Changing Perceptions of Spirit Boards

Changing Perceptions of Spirit Boards June 20, 2017

Spirit boards are an interesting topic for a witch.  Almost all of us probably used them as kids, maybe you made your own like I did.  Spirit boards to some hold a sense of mysticism, and to others they have a sense of malevolence.  A person’s feelings about these pop culture symbols can reveal a lot about how one views death, the afterlife, and communicating with the dead.  Spirit boards are more closely associated with Spiritualism where they originated than with Neo-Pagan or Wiccan traditions.  Witches and magical practitioners have their own unique ways of facilitating communication with the spirit world.  The spirit board emerged and evolved separately from other occult practices.  They came into popularity in the late 1800s when modern spiritualism emerged on the scene.  Many apparatuses were developed using pseudo-scientific engineering and intricate moving parts to create state-of-the-art tools for spirit communication.  Prototypes varied in size and design.  Circular boards called dial planchettes or psychographs were early predecessors of the modern Oujia board.  Ouija is Hasbro’s trademarked name for Parker Bros talking board.  Originally chosen by patent holder Elijah Bond in the 1890s.  It was sold and promoted as a novelty game by the Kennard Novelty Company in 1890. Museum of Talking Boards

Kennard Novelty Company. Ouija Board. 1891. Wikipedia Free License Image.
Kennard Novelty Company. Ouija Board. 1891. Wikipedia Free License Image.

The Wonderful Talking Board

An article in the Smithsonian magazine tells the story of four businessmen who started the Kennard Novelty Company after identifying a solution to spiritualists’ need for more efficient means of communication.  Helen Peters, Elijah Bond’s sister-in-law was a medium, and on February 10th 1891 joined him at the US Patent Office.  Proving their novelty game worked, they were able to secure their patent.  Ironically the men who started this venture weren’t spiritualists, they were capitalists.

Spiritualism had been popular in Europe for sometime before reaching the US.  The Ouija board was most popular during times of uncertainty.  During and after WWI there was a surge of popularity in the desire to communicate with the other side.  The board appeared in newspaper articles and inspired writers; mainly existing outside of mainstream America.


The year the movie The Exorcist came out was the year popular culture and out collective unconscious was changed by this groundbreaking film.  The main character becomes possessed by the Devil after playing with a Ouija board.  Demonic possession through dabbling in the occult became a common theme in horror movies after the Ouija’s debut.  The board was also an easy target for religious organizations.  Conservative Christian groups view the Ouija board as a doorway for evil spirits and a tool used by Satan.  Hollywood reinforces this stereotype with each movie that shows the Ouija in this light.

The Smithsonian article goes on to explain that scientists have determined that the board is not operated by spirits, but by something known as the ideomotor effect.  This theory of unconscious muscle movement giving us insight into our own psyches sounds just as fantastic.  Read the full article by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie Here

While the ideomotor effect is the likely explanation; it is not to say that spirits do not utilize this method of communication.  Mischievous spirits use the existing fear and apprehension surrounding Ouija boards to their advantage.  Many of the other divination techniques used like Tarot and the pendulum can also give insight into the subconscious mind.  However, witches and other magical practitioners have time honored techniques of entering trance and altered states of consciousness through ritual or the use of visionary plants; employing certain evocatory rites that lead to direct spirit congress.

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