The very mention of the word Ouija evokes everything from wonder and intrigue to disdain and fear. We all know about those mysterious boards etched with numbers and letters used to make contact with spirits and unknown entities. I have loved horror movies from a long time before I was officially old enough to be watching. Ouija boards were always shown as being a gateway for evil entities to come and torment the hapless characters. As a teenager I acquired my own Ouija board and I have to admit that I ‘played’ with it extensively. Played, of course is not the correct word, especially according to those people who warn about the dangers of using a Ouija board. I have written more about my experiences and if they actually work in Are Ouija Boards Dangerous? Here, however, I want to talk about the origins of Ouija and share some lovely Steampunk Ouija finds that I came across.
The Origins of Spritualism
The Victorian era saw great innovations in science and technology. While this may have led some to a more secular leaning and a questioning of long held religious beliefs (after all, this was also the time that Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) was published) there was also a growing interest in the supernatural. The mid-1800s saw the birth of the Spiritualist movement when the Fox sisters in upstate New York claimed they were communicating with the spirit of a dead man in their home. They would ask questions and the spirit would respond by rapping on wood. They did later confess that they had made the whole thing up, but what they had begun spread across America and through Europe.
Talking to Spirits
Spiritualist mediums devised many ways to communicate with the spirits. They weren’t all very easy or quick to use, and the talking board was definitely a streamlining of several of these techniques. For example there was table-tipping/tilting and table-turning. A special table was used in a séance where a question would be asked and the querents would then call out the letters of the alphabet and the spirit or spirits would respond by tipping or turning the table when the correct letter was called out. In this way they could spell out the words.
Then there was the practice of automatic writing with the use of a device like a planchette. A pencil was inserted in the top while the medium channelled the messages from the spirits. Ouija, or a talking board can be seen as a combination of these techniques.
The Ouija or Talking Board
I checked many different sources on who invented the Ouija board. The origins are as mysterious as the board itself with many people claiming to be the ‘inventor’. Many sites talk about its origins in America, but then you have this statement on WilliamFuld.com:
The thing is, Ouija is actually a trademarked name for Parker Brothers’ talking board set and Parker brother’s is owned by Hasbro. Most people, do not realise this as Ouija is used as a generic term. Other terms are spirit boards, talking boards, witch boards and channelling boards.
These boards were sold as games, and the same is true today.
There is something very steampunk about Ouija boards. I don’t just mean in their intended use of communicating with the spirits, but visually. The thing that got me thinking about writing this post was a project I saw for a ’Ouija Coffee Table’ on Instructables. As you can see it is quite impressive and you can get the instructions for free. The person who made that table did so in around $120, so if you fancy creating a spectacular piece of furniture definitely check that out.
Then there are sites like Etsy where if you search for ‘steampunk ouija’ and you’ll find an amazing array of Ouija board inspired creations. I especially like the jewellery and one of the projects I have planned is to create some glass cabochon jewellery using Ouija board imagery similar to the Ouija Board Earrings pictured.
Ouija Séance – Creative Commons
Fox Sister – Public Domain
Table Turning – Public Domain
Planchette – Public Domain
Ouija Coffee Table – © purpletheory – All Rights Reserved
Ouija Board Cuff Bracelet – © cheshworth – All Rights Reserved
Ouija Board Earrings – © EarthtoJill – All Rights Reserved
Ouija Necklace – © cheshworth – All Rights Reserved