It's a piece of wood with letters and numbers, as simple as simple can be, but the Ouija board has a place in American culture that is shrouded in mystery and fear. Everyone knows of it, but few people know about it. There's a lot more to the Ouija board than what you see in the movies - and some of it is even spookier.
The Ouija board didn't officially get its name until the late 1800s, but the first historical mention of a "writing tablet" is found all the way back in 1100 AD in Ancient China. It was known as fuji, which translates into "planchette writing" and was used to contact the dead. The board was only used in special ceremonies and even then under supervision.
Entire scriptures were said to have been written using this method during the Song Dynasty, which lasted from 960 - 1279, but was outlawed by the Qing Dynasty in the 1600s.
Other written works in Ancient Greece, Medieval Europe and India are believed to have been written using similar boards.
Spiritualism In The US
The Civil War was a dark time in America. Countryman fought countryman, and hundreds of thousands died. Whenever death and destruction run rampant people turn to the divine for answers and solace. During the Civil War many people turned to spiritualism, or the idea that you could contact the otherwise.
Many families turned to "table-turning" parties, where attendees would sit around a table and place their hands on top. A question would be asked and then the alphabet called out. Supposedly the table would turn when the spirit wanted a specific letter, spelling out the answer.
The practice wasn't considered to be occult in nature, and many God-fearing people took part. Even Mary Lincoln, wife to the President, was known to have conducted seances after their 11-year-old son died of a fever. The practice eventually tapered off in the 1920s due to scandals involving famous mediums.
It Named Itself
There's a common misconception that Ouija is actually just a combination of the French and German words for "yes", but that's not true. The Ouija Board was initially patented by the Kennard Novelty Company in 1890, although it wasn't named Ouija yet.
Elijah Bond, one of the owners, invited his sister-in-law Helen Peters to dinner with the company. Peters was an established medium in her own right, and after dinner they pulled out the board and asked what it would like to be named.
O-U-I-J-A came through. They asked what it meant.
"Good luck," the spirit on the other side was purported to have said, before ceasing contact.
More spooky facts about the Ouija board on the next page!