North America’s scariest board game is nothing to be feared
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Everyone seems to find Ouija boards dark and terrifying. Whether you’re a teenager playing with friends in a basement, a distraught Christian mom finding one in the attic, or a social activist college student with an eye for the spiritual; the fear of Ouija boards is spread far and wide across the Western hemisphere, but a lot of people don’t know the history and tradition behind it. Our ingrained fear of the angry Ouija spirits doesn’t come from nowhere; it’s born from racism and ignorance, and we should be ashamed for continuing to treat it like an evil tool for satanic communication.
A little-known fact about Ouija boards is that the name is patented by Hasbro. Yes, Transformers and My Little Pony Hasbro owns the intellectual property that causes so much fear. A Ouija board is an American interpretation of spiritual tools loosely called “talking boards,” originating from China and first mentioned during the Song dynasty, around roughly 1100 AD. It was a Taoist writing board used for carefully regulated necromancy spells and communion with the spirit world—and here, it’s important to remember that the traditional Taoist idea of a spirit world is radically different from a modern Western idea of a spirit world. These talking boards used a sort of “automatic writing” that is vaguely reminiscent of how our Ouija boards work today.
Between the American Civil War and the First World War, a new generation of spiritualists and shamans made an early appearance in North America. Inspired by many Indian, Japanese, and most importantly Chinese traditions, these early mediums used incense, seances, and spiritual communion in their practices, largely to help the families of those lost in the devastating Civil War. The talking board was one of the most popular tools, a misinterpretation of Chinese “automatic writing” turned into a religious practice. In the early 1890s, inventor Elijah Bond patented the talking board, which supposedly named itself “Ouija” during a session. It then became a massively popular parlour game across the Americas.
Since then, Christian groups across the States have decried it as pagan, evil, demonic, dangerous, and unholy. The backlash from Protestants and Catholics alike was so harsh, the idea of the evil Ouija board became ingrained in our culture, and therein lies the problem. The Ouija board isn’t, and never was, a tool to contact evil spirits. Our idea of them is a misinterpretation of a misinterpretation of a thousand-year-old Chinese practice, patented and bought and sold so often, it’s impossible to claim it has any spiritual power beyond what you give it.
The Ouija board isn’t arcane. It’s the result of desperate American people seeking answers after a horrifying war, and a business capitalizing on that. Despite this, many people in Vancouver refuse to use one because they are unaware of its history. I believe it contributes to the ridiculous idea that foreign, non-Christian spiritual practices are evil and dangerous. It’s just a toy based on a parlour game based on a spiritual practice based on a structured religious ritual. It’s as mundane and American as it gets, so stop acting like it’s a powerful foreign “other.”