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Ouija. Encyclopedia Of American Folklore

A board game and folk-magic artifact commonly used as a medium for divination and/or
communication with discarnate entities. Ouija—a compound of the French and German
words for “yes”—was invented in 1892 by American Elijah J.Bond. He sold his patent to
William Fuld, “The Father of Ouija,” who popularized the product. Fuld sold the patent
to the Parker Brothers company in 1966. The game equipment consists of a miniature
table with a small window built into the top, and a board with the letters of the alphabet,
the numbers zero through nine, and the words “yes” and “no” written on it. Participants
rest their fingers on the miniature table, which moves around the board to spell out
messages.
Although the Ouija board bears similarities to earlier divinatory devices, it was
regarded as a harmless parlor game unrelated to the occult until Pearl Curran, a
prominent figure during the World War I-era spiritualism revival, began touting Ouija as
a tool for divining the future, finding lost objects, seeking daily advice, and contacting
spirits. Soon thousands of Americans were using Ouija to check up on their loved ones
fighting in Europe.
Ouija has slipped into association with older, marginalized folk-religious practices,
such as dowsing, crystal gazing, and Tarot, engaged in by those not fully exposed to, or
fully impressed by, America’s chief competing worldviews of scientific thought and
ordiodox Christianity. Tales of fantastic events and eerie sensations experienced by many
who use Ouija boards are common in modern American folklore. Despite being
repeatedly debunked by the efforts of the scientific community, and denounced as a tool
of Satan by conservative Christians, Ouija remains popular among many (mosly young)
Americans. In the midst of these controversies, Parker Brothers maintains that its product
is merely a board game.
Serious occultists tend to regard Ouija as a toy that is too “commercial” for their
purposes, and many spiritualists have turned to other methods of accessing disembodied
beings. Rebellious Christian youth may make up the largest section of the Ouija board
market. In some regions of the United States, as many as 50 percent of fundamentalist
Christian youth have participated in, or at least observed, the practice of Ouija. Instead of
turning to Satan, or becoming mentally deranged and violent—as their pastors warn diat
they might—these teenagers have frightening encounters with “evil forces” that
reconfirm the conservative Christian cosmological notion that the devil and his demons
are actual beings who work through such devices. After such experiences, Christian teens
rarely tamper with Ouija again, and they gain a renewed commitment to their faith. For
Ouija to continue to serve this beneficial function in Christian culture, it must remain
marginalized and condemned by the very culture that it benefits.
Eric Eliason
References
Baskin, Anita. 1992. The Redemption of Ouija. Omni (December): 101.
Covina, Gina. 1979. The Ouija Book. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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