Idol Chatter

In February of 1891, a peculiar advertisement began to appear in the papers. “Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board,” exclaimed dark ink, and the ad advised readers to “Come and see this wonderful game”. The origin of this ad was a Pittsburgh novelty shop called Danziger & Company, and it promised that this mysterious talking board could “answer questions concerning the past, present, and future with marvelous accuracy”.

The small ad goes on to say that the board forms the link which “unites the known with the unknown, the material with the immaterial”.

And that was it—the first emergence of the Ouija board, materializing right out of the 19th century American obsession with spiritualism.

In the 1800s, spiritualism took hold in America, offering solace in a time when the average life was no longer than 50 years, when men died in war, women in childbirth, children, by disease—it was  a time marked by a an incredible feeling of unpredictability and vulnerability.

It is no wonder, then, that Americans turned to spiritualism, engaging in numerous activities which promised continued contact with the dead, and the revelation of truths. Dinner parties featuring such activities as automatic writing, table turning, and séances were common, socially acceptable, and even seen as wholesome.

These aforementioned methods of contacting the spirits of the dead proved to be fairly boring affairs, and after the invention of the telegraph, which made human communication easy and fast, Americans began to crave an easier and faster way of communicating with spirits.

The Kennard Novelty Company sated this craving with the invention and patenting of the Ouija board. Based on the new idea of the talking board—a flat surface, etched with numbers and letters which were selected by guiding a pointing device on small casters—that was sweeping through spiritualist gatherings, the Ouija board gave Americans a new way of contacting the dead that was both fast and entertaining.

The inventors of the Ouija board needed a name for their own invention, and so, naturally, they consulted the board, itself, laying hands on the planchhette—the pointing device. The planchhette began to move, slowly spelling out the word “Ouija”. When the group asked what the board meant, it spelled out “Good luck”. And that was it. The board had named itself.

But there was still yet one more obstacle. A patent had to be filed, which meant the inventors had to demonstrate that the board worked. When the inventors traveled to the patent office in Washington, the chief patent officer demanded a demonstration of the board’s abilities. The deal with this: if the board could spell out the patent officer’s name, which was unknown to the inventors, he would clear the patent.

Together, they sat, consulting the board. Soon after, a visibly shaken chief patent officer emerged from the room on February of 1891, and gave the go-ahead for the Ouija patent to proceed.

The board had spelled out his name.

Fast forward over a hundred years, and the Ouija board retains its popularity—the only remaining artifact from an era marked by all manner of spiritual communication methods.

Today, the Ouija board is sought after not so much for family fun, but out of a sense of danger. The film, “The Exorcist,” changed the way America saw the supernatural, and became the turning point for how the Ouija board was perceived. Suddenly, users were no longer contacting the dead—they were contending with unknown, potentially dangerous forces.

A more modern example of the contemporary view of the Ouija board is the film “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” which opened on October 21st, 2016 to rave reviews. In the film, use of the board invites an evil spirit into a family’s home, which possesses their young daughter.

This is the official stance of the Catholic Church, which classifies the Ouija board as a form of divination—seeking information from supernatural forces. From a Christian perspective, human spirits do not reside on earth, and cannot be contacted. In fact, according to the Church, the thing on the other side of the wooden board is a wholly different sort of entity altogether.

It is a demon.

While the Ouija board works as a psychological trick the majority of the time, relying on subtle and automatic muscle movements—or blatant deception—the Church outlines the very real spiritual dangers involved in its use.

To return to the example of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the afflicted family began using the Ouija board for what they felt was a good purpose—contacting the spirit of a deceased family member. Thrilled when the board answers a question to which only this family member would know the answer, the family continues contact.

But the plot darkens when something creeps from the immaterial to the material, possessing the family’s young daughter, who goes on to terrorize them all.

While this is a sensationalized account, made theatrical to terrify audience everywhere, it contains a grain of truth. Scripture forbids occultic practices—in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Moses proclaims, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord”.

Why? Because to do so is to entreat a power other than God, to ask something else for favor. And that something else does not have your good in mind. It holds, in fact, your corruption, imprisonment, and ultimate destruction, in its heart.

Few who touch the demonic realized what dark pit they’ve reached a trembling hand into. But the Church, through scripture, defines a boundary which must not be crossed, even in jest, lest our lives be touched by subtle horrors. Rather, turn to God in your need.

That is where truth lies.

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