Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The Ouija Boards

The Planchettes
The ancient Planchette & Ouija talking Boards ..... Is it just a Game or the Dangerous spirit rising tools????
As an invention it is very old. It was in use in the days of Pythagoras, about 540 B.C. According to a French historical account of the philosopher's life, his sect held frequent séances or circles at which 'a mystic table, moving on wheels, moved towards signs, which the philosopher and his pupil, Philolaus, interpreted to the audience as being revelations supposedly from the unseen world.' (- Encyclopedia of Psychic Science )
Writers of occult literature love to talk about the Ouija board's ancient roots. Ouija boards, they tell us, were in use in ancient Greece, Rome, China, or whatever other cultures the authors deem important. They steadfastly maintain that modern Ouija boards are the direct descendants of its more primitive ancestors. If the ancestor wasn't a Ouija board exactly, it was "Ouija-like." This can mean that almost any early divination device qualifies. Few question this and new writers repeat the words of the old without thinking very critically about it. Ancient Ouija boards: fact or fiction? Let's take a look.
The statement between the twin lamps at the top of this page comes from Nandor Fodor's, Encyclopedia of Psychic Science (1934). Fodor takes it word for word from Lewis Spence's earlier book, An Encyclopedia of Occultism (1920). This is the one recurring quote found in almost every academic article on the Ouija board. Spence claims that Ouija boards are ancient and, according to a French historian, a "mystic table on wheels" was in common use among the Pythagoreans. An interesting claim, but is it accurate? Apparently not. Of all the oracles and divination methods mentioned in the writings about Pythagoras and his followers, this "mystic table" isn't among them. Who was the French historian in Spence's account? Spence doesn't say. His description is the first and only one of this ancient Ouija board in any historic record. Spence is also the first to write: "In 1853, a well known French spiritualist, M. Planchette, invented the instrument to which he gave his name." Not only is there no record of a French Spiritualist, well known or otherwise, named M. Planchette, but the word "planchette" means, "little plank" in French. French Spiritist Allan Kardec explains in detail how the planchette evolves in his The Medium's Book (1861). Before it was the little plank (board) it was the little basket. Before that, it was the little table. Neither Kardec nor any other writer of the period credits the planchette to a person with the same name. Perhaps there is something intriguing about these two oft-repeated Ouija legends that keeps them alive. Or, it may be that writers repeat them simply because they believe them to be true. You may draw your own conclusions.
Edmond Gruss describes an ancient Roman Ouija-like board in his, The Ouija Board, A Doorway to the Occult (1994): "Fourth-century Byzantine historian Ammianus Marcellinus records one of the earliest forms of divination, which used a pendulum and a dish engraved with the alphabet." This is an interesting and creditable account from Ammianus Marcellinus' The Later Roman Empire (A.D. 354-378). In his narrative, two sorry individuals, Patricius and Hilarius, under arrest for creating an oracle to define who would succeed the emperor, plead before the court:
My lords, in an unlucky moment we put together out of laurel twigs in the shape of the Delphic tripod the hapless little table before you. We consecrated it with cryptic spells and a long series of magical rites, and at last made it work. The way in which it did so, when we wished to consult it about hidden matters, was this. It was placed in the middle of a room thoroughly fumigated with spices from Arabia, and was covered with a round dish made from the alloys of various metals. The outer rim of the dish was cunningly engraved with the twenty-four letters of the alphabet separated by accurate intervals. A man dressed in linen garments and wearing linen sandals, with a fillet around his head and green twigs from a lucky tree in his hand, officiated as priest. After uttering a set prayer to invoke the divine power which presides over prophecy, he took his place above the tripod as his knowledge of the proper ritual had taught him, and set swinging a ring suspended by a very fine cotton thread which had been consecrated by a mystic formula. The ring, moving in a series of jumps over the marked spaces, came to rest on particular letters, which made up hexameters appropriate to the questions put and in perfect scansion and rhythm, like the lines produced at Delphi or by the oracle of the Branchidae.
Unfortunately for Patricius and Hilarius, things did not go well after their inquisition: "both the accused were fearfully mangled by the torturers hooks and taken away unconscious."
We should mention, in case you didn't read it clearly, that the tripod in the story has everything to do with the Greek oracle at Delphi and nothing to do with the three-legged planchette, as modern writers sometimes mistakenly report. The oracle is clearly a pendulum dish and not a talking board, an important distinction, but why quibble? Could this be an early ancestor of the modern Ouija board? Historically, pendulum devices like this must have been rare since there is little record of common use from Roman times to the 1850's. If we are speaking of evolution, a process in which something passes by degree to a different or advanced state, it's hard to make the connection to modern day Ouija boards. 1500 years is a big leap, even for the spirits to make. It is an ancient alphabet oracle, but it is not a relative of the Ouija board.
Stoker Hunt in his, Ouija the Most Dangerous Game (1985), writes about Ouija boards in ancient China: "In China, centuries before the birth of Confucius (551?-479 B.C.), the use of Ouija-like instruments was commonplace, considered a nonthreatening way to communicate with the spirits of the dead." He is speaking of a well-known form of Chinese spirit writing (Fu Chi, Fuji, Fuluan, or Jiangbi). Some Chinese mystics believe that a divine spirit can take possession of a writing brush or a writing tool similar to the western planchette. Opinions vary among historians about the age of this practice, but it doesn't matter here. This "Ouija-like" instrument is a Ouija-like board without the board, letters, numbers, or sliding message indicator. In other words, it isn't a Ouija board at all.
Hunt goes on to say, "In thirteenth-century Tartary, the Mongols used Ouija-like instruments for purposes of divination and instruction." Although not referenced, this comes directly from Epes Sargent's book, Planchette; or The Despair of Science (1869): "According to Huc, the Catholic missionary, table-rapping and table-turning were in use in the thirteenth century among the Mongols, in the wilds of Tartary. The Chinese recognize spiritual intervention as a fact, and it is an element in their religious systems." It is fun to ponder where Huc the Catholic missionary got the information that table rapping and table-turning were in use in the thirteenth century among the Mongols. That paints quite a mental picture, but the message is clear: Huc is talking about table-turning. Almost all scholars agree that table turning originated in 19th century America. All scholars except for Huc the Catholic missionary, Stoker Hunt, and others who repeat such unsubstantiated ideas. And, need we say it? There is absolutely no historical evidence that American spiritualists were influenced by 13th century Mongols.
To be an ancestor of something, there must be some connection, some evolution, some influence. The instrument has to have been in wide enough use to connect to the popular imagination. As relationships go, the talking boards of today most likely grew out the use of the alphabet and alphabetic pasteboards during 19th century spiritualistic séances and not from pendulum oracles or other devices used many centuries earlier.
In 1848, the Fox sisters realized immediately that calling out the individual letters of the alphabet, and having the spirits knock accordingly, was easier than asking lengthy "yes/no" questions. The use of alphabet pasteboards became common among table-tippers who came to the same conclusion. And there were mediums who didn't wait for the spirits to knock but instead relied on a kind of divine intuition: "During a communication between the medium and the supposed spirit, the former passed his hand over the alphabet, until he found his finger sensibly and irresistibly arrested at a certain letter, and so on, until the word, the sentence, was completed." -The Rappers (1854).
Starting in the 1850's, alphabet boards made the transition to the dial-plate instruments, also known as psychographs, first in the United States and then in Europe. The first talking board with a detachable sliding message indicator appeared around 1886. That's a short thirty-eight year time frame. If the Ouija board has relatives they are the devices of this period: the talking tables, the alphabet pasteboards, and the early dial-plate instruments.So the question still hovers what is it Truth or Fable?

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