|The Ouija Board Experiment|
By Ken Biddle
With Assistance From PIRA Members
Ouija Board, whether we like it or not, is a part of our culture. You would be
hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know what the Ouija Board is, though
the actual definitions will vary. Ouija is the belief that on can receive
messages from the deceased by use of a Ouija Board during a séance (Wikipedia,
2007). Some true believers claim that a spirit is contacted, which then spells
out messages. Skeptics hold the belief that those
using the board are either consciously or unconsciously moving the pointer to
the desired answer (Robert Todd Carroll, 2007). Religious fanatics claim that
the Ouija Board (as well as Tarot, Crystal Balls, Psychics, etc) are of the
devil and are evil (David J. Stewart, 2007). Some believe that the Ouij Board
really does work, but only evil spirits can be contacted (Joel S. Peters, 2005)
These devices have also been known as “Talking
Boards, witch boards, oracle boards, spirit
boards, and most recently, channeling
boards.”(Museum of Talking Boards, 1996).
The “board” usually consists of a simple design in which all the letters of the alphabet are listed. In addition, numbers from “0” to “9”, and the words “Yes” and “No” are also included. These simple designs can be found on the vastly popular game produced by Hasbro, or extremely elaborate designs made by custom designers. The designs really have no bearing on the activity, just how the board looks. The basic use of a Ouija Board is as follows; volunteers (also known as Users) sit around a table on which a Ouija Board is placed. The Users place their fingers lightly on the planchette and begin moving it around the board in a circular motion. This act “warms up” the board (Steve Wagner, 2007). The Users can begin asking questions with the assumption that a spirit will make contact, spelling out messages by manipulating the planchette.
There is debate about whether the messages come from supernatural entities or are some form of psychological phenomenon originating from the players (MTB, 1996). A controlled experiment would help us to settle the dispute of whether the reputation of a Talking Board is from years and years of false claims or if there actually is something to it. The only way to do this, for us, would be to set up a controlled experiment, document the results and come to a logical conclusion.
first Ouija, or Talking Board was invented...well, no one seems to really know
the answer to that one. Some sites and experts claim that the Ouija Board has
been around since the time of the Roman Emperor Valens, back in the fourth
century. It's also thought to have been used by the Greeks since before the time
of Christ (Ellie Crystal, 1997). The first historical mention of a device
that matches the description of a Ouija Board can be found in
roots of the modern Ouija Board can really be traced back to year 1848, when two
sisters named Kate and Margaret Fox made headlines and would change the world as
we know it. They were the infamous Fox Sisters, which anyone with an interest in
the paranormal should be aware of (to some degree). It was inside a small cabin
sisters used a series of knocks and raps that answered “yes” and “no”.
Eventually they assigned a code that corresponded with the letters of the
alphabet. Using this code, they were able to spell out longer and more detailed
messages (Wikipedia, 2007). The code was soon developed into a technique called
Table Turning (also called Table Tilting) by other mediums, which were now
popping up everywhere. The medium, along with the attending sitters, would
lightly rest their fingers on top of a table. Before long, the table would begin
to tilt and move, knocking on the floor to spell out messages from the other
side (Nandor Fodor, 2007). This form of communication was further developed into
an easier (and less noisy) form of communication with a primitive planchette,
which was made of a small basket with a pencil through the middle. The Medium
would place their hand on the basket and make contact with a disembodied spirit.
The basket would begin moving, using the pencil to spell out messages
(Ask Yahoo, 2002). The basket gave way to other devices in an attempt to make
communication between the spirits and the living much easier. Eventually, the
devices actually became a burden, and so it was simply dropped from use by many
mediums in favor of the “trance” state (MTB, 2007). However, there were
still many out there who were determined to build new and “improved”
devices. Things got out of control for a while, with devices that were much too
complicated to be used in a practical sense.
earliest known patent for a talking board is located in the patent offices of
Ouija board was first introduced to the American public in 1890 as a parlor game
sold in novelty shops. In 1891, U.S. Patent 446054 was granted to Elijah J. Bond
and Charles Kennard for the first “modern” Ouija Board. With the help of E.C.
Reiche, the three men had created an entirely new alphanumeric design. They sold
their “novelty” as a package, a planchette and printed board together
(Wikipedia, 2007). This gave the Board it’s classic double arcs of letters.
Numbers from 0 to 9 were in a line below the letters, and the words “YES”
and “NO” were placed in the upper corners. The word “Goodbye” was at the
bottom of the board, and used when the spirit was finished delivering messages.
Mr. Kennard eventually lost his company and it was taken over by his former
foreman, William Fuld, in 1892. William reinvented the history of the Ouija
Board, making himself the actual inventor of the Board. He claimed that the name
came from the French word "oui"
for yes, and the German "ja" for yes. Whether he believed these claims
himself or was simply amused by his “stories” is lost to history (Spirited
1966 the Parker Brothers purchased the rights to the Ouija Board and shifted its
manufacturing facilities to
were eight participants included in executing this experiment. Two participants
are deemed the “Experimenters”, as they were charge with setting the
guidelines. Six volunteers were chosen by their willingness to participate under
the guidelines set forth, as well as their individual beliefs on the validity of
whether the Ouija Board is actually a communication device.
#1 is a 35 year old Male who was in
charge of the experiment.
Experimenter #2 is a 25 year old Female, chosen to assist
#1 is a 34 year old Female
Volunteer #2 is a 39 year old Female
Volunteer #3 is a 24 year old Female
Each member of the Female team held a belief that these devices worked, in varying degrees, as the reputation states they do. All had related stories of how the boards “worked” when they were young.
#4 is a 26 year old Male
Volunteer #5 is a 41 year old Male
Volunteer #6 is a 32 year old Male
Each member of the Male team expressed serious doubt in the validity of the board’s claim as a communication device between the living and the deceased.
let's go over the details of the experiment. Several members of PIRA set up in a
location where activity has been documented on several investigations conducted
by my team. The name and exact location of the site must remain anonymous, out
of respect for the owners who allowed the experiment to take place. Documented
activity from this site includes apparition sightings, EVP recordings, objects
moving on their own and unexplained alarm triggers. The site was chosen due to
this activity, under the assumption that this would be our best chance of having
the Board function as it is expected.
1- The Board we used was made specifically for this experiment. Kenny (the author) made the board himself, using a design that was unique. After much research, the design does not resemble anything used in the past or the present. Kenny also made the planchette that was to be used. The purpose was so that none of the participants working “on the board” could have had any prior knowledge of what the board looked like or even a general layout of the letters, numbers and words (additional words were included on our board that had a significant connection to the site).
The volunteers, when seated, were blindfolded during the entire time the board
was out. This was done to prevent anyone from manipulating the planchette,
either voluntarily or involuntarily. Aside from those who whole-heartedly
believe these devices work, there are just as many who believe that the
movements that appear to be "from a spirit" are really the
participants moving the planchette themselves...just on an unconscious level.
Absolutely no prior knowledge of the layout prevented unconscious manipulation.
The board was not shown to anyone who volunteered to “work the board”
itself. In other words, if they were sitting there with their hands on the
planchette, they never got to see the board until the entire experiment was
There were two participants designated to ask the questions, both of which were
NOT working on the board. They stood near the board or sat at the table, but did
not put their hands on the board itself. This was to prevent the volunteers
(working on the board) from manipulating the experiment with questions to which
they already knew the answers.
For this experiment, I used two teams of three participants. The teams were
further divided up by gender. Upon review of interview notes taken prior to
testing, it was found that the females in the experiment shared a belief that
these devices really worked, even relating past incidents to back up their
belief. The male on the second team had shared a belief of neutrality. They were
not convinced one way or another if the Ouija Board is a genuine tool for
communicating with the deceased. Future testing will include mixed teams of
different gender and beliefs.
The entire experiment would be documented by photography, video and audio
recordings. This would not only allow us to go back and review the experiment
with greater detail, but would also allow us document any other activity that
might be going on at that time.
7- Questions during each session
include general interview types, as well as site-specific types. Site-specific
questions made use of the vast amount of research that was done on the building
and the significant people who had been involved in its history. The idea behind
such questions was to increase the chances that the device might yield positive
Brief Transcript of Questions;
We’ve left a chair open, would
anyone like to join us?
Can you spell out your name?
What is your age?
Where are you from?
Can you tell us the number of
people sitting at the table?
Were you employed by this
What was your occupation?
How long were you employed here?
Are you a man? A woman? A child?
Were you present during the fire
which partially destroyed the building?
Are you the little girl that’s
been seen on the balcony?
My name is Kenny; can you spell my
name out on the board? (I called out the letters of my name)
Of the colors listed on the board,
what would be your favorite?
There are two names listed on the
board, do you know either one?
Which name do you know?
Did you work for either of these
What faith do you follow?
Are you married?
What is the name of your spouse?
What year do you believe it is?
Are you able to control the
planchette? (the planchette was introduced prior to questioning)
teams were separated and the experiment began with the female team. They
gathered around a table, took a seat and got comfortable. The blindfolds were
put in place and they were checked to be sure that the participants could not
see anything. After all seemed secure, the board was brought out and placed
between the ladies. We started by having them simply rest their fingers on the
planchette. They did the customary few circles around the board to "warm it
up", then stopped. The Experimenter spoke up, announcing the name of each
participant, than began asking simple questions.
attempted several types of questions, along with different ways of working the
board. Research into how the Ouija Board is supposed to be operated shows that
techniques vary depending on the person or team you consult. We tried the most
popular methods during the several sessions conducted by the women.
several minutes of questioning, the only thing the happened was that the
planchette would stop moving. The girls had begun moving the planchette in a
figure “8” as the questions were being asked. At times, it would simply stop
moving. Unfortunately, it never landed over any letter, number or word. Being
able to view the scene from outside the "circle", it simply appeared
that the girl's arms were getting tired from holding them up off the table for
we had the male team come in. They set up in much the same fashion that the
ladies had done; they were seated, blindfolded and checked. The board was
brought out of hiding again and placed between the guys. The rules were again
explained to them and we began. We went through more questions, even having the
guys ask some questions themselves. The results were basically the same as the
session with the women. The only difference was that the planchette was not
stopping at random. The guys kept the planchette moving in a circle until they
were asked to stop. They also did the figure “8” motion and even had it
sitting still...all with no effect.
spent about 45 minutes on each session, altogether lasting a little over an hour
and a half. We took every precaution we could think off in order to prevent any
possibility of human manipulation. We held the experiment at a known, haunted
location. We asked approximately 35 questions during each session, which were a
mix of general and site-specific. We tried various methods in setting up,
delivery of questions and manipulation of the planchette. After the more popular
methods were used, we continued with any and every technique we could recall.
even being in a location to which I am convinced there was activity, the board
displayed absolutely no mystical powers. None of the participants reported
feeling the planchette attempting to move on its own at any time during the
sessions. In fact, the participants didn’t report anything out of the
ordinary, even though other teams were reporting activity in other sections of
some may argue that because we blindfolded the participants, we actually
hindered the spirit's ability to use the "mediums" to get the message
across. In fact, the majority of those we interviewed, who shared a total belief
that these devices are genuine, claim that the spirits must use the medium’s
eyes to see the board and manipulate the planchette in the proper manner.
However, if we stick with this train of thought, there would be no way to
determine whether a spirit was the cause, or if it was actually the medium. In
order to verify that the “messages from beyond” are actually from the other
side, the participant variable must be controlled. If you can see the board, and
you have even the slightest amount of imagination, you can develop a decent
“spirit” and an entire background. Who would be the wiser?
may be questioned why I have not attempted a similar experiment at a location
without any reported activity. This condition will take place during a future
experiment. However, I find this to be counter-productive to the purpose of the
experiment. It was our intention to verify if the board could relay messages
from “the other side”. Setting up in a location with no known activity would
be fuel for “true believers”, allowing them to state that there simply were
no entities present during our experiment. By setting up the experiment in a
location where I have confirmed (in my own opinion) paranormal activity, this at
least provides the best possible situation in favor for this device to work.
experience with this device, both during the experiments and playing with them
in my youth, have shown me that they are simply toys; nothing more than a flat
piece of wood and a plastic slider with a hole in the middle. There is nothing
mystical about them in any sense, save for the power they have to easily
convince the gullible that a spirit is present. Many years ago, I sat down on
the floor with several friends to play with one. For the first few minutes,
nothing was going on. I became board, and so decided to spice up the night. With
gentle pressure, I was easily able to manipulate the planchette across the
entire board. I spelled out the name of a spirit - Jesdin – and proceed to
spin a tale that shocked my audience. “Jesdin” described himself as an older
man who passed away due to a heart attack. He had come forward to warn my friend
“John” that he would soon die as well, if he did not do something about his
lifestyle. “Jesdin” also mentioned that John would die because of his heart.
My friends were completely convinced that we were speaking with a spirit. They
would jump back and inhale sharply when bad news would be spelled
out…frightened to continue, but they did. We all left that night, all
convinced that they had made contact with the other side. I never told them it
was me, and my buddy John became a Paramedic.
power that this toy has over the human psyche is amazing, even bordering on
“mystical”. However, the cause of the power has nothing to do with the
supernatural; it’s purely the product of either of two conditions. The first
condition is the need that certain individuals have; a need to believe in
something. This “need” over-rides rational thinking, allowing one to
disregard facts and common sense in order to make what they want to believe...
true. The second condition pertains to the Frauds; those people who attempt to
gain your money by pretending that their Ouija Board is communicating with the
dead. These people spin wild tales about “spirits” in the house that
“explain” why a house may be haunted.
had posted on several message boards asking for anyone who had had a Séance at
their house, conducted by an outside medium, that made use of an Ouija Board. I
received 23 e-mails from individuals with very similar stories; they all were
having activity in their houses and had called on a psychic, Medium or other
individual to help. These individuals arrived and set up their Ouija Board in
order to make contact with entities that were thought to be residing in the
residence. All 23 contacts related to me similar stories, in which “contact
with a spirit was made” and the cause of the entity’s presence had been
identified and resolved. Each house was declared free of spirits. All 23
accounts reported no change in the amount activity.
I did receive reports of these boards working fantastic conversations and
helping lost souls to cross over. However, these reports were from those who
made a business of using these boards to “contact the other side”. These
reports could not be used for my survey, since there was an obvious bias
involved. Of course, 23 accounts does not cover the world-wide use of these
devices, but I was unable to obtain any further personal stories (I only
accepted first-hand accounts).
bottom line is that the Ouija Board is a tool, but not one for speaking with
spirits of any kind. It’s a tool for people who desperately need to believe in
something. It’s a tool for relieving gullible people of their hard-earned
money. The only power this toy has is what people give it…nothing more.
Decades of trickery, gullibility and consumer promotion has ingrained the Ouija
Board into our culture and imagination as a device of the dead.
Wikipedia website, 2007
“Ouija Boards- Just a Game?” Jeff Belanger 1999
All About the Occult website, 2007
Robert Todd Carroll, 2007, The Skeptics Dictionary, http://skeptic.com/ouija.html
4- Steve Wagner, Paranormal.About.com, 2007
Joel S. Peters, 2005, Catholic Answers
6- David J. Stewart, “Ouija Boards are of the Devil”, 2007
Dan Whitaker, 1999, “History of the Ouija Board”
Ellie Crystal, 1997, “Ouija Boards”
The Church of the Living Truth, 1999, “The Fox Sisters and the Spiritualism
S. Darroch, 2000, “The Birth of Spiritualism – The Story of the Fox
Nandor Fodor, DATE, Encyclopedia of Psychic Science
Ask Yahoo, 2002, “What is the History of the Ouija Board”
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