Written by Luke Greensmith Originally published on April 22nd, 2020
I’m doing something a little different this time, in more ways than one.
First up, topic!
I had a Patron request I do Ouija boards and Tarot. For this episode I’m going all in on Ouija boards, which do crop up on a semi regular basis across various episodes but this doesn’t have a specific episode to reference. Not yet, anyway.
As for method: This is going to be quite a broad theory based Lukelore after a little bit of history, more a reflection of what goes on inside my head than direct research I've dug up. It's going to make this a little different, so I'm extra interested in feedback after this one.
Ouija board have been around for a long while now, a LOT longer if you count anything similar from before it getting the Ouija board name. It’s best known form getting debuted in 1890 and really taking off sometime later thanks to a William Fuld.
The Fuld family had what I’ve seen referred to as a “Ouija board empire”, filing a whole load of patents related to them.
Random fun number fact, if you’re numerologically inclined, the most popular design, the core iconic letter and number layout, we all know to love and/or fear is Design Patent No. 114,534 filed on May 2nd 1939. No idea if there’s any extraordinary significance to those numbers, but the devil on my shoulder is whispering that I should be including them in scripts somewhere to see what happens.
Er, Important Sidenote: I’m not a good role model when it comes to the supernatural.
The whole “who owns the Ouija board” thing seems to be a very typical USA legal thing, wherein William Fuld did not seem to actually invent them and just screamed the loudest about how it was his in the courts. At the very least William Fuld’s employer was making them before he took over!
I’m seeing mention of various spirit boards, talking boards, and planchette based medium techniques from all over the place. Medieval Europe, Classical Rome and Greece, Dynastic China. It really is all over the place, and regularly banned (make of that what you will).
Back to modern times though after three generations of this Fuld Ouija board empire the toy patent, as that’s essentially what it was, it finally ended up at Hasbro.
Fun Hasbro fact: Recommended for players over the age of 8!
I’m in two minds if this is solid proof it is just a toy, or if the inherent malevolence of the all consuming Hasbro megacorporation is in fact proof of evil at work.
The board itself has some relatively innocuous psychological basis into how it potentially works, with a lot of mundane research pointing towards the ideomotor effect allowing people to subconsciously operate the planchette with micromovements.
Even before a certain movie, as a believer there would be plenty of different theories as to what this parlour trick could be up to.
But enter “certain movie”, and that movie was The Exorcist.
The Exorcist really does have a lot to answer for when it comes to current perceptions of what was essentially a toy for the longest time. Make no mistake that Christians have always hated the things, and I can find earlier films making use of a Ouija board with The Uninvited being from 1944, but The Exorcist is the big one here.
While it’s taken for granted now as a foundation within pop culture, The Exorcist was a breakout horror movie which terrorised a mainstream audience that really wasn’t ready for it, before going on to fight its way to Academy Award success. It left a hell of a dent on our cultural consciousness, and the aforementioned Christian hate was probably just low level hatred of all things vaguely witchcraft until The Exorcist happened.
The Exorcist left an indelible mark on all things spirit board though. These things became the paranormal equivalent of radioactive! Very handle with care, when at points in the past they’ve been packaged as novelties with blissfully unaware children frolicking with the bloody things on the cover.
Even something as notorious as Zozo the Ouija board Demon seems to be a derivitive of Pazuzu from the film, the ancient Sumarian god that makes for the malevolent force and antagonist of the story.
Zozo remains pretty creepy though, despite questionable origins followed by spreading via creepypasta.
In what seems to be an Amytiville horror style hysteria whipped up to sell a book, Darren Evans started talking up demonic curses surrounding an entity calling itself Zozo he reached through a Ouija board. Seeing things, massive bad luck befalling his family, and scratches over his body for good measure.
Ghost Adventures swooped in on this for some demon based hype, taking Evans back to the original place they claimed to summon Zozo giving mainstream attention to a story spreading by itself pretty well online. Evans for his part is very vocal about calling Ouija boards portals to evil forces.
Here’s the worrying thing to watch for, if you’re using a Ouija board:
First up, any encounter where something identifies itself as Zozo. This is an obvious red flag, best case scenario is something is happy to play at being Zozo the Ouija demon and it’s well worth noping out of there.
Something else to watch for is an out of control planchette moving in figure eight motions threatening to carom out of the bounds of the board. Pressing for a name will result in Zozo revealing itself, and stories go that letting the planchette escape off the board is what Zozo is trying to do to escape out into the location they were contacted. At that point telling Zozo politely “not today” and BURNING SAGE EVERY DAMN WHERE is recommended.
So there’s the basics. Proto-ouija boards have been forms of divination, or sometimes necromancy, across the years up to the spiritualist movement. It was a parlour trick for a while, before becoming a toy which it technically still is as Hasbro owns it alongside My Little Pony and other such demonic paraphernalia. From there Pop Culture happened with The Exorcist pushing them clean into the Evil box, and Zozo infecting the internet 2009-ish with the help of Ghost Adventures.
Planchette basedboards have centuries of history behind them without a hellgate exploding civilisation, and there’s even some solid research into a psychological explaination.
Yet it still remains that people have experiences with these boards.
If you're 100% a believer, there's always a chance that this is one of those old timey toys that fails health and safety regulations on a spiritual level. Instead of having your eye out, it'll have your soul out. It won’t be the first dumb thing marketed as a toy.
But I can't help be fascinated thinking about what else may be going on here, and looking at it with an investigative eye. So here’s where the Lukelore format goes a little experimental…
The way I see it, there are three broad approaches to investigating Ouija boards, and explaining what’s going on here with such varied results and background.
Approach 1. Suggestability.
It is just a parlour trick
This is the full sceptic view. It's a magician's trick, a mix of subconscious movements and suggestability, which does have some party pooper scientific backing thanks to ideomotor research.
This is the least interesting, and in some cases most disappointing, alternative.
But I will urge people not to discount how impressively powerful the human mind is. In this way a group can, with no direct collaboration, create an interactive entity based on environmental ques and shared imagination.
Another way to think of this is how unhelpful it is to tell someone with audible hallucinations to just ignore it because it isn't real. They will know this, but that doesn't change the fact that their subjective reality includes extra noises, if not full on voices. It's still happening to them whether an external force is yelling at them or its a part of their mind turning against them. A part of your own mind turning against you as not a concept lacking in terror if you think it through, collectively creating an imaginary enemy out to get you with a Ouija board is still a worrying scenario even if it doesn't have a convenient spirit to blame. In some ways it's a lot worse.
Approach 2. Intentionality.
The person using the implement determines the usage, so it doesn't matter that it was a toy as the expectation it's going to work will create the result. In the same way any stick can be a dowsing rod if you're good enough at dowsing, any collection of letters and improvised planchette can be a conduit to spirits if you apply yourself.
This has a worrying overlap with the Suggestability theory, given that pop culture has warped the idea of a spirit board. Give it to a serious practitioner packing some wards and cleansing materials, you have another tool in the practitioner's toolkit. Give it to dumb kids afraid a demon will see it as a dinner bell, and that irresistible belief in the back of their minds a dinner bell shall make.
Approach 3. Availability.
Kind of like intentionality, except via external forces. Since you’ve gone and put it there, something will use that tool. This covers everything from the broad idea you ask the universe a question and you'll get an answer, to evil forces using it as a lever to crack your soul open because you were dumb enough to invite it in.
The yin to the yang scale there is pretty extreme, which is probably why believers yell at people for messing with Ouija boards.
This is a very similar to the Intentionality theory given that they're both the paramormal explanations, but it's much more about the where as well as factors like the when over the who. To contact a spirit with a Ouija board you put it where the spirit is likely to be, at a good time for it. Put the board down where there's an evil spirit to use it? You're in trouble. No matter what you intend, the tool is not in your hands but instead in the hands of something Other and in this way a harmless game with no I'll intent can still become dial-a-Demon if there's a Demon around to use it.
So, there you have it. A little history and a lot of hypothesising. The three approaches are much more my personal theories on a potential subject over my usual observe and report style so I want to hear what listeners think here. These three broad areas are pretty much how I approach all stories I look into. They can roughly be broken down to:
Is it the mind?
Is it magic?
Is it monsters?
A massive oversimplification, but I find it kind of catchy. I may some day cough up a book called Mind /Magic/Monsters to really ramble on this at length. Until then you can request more subjects be tackled like this or yell at me to stick to just the stores at our email: ghoststoryguys@gmail .com, and I am Luke Greensmith on both Twitter and Facebook. There’s always the Instagram too, but I don’t quite know how that thing works beyond forwarding fun things I find online to be passed on to the followers there. Anything Lukelore that pops up on there will eventually get back to me though so fill your boots if Instagram is your thing.
I also especially pay attention to Patron comments on Lukelore episodes, as this topic shows! Not only that but Followers on Patreon get this early, so check out patreon.com/ghoststoryguys as well as for all the other cool rewards if you want to support us directly.
But as ever just listening is plenty of support in and of itself.
The Tarot request has not been forgotten, and all requests will be filed away for later. Anything difficult or obscure will be taken as a challenge and I will get around to them eventually! Next month, being all festive with the holidays, should be a lovely Yule themed Lukelore as I share some Krampus folklore.
Goodbye for now.