The most interesting thing about the Ouija board is how out of hand the whole thing has become. Even to this day, it is still (technically) nothing more than a toy, the rights of which are owned by Parker Brothers, a subsidiary of Hasbro — the people who make Monopoly, Risk and Trivial Pursuit.
Ouija is therefore just a brand name, patented at the end of the nineteenth century and manufactured by American entrepreneur William Fuld under the name of The Ouija Novelty Company. But it has become the generic term for any game where the aim is to “contact” the dead.
The boards soon became popular and by the 1920s, Fuld claimed that he had made over $1million from the game. He also found time to invent the “return ball” mechanism for pool tables that is still used today.
After Fuld’s death his children took over the company and in 1966 the entire business was sold to Parker Brothers.
So there’s really nobody there? Well, human projection and public fear mongering certainly are. The boards began to be used by con artists and self-proclaimed “spiritual mediums” who professed to be able to contact the dead for grieving relatives.
When applying for a patent, Fuld explained that “after a question is asked, the involuntary muscular action of the players, or some other agency, will cause the frame to commence to move across the table.” This explanation perhaps purposely left a lot of room for speculation, though Fuld, who played the game regularly with his brother, claimed not to believe in the board’s supernatural powers.
Various Christian denominations and some occultists have long associated use of the Ouija board with the threat of demonic possession and have cautioned their followers not to use them. Although there is no evidence to support spiritual activity occurring as a result of use, stories of demonic contact being made are numerous and perpetuate to this day.
Universal Studios is now rumoured to be making a supernatural thriller based on the board, thus ensuring that the strange popularity of this nineteenth century parlour game holds a continued interest in a world full of iPads and PlayStations.
For Esquire magazine