Monthly Archives: October 2018

A Quick History of the Ouija Board

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This article was previously published on ing Magazine is Michigan State University’s student-run publication covering life, arts, entertainment and more.

A 1920 short film shows a janitor and cartoonist playing around with a Ouija board. Fast forward to 1944, and the board made another appearance in the horror film “The Uninvited,” and then of course in the 1964 classic “The Exorcist.” The game seems pretty straightforward; on the board are the letters of the alphabet, the words “yes,” “no,” and “goodbye,” numbers 0 to 9, and a few other symbols. Participants simultaneously place their fingers on the planchette and wait for the spirits to start spelling out messages.

Ouija boards have been prevalent in cinema for several years, generally used as a fun way to spook audience members. And it’s still very much present in contemporary pop culture; in 2016, another movie based on the mystical board was released — Ouija: Origin of Evil.

These films often show protagonists theatrically dusting off a Ouija board found hidden somewhere in a basement or attic. They may gather a few of their friends to help set up the board, form a circle around it and light some candles. Cue the dramatic music, and the characters are ready to start communicating with spirits.

But it turns out that the Ouija board is not just a simple game. It has a much longer and more enigmatic history, filled with unknowns and controversies.

A Talking Board

Hints of the Ouija board, otherwise known as a “talking board” can be traced back to the 1840s, when a new movement called Spiritualism started gaining popularity. Spiritualists claimed that the dead and living could communicate with one another. In 1886, not long after the arrival of Spiritualism, the New York Daily Tribune released an article in which a Western man reported about a “mysterious talking board” in Ohio: “I have seen and heard some of the most remarkable things about its operations — things that seem to pass all human comprehension or explanation.”

Success and Criticisms

It wasn’t until 1890 when American businessmen Elijah Bond, Charles Kennard and William H.A. Maupin decided to patent the Ouija board as a game. Its unique, ancient Egyptian name translates to “good luck.” After the patent was granted, the board became a great success. According to an article by, the board was marketed as “both mystical oracle and as family entertainment, fun with an element of other-worldly excitement.”

Despite the Ouija board’s commercial success, it also gained a bit of controversy. Some Christians believe the board can be extremely dangerous, leading to demonic possession. Others criticize it as a capitalist scam.

Nevertheless, whether you think of the Ouija board as a silly game, overused plot device or a way to contact malevolent spirits, there’s no denying its fascinating history.

To learn more about the Ouija board, Time published an interesting interview with Ouija historian Robert Murch, which you can read here: Ouija: Origin of Evil and the True History of the Ouija Board.

The Red Bow


The house is less like a castle now and more like a feeling. A little bit of emptiness. I’m sitting in the living room with my grandma and my mom orders me to stand next to her so she could take a photo of us. I go over to stand next to my grandma, and she has this smile on her face that radiates the sparkles in her cocoa brown eyes, her round childlike cheeks seem rosier than normal, mimicking the vibrant, bright, radiant red of that bow I saw on her dresser so many years ago. A color can be a feeling, of course. But the thing is, I stand right next to her and notice that she is wearing that very same bow in her hair (which probably began as a simple ribbon, classified as silk, and I start to picture it as it’s being wound and spun for the first time), and I instinctively reach out my hand to fix it because it was a little lopsided. But the contrast, oh the contrast. My grandma’s beautiful, long, snow-white hair wrapped in that bright red bow creates the most beautiful image. And I channel the sneakiness I had as a child and take my own photo of that bow in her hair. Because I thought it was so pretty sitting on her dresser so many years ago, but it became even prettier sitting against her hair now.

I have no idea where she first bought or received that bow. She had her own story for it, I’m sure, or maybe it meant nothing to her, it was just a pretty bow to wear. But it means something to me, and I often scroll through the photos in my phone, and when I come across that one, I always stop and stare at it for a little while, the way I stared at it on the dresser when I was little. Today, both my grandparents are gone and so is the house. The house that I used to get lost in, the house I used to explore, and the house where I couldn’t find that very same bow after my grandma died. It was lost just like the house. And just like her.

I always admired my grandmother. She would tell me stories of when she was younger about her volunteer ventures. There was a room at the Flint Institute of Arts for called Art Rentals, where community members could rent lovely pieces of art for their homes. It’s not there anymore, it’s lost just like the house, just like the bow, just like her, but yet I can still picture her sitting there, volunteering her time so that others could borrow a beautiful painting or drawing to hang in their home. Maybe she wore that red bow as she carefully read a novel, waiting for someone to visit and explore. And maybe that red bow matched some of the watercolors surrounding her, and I’m sure my grandmother was as gorgeous and rare as those pieces of artwork.


I remember when my sisters and I were younger; we would visit my grandparents’ house. It was such a big house, and it looked like a castle. It was easy to get lost in. It’s so strange now thinking back. We were curious, a little mischievous. We’d sneak into my grandparents’ bedroom and rummage through their closets. My grandpa’s many hats and jackets and my grandma’s makeup, purses, shoes, faux fur coats, jewels. I remember specifically finding that red bow with a clip on the back of it. It was the most radiant, striking bright red I had ever seen, and I remember that I really wanted to take it. But as mischievous as I was, I was not a thief, so I just held it in my hand and admired it.

My dad used to tell me so many stories about my grandparents, and somehow I would always picture my grandma wearing that bow while she saved the world. (Because why not look fabulous at the same time?) And now I like to picture how she came across it. (I never did ask her, though I wish I would have.) Maybe she found the bow at some flea market years and years and years ago, when she was young and road-tripping through the states. I can see it now, the flea market a vast array of colors with smiling, jovial people all around. Booths scattered across a long stretches of grass, selling everything you could think of. Maybe there was furniture, jewelry, vintage clothes, shoes, bags, handmade soaps, dream-catchers, flowers, paintings, coffee, and of course, bows.

Maybe this was the year my grandma started her collection, before she embarked on her many adventures. Maybe it started with that very red bow…