Ouija: A History

Ouija. For some the rectangular board evokes memories of late-night sleepover parties, shrieks of laughter, and toy shelves brimming with Magic Eight Balls, Frisbees, and Barbie dolls.

For others, Ouija boards – known more generally as talking boards or spirit boards – have darker associations. Stories abound of fearsome entities making threats, dire predictions, and even physical assaults on innocent users after a night of Ouija experimentation.

And the fantastic claims don’t stop there: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill vowed until his death in 1995 that his most celebrated work was written with the use of a homemade Ouija board.

For my part, I first discovered the mysterious workings of Ouija nearly twenty years ago during a typically freezing-cold winter on eastern Long Island. While heaters clanked and hummed within the institutional-white walls of my college dormitory, friends allayed boredom with a Parker Brothers Ouija board.

As is often the case with Ouija, one young woman became the ringleader of board readings. She reprised the role of spirit medium that had typically fallen to women in past eras, when the respectable clergy was a male-only affair. Under the gaze of her dark eyes – which others said gave them chills – the late-night Ouija sessions came into vogue.

Most of my evenings were given over to editing the college newspaper, but I often arrived home at the dorm to frightening stories: The board, one night, kept spelling out the name “Seth,” which my friends associated with evil. (Probably connecting it with the malevolent Egyptian god Set, who is seen as a Satan prototype.) When asked, “Who’s Seth?” the board directed its attention to a member of the group, and repeatedly replied: “Ask Carlos.” A visibly shaken Carlos began breathing heavily and refused to answer.

Consumed as I was with exposing scandals within the campus food service, I never took the opportunity to sit-in on these séances – a move I came to regard with a mixture of relief and regret. The idea that a mass-produced game board and its plastic pointer could display some occult faculty, or could tap into a user’s subconscious, got under my skin. And I wasn’t alone: In its heyday, Ouija outsold Monopoly.

Ouija boards have sharply declined in popularity since the 1960s and 70s, when you could find one in nearly every toy-cluttered basement. But they remain among the most peculiar consumer items in American history. Indeed, controversy endures to this day over their origin. To get a better sense of what Ouija boards are – and where they came from – requires going back to an era in which even an American president dabbled in talking to the dead.


Today, it is difficult to imagine the popularity enjoyed by the movement called Spiritualism in the nineteenth century, when table rapping, séances, medium trances, and other forms of contacting the “other side” were practiced by an estimated ten percent of the population. It began in 1848 when the teenaged sisters Kate and Margaret Fox introduced “spirit rapping” to a lonely hamlet in upstate New York called Hydesville. While every age and culture had known hauntings, Spiritualism appeared to foster actual communication with the beyond. Within a few years, people from every walk of life took seriously the contention that one could talk to the dead.

For many, Spiritualism seemed to extend the hope of reaching loved ones, and perhaps easing the pain of losing a child to one of the diseases of the day. The allure of immortality or of feeling oneself lifted beyond workaday realities attracted others. For others still, spirit counsels became a way to cope with anxiety about the future, providing otherworldly advice in matters of health, love, or money.

According to newspaper accounts of the era, President Abraham Lincoln hosted a séance in the White House – though more as a good-humored parlor game than as a serious spiritual inquiry. Yet at least one vividly rendered Spiritualist memoir places a trance medium in the private quarters of the White House, advising the President and Mrs. Lincoln just after the outbreak of the Civil War.


In this atmosphere of ghostly knocks and earnest pleas to hidden forces, nineteenth-century occultists began looking for easier ways to communicate with the beyond. And in the best American fashion, they took a do-it-yourself approach to the matter. Their homespun efforts at contacting the spirit world led toward something we call Ouija – but not until they worked through several other methods.

One involved a form of table rapping in which questioners solicited spirit knocks when letters of the alphabet were called out, thus spelling a word. This was, however, a tedious and time-consuming exercise. A faster means was by “automatic writing,” in which spirit beings could communicate through the pen of a channeler; but some complained that this produced many pages of unclear or meandering prose.

One invention directly prefigured the heart-shaped pointer that moves around the Ouija board. The planchette – French for “little plank” – was a three-legged writing tool with a hole at the top for the insertion of a pencil. The planchette was designed for one person or more to rest their fingers on it and allow it to “glide” across a page, writing out a spirit message. The device originated in Europe in the early 1850s; by 1860 commercially manufactured planchettes were advertised in America.

Two other items from the 1850s are direct forebears to Ouija: “dial plates” and alphabet paste boards. In 1853 a Connecticut Spiritualist invented the “Spiritual Telegraph Dial,” a roulette-like wheel with letters and numerals around its circumference. Dial plates came in various forms, sometimes of a complex variety. Some were rigged to tables to respond to “spirit tilts,” while others were presumably guided – like a planchette – by the hands of questioners.

Alphabet boards further simplified matters. In use as early as 1852, these talking-board precursors allowed seekers to point to a letter as a means of prompting a “spirit rap,” thereby quickly spelling a word. It was, perhaps, the easiest method yet. And it was only a matter of time until inventors and entrepreneurs began to see the possibilities.


More than 150 years after the dawn of the Spiritualist era, contention endures over who created Ouija. The conventional history of American toy manufacturing credits a Baltimore businessman named William Fuld. Fuld, we are told, “invented” Ouija around 1890. So it is repeated online and in books of trivia, reference works, and “ask me” columns in newspapers. For many decades, the manufacturer itself – first Fuld’s company and later the toy giant Parker Brothers – insinuated as much by running the term “William Fuld Talking Board Set” across the top of every board.

The conventional history is wrong.

The patent for a “Ouija or Egyptian luck-board” was filed on May 28, 1890 by Baltimore resident and patent attorney Elijah H. Bond, who assigned the rights to two city businessmen, Charles W. Kennard and William H.A. Maupin. The patent was granted on February 10, 1891, and so was born the Ouija-brand talking board.

The first patent reveals a familiarly oblong board, with the alphabet running in double rows across the top, and numbers in a single row along the bottom. The sun and moon, marked respectively by the words “yes” and “no,” adorn the upper left and right corners, while the words “Good bye” appear at the bottom center. Later on, instructions and the illustrations accompanying them, prescribed an expressly social - even flirtatious - experience: Two parties, preferably a man and woman, were to balance the board between them on their knees, placing their fingers lightly upon the planchette. ("It draws the two people using it into close companionship and weaves about them a feeling of mysterious isolation," the box read.) In an age of buttoned-up morals, it was a tempting dalliance.


The Kennard Novelty Company of Baltimore employed a teenaged varnisher who helped run shop operations, and this was William Fuld. By 1892, however, Charles W. Kennard’s partners removed him from the company amid financial disputes and a new patent – this time for an improved pointer, or planchette – was filed by a 19-year-old Fuld. In years to come, it was Fuld who would take over the company and affix his name to every board.

Based on an account in a 1920 magazine article, inventor’s credit sometimes goes to an E.C. Reichie, alternately identified as a Maryland cabinetmaker or coffin maker. This theory was popularized by a defunct Baltimore business monthly called Warfield’s, which ran a richly detailed – and at points, one suspects, richly imagined – history of Ouija boards in 1990. The article opens with a misspelled E.C. “Reiche” as the board’s inventor, and calls him a coffin maker with an interest in the afterlife – a name and a claim that have been repeated and circulated ever since.

Yet this figure appears virtually nowhere else in Ouija history, including on the first patent. His name came up during a period of patent litigation about thirty years after Ouija’s inception. A 1920 account in New York’s World Magazine – widely disseminated that year in the popular weekly The Literary Digest – reports that one of Ouija’s early investors told a judge that E.C. Reichie had invented the board. But no reference to an E.C. Reichie – be he a cabinetmaker or coffin maker – appears in the court transcript, according to Ouija historian and talking-board manufacturer Robert Murch.

Ultimately, Reichie’s role, or whether there was a Reichie, may be moot, at least in terms of the board’s invention. Talking boards of a homemade variety were already a popular craze among Spiritualists by the mid-1880s. At his online Museum of Talking Boards, Ouija collector and chronicler Eugene Orlando posts an 1886 article from the New-York Daily Tribune (as reprinted that year in a Spiritualist monthly, The Carrier Dove) describing the breathless excitement around the new-fangled alphabet board and its message indicator. “I know of whole communities that are wild over the 'talking board,'” says a man in the article. This was a full four years before the first Ouija patent was filed. Obviously Bond, Kennard, and their associates were capitalizing on an invention – not conceiving of one.

And what of the name Ouija? Alternately pronounced wee-JA and wee-GEE, its origin may never be known. Kennard at one time claimed it was Egyptian for “good luck” (it’s not). Fuld later said it was simply a marriage of the French and German words for “yes.” One early investor claimed the board spelled out its own name. As with other aspects of Ouija history, the board seems determined to withhold a few secrets of its own.


Another oft-repeated, but misleading, claim is that Ouija, or talking boards, have ancient roots. In a typical example, Frank Gaynor’s 1953 Dictionary of Mysticism states that ancient boards of different shapes and sizes “were used in the sixth century before Christ.” In a wide range of books and articles, everyone from Pythagoras to the Mongols to the Ancient Egyptians is said to have possessed Ouija-like devices. But the claims rarely withstand scrutiny.

Chronicler-curator Orlando points out that the primary reference to Ouija existing in the pre-modern world appears in a passage from Lewis Spence’s 1920 Encyclopedia of Occultism – which is repeated in Nandor Fodor’s popular 1934 Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. The Fodor passage reads, in part: “As an invention it is very old. It was in use in the days of Pythagoras, about 540 B.C. According to a French historical account of the philosopher’s life, his sect held frequent séances or circles at which ‘a mystic table, moving on wheels, moved towards signs, which the philosopher and his pupil Philolaus, interpreted to the audience...’” It is, Orlando points out, “the one recurring quote found in almost every academic article on the Ouija board.” But the story presents two problems: The “French historical account” is never identified; and the Pythagorean scribe Philolaus lived not in Pythagoras’s time, but in the following century.

It is also worth keeping in mind that we know precious little today about Pythagoras and his school. No writings of Pythagoras survive, and the historical record depends upon later works – some of which were written centuries after his death. Hence, commentators on occult topics are sometimes tempted to project backwards onto Pythagoras all sorts of arcane practices, Ouija and modern numerology among them.

Still other writers – when they are not repeating claims like the one above – tend to misread ancient historical accounts and mistake other divinatory tools, such as pendulum dishes, for Ouija boards. Oracles were rich and varied from culture to culture – from Germanic runes to Greek Delphic rites – but the prevailing literature on oracular traditions supports no suggestion that talking boards, as we know them, were in use before the Spiritualist era.


After William Fuld took the reins of Ouija manufacturing in America, business was brisk – if not always happy. Fuld formed a quickly shattered business alliance with his brother Isaac, which landed the two in court battles for nearly twenty years. Isaac was eventually found to have violated an injunction against creating a competing board, called the Oriole, after being forced from the family business in 1901. The two brothers would never speak again. Ouija, and anything that looked directly like it, was firmly in the hands of William Fuld.

By 1920, the board was so well known that artist Norman Rockwell painted a send-up of a couple using one – the woman dreamy and credulous, the man fixing her with a cloying grin – for a cover of The Saturday Evening Post. For Fuld, though, everything was strictly business. “Believe in the Ouija board?” he once told a reporter. “I should say not. I’m no spiritualist. I’m a Presbyterian – been one ever since I was so high.” In 1920, the Baltimore Sun reported that Fuld, by his own “conservative estimate,” had pocketed an astounding $1 million from sales.

Whatever satisfaction Fuld’s success may have brought him was soon lost: On February 26, 1927, he fell to his death from the roof of his Baltimore factory. The 54-year-old manufacturer was supervising the replacement of a flagpole when an iron support bar he held gave way, and he fell three stories backward.

Fuld’s children took over his business – and generally prospered. While sales dipped and rose – and competing boards came and went – only the Ouija brand endured. And by the 1940s, Ouija was experiencing a new surge in popularity.

Historically, séances and other Spiritualist methods proliferate during times of war. Spiritualism had seen its last great explosion of interest in the period around World War I, when parents yearned to contact children lost to the battlefield carnage. In World War II, many anxious families turned to Ouija. In a 1944 article, “The Ouija Comes Back,” The New York Times reported that one New York City department store alone sold 50,000 Ouija boards in a five-month period.

American toy manufacturers were taking notice. Some attempted knock-off products. But Parker Brothers developed bigger plans. In a move that would place a carryover from the age of Spiritualism into playrooms all across America, the toy giant bought the rights for an undisclosed sum in 1966. The Fuld family was out of the picture, and Ouija was about to achieve its biggest success ever.

The following year, Parker Brothers is reported to have sold more than two million Ouija boards – topping sales of its most popular game, Monopoly. The occult boom that began in the late 1960s, as astrologers adorned the cover of Time magazine and witchcraft became a fast-growing “new” religion, fueled the board’s sales for the following decades. A Parker spokesperson says the company has sold over ten million boards since 1967.

The sixties and seventies also saw the rise of Ouija as a product of the youth culture. Ouija circles sprang up in college dormitories, and the board emerged as a fad among adolescents, for whom its ritual of secret messages and intimate communications became a form of rebellion. One youthful experimenter recalls an enticing atmosphere of danger and intrigue – “like shoplifting or taking drugs” – that allowed her and a girlfriend to bond together over Ouija sessions in which they contacted the spirit of “Candelyn,” a nineteenth-century girl who had perished in a fire. Sociologists suggested that Ouija sessions were a way for young people to project, and work through, their own fears. But many Ouija users claimed that the verisimilitude of the communications were reason enough to return to the board.


While officials at Parker Brothers (now a division of Hasbro) would not get into the ebb and flow of sales, there’s little question that Ouija has declined precipitously in recent years. In 1999, the company brought an era to an end when it discontinued the vintage Fuld design and switched to a smaller, glow-in-the-dark version of the board. In consumer manufacturing, the redesign of a classic product often signals an effort to reverse falling sales. Listed at $19.95, Ouija costs about 60% more than standards like Monopoly and Scrabble, which further suggests that it has become something of a specialty item.

In a far remove from the days when Ouija led Parker Brothers’ lineup, the product now seems more like a corporate stepchild. The “Ouija Game” (“ages 8 to Adult”) merits barely a mention on Hasbro’s website. The company posts no official history for Ouija, as it does for its other storied products. And the claims from the original 1960s-era box – “Weird and mysterious. Surpasses, in its unique results, mind reading, clairvoyance and second sight” – have since been significantly toned down. Given the negative attention the board sometimes attracts – both from frightened users and religionists who smell a whiff of Satan’s doings – Ouija, its sales likely on the wane, may be a product that Hasbro would just as soon forget.

And yet...Ouija receives more customer reviews – alternately written in tones of outrage, fear, delight, or ridicule – than any other “toy” for sale on Amazon.com (280 at last count). What other “game” so polarizes opinion among those who dismiss it as a childhood plaything and those who condemn or extol it as a portal to the other side? As it did decades ago in The Exorcist, Ouija figures into the recent fright films What Lies Beneath and White Noise. And it sustains an urban mythology that continues to make it a household name in the early twenty-first century. There would seem little doubt that Ouija – as it has arisen time and again – awaits a revival in the future. But what makes this game board and its molded plastic pointer so resilient in our culture, and, some might add, in our nightmares?


Among the first things one notices when looking into Ouija is its vast – and sometimes authentically frightening – history of stories. Claims abound from users who experienced the presence of malevolent entities during Ouija sessions, sometimes even being physically harassed by unseen forces. A typical storyline involves communication that is at first reassuring and even useful – a lost object may be recovered – but eventually gives way to threatening or terrorizing messages. Hugh Lynn Cayce, son of the eminent American psychic Edgar Cayce, cautioned that his researches found Ouija boards among the most “dangerous doorways to the unconscious.”

For their part, Ouija enthusiasts note that teachings such as the inspirational “Seth material,” channeled by Jane Roberts, first came through a Ouija board. Other channeled writings, such as an early twentieth-century series of historical novels and poems by an entity called “Patience Worth” and a posthumous “novel” by Mark Twain (pulled from the shelves after a legal outcry from the writer's estate), have reputedly come through the board. Such works, however, have rarely attracted enduring readerships. Poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes wrote haunting and dark passages about their experiences with Ouija; but none attain the level of their best work.

So, can anything of lasting value be attributed to the board – this mysterious object that has, in one form or another, been with us for nearly 120 years? The answer is yes, and it has stared us in the face for so long that we have nearly forgotten it is there.

In 1976, the American poet James Merrill published – and won the Pulitzer Prize for – an epic poem that recounted his experience, with his partner David Jackson, of using a Ouija board from 1955 to 1974. His work The Book of Ephraim was later combined with two other Ouija-inspired long poems and published in 1982 as The Changing Light at Sandover. “Many readers,” wrote critic Judith Moffett in her penetrating study entitled James Merrill, “may well feel they have been waiting for this trilogy all their lives.”

First using a manufactured board and then a homemade one – with a teacup in place of a planchette – Merrill and Jackson encounter a world of spirit “patrons” who recount to them a sprawling and profoundly involving creation myth. It is poetry steeped in the epic tradition, in which myriad characters – from W.H. Auden, to lost friends and family members, to the Greek muse/interlocutor called Ephraim – walk on and off stage. The voices of Merrill, Jackson, and those that emerge from the teacup and board, alternately offer theories of reincarnation, worldly advice, and painfully poignant reflections on the passing of life and ever-hovering presence of death.

The Changing Light at Sandover gives life to a new mythology of world creation, destruction, resurrection, and the vast, unknowable mechanizations of God Biology (GOD B, in the words of the Ouija board) and those mysterious figures who enact his will: Bat-winged creatures who, in their cosmological laboratory, reconstruct departed souls for new life on earth. And yet we are never far from the human, grounding voice of Merrill, joking about the selection of new wallpaper in his Stonington, Connecticut home; or from the moving council of voices from the board, urging: In life, stand for something.

“It is common knowledge – and glaringly obvious in the poems, though not taken seriously by his critics – that these three works, and their final compilation, were based on conversations...through a Ouija board,” wrote John Chambers in his outstanding analysis of Merrill in the Summer 1997 issue of The Anomalist.

Critic Harold Bloom, in a departure from others who sidestep the question of the work’s source, calls the first of the Sandover poems “an occult splendor.” Indeed, it is not difficult to argue that, in literary terms, The Changing Light at Sandover is a masterpiece – perhaps the masterpiece – of occult experimentation. In some respects, it is like an unintended response to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which not one man acting alone, but two acting and thinking together, successfully pierce the veil of life’s inner and cosmic mysteries – and live not only to tell, but to teach.

One wonders, then, why the work is so little known and read within a spiritual subculture that embraces other channeled works, such as the Ouija-received “Seth material,” the automatic writing of A Course In Miracles, or the currently popular Abraham-Hicks channeled readings. The Changing Light at Sandover ought to be evidence that something – be it inner or outer – is available through this kind of communication, however rare. It is up to the reader to find out what.


Of course, the Merrill case begs the question of whether the Ouija board channels something from beyond or merely reflects the ideas found in one’s subconscious. After all, who but a poetic genius like James Merrill could have recorded channeled passages of such literary grace and epic dimension? Plainly put, this wasn’t Joe Schmoe at the board.

In a 1970 book on psychical phenomena, ESP, Seers & Psychics, researcher-skeptic Milbourne Christopher announces – a tad too triumphantly, perhaps – that if you effectively blindfold a board’s user and rearrange the order of letters, communication ceases. A believable enough claim – but what does it really tell us? In 1915, a specialist in abnormal psychology proposed the same test to the channeled entity called Patience Worth, who, through a St. Louis housewife named Pearl Curran, had produced a remarkable range of novels, plays, and poems – some of them hugely ambitious in scale and written in a Middle English dialect that Curran (who didn’t finish high school) would have had no means of knowing.

As reported in Irving Litvag’s 1972 study, Singer in the Shadows, Patience Worth responded to the request that Curran be blindfolded in her typically inimitable fashion: “I be aset athin the throb o’ her. Aye, and doth thee to take then the lute awhither that she see not, think ye then she may to set up musics for the hear o’ thee?” In other words, how can you remove the instrument and expect music?

Some authorities in psychical research support the contention that Ouija is a tool of our subconscious. For years J.B. Rhine, the veritable dean of psychical research in America, worked with his wife, Louisa, a trained biologist and well-regarded researcher in her own right, to bring scientific rigor to the study of psychical phenomena. Responding to the occult fads of the day, Louisa wrote an item on Ouija boards and automatic writing adapted in the winter 1970 newsletter of the American Society for Psychical Research. Whatever messages come through the board, she maintained, are a product of the user’s subconscious – not any metaphysical force: “In several ways the very nature of automatic writing and the Ouija board makes them particularly open to misunderstanding. For one thing, because [such communications] are unconscious, the person does not get the feeling of his own involvement. Instead, it seems to him that some personality outside of himself is responsible. In addition, and possibly because of this, the material is usually cast in a form as if originating from another intelligence.”

For his part, the poet Merrill took a subtler view of the matter. “If it’s still yourself that you’re drawing upon,” he said, “then that self is much stranger and freer and more far-seeking than the one you thought you knew.” And at another point: “If the spirits aren’t external, how astonishing the mediums become!”


As I was preparing for this article, I began to revisit notes I had made months earlier. These presented me with several questions. Among them: Should I be practicing with the Ouija board myself, testing its occult powers in person? Just at this time, I received an email, impeccably and even mysteriously timed, warning me off Ouija boards. The sender, whom I didn’t know, told in sensitive and vivid tones of her family’s harrowing experiences with a board.

As my exchange with the sender continued, however, my relatively few lines of response elicited back pages and pages of material, each progressively more pedantic and judgmental in tone, reading – or projecting – multiple levels into what little I had written in reply (most of which was in appreciation). And so I wondered: In terms of the influences to which we open ourselves, how do we sort out the fine from the coarse, allowing in communications that are useful and generative, rather than those that become simply depleting?

Ouija is intriguing, interesting, even oddly magnetic – a survey of users in the 2001 International Journal of Parapsychology found that one half “felt a compulsion to use it.” But, in a culture filled with possibilities, and in a modern life of limited time and energy, is Ouija really the place to search? Clearly, for a James Merrill, it was. But there exists a deeper intuition than what comes through a board, or any outer object – one that answers that kind of question for every clear-thinking person. For me, the answer was no.

It was time to pack up my antique Ouija board in its box and return to what I found most lasting on the journey: The work of Merrill, who passed through the uses of this instrument and, with it, created a body of art that perhaps justifies the tumultuous, serpentine history from which Ouija has come.

This article appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of Esopus (www.esopusmag.com), a biannual of arts and culture. It is also available at: www.mitchhorowitz.com.


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JeffN's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
5 weeks 1 day

Hi Mitch.

My maternal grandmother was a spiritualist medium who, with a few of her cronies, ran a spiritualist church named "The Haven" on Edinburgh, Scotland's Picardy Place, within a block from where spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle used to live.

When she gave private "readings" she would use a crystal ball, but admitted to me that she didn't need it. She could just as well use a bowl of water, a window, a pack of cards, tea leaves, or absolutely nothing at all. She used the crystal because her "ladies liked it."

One night I recall her telling me to never play with a Ouija board. Things will go nicely for a while, she said, and then will turn bad.

I have always heeded her advice.

All Best!



Mitch Horowitz's picture
Member since:
12 May 2004
Last activity:
8 years 24 weeks

Hi Jeff, I think your grandmother's advice sqaures with the classic (and well-taken) caveats that I encountered while researching the piece. Best, Mitch

RealityTest's picture
Member since:
16 August 2006
Last activity:
3 days 10 hours

Ouija boards can be used the way a consultant might use an overhead projector or LCD projector latched to a laptop computer -- as a way to display inner activity to a roomful of folks.

Unlike business tools, however, unanticipated side effects may accompany their use.

In 1996 I belonged to a tiny mailing list focused on the Seth material (Jane Roberts, Seth's channeller, became a voice channeller after persistently experimenting with a ouija board; she reached a point where she "heard" Seth's comments before the planchette even moved and soon thereafter dispensed with the board).

(I suggest the dire warnings associated with using boards reflect the fearful beliefs of those issuing them; those with more positive beliefs will create positive experiences, completely in accordance with the tenets of the Seth material.)

Lacking the funds to travel and visit some of the other members of the mailing list, I invited its members to a picnic by the ocean, near my residence. (This was a novel idea at the time -- no one had actually met anyone else before, live and in-person.)

Twelve folks showed up and three stayed in my small apartment (oddly, when I encountered these three at my front door I felt a distinct and vaguely 'electromagnetic' sensation -- a kind of 'energy' you might say.)

Two were a mother and daughter from a tiny farm in Vermont and later that night they asked whether the other guest and I might like a little ouija board entertainment.

Completing forgetting how Jane Roberts began her Seth adventures, I thought to myself "ouija boards -- junior high school stuff!" but assented, nevertheless.

The mother and daughter brought their antique board (this was no modern Parker Brothers item, instead made of wood with 1910-era lettering) in and proceeded.

Instead of a planchette, they preferred to use a silver dollar, and after looping slowly around the board a few times ("reading the board"), it began to move too swiftly for anyone to actually read particular letters and words.

This didn't matter -- the mother's style was to whisper what she "heard" as the silver dollar zoomed around the board.

I wouldn't have been particularly impressed at all had she not soon whispered, after asking "Who is this?", that my very own oversoul or larger self was "speaking" and had a message for me.

I still wouldn't have been particularly impressed had I not experienced, at that exact moment, a sensation that could be described as feeling as though a three-foot mental sphere had just erupted from my head. This got my attention, big-time. (The sensation lasted three days and was accompanied by extremely vivid dreams, some of which proved to be precognitive.)

Thus began the first of many sessions and also the beginning of a channelling craze on that and subsequent mailing lists which lasted for years. There was something contagious about this and related activity, as though the "energy" was growing and intensifying.

After all of this, I have to say that there are a great many factors which impact both using ouija boards and other forms of mediumship which may develop, including using a computer keyboard in place of the pencil and pad of "autowriting" or various forms of voice channelling.

Key to these factors are, again, the beliefs of the would-be medium or channeller, but also the beliefs of anyone participating in a session.

These communications involve a particular kind of transduction of energies -- a type of translation, you could say -- and skill levels, natural talent, the ability to perfect this art vary all over the place, just as the aforesaid beliefs do. A gifted novelist who enters mild trance states effortlessly and quite naturally can make an excellent medium or channeller.

(Imagine the great variety of mental associations, vocabularly, general understanding, and so on, found in anyone willing to experiment in such things, while consider how this activity is very sensitive to whatever conscious beliefs the experimenter is habitually dropping into his or her subconscious -- if they imagine frightening spectres, the shades of malevolent personalities, or evil & ancient entities external to their selves, that's what they'll get; if they imagine benevolent angels or their dearly departed sweet Aunt Tillie, that's what they'll get, faithfully translated through their own mind.)

I have to conclude from years of witnessing and participating in such activities that our mass society (scientists in general and psychologists and psychiatrists in particular, as well as the vast majority of religious practitioners and philosophers) is woefully ignorant when it comes to the nature of self and reality.

We are still living in the Dark Ages, comforted by false beliefs and frightened by that which is actually not really far removed at all from our conscious minds, namely our deeper selves and their vast experience and knowledge.

We focus obsessively on material reality, rarely suspecting its true nature or its intimate connection with our own "subconscious."

Bill I.


JeffN's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
5 weeks 1 day

Hi, Bill.

You wrote:

"I suggest the dire warnings associated with using boards reflect the fearful beliefs of those issuing them; those with more positive beliefs will create positive experiences."

The problem is, though, that it takes two to tangle -- and I think my Grannie knew that. She was not fearful of either physical pain or psychic phenomenon, and I can personally attest to the former. Of the latter I can only relate hearsay. I have heard she was asked by the Edinburgh police to perform an exorcism that the church, when asked, refused to do. That the police asked her, having been turned down by the church, gave her cause to believe the request was a serious one, and so she was fearful. Nevertheless, she gave her services. She is long dead, and I will never learn any more than I do now, but I recall hearing that the event involved the appearance of ectoplasm, but that things worked out OK and she continued to be my Grannie.

She visited us here in the U.S. for a while, with the idea that she might stay with us until she died. While here (a total of six months) she built up quite a fan base. Returning to Scotland, which she eventually felt personally constrained to do, she received blank pieces of paper in the mail from addresses all over the U.S. -- that the senders had held in their hands -- along with $5 or $10 dollars. To earn the money, my Grannie would write a message on the paper, having first handled it, and send it back. It was one of the ways she was able to supplement her "old-age pension," and remain independent.

I believe that my Grannie's "dire warning" may have been more for the "other person" invited to work the board. I believe she would have known that a session on the board would have involved the participation of at least two people, and that the presence of "positive beliefs" cannot be guaranteed in both parties, and so a positive outcome can never be assured, especially over the long term.

Psychological or Parapsychological, the warnings and effects you talk about depend upon those involved in the exercise. I have so far resisted the invitation to play the board, and would not invite others to do so on my say so, even if my own personal experience had been a positive one.

But maybe that's only because I had the Grannie I did ...

All Best!


RealityTest's picture
Member since:
16 August 2006
Last activity:
3 days 10 hours

Dear Jeff:

I have observed ouija board experimenters progress from using a board with another to using it by themselves (the techniques were unique to each person -- one held the board vertically, against her torso; the other sat with the board on the floor, using two hands on a hockey-puck like planchette).

The first person progressed beyond this to some quite excellent light trance voice channelling; the second switched to "autotyping" -- operating a computer keyboard in a mild trance.

In each case, the quality of the messages in terms of content and style improved with practice.

Your grannie obviously had gifts or talents in this area but like anyone she also held certain beliefs about all of this, too.

Back to sharing the board -- it's not uncommon in my experience for a roomful of experimenters to try different combinations of folks at the board and see what results.

In fact, after observing very different results, this became an obvious question to ask at a session -- why were the results so different and was there a way to ensure great results in advance?

(I note that a roomful of strangers at a ouija board or even channelling session can lead to poor results, while a small group of people more closely attuned to each other and focused on the same area, say Ancient Egypt, may experience superior results.)

The answer was a bit arcane, suggesting that certain individuals are "key" to each other, with primary and secondary key combinations, much like the white and dark keys of a piano. Two people who are key to each other somehow "psychically catalyze" each other, amping up the psychic energy available for such activities; thus two keys are the best combination for sharing a ouija board.

A group which contains a number of key pairings can, under certain circumstances, combine energies such that the result extends well beyond ouija board experimentation; this becomes almost like a dance or orchestral movement in terms of energy and reminds me of the sacred dancing described in, among other places, books describing the activities of George Gurdjieff and his pupils.

Further, there is a strong connection with the Hindu Lord of Dance, one of the many names of Shiva. Beyond the myths lies something few suspect, a rather massive gestalt being associated with moments of change in consciousness, continuously created by the collective focusing of its myriad constituent personalities -- anyone who wishes to explore this can do so simply by focusing their own attention in this direction, joining the gestalt for as long as they choose.

I've only ever had one mildly frightening experience during years of on and off ouija board experimentation, but this was not surprising considering the particular location -- it happened late at night in the private circular study of the deceased Dr. John Hammond, Jr.

In life Hammond was a brilliant inventor, focused on electricity and radio control (he held many patents and is second only to Thomas Edison in quantity, I believe), but he had a dark side and this came out during that session.

Fortunately, despite a moment during which the hair of all rose (as though we'd touched a Von deGraff generator), we quickly overcame our fears (the board said, just afterwards, that "evil is that which does not further," a reference to Dr. Frankenstein-like 'reanimation' experiments with corpses Hammond was engaged in as he approached his own death in 1965); the communications moved into a transcendent region.

I suggest that psychic experimentation, whether with ouija boards or simply various exercises somewhat akin to meditation, are really experiments with the nature of self, consciousness, and reality.

Those who are drawn to such activities need to be as intrepid as Galileo once was, when he was overthrowing the dogma of Aristotle by practical experiment -- persistent and fearless.

Timidity has no place in such endeavors but anyone who is torn between a desire to plunge into the deeper waters of consciousness and fears of doing so can greatly ease the situation by reading inspirational material.

My personal favorite happens to be the Seth material (with an added whiff of Gurdjieff), but any searcher will draw to themselves whatever is most suitable.

I was initially VERY sceptical of all such things but I couldn't deny certain anomolous experiences which defied all rational explanations, despite all attempts.

My scepticism extended to channelling but this changed after exposure to a light trance medium -- it was clear, after months of once-a-week Q&A sessions, that somehow the medium or the personality which "came through" him could read my mind, answering questions I had yet to voice.

I was more open to certain possibilities after this and getting closer to an understanding of those anomolous experiences.

I didn't begin to read any Seth books until I had the experience I describe at

http://www.realitytest.com/resource.htm#... .

At first, I found the books very interesting, and a bit sci-fi like; very entertaining.

This changed, radically, when I actually did a particular exercise found in one of the books -- the Preliminary Probable Self Exercise I've discussed here before.

It's the second exercise found at

http://www.realitytest.com/doors.htm .


Bill I.
Magnolia, MA

JeffN's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
5 weeks 1 day

Dear Bill,

If I had known that the Ouija could be a solitary endeavour I may perhaps have risked my own self, in spite of my Grannie's warnings. Nowadays, though, I have a family who depends on me, and am presently unemployed.

Alas, I must wait for a more opportune time.

When last I visited my Grannie in Scotland it was because everyone knew that she had not too much time left to spend with us (I think she might have let us know that).

While no longer able to get to the BIG meetings, she threw a small "seance" for my benefit during the week I was able to spend with her, with just "sensitive" friends and neighbors, in her own home. This would be during the early 1970s.

It was not the usual seance with fingers touching around a table, etc., but was more just a bunch of us sitting higgledy piggledy around the darkened room, lit only by a coal fire, wherever we felt comfortable.

I do not remember much at so long a distance from the event, but recall that at one point my Grannie whispered to the lady next to her: "Look at Jeff's hands."

Well, of course, I looked at my hands and saw that they were glowing. They were crossed, one above the other, and so I separated them -- and the glow disappeared. I have since heard that you are not supposed to cross anything during a seance, so maybe I was being given a message.

Another event of the evening that I recall at a 30-year distance is when my Grannie went into what I guess you might call a trance, and "channeled" another voice.

I have no recollection of what was said, but the voice, although familiar in that it was using the "instrument" of my Grannie's voicebox, strung its words together in sentence structures that my Grannie never utilized, using words that I cannot recall my Grannie ever using.

I do recall that the experience was disturbing, and yet oddly comforting -- and continues to be as I talk about it now for the first time in ages. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Just a couple of months ago I discovered that my Grannie's house, where I spent much time as a child, was (still is) located on a significant Scottish leyline, which some might say played a part in all of the above, considering the paths of inquiry my research has taken me along.

I wish I were younger, Bill. I would have a longer list of things to do.

All Best!



RealityTest's picture
Member since:
16 August 2006
Last activity:
3 days 10 hours

Dear Jeff:

Thanks for the tale!

A few quick thoughts:

o You may have inherited a bit of your grannie's abilities, or at least a predisposition in that direction;

o She may be currently accessible -- I have no idea and such things vary drastically from one personality to another;

o The word "trance" has all kinds of sometimes dark and almost sinister associations, yet in fact everyone enters mild trance conditions every day. Ordinary daydreaming is a form of light trance, while many get a bit deeper quite unconsciously while focusing on a particular task with great intensity. (There are those who suggest our ordinary everyday conscious state is one of mild trance -- we walk around in a kind of daydream throughout our lives feeding suggestions to our selves, rarely noticing as we do so.)

Years ago I worked with a hypnotist but he quickly determined I was a poor subject for the usual kind of session, as I was consciously resistant to suggestion and couldn't easily enter into a trance state of the required depth. We found a work-around, however, in which he suggested to me, after I relaxed, that I would _dream_ of whatever subject we were exploring and would recall the details of the dream while relaxing during the subsequent session. This was effective.

Years later I marvelled at how one on-line friend after enough got the knack of rudimentary channelling, assisted by those who had natural gifts in this department. I seemed a hopeless case, however, and attributed this to the above conscious resistance and inability to allow myself to do much more than achieve a condition of relaxation and daydreaming.

This changed, very gradually; I first noticed the difference when, after working on a few short paragraphs on my website, I looked at the clock (and the enormous pile of cigarettes in my ashtray), with great surprise. What had seemed like only a few short minutes had actually been hours.

This distortion of the sense of time is one indicator of a deeper trance condition.

Channellers I've known engage in quite a range of trance -- some produce excellent material in a very light trance while others go so far into trance as to experience almost frightening blood pressure drops (these last tend to go in for voice channelling, but not all voice channellers get this deep into trance).

I have no interest or desire in going that far, but have been pleased to discover that years of meditation and gradually opening my beliefs have enabled me to experience at least a degree of trance deeper than previously possible; I find the contact thus achieved with deeper self both humbling and pleasing.

o My mother's family is Scottish, descended from the Glencoe MacDonalds (although none that I know of from that family had the abilities of your granny). I have yet to visit Glencoe (or Scotland, for that matter); you now have me wondering about the "energies" of the place.

o I'm very aware of how earthly responsibilities can get in the way of more esoteric explorations and sympathize with your situation. When I come up with a really effective solution I'll let you know. (Was it Elizabeth I who said "All my kingdom for one moment of time!"?)


JeffN's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
5 weeks 1 day

Dear Bill,

This has been a nice conversation, so thanks!

You should definitely consider visiting Scotland if you get the chance. You should consider Edinburgh as home base, as there are very many interesting sights both within and without the city to fill up your time there.

Glencoe is a marvelous place that I believe parts of the Harry Potter films were shot in, and there is a day-trip bus tour that will move you through it, also visiting the Rannoch Moor (Rob Roy Country), Loch Ness, and several other locations of note. The bus leaves from Edinburgh Castle, in the early morning, and returns in the evening. The tour company is Timberbush Tours, and that particular tour can be seen at the following link:


I have taken that trip, and it is well worth the price and I highly recommend it.

If you ever do decide to visit my home town, get in touch for some advice. I can be contacted through my website on the "About/Contact" page:


All Best!


nazreel's picture
Member since:
30 April 2004
Last activity:
7 years 12 weeks

I too am descended from the MacDonalds of Glencoe on my father's side.

I live in the Scottish Borders but am from Edinburgh originally.

It is a wonderful city, and very haunted.

Strangely it was my mother's side who were psychic, which I have inherited to a slight extent. Although it seems to be suppressed these days by all the drugs I have to take.

As Jeff was saying, Bill, you will always get a good welcome in Scotland.

Mem's picture
Member since:
9 March 2010
Last activity:
7 years 14 weeks

Hi! As a dowser, using a ouija very much reminds me of pendulum dowsing...or any dowsing for that matter. I have never had experience with a ouija board though. What do you think? Thanks for the article. Mem