Are Ouija Boards Real? Do They Work?
If you’re planning on using an Ouija board to communicate with the other side, you may want to reconsider. Ouija boards, despite their long history as fake spiritualist instruments, hit toys, and devilish tools, will not literally place you in touch with spirits or demons. Any terrifying firsthand accounts of real-life Ouija board horror stories you may hear or read are exaggerations, false statements, or a misconception of how Ouija boards actually operate.
If you’re hosting a Halloween sleepover, this may be disappointing news, but it may also prompt you to wonder are Ouija boards real, how do they work, and where do they come from. The answer is remarkably straightforward.
Despite this apparent straight-forwardness, there are a lot of anecdotes around the Ouija that indicate that all may not be as it seems. There is still some mystery to be solved.
The Strange History Of Ouija Boards
Elijah Bond patented the modern Ouija Board that we are all familiar with. In 1891, the Kennard Novelty Company was given the contract to manufacture and distribute the boards in the United States. People who were part of the Victorian era’s spiritualist movement were still using talking boards, but Bond’s “Ouija Board” was the first widespread commercial proposition to try to boost the concept. The Ouija Board was a resounding success thanks to a mixture of good timing and smart marketing.
It’s uncertain if Bond and his partners really believed that their board could communicate with spirits, but they easily managed to convince enough people to grant the concept a patent. Despite his attempts to trademark another talking board near the end of his life, the Ouija Board was his most popular invention.
Early Ouija Boards were sold as a “toy and game” for the whole family, and many ordinary middle-class people purchased them for fun. Its links to spiritualism and the ability to interact with the dead, on the other hand, drew a different form of clientele. Spiritualists of all kinds were enthralled by the new device, and they wondered if it could help them communicate with the other dimension. It didn’t matter to the Kennard Novelty Company, who produced the Board, why people were buying it: the game was flying off the shelves and making them wealthy.
Is It A Gateway to Hell?
Throughout the mid-twentieth century, the Ouija Board’s influence fluctuated. With the release of the iconic horror film The Exorcist in 1973, everything changed, and the use of the ever-popular game came to a grinding halt. Many elements were added for dramatic effect to the film, which was loosely based on the real story of Roland Doe’s long exorcism in the 1940s. Although the Ouija Board is unlikely to have played a role in Roland Doe’s real-life story, it was featured prominently in the 1973 film. And the author of the book that inspired the film believed Ouija Boards were linked to evil.
The public view of the “ordinary parlor game” was forever changed when the main character was possessed for allegedly playing with an Ouija Board alone. Ouija Boards, as well as many other spiritualist activities, were soon caught up in mass hysteria. People were suddenly afraid of the beloved game, and it became synonymous with Satan almost overnight. More books and movies warning of the hazards of Ouija Boards hit the market in the 1970s and 1980s, playing on fresh fears of communicating evil spirits.
This widespread fear of spiritualism and activities associated with contacting the dead resulted in a widespread concern that devil worshippers were conducting horrific rituals throughout North America, a decade after The Exorcist was published. The Ouija Board’s name was forever associated with evil after spiritualism became correlated with contacting the devil.
But is there any truth to this?
How Do Ouija Boards Work?
An Ouija board, also known as a ghost/spirit board or a talking board, is a flat board with the alphabets, numbers 0-9, and the words “yes,” “no,” and “goodbye” written on it. The planchette, a small heart-shaped piece of plastic or wood, is used to control the board. Users put their fingers on the planchette, which is then moved around the board by spirits to spell out words. Ouija, pronounced ‘wee-jee,’ is a combination of the German and French terms for ‘yes,’ as well as an ancient Egyptian word that means “good luck.”
The Secret Behind Working Of Ouija Boards: Real Or Fake?
The strength of your own body is used in Ouija boards. If you’ve never used an Ouija board before, the idea is simple. You put your hands gently on the planchette, either in a group or by yourself. The idea is simple, and it is to summon the spirits you want to speak with, and they’ll pass the planchette around the board to spell out answers to your questions — before they or you say goodbye, and the spirits return to where they came from.
While it appears to be harmless, there is a long history of people believing Ouija boards are dangerous supernatural gateways that really can lead to demon possession or even worse. After all, what if the planchette is being moved by an unfriendly spirit without your permission? There is, in reality, a clear scientific explanation: The ideomotor effect is a mysterious mechanism that drives the Ouija board. It’s essentially a way for your body to communicate with itself.
The ideomotor effect is an example of unintentional, involuntary physical activity, in which we move even though we aren’t trying. If you’ve ever felt your body jerk awake from a deep sleep (known as the hypnic jerk), you’ve felt a more severe variant of the ideomotor effect: your brain signaling your body to shift without your knowledge. The apparent difference is that the ideomotor effect occurs when you are conscious, resulting in much smaller reflexive movements.
When you use an Ouija board, your brain can unconsciously create images and memories as a result of the questions you ask. Your body reacts to your brain without you actively “asking” it to, causing the muscles in your arms and hands to shift the pointer to the answers that you may want to get — again, unconsciously.
Science Denies The Existence
Various experiments have shown various examples of the ideomotor effect in motion. Blindfolded participants spell incoherent messages in one well-known and often replicated version of the Ouija board test.
These tests clearly show that the Ouija board only works if the participants can control the pointer on their own. If there was a ghost or spirit in the room, it could guide the planchette to spell out meaningful messages without any help. However, there is no ghost, and the game quickly devolves into gibberish as the Ouija board users lose their ability to sound out words they can see.
But Is Science Right?
This is the conclusion of the scientists on this. However, we’ve already discussed the ideomotor effect being an area of your subconscious which moves the planchette. Perhaps, the spirits simply plant the subconscious thought of the words to spell out into your mind. The spirits of course are not in the room with you per se, and therefore they themselves probably cannot see the Ouija Board. So they are not moving your arm for you, you are indeed doing that – but they are planting the subconscious answer into your mind. This fits the ideomotor principle, whilst still allowing for spirits to be the reason.
An Anecdotal Example
Whilst there is no scientific proof of this – the lack of proof does not mean it is not true. Though it may not be. However, there is anecdotal evidence within my own family. My family, many years ago, as the story goes, were engaging in a Ouija Board session. My grandfather was not participating but was watching the proceedings. He was a true skeptic. In fact, not even a skeptic – he simply considered the whole thing nonsense. One of the members then decided to test his theory by asking the Ouija Board a question that only he would know the answer to. So he did. I am unfortunately unaware of what that question actually was. Nevertheless, the story from my parents goes like this;
“OK, what is the … [whatever the question was]”
The planchette then began to spell out the words of the answer. Bearing in mind this answer was to a question only my grandfather knew and he was not in contact with the planchette, ideomotor effect is irrelevant.
My grandfather, it is alleged, went as white as a sheet and abruptly stated ‘You can throw that bloody thing in the fire and you will never be using that again in my house’. And they never did.
The ideomotor effect does not explain this. It’s unlikely the answer would be selected by random chance either. However, spirits planting the answer into the collective subconscious of the participants certainly does.
The Ideomotor Effect Is Actually A Powerful Subconscious Tool.
Spiritualists, as well as other would-be ghost communicators, utilized makeshift instruments called “talking boards” that served a similar function before Ouija boards were invented. Talking boards first gained popularity in mid-nineteenth-century America, when millions of people were interested in conversing with the dead as a result of the Civil War’s massive loss of life. Scientists began researching the ideomotor effect in the mid-century, long before Ouija boards and planchettes were patented in 1890, thanks to the success of talking boards and their use as a method to trick mourning war families.
According to studies, the ideomotor effect is closely linked to subconscious awareness, and its effect is amplified when the subject feels he has little power over his movements. Surprisingly, the less power you believe you have, the more influence your subconscious mind has. This is where the heart-shaped pointer on the Ouija board comes in handy. Since it focuses and directs your muscle movements even when you think you aren’t in control, the planchette makes it much easier to control them subconsciously.
That’s also why, when many people use the planchette at the same time, it seems to shift much more effectively: it frees everyone’s minds to produce creepy Ouija board responses together subconsciously. The effect may also make the Ouija board a useful tool for tapping into your subconscious mind. In a 2012 report, scientists discovered that using the Ouija board helped participants remember reliable details more accurately than if they didn’t use the board. Participants were asked to answer a series of yes/no questions and rate how confident they were in their responses versus whether they were only guessing.
They were then asked more questions, but this time they used an Ouija board to say “yes” or “no,” indicating their level of trust in their responses. When participants thought they didn’t know an answer, they were able to provide more correct responses, more frequently, when they used the Ouija board than when they thought they were only guessing. The researchers behind that study speculated that using the Ouija board to access subconscious information could lead to new insights into the early stages of Alzheimer’s as well as other neurodegenerative diseases. To put it another way, the Ouija board has the ability to be a very effective communication tool — but not in the way that most people believe.
Was this increased confidence on the part of the study participants or have they simply opened a subconscious channel through their mind? Perhaps in some cases the answer is simply that they are able to tap into their subconscious mind more easily – without the distraction of the conscious mind getting in the way. However, as my anecdotal evidence above shows, that may not be the only answer. There is actually, no reason to consider that both of these explanations are in fact possible, depending on the state of mind, and the context of the situations in which the Ouija Board is being used.
We want to be convinced. Our desire to prove the existence of ghosts, spirits and other improbable possibilities is what persuades Ouija board users, proponents of facilitated communication, and everyone else who witnesses the ideomotor effect in action that they’ve witnessed something real: a genuine visitation from another dimension, some kind of mystical sign, or perhaps an indication that a person trapped in his own mind.
But it’s not what a planchette reads or what a psychic claims the ghosts are saying through it from the opposite side that makes an Ouija board so fascinating. The true magic of the Ouija board resides inside our own subconscious. And on this science agrees. However, the mystery of the source of the subconscious thoughts still remains unsolved.
There is much about the human mind, subconscious or otherwise that is still unknown. For example, the ability to astral project or whether dreams try to tell us something. There is still much to be experimented with and discovered.