Ouija board

The Ouija board, also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words “yes”, “no”, “hello” (occasionally), and “goodbye”, along with various symbols and graphics. It uses a planchette as a movable indicator to spell out messages during a séance. Participants place their fingers on the planchette, and it is moved about the board to spell out words and possibly predict the future. —Unsplash photo/Josh Olalde

Here we go again. For the past seven weeks, my columns have been influenced by the coronavirus pandemic. Based on reports from scientists and medical personnel, this virus will be around for some time and its influence will be felt for years to come.

The world of work, our social environments and our family traditions will significantly change. My column of March 29, 2020, mentioned that I began to watch old movies on television, particularly cowboy movies, to take my focus away from this pandemic. On this date, one of my favorite cowboy movies, Shane was the focus. Then, on April 5, my column turned to things we did in the past that enabled us to survive; things that could be brought into today’s pandemic environment.

You may recall my mention of sisters doing their hair in the kitchen or basement due to beauty salons being closed. I even mentioned the use of Woolite for cleaning wool clothing since dry cleaning establishments were closed.

In my April 26, 2020 column, I recalled activities which many engaged in to pass time when forced to stay home; activities that we could return to in order to remain engaged and involved with family members or by ourselves. Games like checkers, playing cards, and jigsaw puzzles were popular and could return as a source for passing time during this idle time created by the coronavirus pandemic.

As you suspect, I get a lot of feedback from my columns and several readers responded to my April 26 column and offered their thoughts about things done in the past that we can pursue today with the additional time we have available. The recommendations were many, but one caught my attention; one that I vaguely remember. I thought this idea was worth a trip back in time.

So how many of you spent hours with family members intensely engaged with the Ouija board, known also as a spirit board or talking board, back in the day?

If you are a millennial or a “whippersnapper,” as the down-home folk might call you, you probably know nothing about the Ouija board.

Well, do not dismay, I am old-school and only know about this game from things I heard around my home as a child.

For many of us, playing with the Ouija board was forbidden. Some families, due to strong religious beliefs viewed the Ouija board as a product designed and built in the devil’s workshop. They viewed it as voodoo. They warned against using this board, believing that it could lead to demonic possession.

Without question, this game is “spooky.” What exactly is the Ouija board? It is a flat board containing letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0 to 9, the words “yes, no, hello, and at times goodbye,” along with various symbols and graphics. It uses a planchette, a flat piece of wood, usually in the shape of a heart that is equipped with two wheeled casers and a pencil-holding aperture that is used to aid in writing.

Because the planchette is used to produce mysterious written messages, many believe that the device helps to communicate with spirits. These devices were popular in séances during the Victorian era. So how does the game work? Well, those playing the game ask a question of the Ouija board and a moveable piece on the board moves to the symbols, slowly spelling out an answer to the question.

Many believe that spirits make the planchette move. Ouija boards can provide cryptic messages and even warnings to people. Those “playing” place their fingers on the planchette and it is moved about the board to spell out words.

Based on several internet sites, a businessman named Elijah Bond patented a board similar to the Ouija board on May 28, 1890, and is credited with its invention. The board was commercially introduced in this same year and as many of you may think, it has been criticized by the scientific community.

One online report indicated that in 1927 these boards were referred to as “vestigial remains of primitive belief systems” and a scheme to part fools from their money. Another 1921 report described Ouija board findings as half-truths. Still another stated that in the 1970s, Ouija board users were described as “cult members” by sociologists. As recently as 2001, in certain parts of our country, Ouija boards were burned by those that saw them as “symbols of witchcraft.”

Religious critics also expressed beliefs that the Ouija board reveals information that should only be in God’s hands, and thus it is a tool of Satan. A spokesperson for Human Life International (HLI), an American-based Roman Catholic activist anti-abortion organization, described Ouija boards as a portal to talk to spirits and called for William Fuld not to market the boards. Fuld previously worked for Bond. The Fuld name became synonymous with the Ouija board. Despite objections — religious ones in particular — many played and relied on the responses of the Ouija board, back in the day.

Ouija boards have been the source of many books and have been highlighted in horror and psychic movies.

If you have an interest in more details on the Ouija board and its use in communicating with others, particularly the dead, I direct you to an Oct. 27, 2013, article by Linda Rodriquez McRobbie on Smithsonianmag.com, “The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board.”

Perhaps you will “buy-in” to the claim that you can go back to the past, review the present, see the future with marvelous accuracy and communicate with the unknown.

During these coronavirus times, you may have ample time to view the mysteries of your past and see the future as many of our ancestors did, back in the day.

Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S.outh 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146

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