When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I lived in British Columbia’s Bible belt. Maybe not the buckle of the Bible belt (I’m looking at you, Abbotsford, BC) but at least buckle-adjacent.
That combination of time and place meant that Ouija boards (also known as spirit boards or talking boards) were widely considered a Satanic instrument that could open the door to demonic possession and poltergeist activity. Even now, decades later, I have a beloved friend who insists that these boards are a doorway to ancient supernatural evil.
Given that this year is the 125th anniversary of the Ouija board, a recitation of facts is in order (sources are at the end of this post).
During the nineteenth century, the Spiritualism movement enjoyed public interest and popularity (more on that in a future post). In 1886, national newspapers started carrying stories about “talking boards” or “spirit boards” that mediums were using in their seances so that the spirits of the dead might tell all. These homemade boards and planchettes were more-or-less similar to that of the modern Ouija board.
In the 1890s, Charles Kennard, of the Kennard Novelty Company, produced a commercial version for family entertainment. There are a number of legends about the commercial origins of the board, among them that Kennard and his pals asked the board itself what it should be called. Apparently the planchette spelled out O U I J A and then G O O D L U C K.
Kennard patented the Ouija board (that’s another blog post also). It was a commercial success. It was so popular and so accepted that Norman Rockwell painted a picture of a couple using the board. It was a cover for the Saturday Evening Post. It don’t get more mainstreamed and uncontroversial that that, amirite?
So how did the Ouija board transform from a mainstream parlour game to a scary hell-mouth portal?
All will be revealed next week, in part two. In the meantime, G O O D L U C K.
“The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board“, Smithsonian Magazine Online.
“Ouija Does It”, Saturday Evening Post Online.