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Sunday, November 02, 2014

HISTORY - 99 Percent Invisible: Episode 138: O-U-I-J-A


The Ouija board is so simple and iconic that it looks like it comes from another time, or maybe another realm. The game is not as ancient as it was designed to look, but those two arched rows of letters have been spooking people for over 125 years. Actually, the roots of the board go back even farther, according to Ouija historian Robert Murch. To understand where Ouija boards (generically called “talking boards”) come from, you have to go back to middle of the 1800s, to three sisters in New York.

[The Fox Sisters, Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

The Fox Sisters claimed to be mediums to the spirit world. In public demonstrations, they would ask questions of the spirits and receive audible knocks back on the wall, which they would translate into letters of the alphabet. The sisters popularized the growing movement known as Spiritualism,which held that the living could contact the spirits of the dead, who had secret knowledge to impart.

During and after the Civil War, people who had lost loved ones became enchanted with the idea of communicating with the dead, and came up with all different ways to contact the spirit world. In 1886 the fledgling Associated Press ran an article in papers all over the country about these new “talking boards” coming out of the spiritualist movement in Ohio. A few years later in 1890, a businessman named Charles Kennard pulled together a small group of investors and formed the Kennard Novelty Company to exclusively make and market talking boards...

Ouija, it turned out, was also a great thing to do on a date. The original Ouija board was placed on your lap, so your knees would be touching your partner’s knees. Your fingers would be touching your partner’s on the planchette. You might be playing by candle light. However romantic Ouija may have been, it was still innocent enough for Normal Rockwell, who made a painting of a Ouija-playing  young couple that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.

As of 2013, there’s a new version of the Ouija board, which has been redesigned to look even older than the classic board. “They’ve really gone for the older look,” says Ouija historian Robert Murch, “which is cool because people assume these boards have been around for thousands of years, which we know isn’t true, but belief is important to the Ouija board.”

Belief is very important to the Ouija board, especially subconscious belief. Which brings us finally, to how these things work.  In 1852,  an English physician and researcher named William Carpenter was studying Spiritualist phenomena, and coined the term “ideomotor effect.”  The ideomotor effect describes what happens when subconscious thoughts guide muscular movements.

According to Professor Chris French, of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmith’s University of London, the ideometer effect can explain why, on the Ouija board, the planchette seems to be moving on its own. In truth, the players are guiding its movement subconsciously.

Some researchers have even tried to study the subconscious using Ouija boards.

To read the full article - http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/o-u-i-j-a/

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