The Mysterious Ouija Board, Part Two

In my last post, I wrote about how homemade “spirit boards” or “talking boards” used by mediums in the nineteenth century Spiritualism movement had evolved into mass-produced board games marketed as wholesome family fun.

In this post, I’m going to unpack Ouija’s second transformation. How did Ouija boards evolve from  pleasant parlour past-time to perilous portal to perdition?

ouija 5

The answer? The film The Exorcist (1973)

exorcist

The movie is based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist. The book was a bestseller at the time of its original release. Since then, the novel has enjoyed a signed limited-edition “luxury” re-release in 2010, and a 40th anniversary re-edit and re-release in 2011 that included new scenes written by Blatty.

However enduring the appeal of the novel, it was the film of  The Exorcist (scripted by Blatty himself) that gave the by-now-forgotten Ouija board game a new lease on its (after)life. Unlike the book, the film contains a scene in which Regan shows her mother how she’s been playing with a Ouija board.  

Let’s pause here for a moment. It’s worth pointing out that the film The Exorcist is the ninth top-grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation). Don’t rub your eyes, you read that right, here’s the list :

  1. Gone with the Wind
  2. Star Wars
  3. The Sound of Music
  4. ET
  5. Titantic
  6. The Ten Commandments
  7. Jaws
  8. Dr. Zhivago
  9.  The Exorcist

It’s also the top grossing R-rated film of all time (adjusted for inflation).  So suffice it to say nearly everyone who wanted to see the film back then, saw the film. Re-releases, rep theaters, videotapes, DVDs, and streaming services have continued to popularize the film.

Based on this, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the film spawned a thousand urban legends. That includes some of the ones that I heard as a girl in the 1970’s, such as “never play Ouija alone” and “Demons will enter your soul if you play with Ouija boards.”

Next time, I’ll post about the contemporary resurgence of Ouija boards and associated urban legends.  Until then,  G O O D L U C K.

 

 

The Mysterious Ouija Board, Part One

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.

homemade board
A homemade wooden spirit 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.

classic board
The patented and trademarked Ouija board

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?

rockwell ouija
Cover Image from the May 1 1920 edition of The Saturday Evening Post

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.

planchette

SOURCES

The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board“, Smithsonian Magazine Online.

“Ouija Does It”, Saturday Evening Post Online.

A new word?

8179564865_dd87851289
Photo Credit Used under a CC license

I was talking to Robert this morning on the way to work. As is often the case in the morning, my mouth was moving without my brain being fully engaged. Out popped a new word: “jealerous”  a combination of “jealous” and “generous.” I think it will be useful.

jeal·er·ous

(jĕl′er′əs)

adj.

1. A display of generosity calculated to stimulate envy or resentment in onlookers who do not benefit from it.
After the department manager moved on to another position, she sent an elaborate fruit basket to just a couple of the team– what a jealerous jerk!  

On not being normal at dinner

Photo Credit  Used under a CC license
Photo Credit Used under a CC license

“It is very painful, I think, to be told: ‘You enchanted the world for me, you made me feel things I never knew I could, now please be normal at dinner.’ We are always saying this to people in one way or another, of course; maybe we have to.”

– Brian Phillips, “Run to the Devil: The Ghosts and Grace of Nina Simone

I’m calling bullshit on this. There is no “have to”.  You don’t have to. You just think you have to.  Please stop.

Ideas are cheap

One of the things I do to earn part of my living involves technical writing inside a certain specialist industry. I pitched a project last summer that the people close to me were enthusiastic about. Nevertheless it died on the vine when it was kicked upstairs.  

Another writer and I were talking about the project, and he wanted to see the outline. I sent it. The next day he emailed to say this:

” Since I’m unemployed at the moment would you be okay with me looking into taking this [outline] and using it as a basis for a start up business?”

I am aware I am supposed to feel affronted and protective over the outline. I don’t though. Probably people will tell me I am foolish. I don’t care.

This is what I said in return:

“Go ahead and do what you like with it. . . Develop this and implement it, develop it and sell it to the competition, I don’t care what you do with it as I’m not going to do anything with it and ideas are cheap. If you can use it to build a business, good for you. The easy part is getting ideas, the hard part is implementing them, so please use that outline as you would your own proprietary materials and reap whatever benefits you can from it. ”