The first advertisements for a strange novelty item called the Ouija board began appearing in newspapers of the North East in the late 19th century.
Promoters claimed boldly that this “wonderful, talking board” formed the “link which unites the known with the unknown.”
And so it began. Nearly every American high school experience includes at least one night with a Ouija board. Usually around Halloween, sometimes along with a little LSD, someone brings it to the party and all hell breaks loose.
Here’s why modern witchcraft should reject the notion that Ouija boards are any more “dangerous” than any other paranormal investigative tool.
Why the fear around Ouiji boards makes no sense.
From the high-tech EMF nerd to the more fundamental pendulum reader, paranormal investigators love them some gadgets.
But none provokes quite the reaction the Ouija board gets.
Break one out at your average ghost-hunting all-nighter, and you’re likely to get comments like:
“OMG do you want these people to be haunted?”
“Where’s the sage? Someone go get some sage right now.”
For reasons we will soon address, somewhere along the way, the Ouija board became associated with “opening the door” to the paranormal world.
And the proverbial door, as anyone with experience knows, can be really, really hard to shut.
Except isn’t that kind of the point of these adventures?
Many of these same folks bat not a single eyelash at the thought of using tarot cards to “communicate with the spirits.” Or strange, esoteric-sounding Latin incantations. Or whatever the hell this is.
All of these techniques are intended to get a reaction. Whether the aim is to entice the presumed spirit to turn on a flashlight, or to record the spooky voice of a long-dead child, the whole hope is that some poor soul on the other side of the Veil Between Worlds will be annoyed enough to come over and have a chat.
In fact, the Ouija board’s origins trace back to a religion founded in the notion that spirit communication is natural, healthy and totally normal.
That religions is called Spiritualism.
Spiritualism and the Ouija Board.
In the mid-1800s, a new take on the afterlife began to emerge called Spiritualism.
This belief system centered on the idea that, in essence, your dead auntie still roams the Earth in spirit form. And now that she kicked the bucket, she knows things you don’t.
Much like when she was alive, she wants to tell you her thoughts on how you should live your life.
Except now they’re insightful thoughts, instead of just annoying ones about how your hair looked better long or your current boyfriend needs to stop getting tattoos.
This whole concept led to the Spiritualism movement, which devised various ways to communicate with your dead auntie. These included automatic writing, professional mediumship and, of course, the Ouija board.
Well, okay. It wasn’t called the Ouija board just yet. That came later, once the idea became popularized, commercialized, and eventually, patented and mass-marketed.
Originally, Spiritualists referred this peculiar device as a “talking board.”
Christianity and the demonization of talking boards.
Naturally, this whole spirit communication made many of the more traditional sects of Christianity nervous.
The notion of chatting with old Auntie Rose about the nature of God and reality instead of your local Protestant minister didn’t sit so well them.
And so, the Church did what it usually does with ideas that threaten their religious supremacy: They associated it with Satan.
(I note this not in anyway to disrespect Christian thought. I respect the right of all religious people to come up with their own ideas about the world. I’d be pretty hypocritical not to. But demonization is a go-to tactic in most branches of Christianity. That’s just a historical fact—and not even especially unique to the Christian church. Most monotheistic religions deploy that one).
The irony, of course, is that modern witches tend to parrot these very Christian fears almost word-for-word.
Of course, there are Christian witches for whom this idea provides a certain consistency with their religious context.
But for the rest of modern witchcraft, a largely non-Christian movement, it makes zero sense.
Particularly when you consider that Christianity rejects nearly all forms of spirit communication (excepting those officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic church and only within that tradition) as blasphemous.
Yet you rarely hear a modern practitioner of witchcraft profess the blasphemous nature of tarot cards, runes, or paranormal investigation in general.
Looking for a creative, intriguing way to celebrate Samhain this year? Always wanted to give the Ouija board a go?
I say, have at it.