• Louie Young

Do you believe in... Ouija?

When it comes to the phenomena of Ouija boards I currently sit firmly on the fence, as I can’t quite make up my mind if they are just a bit of harmless fun or if they are, in fact, dangerous and should be left well alone. This month I am going to delve into the mysterious world of Ouija and see if what I uncover will persuade me to take a stance. I want to find out why these boards hold great fear for some and intrigue for others. Why do they polarise opinion so much? After all, aren’t they just a children’s toy?

The Ouija board first came to fruition in the 1890s and was the brainchild of Charles Kennard of Maryland, USA. Kennard had witnessed the rise in popularity of spiritualism and its use of talking boards. Seeing a business opportunity, Kennard quickly established the Kennard Novelty Company and even managed to get his board patented his after demonstrating that it “worked” in front of a rather bewildered patent officer.

There are many stories regarding where the name Ouija originated. They range from the obvious combination of the French and German words for yes to it being named by a spirit who spelt out the word on the board via a medium. But the truth is nobody knows for sure, and the origin of the name will most likely always remain somewhat of a mystery.

I haven’t always been on the fence about Ouija boards as for many years, my opinion was heavily influenced by the tales and folklore I had heard throughout my childhood. These stories were always relayed by someone who knew someone’s cousin twice removed, who had the most awful of experiences using one.

The one story that sticks in my mind to this day is a tale about a group of girls who decided to play with a Ouija board during a sleepover (such a cliché, I know). During the game, one of the girls cries out in terror when she sees a hooded figure standing behind her friends. Too frightened to continue, they promptly end the game. But the story didn’t end there… Sometime later the girl wakes one night to find the same hooded figure standing at the end of her bed, before disappearing into thin air. Scared but believing it was just a dream, she goes back to sleep. The next day, however, she wakes to learn that one of her relatives has died. From that day on, the night before anyone the girl knew died, the figure would appear at the foot of her bed as an ominous warning.

As a child who was very much fascinated by all things paranormal, this was a wonderfully intriguing story but one which also filled me with enough fear and doubt to ensure I never dared play the game myself, lest I be forever haunted by a hooded figure. The nearest I would come was years later in high school when a friend and I set a glass on its side between two pieces of paper with yes and no written upon them. No sooner had we had asked if anyone was there, then the glass rolled promptly to yes. This was enough to scare us witless and to not pursue it further. But in hindsight, maybe we should have taken into consideration that a glass on its side is not the most stable of things!

Having a passion for horror movies as I grew up also didn’t help my negative perception of Ouija boards. In the movies, they were always shown foretelling the most dreadful of things and were invariably the reason those terrible things would occur in the first place.

I carried this unquestioned notion that Ouija boards were something to be scared of and not to be messed with well into my adulthood, and it wasn’t until recently that I started to question what evidence I actually had for this fear.

The first time I visited a toy store in America I can remember being astounded that, amongst the copies of Scrabble and Clue, there sat the Ouija boards. It looked so alien and out of place to me as, at home, I had had it drilled in to me that they were dangerous, something to be afraid of. And yet, over the pond, they were being sold as a game for children

It wasn’t until a subsequent trip to the States that I decided I would actually buy one. Visiting the (sadly now closed) Toys R Us flagship store in New York’s Times Square, I walked past the full-size Ferris wheel and giant Barbie house to the display of Ouija boards. The boards came in various special editions, including a glittery pink version, designed especially for sleepovers, no doubt. In the end I chose a glow in the dark version, complete with light up planchette.

When I got home, the board for a while sat on the coffee table as a bit of a novelty. There it remained untouched, eventually ending up in the box with the Halloween decorations. So why did I tout this board game halfway across the world only for it to remain un-played five years later? Am I subconsciously still hearing the warnings of my childhood in my head? Maybe. Either way, I want to explore my own preconceptions further and also find out why others feel the way they do about this controversial game.

Next time... Do you believe in Ouija Part Two: I talk to sceptics, believers, and those who think I should run a mile

Further reading:

The effect of Hollywood’s tall tales on the perception of the paranormal -

Today's church door... St Peter & St Paul, Salle

St Peter & St Paul is a vast, 15th century church with an abundance of charming details to discover. I was particularly enamoured with a carving of a small monkey. Crouched liked a coiled spring on the end of a pew, this cheeky fellow looked poised, ready to leap into the air at any moment. 

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