The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Witch boards, also known as Egyptian luckboards, spirit boards and talking boards, are probably the most accessible and popular modern necromantic technique. The most famous of these boards are ouija boards, however the category also includes planchettes and any other similar devices.
Witch boards serve as party games, oracles, and conduits to the realm of ghosts and spirits. They have gone from serious occult tools to teen (or younger) party games, and are currently experiencing something of a renaissance. Artists and/or occultists are creating beautiful new forms based on this ancient concept.
Although these are modern devices, witch boards have ancient roots. Witch boards may derive from devices like Central African oracle boards, such as those used by the Zande nation. These “rubbing boards” consist of a small portable table with a board that covers it. Liquid is poured onto the table and then the board is rubbed over it. Affirmative or negative answers are determined by whether the board sticks to the table or not.
Before there was the ouija board, there was the planchette, which derives from the personal system of spirit writing or automatic writing. A pencil was attached to a small basket. The medium touches the basket; contact is made with the spirit who takes over, using the medium’s hand to write messages. This is similar to ritual possession but using the hand instead of the voice.
Chinese oracles using a sand table and a writing implement to produce spirit writing have existed for centuries.
This evolved into the formalized planchette. Planchette means “little plank” and was first invented in France in 1853. A planchette is a small board or table on rolling wheels with an attached pencil that writes on sheets of paper placed underneath. Messages are produced by moving the planchette over the paper. The planchette may be used by one person but is large enough for two people to rest their fingers on.
The advantage of the planchette over the traditional séance was that it was portable and could be accomplished by one person alone; the planchette introduced the concept that any individual could independently be a medium. However it was unwieldy. Ultimately they were unnecessary and were replaced by automatic writing, which simply utilized a pen and paper to produce messages from other realms.
Witch boards combine the planchette with séance table turning techniques. Instead of the rolling planchette, letters were printed directly onto a board together with words like “yes,” “no,” and “goodbye.” (Sophisticated modern witch boards include messages like “ask again later” or even “no comment.”)
In Europe, early witch boards were improvised using a shot glass or tumbler and individual letters. (Letters were created on small squares of paper or game board pieces such as Scrabble© may be used.) Two people sit with their fingers placed gently on an upside-down drinking glass placed within a circle of letters. Letters touched by the glass’s movement allegedly spell out messages.
By the late nineteenth century, several different witch boards were sold through Sears Roebuck and other catalogs. From approximately 1890 until 1950, dozens of manufacturers created and marketed different witch boards. The most successful of these boards was marketed as “Ouija, the Mystifying Oracle Talking Board.”
The origins of the ouija board are steeped in mystery. It was allegedly patented on July 19, 1892 by a Baltimore customs inspector, William Fuld. However, a patent filed in 1890 and granted in 1891 for the ouija board lists Elijah J. Bond of Baltimore as the inventor and assigns marketing rights to Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin. The Kennard Novelty Company produced the first commercial line of ouija boards. Sales steadily increased; eventually William Fuld took over the helm of the company. He reinvented the history of the board and claimed to have invented the first board together with his brother Isaac in his home workshop.
Despite the spelling, ouija is pronounced “wee-jee.”
Why is it called “ouija” board? Various reasons are given.
Fuld claimed that he asked the board what to call it and it spelled out O-U-I-J-A. Fuld suggested that this was an Egyptian word for good luck. Egyptologists remain unfamiliar with it, however this is allegedly the explanation given by the board.
The name may derive from the Moroccan city Oujda (also spelled Oujida or Oudjda), or the West African city of Whydah.
The board may be named in honor of popular author Maria Louise de Ramée (1839—1908) who signed her novels with the nom de plume Ouidah. Two of her novels, Under Two Flags and Moths were bestsellers in the United States during the Civil War.
Ouija may combine the French (oui) and German (ja) words for “yes.”
William Fuld died in February 1927 after falling from the roof of his factory while supervising the replacement of a flagpole. His children took over the business until they retired in 1966. On February 23, 1966, Parker Brothers, the leading American manufacturer of board games, bought out William Fuld’s trademark. They currently own all trademarks and patents.
Early ouija boards were beautiful, evocative, and well constructed. Modern witch boards once again create evocative, handcrafted, often magically themed witch boards. Among these modern witch-board masters are Kipling West and the Brothers Johnson of Portals to the Beyond.
Since the board’s earliest inception, mainstream Christian religions have cautioned against its use, some actually describing ouija boards as diabolical and tools of Satan. At best, they are considered dabbling with Satanism. The very accessibility of these boards (ouija boards are sold in toy stores amongst board games) makes them a threat.
Because many kids perceive ouija boards as a party game, they sometimes invite Satan or demons (by name) as a prank or show of machismo. Occultists caution that spirit summoning is not for the inexperienced or unprepared. Those who are ambivalent about spirits, not sure whether they believe in them but if they do exist, then they must be evil demons, sometimes have unpleasant or frightening experiences.
The reaction of occultists towards ouija boards is more ambivalent: some perceive them as wholly benevolent devices while others caution that they genuinely can serve as a portal and thus are not for the inexperienced.
Further information regarding witch boards may be found at the online Museum of Talking Boards (www.museumoftalkingboards.com).