It’s hard to imagine an object more steeped in mystery and mysticism than the Ouija board. Even die-hard skeptics and nonbelievers are hesitant to use one—their place in our collective imagination is just that powerful.
Today, the Ouija board remains a popular and controversial tool for those who believe in a spirit world—and that communication with this mysterious realm is possible. While some believe that the board is a harmless tool for exploring the unknown, others warn that it can be dangerous and that its use should be approached with caution. You never know what malevolent spirit you might “invite in” when you use one.
However, the idea of being able to contact those who have passed on, or receive guidance from an unseen force, is alluring to some people—thus increasing the Ouija board’s appeal. Adding to its mystique and intrigue is the fact that pop culture has transformed the Ouija board into the stuff of lore and legend.
The Ouija board, also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet and the numbers 0-9. In the top corners of the board are the words “YES” and “NO”, and at the bottom of the board in capital letters, the phrase, “GOOD BYE”.
Accompanying the board is a triangular or heart-shaped device called a planchette—typically made of wood or plastic. The planchette has a small hole in the center and some are equipped with a magnifying glass to help participants read the messages that are spelled out.
During a session, participants place their fingers lightly on the planchette, which then moves across the board to spell out messages from the spirit realm.
But are these messages real?
Many people have their doubts—as well as outright disbelief. The Ouija board is controversial for many reasons; it’s also criticized by people who believe it can open the user up to negative spiritual energies.
But are these fears founded? Many people tell of the inexplicable experiences they’ve had during Ouija board sessions, while others will claim it’s merely a silly party trick.
But if they are real, many wonder: are Ouija boards safe to use?
History of Ouija boards
“Ouija” is actually brand name of specific kind of talking board, first patented by Elijah Bond in 1891, but the board became popular after Charles Kennard and his associate William Fuld took over the production and marketing of the board. Kennard incorrectly claimed that “Ouija” was Egyptian for “good luck”.
The Ouija board's popularity grew during the spiritualist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which focused on communicating with the dead. The board was used in seances and other spiritual gatherings, as some believed that it was a tool for communicating with the spirit world.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the Ouija board's popularity waned as skepticism grew about its ability to communicate with the dead. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, public interest in the board was rekindled as part of several occult and New Age movements.
The Ouija board in pop culture
The Ouija board has been a popular staple in pop culture—particularly in horror media—for a long time, appearing in movies, TV shows, and books. It is often portrayed as a dangerous or evil object, capable of summoning malevolent spirits or causing harm to those who use it. This depiction has led many people to view the Ouija board as a terrifying and dangerous tool of the occult—therefore they avoid using them.
Some notable examples of the Ouija board in pop culture include:
The Exorcist (1973)
This may be one of the primary reasons the Ouija board has haunted our collective imagination. In this classic horror movie, a young girl named Regan uses a Ouija board to communicate with a demon, leading to her possession.
This horror movie follows a group of friends who use a Ouija board and unwittingly awaken an evil spirit.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
In this found-footage horror movie, a couple uses a Ouija board to communicate with a ghost, leading to terrifying paranormal events. And did I mention the Ouija board sets itself on fire? Because uh, yeah, that's a thing that happens.
Cultural fear of Ouija boards
In general, fear of Ouija boards is pretty pervasive in our culture—including, and perhaps surprisingly, among people who don't typically believe in the supernatural. The popular lore about them is just that strong.
Many people believe that in naive or inexperienced hands, Ouija boards can open a portal to the spirit world—with unsuspecting participants not fully understanding what they’re opening themselves up to. The idea is that doing so will allow malevolent entities (demons, evil spirits, and other frightening beings) to enter our world—causing possessions, hauntings, or other such trouble (to varyingly dangerous degrees.)
Additionally, some people believe that Ouija boards can be manipulated by others in the room, either intentionally or unintentionally, causing the planchette (the pointer on the board) to move in ways that are not under the control of the participants. This can be seen as a form of manipulation or even possession by some people, leading to additional feelings of fear and unease.
It is worth noting that there is no scientific evidence to support the belief that Ouija boards can communicate with the afterlife or that they are inherently dangerous. However, people's beliefs and perceptions can be powerful and can influence their emotions and behaviors.
The skepticism surrounding Ouija boards is rooted in a number of different concerns and beliefs. Some people are skeptical of Ouija boards because they see them as nothing more than a toy or a game, with no real connection to the spiritual or supernatural realm.
Additionally, some skeptics of Ouija boards point to the fact that many of the supposed "messages" or responses that people receive from the board are often vague or ambiguous, and could easily be explained by chance or the unconscious movements of the users' hands.
Overall, the skepticism surrounding Ouija boards is often rooted in a combination of these concerns, as well as a more general skepticism towards the supernatural and paranormal. Skeptics argue that the messages that come through the board are actually the result of the ideomotor effect.
What is the ideomotor effect?
The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon in which a person's unconscious or involuntary movements are influenced by their thoughts, beliefs, or expectations. In other words, when a person believes a certain movement is expected of them, they may unknowingly make that movement without being consciously aware they are doing so.
The ideomotor effect has been studied in a variety of contexts, including hypnosis, suggestion, and Ouija board use. For example, when a person is hypnotized and told to perform a certain action, such as raising their arm, they may do so automatically without consciously intending to do so. Similarly, when a person uses a Ouija board and believes he planchette will move to spell out certain words or phrases, they may unconsciously move the pointer themselves without realizing they’re the ones who are moving it.
Scientists believe the ideomotor effect occurs because of the close relationship between a person's thoughts, beliefs, and movements. When a person has a certain belief or expectation, it can influence their subconscious mind and result in involuntary movements that are consistent with that belief or expectation.
While the ideomotor effect is a well-established psychological phenomenon, it is important to note that it does not necessarily mean that the movements or actions that are influenced by it are not genuine. For example, even if a person is unconsciously moving the pointer on a Ouija board, the messages spelled out may still be meaningful to them and provide insight into their subconscious thoughts and beliefs.
How to use a Ouija board safely
Regardless of what you believe, the Ouija board is simply a tool like any other. Its power and meaning ultimately come from the beliefs and intentions of those who use it.
If you want to add some intrigue to a party, spice up your stay in a haunted hotel, or just have some (harmless—we hope!) fun with your friends, Ouija boards can be a fun way to connect with spirits or entities beyond our physical realm.
However, many believe they can also be potentially dangerous if used improperly, so like any magical tool, it’s best to approach it with care and respect.
Whether you believe the Ouija board is really able to communicate with spirits or you think it’s just a fun game, it can’t hurt to keep things safe—just in case.
If you’re going to use a Ouija board, here are some best practices to ensure the safety of all involved. When it comes to the spirit world, you can never be too careful.
1. Set your intentions.
Before using the ouija board, decide ahead of time what kind of energy you want to invite into the space. This can help to ensure that you only communicate with positive and helpful spirits. Name (preferably out loud) what kind of communication you are available for—and you can even set further boundaries by stating what you are not open to.
Set your intentions out loud by saying, “I am only available to communicate with beings and spirits who have my highest and best at heart. Any entities that don’t want what’s in my highest and best are not welcome in this space.”
2. Use the board with at least one trusted partner (preferably more!)
Only use the Ouija board with people you trust and who have a positive attitudes. Using the board with someone who is negative or skeptical can create a negative atmosphere and potentially attract negative energies. Agree beforehand on the intentions of your group—and state them together!
3. Protect yourself.
Before using the board, consider using protection methods such as smoke cleansing or using protective crystals like black tourmaline, black onyx, or selenite, or filling a bowl with salt. Perhaps you’d like to include all of these in your session! These can help to absorb negative energies, protecting you from any unwanted presences or influences.
Dried herbs like cedar, rosemary, lavender, and desert sage are ideal for cleansing spaces of unwanted energies from a space. Please note that white sage is endangered and is also a very sacred plant to many Indigenous peoples. Many people view the use of white sage by non-natives as appropriative and disrespectful. Use your best judgment when working with any herb or plant.
You may also like to light a candle and ask that the fire protects your space from any harmful entities or spirits.
4. Ask respectful questions—and take notes!
When communicating with spirits, ask respectful questions and avoid being confrontational, demanding, or degrading. This helps to create a positive and respectful atmosphere.
Assign a member of your group with the task of taking notes so you don’t have to remember all that was said. Make sure they have a notepad and a pencil so they can write down the messages from the board throughout your session.
5. Know when to end the session.
If you become uncomfortable or scared at any point during the session, end it immediately. Don't continue to use the board if you feel something feels wrong or you are not in the right mindset.
6. End the session appropriately.
When you end a Ouija board session, move the planchette to “Goodbye” on the board. Additionally, state out loud that no entities are welcome to linger. Your voice is a powerful tool—use it!
You may also want to clear the space with smoke and take some time to ground and center yourself. Close your eyes and imagine a cord of light extending from your root to the core of the earth. Imagine this cord drawing up grounding energy and warm light. As you imagine this light swirling through your body, release any energy that does not belong to you to be neutralized by the earth, and call all your own energy back into your body.
Approach the Ouija board with respect, intention, and caution—plus a dash of playfulness. It’s meant to be fun, afterall!
By following these guidelines, you ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all participants. But be prepared for goosebumps—you never know what the spirits will have to say!