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Definition: Ouija from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

A device employed by spiritualists for receiving spirit messages. It consists of a small piece of wood on wheels, placed on a board marked with the letters of the alphabet and certain commonly used words. When the fingers of the communicators are placed on the Ouija board, it moves from letter to letter and thus spells out sentences. The word is a combination of French oui and German ja, both meaning ‘yes’. Ouija is a registered trade mark in the USA. See also TABLE-RAPPING.


Summary Article: ouija board
from Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

An item of equipment employed during séances, through which messages can allegedly be received from spirits of the dead.

A ouija board (also known as a ‘talking board’ or ‘spirit board’) consists of a board upon which the letters of the alphabet and the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are written. Some boards also have a few additional words, or numbers, on them. A planchette sits on top of the board. The participants in a séance each place a finger on the planchette. Questions are then asked and the planchette moves over the board, supposedly under the guidance of the spirits, spelling out their answers.

The ouija board was invented in the 1890s and originally sold in the USA. The final version employing the planchette (which had previously been used as a system for producing automatic writing) developed from an early version which used letters placed on a table over which a pendulum would be swung to spell out the message. The name was originally claimed to be the Egyptian for ‘good luck’, but when this was rapidly discredited it was then said that it was in fact derived from a combination of the French and German words for ‘yes’. The use of ouija boards went on to become a very popular parlour game during the early 20th century, and many examples are still available today – some are sold as games by well-known manufacturers, while others are marketed as specialist items specifically for séances.

Although believers hold that the movement of the planchette is wholly down to the actions of the spirits, sceptics argue it is unconscious (or even conscious) movement by the participants that causes the messages to be spelt out – pointing to observations which indicate that when the participants are blindfolded the result is usually nonsense.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007

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