Demystifying the Ouija Board

Ouija board
Photo by Paul Szlosek

The magic of oui (Yes) ja (Yes)
opening portals to spirits long dead or
your own wishes and desires unconsciously alive.
The planchette moves lightly spelling out words,
names, answers and big questions forever unanswered.

Contacting the “spirit world” is an ancient game and there was a rise of spiritualism in the 1840s. Mediums used various techniques and tools for communicating with the spirit world. Table-turning and planchette writing boards were early versions of the modern Ouija boards.

In 1891, there were a few first advertisements in newspapers for “Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board.” It was sold as a toy that had something unique about it that it could answer questions about the past, present and future. It was implied that it was magical (like a magic trick could claim) but there was also the idea carried in ads that it could link “the known and unknown, the material and immaterial.”

William Fuld took control of the Kennard Novelty Company which had factories in the U.S. and England that were producing the talking boards at the end of the 19th century.

Ouija board
Original Ouija board sold by Kennard 1890

The 1890 board is very similar to what you can buy today in the toys and games department. Nothing magical about the board. You could make your own with the alphabet arrayed in two semi-circles above the numbers 0 through 9 and the words “yes” and “no” in the uppermost corners and “goodbye” at the bottom.

You need a “planchette,” which is traditionally a teardrop-shaped device, with a point and a small window in the body, which is used to maneuver about the board. Typically two people sit around the board with their fingertips on the planchette. They pose a question and wait for the planchette to move from letter to letter and spell out the answers.

That moving is supposed to be beyond the control of the humans touching the planchette and is a result of “spirits” moving it.

Are there really supernatural forces at work here?

Faraday’s apparatus for experimental demonstration of ideomotor effect on table-turning

I don’t find the board as mysterious as some people. Yes, I have used it and yes I have seen words spelled out and even felt that it was moving without me consciously moving it. The Ouija board is still sold as a “game” and scientifically minded people will tell you that you are experiencing the ideomotor effect. That effect is a way for your body to talk to itself.

Michael Faraday first described this effect in 1853, while investigating the paranormal practice of table-turning. The ideomotor phenomenon is not supernatural but is a psychological phenomenon. A subject makes motions unconsciously. The phenomena is studied in connection to hypnosis and other psychological research.

Ideometer comes from “ideo” (idea, or mental representation) and “motor” (muscular action). Scientists use this to explain automatic writing, dowsing, facilitated communication, applied kinesiology, and Ouija boards.  Bodily reactions would also include why salivation can be caused by just imagining sucking a lemon; idea creates motor response. Many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious “energies” are due to ideomotor action.

The Ouija board had a popularity surge during the difficult decades of World War I, the Jazz Age and prohibition, probably both as people sought “answers” and wanted to contact those who had died or just have fun with friends. During the Great Depression, Fuld’s company opened new factories to meet the demand for the boards.

In 1967, the year after Parker Brothers bought the game from the Fuld Company,  they sold 2 million boards. It outsold their Monopoly game. It was a time of the Vietnam War, race riots, and also the counter-culture Summer of Love.

Though the game was treated as such, there were always people who took the idea of contacting spirits with it seriously. That idea and a fear of what could happen by inviting a spirit to “possess” you got its own surge in 1973 when the film version of The Exorcist was a big hit.

That novel and film were supposedly “based on a true story” and the 12-year-old girl in that story becomes possessed by a demon after playing with a Ouija board and allowing that spirit to control her and then not letting go.

I always believed that “Ouija” came from the French and German words for “yes” but I have read that the name is supposed to have been what was spelled out on the board when its inventor asked a supposed ghost to name it. I don’t buy that supernatural coincidence origin story and stick with yes/yes.

There are historical precursors to the talking board familiar to us today. There are also modern-day variations on “supernatural” ways to get answers to questions.

One divination game for simple yes–no questions uses two sticks or pencils balanced to point towards the word “Yes” or “No” written on a sheet of paper.  An older Spanish game called Juego de la Lapicera (“the Pencil Game”) seems to be its precursor. It was popularized in the English-speaking world in 2015, partly through an internet #CharlieCharlieChallenge and started to be called the Charlie Charlie game.

pencil game

The Charlie Charlie game also relies on the ideomotor phenomenon. Even breathing from the participants can cause the top pencil to rotate towards an answer.

A basic experiment used to demonstrate the ideomotor effect is to allow a hand-held pendulum to hover over a sheet of paper with options written to the sides, such as “yes,” “no,” and “maybe.” Very small unconscious movements in the hand, in response to questions, can cause the pendulum to move towards the words on the paper.



Michel de Nostredame was born in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France in 1503. They were a middle-class family. His father was an attorney. Michel went to the University of Avignon when he was 15. There, he picked up the nickname “little astronomer.” The plague reemerged during this time and the university was closed and he was sent home.

He was interested in the stars and planets but also taught himself about plants and medicine and was able to work as an apothecary. He wanted to become a doctor but was kicked out of medical school when they found out he had been an apothecary. That version of “healing” was banned by the university, as was alchemy.

He had been focused on understanding and helping to cure the plague. It was still a major medical issue in his time, though the main epidemic had been during the 14th century. Some of Michel’s ideas about healing were more modern. For example, he believed that good hygiene was critical, and he was against the practice of bloodletting.

He was married and had children, but his wife and children died, probably of the plague. His second marriage was to a rich widow, and they had six children.

There are gaps in his life story, but he left medicine and turned more to the occult. In 1550, he wrote his first almanac which was filled with the annual predictions we still have in almanacs. It had weather predictions and annual predictions about celestial occurrences, some astrology, and also the kinds of prophecies he is best known for today. It was published under the name Nostradamus, a new Latinized version of his last name. The book was a big success, and he published a new book each year. Each volume had 100 verse predictions.

Astrology was generally considered to be a legitimate source of information. There were members of the royal court who were fans of Nostradamus’ Other astrologers of the time considered him a not very good astrologer but he had an audience.

He made more than 6,300 predictions, including predictions about the world well into the future, until the year 3797.

The prophecies of Nostradamus. came up back in 2012 when there was some end-of-world craziness around the Maya and people tried to figure out what Nostradamus might have said about 2012. Some people put forward some incredible (in its true meaning of “difficult or impossible to believe”) interpretations. Still, people continue to read his predictions today.

Some of the more famous ones include crediting him with seeing the Great Fire of London, the rise of Adolph Hitler, both world wars, the creation of the United Nations, the assassination of JFK, the atomic bomb, the Apollo moon landings, the McCarthy trials, the death of Princess Diana, and the tragedy of 9/11.

His predictions have only seemed accurate in retrospect. I have yet to hear of someone accurately predicting the future in advance based on Nostradamus’ writings. It hasn’t helped Nostradamus’s reputation that people have also created hoaxes using what they say are predictions he made.

I would say two tips if you are making prophecies are to be vague and make a lot of them.

His book Les Prophéties, a collection of 942 poetic quatrains allegedly predicting future events was first published in 1555.

film poster

One example of interpreting his writing came after World War II. MGM made a short film called “Nostradamus Says So,” which gave a little background on Nostradamus and suggested that he had predicted the Allied victory during the war.

Here is one verse they quoted saying that it is about the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America:

“The chosen protector of the great country
For endless years will hold the famed torch
It will serve to guide this great people
And in its name they will struggle and triumph.”

Would you interpret this more accurate translation as being about WWII?

“The newly elected patron of the great vessel
Will see the clear flame shine for a long time
Which will serve as a lamp to this great territory
At which time the armies under his name
Will join with those happily of Bourbon
From east to west resting his memory.”

Nostradamus has stayed alive in our time. A part of us wishes that we could see into the future and know what was to come, even if the evidence points to that being impossible. Similar predictions are made using the Bible. There are regular predictions about the end of the world from Nostradamus, the Bible, and many others.

Wikipedia lists many references to Nostradamus in entertainments including Film, Television, Books, Music, Comics, Mangas, Games, and Theater.

He had become rich and famous. Nostradamus suffered from gout throughout his fifties and then suffered from edema. He made out his will and on the evening of July 1, 1566, he is alleged to have made a final prediction, telling his secretary “You will not find me alive at sunrise.” Not a shocking prediction, given the circumstances, but the next morning he was found dead.

Dear Future Me

at the laptop

Where did the weekend go? I only arrived in Paradelle an hour ago. It almost wasn’t worth the drive. It’s getting dark and cold. I’ll have to stay over rather than drive back home. That’s okay. I’ll make a fire, and a hot toddy, rustle up some dinner and settle in with a movie. At least my weekend in Paradelle will be relaxing.

I spent a lot of Friday, Saturday, and today writing on a keyboard but none of it was for this website. Virtual work on two websites and blogs that are not my own. Gigs that pay some of the bills. But I missed this place.

I just wrote myself an email on the Future Me website that will be delivered in a year from now. I’ve done it before. You write yourself a letter and pick a future date when you want to receive it. I’ve done it before.

I used to do this with my middle school students before the web could do it. They wrote letters to their graduating high school selves based on some models I provided. I never saw the letters other than briefly as they put them into a self-addressed and double-stamped envelope, and I noted that they had done the assignment. Then I bundled them and stored them. I would mail them out at their graduation time in 4 or 5 years depending on their grade level.  (Double stamped in case the postage rates changed in the interim.) A middle-schooler writing about who they were and who they wanted or expected to be as graduating seniors could be an interesting letter.

After I mailed them, I would have a few students return to visit me. Some had forgotten the assignment and were amazed that I remembered to mail the letters. A few letters bounced back to me (I was their return address) because they had moved. Most of the students never came back. That’s typical with students you taught in middle school, But the ones who did visit me were really excited to get their letter. Their reactions to reading it ranged from “Geez, I was such an idiot” to “I was so wrong (both in good and bad ways) about how high school would be.” They told me they had written about middle school best friends and interests and dreams that had faded away. Some said their ambitions were still ambitions – perhaps still to be fulfilled after graduation.

Who can predict our future? None of us, though we try. Just now (for the purposes of this post, of course) I took a look at my horoscope and tarot reading for today. Am I a believer in such things? Not really, but I treat them like having a daily affirmation or keeping a gratitude journal. They are a moment to reflect on yourself. The unexamined life isn’t worth living, right?

My horoscope said You may be wondering why everyone is getting so touchy when you see this as being just a normal day. No one was touchy today. I only saw my wife and she was fine with me today. The wonderful thing about horoscopes and tarot is that you can always get another reading. I checked a second horoscope source and it said:  You may discover that what you find beautiful today is different from the idea of beauty you were raised with. That is certainly true. Today, at least this second half of it, was beautiful in a way that I was never raised to think of a day. But then the horoscope went in a totally different path: Even if you have already been drifting in this direction for some time, being able to clearly articulate what you do and don’t like in the moment can help you make decisions more easily about how you’ll style yourself going forward. Once you have the idea of a general style you want, you may really enjoy shopping for some of the specific items. Shopping? Is that tied into the ads on the webpage? I hate shopping and my style hasn’t changed in decades.


Let’s look at my tarot reading done online – which is perhaps as valid as one done by any human including me.

Your emotional foundations benefit wonderfully from a New Moon on the 2nd. This offers a fresh start domestically, within your family. I don’t feel I need a fresh start domestically but let’s wait for that New Moon.
It indicates a possible house move or the beginning of a home-related project. Well, I can always anticipate that my wife might start a home project. She’s been talking about new furniture and making a new area around the fire pit, which is currently snow-covered.
It could also mean new domestic responsibilities come your way or any issues connected with your clan get ironed out. That’s ominous. I already have responsibilities for my older, ailing sister, and I suppose either of my grown and married sons might add something. I hope this prediction is wrong.
Resolving or proceeding with anything home or family-related is supported further by your ruling planet Venus moving forward on the 29th. Where emotional security and contentment are concerned, it’s all systems go! Well, that’s encouraging.

I’ll make a note on the calendar to check back on the 29th and February first (which is actually when the New Moon slips into place) Should I worry about any of this? The Magic 8-Ball says “No” and I like that definitiveness.

In case you’re curious about sending your future self a letter…

Celtic Tree Divination

apple tree card
Some years ago, I was given a gift of a book and card set about the Celtic tree oracle and the ancient beliefs about certain trees which could be used to see into the future.

In the Celtic Ogham, also known as the tree alphabet, each letter embodies the spirit of a tree or plant.

I don’t profess any consistent ability to do divination (the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means), but I have been known to use runes or cards. I have found that their “answers” offer an opportunity to consider possibilities – often ones that I would not have considered on my own.

Ogham (in Modern Irish or in Old Irish: ogam) is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the early Irish language dating back to the 4th to 6th centuries AD) and later into Old Irish language. Ogam alphabet is the Celtic equivalent of the runes and seen as a way to teach, rather than tell, us about our future. You do a cast of the cards/runes and their order and position tells a story.

It possible that the Irish scholars or druids who created the alphabet might have done so a way to pass on political, military or religious communications secretly. At the time we believe it was created, the Roman Empire ruled over southern Britain, and was a threat to Ireland.

Druidic mythology contains this 1,500-year-old oracle which uses the symbolism of the “tree letters” and their “magical” properties, characteristics and folklore.

As a boy, I felt a connection to a big apple tree that was in our backyard. I climbed it, sat in its shade to read, and ate the apples that came from it. It didn’t surprise me that the apple tree has many associations in different belief systems. I wrote about that earlier.

The apple represents the light half of the year, from May 2 until the end of October. My birthday is in late October.

Drawing the Quert (apple) card signals a choice that you need to make and commit to following. The Major Arcana card in tarot, The Lovers, correlates with Quert in divination and it is also about struggling with choices. Our immediate association with The Lovers is romantic and the choice might be romantic but not necessarily so.


When I used the tree cards recently, the holly card caught my attention. There is a large holly right outside my window. Holly is considered the male counterpart to the female Ivy. The evergreen holly tree, or “holy tree,” has thorny, prickly leaves and red berries that represent suffering, but taken with the other cards I cast, the holly can predict a fresh start, or time of renewal. A reunion also lies ahead. This almost post-pandemic time suggests a number of reunions and I also have a big high school one ahead of me.

I remember that when we planted it, it came with a little booklet that said that as a protective herb, it was believed to guard against lightning, poison, and evil spirits.

This “Tree of Sacrifice,” called Ilex as the eighth month of the Celtic Tree calendar (July 8 – August 4) is the eighth consonant of the Ogham alphabet (Tinne).

Three of the beliefs associated with holly relate to dreams – another topic I pay a lot of attention to. Dreaming of holly means you should be mindful of what is troubling you, and picking holly in your dreams means you will have a long life. If you want your dreams to come true (which can be a dangerous wish), you are supposed to silently collect nine holly leaves after midnight, on a Friday, and wrap them in a white cloth using nine knots to tie the ends together. Place this beneath your pillow and your dreams will come true.

If you want to learn more and try some divination yourself, a second book on my shelf is Ogam: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees: Understanding, Casting, and Interpreting the Ancient Druidic Alphabet which is a practical (not scholarly) guide to the ancient oracle.

Sacred Apples

apple tree pixabay
Image by suju from Pixabay

Apple trees – their wood and fruit – have had meanings in the folklore and mythology of many cultures for centuries.

In Norse tradition, the apple is the tree of immortality. The Goddess Idunn was the keeper of the apples, which she fed the Norse Gods and Goddesses to keep them forever young. Apple wands were also used in Norse love rituals as apples represented long life, wisdom, and love.

JK Rowling seems to have borrowed from Norse folklore in her Harry Potter series. The applewood wand holder is described as being “well-loved and long-lived.” Since apple tree branches are knobbly and twisted, a  wand made from an apple branch is not likely to be perfectly straight, but rather would have twists.

The apple (or similar fruit) plays a big role in the Bible story of Adam and Eve and represents knowledge. Fairy tales, such as Snow White, use apples symbolically. Sir Isaac Newton was said to have had gravity revealed to him by an apple that fell on him.

The symbolism of the apple varies but in many cultures, it has symbolized knowledge, prosperity, love, jealously, and temptation.

apple pentagram

In mythology, Kore/Persephone’s sacred fruit is the apple. When an apple is cut through its equator, both halves will reveal a near-perfect pentagram shape at the core, with each point on the star containing a seed.

Pagans and Roma cut apples to show the pentagram and sometimes refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge. The pentagram is one of the most widely used religious symbols in the world and has been used by Wiccans, Pagans, Israelites, and Christians.

A pentagram is a five-pointed star with one point aligned upwards (when surrounded by a circle, it’s known as a ‘pentacle’) and its name derives from the Greek words penta (five) and gamma (letter).

Pentagrams were used symbolically and had magical associations in ancient Greece and Babylonia. Today they are used as a symbol of faith by many Wiccans, much in the way that the cross is used by Christians. Christians once commonly used the pentagram to represent the five wounds of Jesus. The pentagram has been used in Judaism since at least 300BCE when it first was used as the stamp of Jerusalem and to represent justice, mercy, and wisdom.

The pentagram is featured on the national flags of Morocco and Ethiopia.

The pentagram was originally a symbol of the goddess, Kore, who was worshipped thousands of years ago from the British isles to Egypt by different names (Cara, Ceres, Carnak, Core, Car, Karnak, Persephone).

Five is an often significant or magical number. In Ireland, there are five great roads, five provinces, five paths of the law and the fairy folk count in fives and wear fivefold cloaks.

Wiccans use the pentagram for healing circles and wear the symbol. They interpret the five points as the five elements- earth, air, water, fire, and spirit. Some see the five as the four directions plus the direction of the spirit.

Apples are also used for divination, especially in matters of love. Some use a count of the apple pips (seeds) which vary from five to less than ten. To divine who a girl might mary, pips are each given a potential man’s name and then burned watching to see the first to explode in the fire. You could also throw an apple peeling over the left shoulder to see what initial of an individual it forms when it lands. Putting an apple under your pillow supposedly allows you to dream of your sweetheart.

Shamans and magicians have used apples when undergoing transformations or Otherworld journeys. When I studied the Arthurian legends I learned that one of these Otherworlds is Avalon. It is the Apple Vale, a mythical paradise where hills were clothed with trees bearing flowers and fruit together. Merlin told Arthur about it and an orchard that was brought there by the Enchanter.

celtic apple

The Ogham system connects the apple to the unfearing spiritual warrior. The warrior journeys to the Otherworld which can cause madness and returns. In Celtic society, madness was believed to be a gift and a rare ability and it could link them to the Otherworld knowledge and insights.

Earlier, I wrote about Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire in which he used John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) to illustrate how the apple’s sweetness and its use in making an alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west. That brought the apple tree West.  (Pollan also points out that our manipulation of apples has made the modern varieties require more pesticide than any other food crop.) I also wrote about a local apple-based alcoholic brew – Laird’s 100 proof apple brandy and Applejack which is 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits. That’s not necessarily spiritual, but it is spirits.

apple blossom pixabay

The Noble Apple
The Botany of Desire
Applejack and Jersey Lightning

A Shelf of Grimoires

the old books
Image: Suzy Hazelwood – Pexels

I was browsing at a local bookstore and came across a daily planner for practicing (or budding) witches.  Another book on the rather full shelf of like-minded books was Wicca Moon Magic which has a subtitle of A Wiccan’s Guide and Grimoire. I had to look up “grimoire” (grim-WAHR) which is a book of spells or textbook of magic. Yes, like those books the students at Hogwarts had to buy for classes.

These books have instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination, and how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels and spirits.

I would be more of at a Wicca for beginners level.  Though I find these things interesting, I have no desire to dabble in the dark or light arts. Like most people today, I view magic in its more commonly thought incarnation as entertainment and “tricks.”

Historically, magic is the practice of beliefs, rituals, and actions which are said to control and manipulate, either naturally or supernaturally, beings, and forces. It is not religion or science. Those who engage in magical practices are referred to as either magicians or witches. The former has fantasy book connotations. The latter has evil connotations. Despite plenty of negative connotations with magic throughout history, it still plays a part in many cultures today.

And, though I said it is not considered a religion, magic has played a part in some well-established religions. The angels of Christianity and Judaism have religious and magical connections. The Sefer Raziel HaMalakh is the Hebrew book of Raziel the angel. It is a grimoire of Practical Kabbalah from the Middle Ages written primarily in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Raziel was sent to Earth to teach Adam the spiritual laws of nature and life on Earth. That included knowledge of the planets and stars, the spiritual laws of creation, and the knowledge of the power of speech and thoughts. It even included knowledge about the power of a person’s soul. That’s a lot of learning. It is the knowledge needed to harmonize a physical and spiritual existence in this world.

I have found a whole figurative bookcase of writing about Wicca, Traditional Witchcraft, Hedge Witchcraft, Kitchen Witchcraft, and others.  I won’t write about them because my knowledge is limited. What I do identify with in these books and practices (and with those of the ancients) are their observances of celestial events.

In the planner book, astrological events and Moon phases are marked for each day.  Though I can’t say that I associate most celestial events with influence on me or my daily life, I do take note of the events.

I suppose over the years I have written some about topics that cross over into related topics, such as herbal uses, divination, folklore and folk traditions. These texts go into other areas that I have read about elsewhere like crystals, talismans, faeries, and spirit communication.

Wicca Moon Magic: A Wiccan’s Guide and Grimoire for Working Magic with Lunar Energies  My posts here clearly show that I pay attention to the Moon. I don’t worship it in any way, but I mark the phases. Wiccans  feel that the Moon’s influences on us is much greater than most of us.

A New Moon and Full Moon are the obvious phases for their attention but each phase of the lunar cycle is supposed to offer particular energies. For millennia, the Moon has been associated with love, passion, fertility, mystery, death and rebirth, and the afterlife.