Demons, Curses, and the Truth About Spirit Boards: Is Ouija's Dark Side Just Another Witch Hunt?

Demons, Curses, and the Truth About Spirit Boards: Is Ouija’s Dark Side Just Another Witch Hunt?

ouijawitchhunt

Some call it evil. Others say it’s a portal to unspeakable horrors. But we all know it as the Ouija Board. Demonized by some, scoffed at as nonsense by others, this simple game has enthralled us for more than a century. Is it an evil tool or just a mirror of our own fears and prejudices?

Wood isn’t inherently evil, yet this board seems to have the power to make people convinced that they must get rid of it for their own protection. We often see the destruction or removal of things in fiction as a banishing of evil. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a simple ring is destroyed to save Middle-earth. And who can forget a certain Baltimore poet’s talking bird refusing to leave and driving a man insane by simply uttering a single word:

Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or devil!-
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?*- tell me- tell me, I implore!
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe

Spirit boards have a long and fascinating history dating back long before the Ouija name became associated with them. But it was the Kennard Novelty Company that launched the “mystifying oracle” from homemade contraption to household name. William Fuld didn’t invent the board, but he did take over the company and turn it into the Ouija Novelty Company in 1892. It was a lucrative enterprise, and the Baltimore-based business quickly expanded. Strangely enough, William Fuld died from a fall off the roof of his Harford Avenue factory–a building the Ouija board told him to build.

William Fuld, the man who made Ouija famous, poses with his board. (Robert Murch)

William Fuld, the man who made Ouija famous, poses with his board circa 1917. (Robert Murch)

Yet that wasn’t the first time bad luck was associated with spirit boards. Burning or breaking these boards is a custom as old as the board itself. In old newspaper accounts, frequent use or unsavory answers have led people to smash them to pieces. The Religio-Philosophical Journal reported on March 13, 1886 that the household of Jeremiah A. Long of Akron, Ohio, was experimenting with the new spirit board, but his many children were sleepless with nervousness about it. “You would not believe it, unless you should operate it yourself, what wonderful and strikingly pertinent answers are made,” Long told the New York Tribune.  “The whole town has been filled with the machines, but I smashed the one at my house.” That same year, the Democratic Northwest stated that a man named Jack who thought his family was spending far too much time using a spirit board burned it in the fire before leaving home on a trip. Puzzled by its absence, the family made another board and asked it what happened to the previous one. The board’s response, J-A-C-K B-U-R-N-E-D I-T U-P, came as quite a shock to Jack when he returned home.

Even today, some people decide to burn Ouija boards as a precaution. (reddit)

Even today, some people decide to burn Ouija boards as a precaution. (reddit)

But it was not just innocent fun experienced by users. The November 21, 1891 edition of the San Francisco Morning Call told the tragic story of 28-year-old Mrs. Eugenie Carpenter of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Depressed over the separation with her boyfriend, she and a friend played with a newly bought Ouija board. When Eugenie asked the board if her lover would come back, it spelled out, “HE HAS CEASED TO LOVE YOU. HE WILL NEVER RETURN.” A few days later, a neighbor awoke to find Eugenie wandering the street in her nightgown muttering, “Ouija said so, and I knew it was so.” Her physician pronounced her insane, a “victim of Ouija”.

In the early 20th century, Ouija boards were such a popular, fun amusement that Normal Rockwell made it the subject of a painting for the Saturday Evening Post.

In the early 20th century, Ouija boards were such a popular, fun amusement that Normal Rockwell made it the subject of a painting for the Saturday Evening Post.

According to the New York Times, Ruth Townsend of Chicago was sent to a mental hospital in February 1921 after admitting to doctors that her Ouija board communications turned from providing sermons to convincing her to live with her dead mother’s corpse for 15 days before burying her in the garden. And Ouija boards have been named by several murderers of the past century as the true guilty culprit. In one such case on March 7, 1930, Clothilde Marchand was murdered by two Seneca Indian women named Nancy Bowen and Lila Jimerson after Bowen’s late husband spoke through the board saying Clothide was a witch who had murdered him.

And speaking of witchcraft, there’s something about this behavior that echoes another time of drastic action based on fear: the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Thompkin H. Matteson's 1855 painting of the 'Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692'. (Peabody Essex Museum)

Thompkins H. Matteson’s 1855 painting of the ‘Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692‘. (Peabody Essex Museum)

In the same way Ouija boards have been blamed for unfortunate and terrible incidents, suspected witches were singled out in Salem in 1692-3 as the cause of a range of maladies. What started at ‘fits’ experienced by three young girls escalated into the discovery of telltale signs of the accused being witches, allegations of shapeshifting, and “molestations from the invisible world.” Today, we understand that what happened in Salem was the result of mass hysteria. Spirit boards are often burned for their evil ways; back in Salem, it was people being wrongly accused and murdered (but not burned at the stake; that was in Europe).

Even with all the Ouija-related insanity, the board was generally thought to be a fun source of entertainment. But everything changed in 1973 when The Exorcist hit movie theaters. Those few screen moments of Regan playing with a Ouija board which led to an eventual exorcism connected all the dots in the collective fear centers of viewer’s brains. From that moment on, Ouija was no longer a game; it was now a tool of Satan. That belief inspired by a movie has stayed true to this very day.

Pea soup: an unfortunate side-effect of Ouija board use. (The Exorcist/Warner Bros.)

Pea soup: an unfortunate side-effect of Ouija board use. (The Exorcist/Warner Bros.)

In the past, bad incidents involving spirit boards were isolated incidents. Now, everything and anything is blamed on them. The vast of paranormal community still denounces them, and it’s impossible to throw a digital stone without hitting an internet story about how “Ouija ruined my life” (or even made someone possessed by a demon). (If you own a Ouija board and want it gone, please send it to me instead of burning it.)

Is the Ouija board really a vessel for evil? A prophet like Poe’s raven? Or just an amplifier for our own non-conscious thoughts? Are the puzzling, trickster-style responses occasionally received through it triggering us to blame it for our own unpleasantness? Or are we so determined to avoid acknowledging our own dark nature that we blame our own potential for evil on a piece of wood?

*Though a rare perfume mentioned in Biblical accounts, the phrase is a metaphor for a singular treatment to heal spiritual wounds (i.e. spiritual salvation).


MORE GREAT STORIES FROM WEEK IN WEIRD:


Join the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and get awesome perks!

37 Comments

  1. Fagen Flambe

    04/23/2015 at 11:14 AM

    I could never take anyone seriously who took a Ouija board seriously.

    • Chloe

      04/24/2015 at 5:23 AM

      That is a bit short sited on your part isn’t it. Just because someone believes in something doesn’t mean that they are crazy and shouldn’t be taken seriously. But I guess it is human nature to deny things just because you yourself haven’t experienced it. It is not up to me to make judgements on people and accept them for who they are good or bad…

  2. Coppertop

    04/23/2015 at 11:41 AM

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Zozo in this article at all – or the crappy movie it created.

    Seriously, though, I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with Ouija boards except what you bring into it and take out of it. It’s just like talking with people on the internet – if some spirit (or whatever) claims that you’re going to die or that your ex boyfriend ate your cat and flossed with Fluffy’s tail, ask for sources or tell it to bugger off.

    Just because someone’s dead doesn’t necessarily keep them from being a lying, annoying, pain-in-the-ass troll.

    • Ken Summers

      04/23/2015 at 12:07 PM

      Actually, there was one other old story I forgot to mention… another one from Ohio where two guys played with an Ouija board that told them there was buried treasure at a certain spot on Kelley’s Island. They went out and dug for it, but found nothing. They went back and asked the board what happened, and the board said, “You are fools”.

      Even Ouija knows how to troll people!

      Every time I’ve ever mentioned the boards to people I met in the paranormal community, they’d always say, “Don’t use them! They’re eeeevil!!” I never bought into it. But I wasn’t raised on horror movies, either.

    • TheBroker

      04/23/2015 at 4:23 PM

      they need a like button. lol I agree with ya!

  3. TheBroker

    04/23/2015 at 4:20 PM

    One of my favorite subjects. The board is a tool that hardly anyone learns to use. Here are a few ideas for anyone planning to use one (i’ve tried them all) board to board communication, remote viewing, story telling, predicting future newspaper headlines. Time travel (receiving a message today that will be sent next week and decided on by an outside party) BTW, why just talk to spooks? We (supposedly) talked to aliens, people in other dimensions so beings we called earth entities, you name it, we talked to it. Heck Charon even offered me a ride in his boat…I didn’t have any silver coins though and he wouldn’t take american currency. Is it dangerous? well maybe, but so’s a hammer in the wrong persons hands, nothing bad ever happened to us though. Fun Times 🙂

  4. Chloe

    04/24/2015 at 5:37 AM

    Just because people believe in something doesn’t make them crazy. I am not one to judge a person because they believe in something. That would make me look like a hypocrite to judge a person for their beliefs. Too many people are judging other people for their beliefs and persecuting them for those beliefs. It doesn’t matter what a person believes in whether it be in the paranormal, religion, ect… people do have the right to believe in what they want without the fear of persecution…

  5. Aseitas

    04/27/2015 at 2:04 PM

    Interesting side note – the inventor of the Ouija Board, Elijah Jefferson Bond, has an upright gravestone that is a replica of his talking board. Many call it a replica because since it is upright it cannot be used in the traditional manner. His grave was unmarked until 2007. There was a period of time where it was somewhat common to put them on hickey markers, and/ or in mausoleums. I’ve only seen three documented to date, but they’re all really cool looking. (:

    • TheBroker

      04/27/2015 at 4:14 PM

      to bad its upright. How cool would that be, using a board thats an actual grave stone!

  6. El

    05/04/2015 at 10:05 PM

    I collect Ouija boards and other talking boards. I also collect tarot and other oracles. If you are going to use it. I suggest you salt it.
    Besides salting, I also cleanse the board. Leave it out in the sunlight that also helps. My only problem with it is I get small children who cannot spell so you have to ask fifty questions. My friend who died always said nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

  7. Juliana Willars

    06/11/2016 at 6:18 PM

    Bob’s Burger did an episode with a Ouija board, and nobody died or became possessed :3

  8. David Briggs

    06/11/2016 at 6:23 PM

    All I can say is “not recommended”.

  9. Cullan Hudson

    06/11/2016 at 6:31 PM

    Damn you, Parker bros and your dark magicks!!!

  10. Barbara Quick

    06/11/2016 at 6:54 PM

    I know better than that…..

  11. Tina Cox

    06/11/2016 at 6:57 PM

    Yes it is a witch hunt I love my Ouija

  12. Bryan Bonner

    06/11/2016 at 6:58 PM

    I have over 30 of them
    And no matter how hard I try, still no possession.

  13. James Miklasevich

    06/11/2016 at 7:15 PM

    They’re made by Parker Brothers…

  14. Guilherme Nunes

    06/11/2016 at 7:43 PM

    As bad as Monopoly

  15. David Lee Maynard

    06/11/2016 at 7:47 PM

    Total bunk.

  16. Christina

    06/27/2016 at 9:29 AM

    This is 100% my own opinion on others’ beliefs as I myself am skeptical of the genuine effectiveness of Ouija boards; but I think a lot of the apprehension in the paranormal community comes not necessarily from believing that a Ouija board is inherently evil, but rather the (perceived) notion that an often inexperienced person is inviting basically any nearby disembodied energy to manipulate them and/or use them as a channel. To them, there is nothing truly menacing about the tool itself but — just like any potentially dangerous tool — should only be used by the skilled.

  17. Rick Hale

    08/09/2016 at 3:31 PM

    You hear about these stories a lot on the internet. My favorite was the one that came out of Mexico a couple years ago where a young girl played with the board, got possessed and proceeded to beat the shit out of people. What they didn’t tell you was she ingested some serious drugs first. No spirit possession just a drug induced psychotic episode. However, anytime you try to make contact with the spirit realm there are risks. As a long time Psychical Research (way before it was cool) I’ve found that it’s no different than doing an EVP session or using a K2. There are risks regardless of the method.

  18. Delia Summerfield

    08/09/2016 at 4:01 PM

    Yes, because powerful portals to demonic dimensions are available at Toys R Us for 19.99. In pink, too!

    • Melissa Gerber

      08/09/2016 at 4:13 PM

      So? That just means that toy makers don’t believe that, they’re just making money.

  19. Jan Schescke

    08/09/2016 at 4:17 PM

    Stay far far away from those kinds of games!!

  20. David Briggs

    08/09/2016 at 6:58 PM

    Not recommended.

  21. Eric Spence

    08/09/2016 at 10:18 PM

    yes

  22. Angela Tibbetts-Johnson

    08/09/2016 at 10:56 PM

    Just another form of communication. No different than EVP sessions using other objects such as the flashlight method or K2 meters.

  23. Bill Hoyt

    08/10/2016 at 2:24 PM

    Not nearly as dangerous as Monopoly!

  24. Tim Shaw

    08/14/2016 at 4:14 PM

    Good article!

  25. Charles Estrada

    08/14/2016 at 4:21 PM

    No.

  26. Patsy Foister

    08/14/2016 at 4:23 PM

    Ouija boards are just outlets for assholes. I’ve never used one yet where “somebody” did not move the damn planchette, and it wasn’t me/ When the pointer moves on its own, then you can worry. Otherwise, I call bullshit.

  27. Russell L. Barnes

    08/14/2016 at 4:32 PM

    Why take a chance?

  28. Mona Elizabeth McDermott

    08/14/2016 at 5:18 PM

    yes. if these brought forth Glenda the Good Witch, then they wouldn’t be as popular. I think people like to play with evil.

  29. Andy Scott

    08/14/2016 at 8:33 PM

    those of you who know nothing about the dark forces need to keep away from them , it’s not something to play with fro shits and giggles.

  30. Cibelli Gois

    08/14/2016 at 9:00 PM

    Yes…

  31. Doug Mary Stanley

    08/15/2016 at 12:06 AM

    How about this, I won’t chance it by opening this to read it. 😀

  32. Ken Allen

    08/15/2016 at 3:42 AM

    Had a friend many years ago that had begun to us his alone. He came to work one morning… white as a sheet. After asking why he looked so bad, he explained, “I burned my board, dude!” He wouldn’t tell me more until later in the day. The planchette began to move on its own and told him it wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t need the board! I kinda laughed it off, but he was pretty convincing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shares