I’ve often wondered where the Ouija board came from and how old it actually is. Given that most ancient societies had some way of communicating with spirits, I thought it unlikely that the Ouija board was a “new” invention. Upon doing my research I found that the Chinese have something similar, begun sometime around 1000 years ago. It is called 扶乩 (fújī).
I’m sure most people know about the “game” Ouija, which is not actually a game, but is a board with letters and numbers, the sun and moon, Yes & No, printed on it. It uses a device called a planchette–a triangular plastic piece on 3 very short legs (tipped in felt to make it move smoothly) & a clear window through which you can see the letters/numbers. Two people use the planchette, placing their fingertips lightly on one side or the other, and then ask questions of the spirit world.
Fuji is the Chinese version, I think the most likely ancestor of Ouija, which requires two people who hold either a peach/willow twig, or in some areas, a basket shaped rather like a turtle shell with a pointer-they are called ‘jishou‘ 乩手 “planchette hands”. The Chinese call upon a ‘shen’ 神 “spirit; god” or ‘xian’ 仙 “immortal”, usually a specific entity, rather than simply addressing whatever spirit happens to be around at the moment (like many Westerners do). Since Chinese writing uses characters, not the ABCs, a table or special flat box, covered or filled with a shallow layer of sand is used instead of a flat board-the planchette will then write the characters in the sand. There are three essential helpers who are thus needed to operate this medium: 1) a planchette “reader” who actually reads off the characters as they are written; 2) a ‘”planchette copyist” whose job is to write down and record what is written; and a “sand leveler” who smoothes out the ‘shapan‘ 沙盤 “sand table” when the next character needs to be written. From what I witnessed, great care was taken since asking the help of gods or spirits in ritual is no light matter–whatever answers arrived were important and worthy of being recorded.
The Chinese, when using fuji, are very careful and respectful of the spirits they are addressing, and before this ritual is performed, incense is lit, spells are recited, and a charm written on a special yellow paper, called a ‘piao’, that calls up the specific spirit, god/dess or immortal. They understand that performing fuji is a ritual fraught with great importance and deserving a somber attitude, unlike most Westerners, who take the Ouija board as a kind of party game. I think it is interesting, as well, that the Chinese consider that the planchette is not moved by only the gods OR by the ones holding the planchette, but is moved by the mutual cooperation of both. During the Song dynasty, fuji was also used to summon the spirits of dead poets, who would compose poetry for the participants, so it was not always used to ask questions.
Now as to the Ouija board: it is the descendant of various means of divination that arose during the mid to late 19th century during the Spiritualist movement. The board that most people are familiar with today, with its natural wood color and black graphics of the sun, moon, etc. was made popular by the game company Parker Brothers. Ouija was very popular in the 1920’s and 30s, and even the great illustrator Norman Rockwell painted its use on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It was presented as a fun and creepy entertainment at parties, a nice way to get “the shivers”.
To anyone thinking of using the Ouija board, let me say this: there are many, many worlds beyond the one which we perceive at the moment, with entities who are fully functional, active and eager to communicate with us. Would you go out into the dark night, blindfolded, and grab anyone who came your way and drag them into your home to answer questions? I think not. However, this is what most people who use the Ouija board do when they just sit down and start calling out to the spirit world.
If you feel you must use the Ouija board, take a hint from those people who have been using something similar for the past thousand years: the Chinese. To convert this into Western terms: draw a circle of white chalk or salt around the table and chairs where the board is to be read. You would draw the circle, leave a small space for you and your partner to walk into it, then enter and close the circle. Light incense and use a WHITE candle for purity. Say a prayer of protection and call on the power of the WHITE LIGHT to watch over and surround you. Announce that ONLY spirits aligned with the White Light may enter the circle. Compose your requests respectfully, then put your hands to the planchette. If at any time during the session you contact a spirit who is cursing, hyper-sexual, blasphemous, vengeful or angry, TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THE PLANCHETTE, dismiss the spirit, and immediately ask God/dess to protect you. Only then can you walk out of the circle safely.
The Chinese respect for the spirit world and the power it can weld is notable, and I saw this during my time in China; watching sessions with spiritual readers I often thought of the Ouija and how it works and the negative effect it can have–the carefulness of the Eastern approach won my attention. It may pay to think about these origins of spirit contact and consider more wisely the Chinese way of respect and caution.