, let’s go back a bit further to the late 1840s when spiritualism — the idea that the living and dead could communicate — gained popularity. It was this very development that paved the way for the popularity of the Ouija Board.
And it’s also that detail about its intended use — as well as the ongoing use of the board even today — that leads most Christians to avoid engaging in it, as we’ll discuss later on in this piece.
Spiritualism was truly popularized, some say, by the famous Fox sisters, who claimed they could connect with the dead; they said the deceased would tap on the walls to communicate, and soon became well-known for their apparent spiritual antics. Others across the nation then tried to replicate their model, as people — especially during the Civil War — became consumed with the idea of speaking to deceased loved ones, as Smithsonian Magazine reported.
With people seeking easier methods and tools to make that communication happen, the pieces of the Ouija Board started to come together, and, by 1886, The Associated Press was reporting on the existence of a wooden board with letters, numbers and a device that would point to each tidbit to spell out messages.
Without getting into too many of the details (and in case you don’t know much about the board), the idea is that two or more people touch a planchette (a device that sits on the board), with that device purportedly then moving to letters of the alphabet to spell out messages. Some believe those messages come from the spirit realm, and not from people moving the planchette.
Or, as the patent from 1891 reads: “The operation is as follows: The table is placed upon the board, and the hand of the Operator is lightly laid or held on the table, when in a few moments the table will move and point to certain letters on the board, spelling and forming sentences, answering questions put by the operator or any other person that may be present at the time.”
THE CREEPY HISTORICAL DETAILS
Now, there’s apparently three pieces of historical information worth noting — two are quite creepy and the other is, well, ironic.
Let’s start first with the creepy details. First and foremost, legend has it that the board was taken to the U.S. Patent Office and that it was demonstrated to work — something apparently required in order for the patent to be issued. There’s not much known about that event, but the fact that it was accepted as a product seems to indicate there was at least a perception of authenticity.
Second, Fuld apparently died in a freakish manner back in 1927. His demise began while he was standing atop a Ouija Board factory in Baltimore as he oversaw the replacement of a flag pole. It was on the roof that the iron support he was holding gave way, and he fell. Fuld, though, reportedly grabbed onto an open window sill to try and save himself.
But, as the Guardian noted, the window suddenly closed and he fell to the pavement below — but that’s actually not what killed him. While he broke some ribs, it was a bump he hit on the way to the hospital that sent one of his bones through his heart.
Oh, and equally creepy? He claimed at the time that the board had told him to build that very building he fell from.
Now, for the ironic twist: Peters, who apparently named the board, eventually came to hate it, telling everyone not to play with it, as she said it was prone to telling lies. Her stance was apparently shaped by a family rift after the board purportedly told her a member of her family stole some Civil War heirlooms; it was a claim that forever divided her relatives.
Anyway, the board’s origins as a tool to speak to spirits quickly morphed into a game that groups and families would play. And, in 1966, Parker Brothers purchased the board; the company was later bought out by Hasbro — a toy company that still sells the board to this day, appealing to the masses by marketing it as a tool with the power to connect them to the spirit world.
IS IT REALLY ALL FUN AND GAMES?
But while many say the Ouija Board is good ‘ol fun, others warn against using it, saying it’s akin to inviting in evil. Christian website GotQuestions.org warns Bible-believers to avoid playing the game at all costs, saying it is occultism and “is definitely not an option for a Christian,” as it is “clearly forbidden in the Bible.”
“No matter how innocent Ouija boards may seem, playing with Ouija boards can be an opening for demons to invade our hearts and minds,” the website proclaims.
GotQuestions.org cites verses in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Galatians as precluding believers from engaging. Leviticus 19:31 reads, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.”
Plus, there’s no shortage of terrifying Ouija Board stories.
Most dismiss claims like these as simply hoaxes, claiming that, rather than spiritual encounters, people are instead experiencing something called the “ideomotor effect.”
Vox described this as “unconscious, involuntary physical movement,” and offered up a scientific theory.
But there are a multitude of stories from individuals who have played with the game and who claim that, as a result, they have experienced demonic forces that have profoundly impeded and impacted their lives. I’ve personally spoken with countless individuals — some reluctant to admit so publicly — who felt they needed to seek faith leaders’ help after using the Ouija board.
Again, not everyone will believe it. But either way, many faith leaders have made one thing clear: Christians should avoid the tool, whether or not they believe it’s real, as it does appear to be a form of engaging in occultism — regardless of how fun or lighthearted it might seem.
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