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Last time, I wrote about how urban legends about the Ouija board surged in the 1970s and early 1980s due to the influence of the film The Exorcist on popular culture.
So what’s up with Ouija right now?
In 2014, filmmaker Stiles White directed and co-wrote a low-budget horror movie called Ouija. The film cost a mere five million dollars to make, but earned over nineteen million in its first weekend alone in North American markets. While panned by critics, the film’s financial success peaked the interest of various deep-pocket movie studios.
It wasn’t just Hollywood who was interested in investing in more Ouija films, either. Toy manufacturer Hasbro–the same company that produces and sells the licensed Ouija boards– reportedly put up a significant amount of funding for the prequel to Ouija, a film called Ouija: Origin of Evil, released in 2016.
These films have some relationship* to the increasing the number and variations of urban legends around the board, such as the three used in Ouija (2014) and Ouija: Origin of Evil:
Never Play Alone
Never Play In A Graveyard
Always Say Goodbye
There are many more legends in circulation:
The true spirit board is not Ouija boards, but “Witch Boards”, so named such because witches once used them to summon demons. Witch boards have been used for centuries **
Placing a silver coin on the board prior to play will block any evil spirits from contacting you. One in each corner is the best way.
Don’t take everything a spirit says at face value. Spirits like to mess with humans because they are bored, lonely, or evil.
If you use the board for financial gain or to pry into personal matters, the board will be more attractive to evil spirits
Never use the board when you are angry, that will attract angry spirits, maybe even poltergeists
Don’t use the board when you have poor mental or physical health- you’re more vulnerable to demonic possession
Don’t use the board when you are under the influence of substances- you’re more vulnerable to demonic possession
ZoZo (or ZoSo) printed on the board is the name of the demon that likes to trick users. ZoZo may haunt people during and after a Ouija session.
If the planchette moves to the four corners of the board an evil spirit has been contacted.
If the planchette moves across the number printed on the board declining from nine on down to one, the spirit is counting down as the exit the board.
Ouija Boards that are not properly disposed of will return to haunt the owner.
If you Burn the Ouija Board it will scream
To properly dispose of the Ouija Board break it into seven pieces, pour holy water on it, and bury it.
I was amused to find a website that made this claim:
Do not use the board if you are under 18, unless supervised by an adult. Remember, the Ouija is not a toy and connecting with spirit is not a game.
‘Not a game’ but owned by Hasbro? Sheesh.
Want to know why Ouija boards appear to work? Read this
Want to see Penn & Teller debunk Ouija boards? Watch this
* Exactly what the relationship is can be left up to the social scientists. Leave me out of it, but remind to set up a Google alert so than when that literature is robust I remember to go have a look it.
** As you know from reading the other posts on Ouija, this assertion is not remotely true (which is hardly surprising).
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?
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.
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.
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.