Ouija Board
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"Oh great and knowledgable spirit, will I, Calvin, ever become President?"
"Hey! It's moving! What's it say?"
"G - O - D - F - O - R - B - I - D"
"What the? Hey! Stupid thing! If I want an editorial I'll ask for one!"

Calvin and Hobbes

Basic Information

A ouija board (or, more generically, a "talking board"1) is a device used to assist in communication with spirits. The actual device consists of a board marked with a series of pre-set responses - frequently letters, numbers and stock phrases like "yes" and "no" - and a sliding pointer (or planchette).

The users of the board then form a séance, seated around the board in as even a distribution as possible and all touching the pointer. The spirit then (partially) possesses one or more members of the group and directs the pointer to indicate (or spell out) answers to spoken questions.

Some variations on this theme involve a board like a clock or compass with a freely revolving pointer in which the users only touch the board. Equally a board can be improvised with a sheet of paper and a empty glass - the equipment has no effect in and of itself2 and merely serves to make the signals received more easily intelligible.

Like any other process involving spirits, this is far from risk free - for a start it relies on there being spirits around who are willing to participate, and those spirits most likely to involve themselves with humans are the least likely to be fun to deal with. Next, the answers received are only credible to the degree that the spirit contacted is benevolent, honest, sane and knows what it is talking about - the odds of an amateur, with no contacts in the spirit world hitting all of those criteria at random are pretty low. Also, it's worth re-iterating that this procedure involves allowing yourself to be (partially3) possessed by an essentially random spirit - this is more or less equivalent to finding out about local gossip by leaving your front door open and chatting to anyone who happens to wander in through it. Bad enough with random spirits, but if anything else happens to be passing by … needless to say use of a ouija board - or any other kind of amateur spirit bothering - in an active or incipient bad place is an incredibly stupid idea.

Using a planchette for automatic writing was mentioned in historical documents in China dating back to 1100 AD. A couple of American entrepreneurs patented a printed board to use with a planchette in 1891. Called the "Ouija Board" (which the promoters originally claimed was an Egyptian word meaning "Good Luck"4, but which probably is a combination of the French and German words for "yes": oui and ja.) During World War I, spiritualists popularized the use of the Ouija Board in seances, and its popularity peaked in the 1920s.

Indonesian folklore includes the jelangkung board, a similar sort of divination device with an even more explicit connection to demonic manifestations.

Some scientists hold that the movement of the planchette on the Ouija board is actually caused by something called the ideomotor effect, which causes slight unconscious muscle movements which seem to be caused by outside forces.



Game and Story Use

  • Stupid PCs may try this themselves, more experienced occultist PCs may need to clean up messes result from it.
    • Feel free to feed them any information you like from ouija sessions. If they complain you misled them … what do they expect from doing something so damned stupid?
    • Under the wrong circumstances, the séance may achieve nothing except 'waking up' the local spirit population and setting them bouncing about doing things.
  • Don't neglect the idea of starting a game for school age characters in the aftermath of a ouija mishap.
  • Usually a sign of a dabbler in the occult rather than a serious practitioner.
  • Potentially a more experienced invoker or shaman could make a fetish of one of these (especially the clock type), binding a spirit into it and obliging it to use the pointer to answer questions.
    • Or even simply just purifying an area (and possibly dedicating it to a known spirit or class of spirits) so that lay practitioners can use it safely.
  • Traditional opinions can be had about things like improved reception by using a planchette made of human bone … a lot of this will hinge on what you think is an improvement…
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