Ouija Board 101: Everything You Need To Know Before Contacting Spirits This Halloween

With unsettling and often unexplained ways of connecting with spirits, Ouija, or more widely categorised as talking boards, are branded by the media as not for the faint of heart, but are they really as terrifying as they seem?

As a popular culture phenomenon and a signature component of the horror film starter pack, the infamous Ouija board has a reputation bolder than Taylor Swift’s sixth studio album itself. With unsettling and often unexplained ways of connecting with spirits, Ouija, or more widely categorised as talking boards, are branded by the media as not for the faint of heart, but are they really as terrifying as they seem? We spoke to embalmer by day and ghost hunter and spooky TikTok sensation by night, Beckie-Ann Galentine, who has been using Ouija boards for over a decade to uncover everything you should know before delving into the world of Ouija…

“I think I was in college when I first used a Ouija Board. I was gifted the 1990s Ouija with the hands-on the cover and we tried it because we never had before. It didn’t work, but I was also trying to use it with my college friends in a very modern apartment complex. I had carried around the board for shock value at that time because I thought they were “edgy” and finally attempted to use it. We turned the lights out, lit some candles and expected some big production but gave up when nothing happened.

Beckie-Ann Galentine

A History Lesson

“Technically speaking, ‘Ouija’ is the trademark name of a spirit communication device, known as a talking board, that is marketed as a board game and directed at individuals eight years and up. It consists of two parts – a planchette that is almost heart-shaped with an eye and a flat, rectangular board with the alphabet on it. In advertising, they promote asking questions and receiving intelligent responses from the “other side” with Ouija. It is not the only existing talking board, but the mysterious name garners the most attention. 

Ouija takes its roots in Baltimore, Maryland – discussion of talking boards in spiritualist communities is sprinkled in prior- but the patent is credited to the city in the early 1890s. At this time, it was not marketed as it is today, with campy graphics and battery-operated planchettes. The first boards were constructed of attractive stained wood, with stencilled letters and wooden planchettes. Following the introduction, there was an explosion of talking boards – you could collect for a lifetime and not acquire every single piece in its entirety. Take the 1940s alone – tons of novelty companies stuck their neck in the game with spin-off names like ‘We-Ja Girl’ and ‘Sphinx Oracle Board’ – all the names under the sun with brilliant and unique artwork – centred around a similar design: letters arranged in some fashion on a board with a sliding planchette that you and friends call on spirits to move and spell messages with.  Elijah Bond is pointed to for the patent and invention and William Fuld is typically credited with pioneering Ouija in the early years; he then sold the trademark to Parker Brothers which became Hasbro and still holds the trademark today.”

Deciding to use a Ouija Board for the first time is one thing, but for newbies with no experience in paranormal communication, it can be overwhelming to understand the dos, don’ts and phrases essential for a smooth and safe experience. Add these to your talking board terminology sheet and prepare to delve one step further into the paranormal world:

Planchette – the heart-shaped piece that accompanies Ouija, with an eye or viewing glass where the message will be spelt

Seance – A meeting, typically with a medium or other spiritualists, in which people intend to communicate with the dead 

Necromancy – Magic or practice with the intent to communicate with the dead

Eye – The clear plastic or glass part of the planchette that shows the message

Conjure – To “call upon a spirit” by means of magic 

Divination – The practice of seeking knowledge (oftentimes in search of answers about the future) by supernatural means

Soothsayer – A person who predicts the future

For someone just learning – the best tool is in your pocket – your phone. A lot of people are apprehensive about starting to “ghost hunt” because of the cost barrier and shows depicting thousands of dollars in fancy equipment. With your phone, the monetary commitment isn’t there, so people can try a paranormal investigation and if it’s not for them, there’s no loss. A mobile phone is equipped with an audio recorder, a camera and flashlight – all  the bare bones for a beginner’s paranormal investigation. Most things that are must-haves on investigations are lying right around your home!

Beckie-Ann Galentine

Beckie-Ann also recommends the Talking Board Historical Society, “who focus on the facts – not just rumors stemming from Hollywood”, and if you’re feeling particularly boujie, “book yourself a flight to Salem, MA to visit the Salem Witchboard Museum, a historical approach to all things Ouija – it’s thorough and fascinating!”. 

So, down to the nitty-gritty. How does a planchette move across the board and is it as terrifying as it seems?

“The planchette is a somewhat heart-shaped piece with an “eye” that moves around the board when your hands are in place, stopping on certain letters for you to record, ultimately ending with a message. Depending on who you ask – the board works in different fashions – some believe it is an “ideomotor effect,” where the users are moving the planchette subconsciously. Being unaware that you’re causing something to physically move is certainly more frightening than spirits. Others, like myself, believe the latter. Spirits can manipulate their environment – be it through radio noise, recording static, light, or hands-on a planchette – to communicate and it is the spirit guiding the users to relay their messages.” 

I’d say there’s more misinformation than helpful stuff out there! A lot of it arises because of the mesh of different spiritual beliefs and faiths

And as far as the misinformation goes, there’s more out there than jump scares in the Paranormal Activity movies combined. “I’d say there’s more misinformation than helpful stuff out there! A lot of it arises because of the mesh of different spiritual beliefs and faiths – Catholics have starkly different beliefs on what Ouija is versus witches and atheists and that doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily wrong. I’ll never blame someone for their belief. Social media seems to perpetuate the myths; I see value in it because it sparks initial interest and allows an audience who might not be looking for spiritualism to stumble upon it while scrolling. In the long run, stick to books and mentors. With spiritual subjects, I recommend reading a LOT, pulling from many ideas and sources and making your own journey (as long as you’re not being appropriative of other cultures).  

If you’re looking to explore more in-field paranormal findings; investigators local to you may be willing to let you sit-in on a few investigations. Local ghost tours are a good place to start, as well. Build a foundation on factual history, first – that’s the backbone! I also wouldn’t recommend some of the television ghost hunters, many things are embellished or unethical (not done with the intent to help people).”

From The Exorcist (1973) to White Noise (2005), Witchboard (1986) to The Conjuring (2016), there’s been no shortage of Hollywood films born from the ‘never f*ck with a Ouija Board’ sentiment, but according to Beckie-Ann, the movie depictions of talking boards are vastly exaggerated compared to the IRL experiences most people have:

“Let’s start here – have you ever heard of someone getting possessed or dying from using a Ouija board? Outside of Hollywood, there are a handful of real-life cases where people have either killed or had serious consequences following the use of a Ouija board and in many of those, the conditions were already present; the person was already feeling some type of way or the entity was already present, Ouija just happened to be a catalyst.Think about it, most people look to Ouija because they already felt unsettled; correlation is not always causation. 

I’d also like to add that Hollywood doesn’t seem to have a vendetta on talking boards in general – Ouija is the specific one that takes the beating. Individuals consume content that was meant to be for entertainment only and accept it as fact. A meme from a decade ago about how you should never play with one is not a reliable source!”

And whilst they might not be as scary as the world of cinema makes out, there are still some simple dos and don’ts to respect if you decide to delve into the world of spirit communication for the first time. 

“I always attempt to use them with respect. Now, each to their own, but I wouldn’t call someone if I were laughing at them or intoxicated, and I view spirit communication very similarly. If you mock something from the beginning; your energy is going to be matched.

Do not poke or prod at the spirits, make fun of them, or expect them to prove something to you. Don’t use them in graveyards that are active – not because you’re disrupting spirits, but because it’s unsettling for mourners. I also never recommend any type of spirit contact if you’re feeling anxious or depressed; a particularly active location can leave you feeling overstimulated and exhausted. I never store the planchette on the board because it could potentially leave the ability for spirit contact open; most boxes have a placeholder for it under the board.

For me, I like to light white candles, but this is more so based on tradition; some say that lighting a white candle will protect you. Others use crystals and prayers for protection; it all depends on that person’s spiritual practice. As far as mood goes, it’s best to use the Ouija in a quiet area or one with ambient music; such is common with paranormal investigations of any kind. I know there’s an old rule about never playing alone, with the rationale being that it will make you more susceptible to demonic possessions, but I wouldn’t recommend investigating alone for safety issues (a lot of haunted places are less than structurally sound or abandoned and you may encounter other humans).”

“Getting the facts are good icebreaker questions when you’re first delving into a haunt – ask ages, names, what phase in life they’re at, descriptors of what they’re experiencing or if they mind the company. Oh – and mind your Ps and Qs – try to say thank you if you’re getting great responses. As far as what you shouldn’t ask – sometimes, people think it’s in poor taste to ask the spirits how they died or how you’re going to die. Within the community, respected investigators are not keen on provoking spirits and asking them to “prove something.” Keep in mind that you are owed nothing by the spiritual realm and if you’re receiving any communication you should be grateful!

You’re not going to accidentally summon Zozo or get possessed or get tricked into selling your soul to the devil. If you treat it as a board game, that’s what you’ll get out of it and if you treat it as a tool for spirit contact, likewise.

Don’t worry, if you “forget to say goodbye” you’re not leaving the spirit realm wide open, it’s just simply impolite; I try to close by saying that conversation is closed and the invitation is no longer open, but mistakes happen easily, especially during fast-paced investigations.  I know I’ll get criticized for this statement, but it’s based on years of research and knowledge, not because I’m naive.”

Still doubtful about delving into the world of Ouija? You’re not alone in that one. We posed some sceptic FAQs to offer a deciding vote on the matter

Q: Can you become possessed whilst using a ouija board?

A: In my experience, possessions attributed to Ouija use are either stemming from something that was already present, such as a mental health struggle or a misinterpretation of a situation with an already present spirit.

Q: Can Ouija boards open portals?

A: Ouija boards segue a line of communication with supernatural entities and while I believe in the existence of portals, it’s really doubtful that a man-made device could open a pervasive doorway for spirits to come and go as they please. It’s more like a telephone line, not a subway station for spirits.

Q: Do you typically plan out what you would like to ask spirits in advance or simply see what you’re drawn to at the time?

A:  I try to have questions in mind so other investigators can sort of “popcorn” back and forth with me until we pinpoint more specific information at a haunted location. Occasionally, someone thinks of a brilliant question and everyone will compliment them for it – those organically appear on a whim in open dialogue with spirits.

Q: How do you handle disapproving peers? 

A:  I would never want to push someone towards something so controversial. Of course, I will always encourage delving into the history, because it is absolutely fascinating and the art is beautiful, but I’d never try to influence someone’s feelings towards using one. I often just say, if they’re so dangerous, how could they be made by the same company that makes “My Little Pony?”

Q: Have you ever had any negative experiences that made you feel unsafe whilst using a ouija board that made you reconsider using them? 

A: In the past decade, no! I have one board from 1911,  that if you touch it where the handprint is stained, the lights sometimes go out, but that’s probably a coincidence. I even used one in the Conjuring house – only intelligent responses were found. It’s honestly going to be okay. 

You can find Beckie-Ann on Instagram and TikTok at @mybloodygalentine and join her world of witchy, paranormal content made manageably spooky, even for the biggest of scaredy cats.