In their description of the Ouija board on Amazon, Parker Brothers invites us to:
"Just ask it a question and wait to see what answer the Mystifying Oracle will reveal to you. Ouija ... it's only a game --- isn't it?"
This tease by the manufacturers sums up much of the public's reaction to the 'game' over the years, which have ranged from skepticism and intrigue to fear. But what is the history of the game and why has its popularity endured even as its image in popular culture has gone through such radical shifts?
What are people actually seeking when they use it?
In 1891, the Ouija board was introduced to stores around the country as the wonderful talking board that provided "a link between the known and the unknown, the material and immaterial.” But the history of talking boards goes back even further to sometime in the mid-19th century with deep connection to the spiritualism movement and the popularity of mediums that claimed to connect the living with the dead.
My own interest in the Ouija Board was rekindled when I was reading, of all things, Roz Chast’s recent book, Why Can’t We talk About Something More Pleasant?, which chronicles her experience with her dying parents. At one point, Roz joins her daughter and friends who are using the Ouija board in an upstairs bedrooom. When the daughter urges Roz to ask the board a question, she asks what was really on her mind: When will her father die? The board answers: "Heaven Beckons" -- a phrase she, nor anyone else in the room, ever would have used.
I recently saw Roz at a dinner and she still can’t explain it. We decided that we wanted to do a session with the board but I thought first I should talk to an expert. So I turned to Robert Murch, who has spent much of his life looking into Talking Boards and who knows as much as anyone about the unique place Ouija boards hold within spirituality.
Today’s All Together was produced by Katelyn Boguki and edited by Jorge Carona. Brad Shannon is our audio engineer.