Talking Board

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Group attempting to communicate with spirits using a talking board. The spirit guides the participants’ hands to move the planchette, spelling out messages. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Talking Board

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The “Talking Board” is a tool used by certain Spiritualists to communicate with spirits of the dead. It is also used by some people as a divination tool, to ascertain answers to questions about the past, present, and future. Various types of talking boards have been used for centuries. One of the earliest forms was known as alectromancy, in which a cockerel picked up pieces of corn or wheat placed alongside letters of the alphabet arranged in a circle, thereby spelling out words in answer to questions asked by a diviner. In ancient Greece and in Rome, a small table on wheels moved about, to point to answers to questions. In China, c. 550 BCE, similar tools were used to communicate with the dead. The squdilatc boards used by various Native American tribes to obtain spiritual information and to locate lost people and objects were not unlike the modern Ouija® board. The name “Ouija” is taken from the French (oui) and the German (ja) words for “yes.”

The board itself is flat and smooth with the letters of the alphabet marked on it, usually also with numbers and some short phrases. A small platform, or planchette, often heart shaped, slides over the board. The diviner sits with fingertips placed on the planchette and asks questions. The answers are given by the platform sliding about the board and stopping at a series of letters, to spell out words. Most boards include the letters of the alphabet, numbers from one to nine, the words “Yes” and “No,” and sometimes “Goodbye” and/or other greetings. Although the diviner’s fingers rest on the planchette, there is no conscious propelling of it. Supposedly, the platform moves as directed by spirits of the dead.

A very simple, yet very effective, talking board can be made by writing the letters of the alphabet on pieces of paper and laying them down in a circle, around the edge of a table. A wine glass can then be upturned and used as a planchette, the participants resting their fingers on the now-top edge of the glass. The glass will slide over the table surface to stop in front of appropriate letters.

There are a number of different boards commercially produced today. The first was patented by Elijah J. Bond in the late 1800s, who sold the patent to William Fuld in 1892. Fuld founded The Southern Novelty Company, in Maryland, which later became known as the Baltimore Talking Board Company. They produced the “Oriole Talking Boards,” later labeled “Ouija®, the Mystifying Oracle.” In 1966, the Parker Brothers toy and game manufacturer bought the rights to the board and marketed it to the point where it outsold their famous Monopoly® game. In its first year with Parker, more than two million Ouija® boards were sold. Understandably, many other companies started producing similar boards, though they were not allowed to use the name “Ouija.”

The Fuld/Parker Brothers’ recommended way of using the board is for two people to sit facing one another, with the board resting on their knees between them. At the outset, the planchette is in the center of the board and the two each have their fingers resting lightly on it. To avoid confusion, just one person acts as spokesperson. They enquire, “Is there anybody there?” This is repeated until the planchette starts to move. It should move across to “Yes” and then return to the center. It is possible to work the board with a number of participants sitting around a table. The more people, the more energy there is available to move the planchette. One person can also have success working alone.

The first time someone experiences a talking board, the feeling is that someone present is pushing the planchette when it moves. This can quickly be discounted when messages are spelled out which give information not known to anyone present: names, places, documents that need to be researched after the session. If the information received is known to any one person there, then it cannot be assumed that the message is coming from the spirit world. Even though no one may be pushing the pointer consciously, they may be doing so unconsciously. They may also be picking up the information through extrasensory perception. Although no one present is directing the planchette, the participants are in fact pushing it in the sense that their muscles are being used to cause it to slide across the surface of the board. The spirits are making use of their muscles to produce the physical movement. This is the same thing that happens with table tipping.

It is difficult to keep a finger on the planchette, observe to which letters it points and at the same time, write down everything. It is therefore a good idea to have a secretary for any extended talking board sessions. The spokesperson, as well as being the one to call out the questions, also calls out the letters received so that they can be recorded.

Many times what is recorded seems to make little sense when first studied. There is often confusion between similar looking letters: N, M and H; O and Q, P and R, I and J, and so on. Careful study of the written results should make it possible to correct any such substitutions. Another problem can be that words run into one another. This can easily be solved by requesting that the planchette make a quick circle of the board between each word, to indicate the break. Other possible problems might be receiving anagrams, or finding letters arranged as though by a person with dyslexia. It is frequently necessary to study a received message very carefully in order to make sense of it. One possible explanation for these difficulties is that the communicating spirit may not have had previous experience with this form of communication.

If the planchette sits still without moving, it may be that the question asked is ambiguous. Thought should be given to the phrasing of questions. Many messages do come through “loud and clear,” perfectly spelled and making absolute sense. Record keeping is an important aspect of talking board use, if it is done seriously. Although many people use a talking board for fun, pushing the planchette for laughs, this is not tolerated among serious psychical researchers.

A list of questions to be asked may be prepared ahead of time, which will save time when actually dealing with the spirit. It is also a good idea to choose as many questions as possible that can be answered with a basic yes or no. This saves time and also avoids any misunderstanding of received information. But obviously not everything can be covered this way, so spelled-out answers are definitely part of the looked-for result.

A fear among novice talking board users is that they may become “possessed” through using the board. There are a thousand urban legends about people who have been so afflicted. There are stories of teenagers who have asked the board when they are going to die, and been told that it will happen the next week, month, or year. Needless to say, this can be a self-fulfilling prophesy having a terrible psychological effect on the person concerned. But this only points to the fact that the talking board is a serious tool; it is not a toy, despite being available in certain toy stores. Certainly the board can become addictive, but if handled sensibly it is no more a vehicle for possession than is the telephone.

There are certain precautions that beginners should take. First, if a lot of negative messages are received, especially messages directing the sitter to do certain things that go against the grain and that would not normally be done, then the sitter should simply stop using the board. It’s as simple as that. If the board (or a particular “spirit” coming through the board) tells you to give away all your worldly possessions … stop and think about it. Exactly who is telling you to do this and why? It may be a spirit calling itself Jesus, or describing itself as an angel … but what are the chances? And why, if they are who they say they are, would they tell you to do something that would harm you? Many overly religious people claim it is the Christian devil who speaks through the board. If this is what you believe, then “hang up the phone!”

Don’t quit your job on the advice of, say, a long-dead relative. What do they know about today’s labor market? Don’t jump off a roof top on the direction of an unknown spirit. Why should you do so? In other words, use your head. Don’t run to the board looking for answers to all of life’s questions. Don’t expect it to solve every little problem you have. The board is not an oracle; it cannot tell you the absolute future. Use it with common sense and don’t abuse it. Enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t use it.

Some extremely interesting information has been obtained through the talking board. The prime example is probably that of Patience Worth. On July 8, 1913, Pearl Curran, a St. Louis housewife, was persuaded by her friend Emily Hutchinson to try a Ouija® board. She did so and received the words, “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come; Patience Worth my name.” This turned out to be the start of an avalanche of information that kept coming over a period of five years. Eventually moving on from the Ouija® board to automatic writing, Mrs. Curran produced 2,500 poems, short stories, plays, allegories, and six full-length novels, all authored by Patience Worth, who claimed to be an Englishwoman from the seventeenth century. In all, more than four million words were produced. What is interesting is that of all those millions of words, not a single anachronism has been found by experts; the vocabulary is consistent with that of the claimed time period, including ninety percent of Old English.

In The History of Spiritualism (1926), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle speaks of Sir William Barrett recording an evidential communication received in Dublin, Ireland, by Mrs. Travers Smith and her friend “Miss C.” Doyle relates the case and concludes, “Both the ladies have signed a document they sent me … Here there could be no explanation of the facts by subliminal memory, or telepathy or collusion, and the evidence points unmistakably to a telepathic message from a deceased officer (of the army in France at that time).”

With such evidence that the talking board can be used to communicate with the dead, it seems strange that the National Spiritualist Association of Churches has turned its back on the talking board while continuing to condone spirit slates, trumpets, automatic writing, and other similar tools.


Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Covina, Gina: The Ouija® Book. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991
Hunt, Stoker: Ouija®: The Most Dangerous Game. New York: Harper & Row, 1985
Owens, Elizabeth: How to Communicate With Spirits. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2002