The Ouija Board
Also known as spirit boards or talking boards, the OuiJa – meaning “Yes” in French and German, was the name given to a popular spiritualist activity when it was later distributed as a fun and entertaining toy.
The basic idea behind the OuiJa board is that two or more people put their hands on a sliding puck called a planchette, which is then moved around a board with the letters of the alphabet, words or other symbols on it a way to divine answers to questions posed by the group.
The popular belief behind the Ouija is that it can be used to contact the deceased, or nearby spirits in your home or wherever you use the board. The question here is, Can it really contact the spirit world?
The earliest known use of this form of divination was in ancient china. Though they did not use boards, the method did allow things to be found by a moving stick in a person’s hand. This was similar to using a pendulum or a dowsing rod. Later the thing that was being found became letters and words, and eventually the stick was refined into a planchette. But the spirit board is not the end of the story. Eventually the planchette was equipped with a marking pen, and the board became paper. His system gave birth to the practice of automatic writing when the planchette itself was phased out of use. Automatic writing is a popular method to contact spirits where a person in a trance is given a pad and marker. They begin moving their hand randomly on the paper as questions are asked with hopes that the scribbles may form words.
When more than one person has their hand on a moving planchette, and each person is allowing their hand to be guided by the others, the subconscious mind can easily take over the motion.
Do spirits control the talking board? A study was done in the laboratory to try to determine whether the people were guiding the planchette or if the spirit board itself was controlling the movement. They strung layered plastic sheets into a planchette and filmed experienced people using the board. Ads the planchette moved from letter to letter, the layered sheets would visibly shift due to friction. If the board was guiding the people, it would either not shift, or shift in a way that the lowest layers would extend in the direction of motion as they pulled the top layers. The test results repeatedly showed that the top layers of the planchette moved first in the direction of motion, dragging the lower layers behind. This experiment showed that the motion of the planchette originates at the hands and not from the board itself.
This study does not necessarily prove that a spirit cannot control the response of the board, it only shows that in order to do so, a spirit would have to be working through one or more of the people using the Ouija. This information led to the increased popularity of automatic writing over the Ouija.
The fundamental theory behind the Ouija board, Automatic writing, and even pendulum dowsing is known as Idiomotor response. This is a physiological reaction in which the subconscious mind influences the motor (Muscle) behavior of a person who is not otherwise actively controlling their actions. This is as simple as the tendency for a person driving a car to drift to the side when they are distracted by something off the road and not paying attention to where they are going. The use of ideomotor response is a useful tool when combined with hypnosis for obtaining information that is blocked or otherwise unavailable to the conscious mind. The subconscious mind is generally more aware of what is going on around us than our conscious mind, which is why subliminal messages and sleep learning are useful tools for influencing a person’s behavior.
Are Ouija boards dangerous?
Statistically, no. The number of claims of paranormal activity after using a Ouija board pales in comparison to the number of boards that have been sold since they went on the market in 1890. The likelihood of finding board in a household that claims paranormal activity is very high because there are a lot of houses that have at least one stashed away in a closet or somewhere in the attic.
If we work on the assumption that spirits exist and can influence people and things, then using a Ouija board to contact the spirit by letting them control our motor responses would be a bad idea. This is the case with any type of trance channeling or ideomotor methods. Whether or not a spirit can actually possess the Ouija board and manipulate it is highly debatable. The biggest risk would be the possibility of addictive or obsessive behavior (See Myth or Reality: Possession) centered on the use of the board and communication with the spiritual presence that the person believes they have contacted.
The Popular Ouija board is just a game. It is marketed as a game and is expected to be used as a game.
For Entertainment Purposes Only. But…
It is implied that it has mystical powers to communicate with spirits. What if people don’t believe that it is just a game? What if people use it to actually try to use it the way it is implied? Who would even consider communicating with spirits to be a game in the first place?
Legends of the Ouija board returning after being thrown away or otherwise destroyed, and planchettes moving on their own or flying off the board are still unconfirmed. The only claims of this happening are personal experiences, and a haunted board is too easy to fake (Like table tipping and tapping) that it is unlikely any video is real evidence… Some of them are so poorly done they are obvious fakes.
The question to ask is: In what way could a spirit possess an inanimate object in the first place? There are a few similar (and unproven) stories about possessed dolls or other items implying that this may be possibly. If this is the case however, what is it that would make a Ouija board more likely to become possessed than any other common object? The only factor that seems to be common is that certain items are more likely to be given a personality by the person playing with it than other items.
The danger of the Ouija board most likely comes from the belief of the people using it, the assignment of an agency or personality to the board, and their willingness to open themselves up to the control of an outside influence for the purpose of communication.
There ways to use a Ouija board that are safe. The first one is to make sure you or anyone using it is more or less mentally stable, not gullible or suggestible, or nor of strong spiritual beliefs. The second one is to use the board to communicate with you yourself and not try to contact the spirit of a deceased person or other entity. Ask questions about yourself or the people using the board instead of communicating with spiritual presence that you believe is nearby.
Are the dangers of using a Ouija Board just a myth, or is it reality? You decide.