Friday, 10 February 2012

Spirit Boards

On March 31st, 1848, in the town of  Arcadia, New York, two sisters, then twelve and fifteen, began communicating with the spirit of a peddlar who conversed through raps and knocks.  Although people would later make claims of deception, it is possible that Kate and Margaret Fox effectively began the craze for spiritualism and mediumship that swept across America and Europe.
While there are references to similar items to a talking board being used by the early Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, and even the Witches of the Middle Ages, the talking board was designed for the purpose of making communicating easier to understand than the previous methods of table tapping, (…one tap for yes, two taps for no), "table turning" or "tipping".  This is where a group of people, usually led by a medium, would sit around a suitable table on which their fingers rested and attempt to make contact with a spirit.  If successful, the table would tip and knock on the floor, answering questions and even spelling out messages using a code of knocks for each letter of the alphabet - a cumbersome and discouraging process.
Spirit, witch, oracle, Cryptique,  Ouija, and mystery boards are all guises of the talking board, although Ouija, possibly derived from the French and German words for yes, is a trademark now belonging to Hasbro Inc.  The earliest known patent for a talking board was lodged by Adolphus Theodore Wagner, a professor of music and resident of Berlin of the Kingdom of Prussia in the patent offices in London, England. He filed his patent for a “PSYCHOGRAPH, OR APPARATUS FOR INDICATING PERSONS THOUGHTS BY THE AGENT OF NERVOUS ELECTRICITY” on January 23, 1854.
A similar device was documented in Allan Kardec’s novel Le Livre des Mediums, translated by Anna Blackwell as “The Medium’s Book.”  Kardec, is considered by many to be the father of French spiritualism.  The instrument alluded to consisted of a table with a moveable top, eighteen inches in diameter, which turned freely on an axle, like a wheel.  Around its edge were the letters of the alphabet, numerals, and the words “yes” and “no” and in the centre a fixed needle.  The medium placed his fingers on the table, which turned and stopped when the desired letter was brought up under the needle
the letters were written down allowing words and phrases to be obtained, often with great rapidity.  However, these dial-plate boards never became popular in the way the simple planchette did possibly because they were expensive.
       It appears that of the planchette, (French for ‘little plank’), in the form we know it, could be an American addition to the board.  In the 1850s the planchettewas a small heart-shaped,wooden board, with a hole in its narrow end used to hold a pencil and wheels on its underside so it could move easily over a sheet of paper.  One or more people placed their fingers on the planchette, and as it moved it could spell out messages or draw pictures on the paper as a form of "automatic writing”.
"Planchette writing" or fuji was known and recorded in historical documents of the  Song Dynasty, (between 960 and 1279), China dating from around 1100 BC.  Similar methods of mediumistic spirit writing have been widely practiced in Ancient India, Greece, Rome and medieval Europe.
In the 1880s, three Americans, Elijah J. Bond, E.C. Reiche and Charles Kennard, invented the Ouija board. This was a simple board emblazoned with the alphabet, numbers and the words "Yes" and "No." Messages were spelt out by sliding the planchette (without the pencil) over the board.  By 1890, Kennard was marketing the first Ouija boards.  The first patent on the Ouija or talking board (No. 446,054) was granted to Elijah Bond on February 10th 1891 and assigned to Charles Kennard and William H. A. Maupin, both of Baltimore and two of the founders of the Kennard Novelty Company.  The trademark on the word Ouija (No. 18,919) was granted to the Kennard Novelty Company on February 3rd, 1891.  William Fuld, often cited as the inventor and father of the Ouija board, took over from Kennard in 1892, and marketed his "Ouija, the Mystifying Oracle" until his death in 1927, after which his children took over the business.  In 1966, they sold their patent to Parker Brothers.  There is a long and detailed history of this family and business at;   
Originally talking boards were made of real wood; the ancients the believed that wood held certain magical qualities but as mass manufacturing and assembly line production took over a variety of materials have been used.  One common and inexpensive version is simply letters, figures, and key words (such as "yes," "no" and "goodbye") written on small pieces of cardboard or paper, and arranged in a circle on a smooth table.  An upturned glass takes the place of the planchette.  Participants sit around the table and gently place a finger on the base of the glass. The glass moves between the symbols to spell out messages.
Scientifically the talking board phenomenon has been criticised by many as a hoax related to the ideomotor response and when recreated in the laboratory showed that the subjects were moving the board involuntarily.  It has been suggested these unconscious movements of the planchette are manipulated by precognition, psychokinesis, telepathy or by spirits.
Can the operator of a talking board communicate with the dead?  Emily Grant Hutchings claimed that her 1917 novel Jap Herron: A Novel Written from the Ouija Board was dictated by Mark Twain's spirit.    While researching for his 1976 book The Ghost of Flight 401the flight which crashed into the Everglades en route to Miami, author John G. Fuller used a talking board.  Sceptical of its effectiveness he worked with a medium; they claim to have contacted  Don Repo, the flight engineer, whom revealed facts that neither Fuller nor the medium previously knew. In The Businessman: A Tale of Terror (1984), by Thomas Disch, there is a scene where a ghost attempts to manipulate a Ouija board session to expose a murderer, unfortunately the ghost is dyslexic and they are unable to identify the killer.
Bill Wilson, the co-founder ofAlcholics Anonymous, claimed that he received the twelve step method directly from a spirit and wrote it down; he was also to have used talking boards.  In 1994, In London, convicted murderer Stephen Young's lawyers lodged an appeal against his conviction after learning that four of the jurors had conducted a talking board to "contact" the murdered man, who named Young as his killer.
Some believe that talking boards open doorways to the unknown, others that they are merely a game, some feel they are tools to access occult knowledge; however the standard definition of the word 'occult' is "hidden" with nothing evil or wicked implied.  Whether the hidden knowledge gained from using a talking board is part of your subconscious or comes from the spirit world is open to your own interpretation. 
A number of Christians including Bishops in Micronesia have called for the boards to be banned as the boards allow people to talk to demons and devils or can reveal information which should only be on God's hands, and thus it is a tool of Satan.  In 2001 Ouija boards were burned in Alamogordo, N.M by fundamentalist groups alongside Harry Potter books as 'symbols of witchcraft'.  In the murder trial of Joshua Tucker, his mother insisted that he had carried out the murders while possessed by the devil who found him when he was using an Ouija board. 
Religious groups often cite cases of so-called “spirit possession” that occur after use the talking board when malevolent forces, masquerading as good spirits, possess children and impressionable adults and cause emotional damage, even suicide. Authentic cases are nearly as common as rocking horse poop.  However it is possible for people to become dependent on, or even obsessed with anything, including talking boards.  There are accounts of people using talking boards and then discovering that “things begin to happen” these include alleged voices and the movement of objects in their home.  Are these the result of psychokinetic energy, spirits, or perceived as happening by a susceptible or expectant mind? 
One of the most mysterious looking buildings in Los Angeles is the famed Bradbury Building.  Over the years, a variety of Hollywood film makers have been drawn to it to shoot films like DOA, Blade Runner and Seven.  The legend says that George Wyman consulted his dead brother via an Ouija Board about it before he built it for Louis Bradbury in 1893.  Wyman had little architectural experience at the time and was unsure about taking on the monumental task.  His brother convinced him, through the board, that the building would make him famous -- and it did.
Henry Ward (better known as Sax Rohmer), the author of the "Fu Manchu" novels, and member of the Golden Dawn, claimed he started his lucrative writing career on advice gained through an Ouija board.  He asked how to best make a living as a writer and the board spelled out "c-h-i-n-a-m-a-n".  The novels that followed brought him fame and fortune.
Is the talking board a harmless toy or a way to way to communicate with the dead? You will have to judge that one for yourself.

Adolphus Theodore Wagner’s Psychograph
The patent for the Psychograph describes the device:
  “The apparatus consists of a combination of rods or pieces of wood joined so as to permit of free action in all parts.  From one of the legs of the instrument hangs a tracer; on one or more of the other extremities is fixed a disc, upon which the operator is to place his hand, and from this extremity or these extremities depends another tracer.  The other parts of the apparatus consist of a glass slab or other non-conductor, and of an alphabet and set of figures or numerals. Upon a person possessing nervous electricity placing his hand upon one of the discs the instrument will immediately work, and the tracer will spell upon the alphabet what is passing in the operator’s mind.”
No mention of communicating with spirits or of the occult occurs in his patent. Only that the messages spelled out by the device are created in the mind of the operator.   This train of thought is duplicated throughout talking board patents.  While many spiritualists, etc., claim to use talking boards to communicate with the other side, the inventors, or patentees, make no such claims. 

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