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The ouija (// WEE-jə), also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words "yes", "no", "hello" (occasionally), and "goodbye", along with various symbols and graphics. It uses a planchette (small heart-shaped piece of wood or plastic) as a movable indicator to indicate the spirit's message by spelling it out on the board during a séance. Participants place their fingers on the planchette, and it is moved about the board to spell out words. "Ouija" has become a trademark that is often used generically to refer to any talking board.
Following its commercial introduction by businessman Elijah Bond on July 1, 1890, the Ouija board was regarded as a harmless parlor game unrelated to the occult until American Spiritualist Pearl Curran popularized its use as a divining tool during World War I.
Paranormal and supernatural beliefs associated with Ouija have been harshly criticized by the scientific community. The action of the board can be parsimoniously explained by unconscious movements of those controlling the pointer, a psychophysiological phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect.
Some mainstream Christian denominations have "warned against using Ouija boards", holding that they can lead to demonic possession. Occultists, on the other hand, are divided on the issue, with some saying that it can be a positive transformation; others rehash the warnings of many Christians and caution "inexperienced users" against it.
One of the first mentions of the automatic writing method used in the Ouija board is found in China around 1100 AD, in historical documents of the Song Dynasty. The method was known as fuji (扶乩), "planchette writing". The use of planchette writing as an ostensible means of contacting the dead and the spirit-world continued, and, albeit under special rituals and supervisions, was a central practice of the Quanzhen School, until it was forbidden by the Qing Dynasty. Several entire scriptures of the Daozang are supposedly works of automatic planchette writing. Similar methods of mediumistic spirit writing have been practiced in ancient India, Greece, Rome, and medieval Europe.
During the late 19th century, planchettes were widely sold as a novelty. Businessman Elijah Bond had the idea to patent a planchette sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed. The patentees filed on May 28, 1890 for patent protection and thus had invented the first Ouija board. Issue date on the patent was February 10, 1891. They received U.S. Patent 446,054. Bond was an attorney and was an inventor of other objects in addition to this device.
An employee of Elijah Bond, William Fuld took over the talking board production and in 1901, he started production of his own boards under the name "Ouija". Charles Kennard (founder of Kennard Novelty Company which manufactured Fuld's talking boards and where Fuld had worked as a varnisher) claimed he learned the name "Ouija" from using the board and that it was an ancient Egyptian word meaning "good luck." When Fuld took over production of the boards, he popularized the more widely accepted etymology: that the name came from a combination of the French and German words for "yes".
The Fuld name would become synonymous with the Ouija board, as Fuld reinvented its history, claiming that he himself had invented it. The strange talk about the boards from Fuld's competitors flooded the market, and all these boards enjoyed a heyday from the 1920s through the 1960s. Fuld sued many companies over the "Ouija" name and concept right up until his death in 1927. In 1966, Fuld's estate sold the entire business to Parker Brothers, which was sold to Hasbro in 1991, and which continues to hold all trademarks and patents. About ten brands of talking boards are sold today under various names.
Various studies have been produced, recreating the effects of the Ouija board in the lab and showing that, under laboratory conditions, the subjects were moving the planchette involuntarily. Skeptics have described Ouija board users as 'operators'. Some critics noted that the messages ostensibly spelled out by spirits were similar to whatever was going through the minds of the subjects. According to Professor of neurology Terence Hines in his book Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (2003):
The planchette is guided by unconscious muscular exertions like those responsible for table movement. Nonetheless, in both cases, the illusion that the object (table or planchette) is moving under its own control is often extremely powerful and sufficient to convince many people that spirits are truly at work... The unconscious muscle movements responsible for the moving tables and Ouija board phenomena seen at seances are examples of a class of phenomena due to what psychologists call a dissociative state. A dissociative state is one in which consciousness is somehow divided or cut off from some aspects of the individual’s normal cognitive, motor, or sensory functions.
Ouija boards have been criticized in the press since their inception, having been variously described as "'vestigial remains' of primitive belief-systems" and a con to part fools from their money. Some journalists have described reports of Ouija board findings as 'half truths' and have suggested that their inclusion in national newspapers lowers the national discourse overall.
Use in creation of literature
Ouija boards have been the source of inspiration for literary works, used as guidance in writing or as a form of channeling literary works. As a result of Ouija boards' becoming popular in the early 20th century, by the 1920s many "psychic" books were written of varying quality often initiated by Ouija board use.
Patience Worth was allegedly a spirit contacted by Pearl Lenore Curran (February 15, 1883 – December 4, 1937) for over 20 years. This symbiotic relationship produced several novels, and works of poetry and prose, which Pearl Curran claimed were delivered to her through channelling Worth's spirit during sessions with a Ouija board, and which works Curran than transcribed.
In 1982, poet James Merrill released an apocalyptic 560-page epic poem entitled The Changing Light at Sandover, which documented two decades of messages dictated from the Ouija board during séances hosted by Merrill and his partner David Noyes Jackson. Sandover, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1983, was published in three volumes beginning in 1976. The first contained a poem for each of the letters A through Z, and was called The Book of Ephraim. It appeared in the collection Divine Comedies, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1977. According to Merrill, the spirits ordered him to write and publish the next two installments, Mirabell: Books of Number in 1978 (which won the National Book Award for Poetry) and Scripts for the Pageant in 1980.
Most religious criticism of the Ouija board has come from Christians, primarily Roman Catholics and evangelicals in the United States. Catholic Answers, a Christian apologetics organization, states that "The Ouija board is far from harmless, as it is a form of divination (seeking information from supernatural sources). The fact of the matter is, the Ouija board really does work, and the only "spirits" that will be contacted through it are evil ones." In 2001, Ouija boards were burned in Alamogordo, New Mexico by fundamentalist groups alongside Harry Potter books as "symbols of witchcraft." Religious criticism has also expressed beliefs that the Ouija board reveals information which should only be on God's hands, and thus it is a tool of Satan. A spokesperson for Human Life International described the boards as a portal to talk to spirits and called for Hasbro to be prohibited from marketing them.
G. K. Chesterton used a Ouija board in his teenage years. Around 1893 he had gone through a crisis of scepticism and depression, and during this period Chesterton experimented with the Ouija board and grew fascinated with the occult.
Early press releases stated that Vincent Furnier's stage and band name "Alice Cooper" was agreed upon after a session with a Ouija board, during which it was revealed that Furnier was the reincarnation of a 17th-century witch with that name. Alice Cooper later revealed that he just thought of the first name that came to his head while discussing a new band name with his band.
On the July 25, 2007 edition of the paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM, host George Noory attempted to carry out a live Ouija board experiment on national radio despite the objections of one of his guests. After recounting a near-death experience in 2000 and noting bizarre events taking place, Noory canceled the experiment.
Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi claimed under oath that, in a séance held in 1978 with other professors at the University of Bologna, the "ghost" of Giorgio La Pira used a Ouija to spell the name of the street where Aldo Moro was being held by the Red Brigades. According to Peter Popham of The Independent: "Everybody here has long believed that Prodi's Ouija board tale was no more than an ill-advised and bizarre way to conceal the identity of his true source, probably a person from Bologna's seething far-left underground whom he was pledged to protect."
The Mars Volta wrote their album Bedlam in Goliath (2008) based on their alleged experiences with a Ouija board. According to their story (written for them by a fiction author, Jeremy Robert Johnson), Omar Rodriguez Lopez purchased one while traveling in Jerusalem. At first the board provided a story which became the theme for the album. Strange events allegedly related to this activity occurred during the recording of the album: the studio flooded, one of the album's main engineers had a nervous breakdown, equipment began to malfunction, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala's foot was injured. Following these bad experiences the band buried the Ouija board.
In London in 1994, convicted murderer Stephen Young was granted a retrial after it was learned that four of the jurors had conducted a Ouija board séance and had "contacted" the murdered man, who had named Young as his killer. Young was convicted for a second time at his retrial and jailed for life.
In popular culture
- In his book, Possessed, author Thomas B. Allen discusses the Exorcism of Robbie Mannheim, in which the aunt of Mannheim introduces him to a Ouija board. The story of the possession and exorcism formed the basis for the film The Exorcist discussed below.
- Childhood's End (1953 novel) describes a futuristic version of a Ouija board. Through said board, the home planet of the Overlords is revealed. Author Arthur C. Clarke ascribes the revelation to the ideomotor effect.
- The Diviners (Libba Bray novel) opens with a group of teens using a Ouija board. They forget to end the session and accidentally release a menacing spirit into the world. The rest of the novel focuses on various occult themes.
- In Stephen King's book, The Stand, the character of Nadine receives her first communication from the book's demonic antagonist, Randall Flagg, as a teenager while attending a slumber party and using a Ouija board with some of the other girls.
- Koko the Clown (1920 live action/animation short), the first cartoon to feature a Ouija board.
- The Uninvited (1944 horror film), the film includes a séance using an impromptu Ouija board made from a Scrabble game set and an inverted wine glass.
- 13 Ghosts (1960 horror film), which includes one Ouija scene where the spirits spell their intention to H-U-R-T and maybe even K-I-L-L the unfortunate family.
- Tales From the Crypt (1972 horror film), an adaptation of the eponymous 1950's comic book series, composed of short tales. In "Poetic Justice", a kindly neighborhood eccentric (played by Peter Cushing) is warned by his dead wife, via a Ouija board, of danger from his neighbors.
- The Exorcist (1973 horror film). A Ouija board figures prominently in this horror film about 12-year old Regan McNeil (played by Linda Blair), who becomes possessed by a demon she calls Captain Howdie.
- Seytan (1974 Turkish cult horror film based), based on writer/filmmaker William Peter Blatty and director/producer William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Seytan, directed by Metin Erksan, features a 12-year-old girl named Gul (Canan Perver), living a high society life with her mother in Istanbul, who becomes possessed by the Devil after experimenting with a Ouija Board.
- Amityville 3-D (1983 horror film), a skeptical writer buys the infamous Amityville house, though his family is a little leery of the idea. Meg Ryan's character asks the glass, "Is there anyone in this room who is really in danger?"
- The Devil's Gift (1984 horror film), an evil spirit conjured by an old crone through a Ouija board kills her, demolishes her home, then lodges in her cymbal-playing toy monkey that takes over the mind of a suburban housewife and wreaks havoc on the young boy who receives the gift as a birthday gift and his father.
- Deadly Messages (1985 made-for-TV thriller film), bored single Laura Daniels (Kathleen Beller finds new interest in life when she discovers an old Ouija board.
- Spookies (1986 independent horror film), a group of "losers looking for laughs invade an old mansion unaware that an evil sorcerer is lurking in the attic just waiting for a few juicy new sacrifices to use in his demonic plan to resurrect his long dead wife. A Ouija board, found in a closet, prophesies then directs the killings of the unwitting guests by creatures best described as excrement men."
- Witchboard (1986 horror film), in this first film in the Witchboard trilogy, a gathering of friends using a Ouija board channels an evil entity impersonating the spirit of a little boy. At certain theaters, Paragon Arts International distributed complimentary Witchboards to those who watched the film on opening night.
- Awakenings (1990 drama film based on Oliver Sacks' eponymous 1973 memoir), while experimenting with a catatonic patient (Robert De Niro), a research physician (Robin Williams) at a mental hospital caring for brain damaged patients discovers "the apparently non-responsive patient is functioning after all, if only on some deep inner level." The film ends with Sayer standing over Leonard behind a Ouija board.
- Repossessed (1990 comedy film), in this spoof of The Exorcist, Linda Blair reprises her earlier role, this time as a now grown woman who is "repossessed" by the Devil, and Leslie Nielson is the exorcist who must free her. In the Ouija scene, someone asks: "Will Ted Kennedy ever be elected president?"
- Sorority House Massacre 2: Nighty Nightmare (1990 slasher film), five coeds find a Ouija board in the basement of their seedy new college sorority house. However, before the Ouija can reveal anything meaningful, the planchette explodes and flies into the fireplace.
- And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird (1991 sci-fi film), two teenage brothers with high IQs create a robot after their father dies. At a Halloween party, the older boy inadvertently releases his late father's spirit during a session with a talking board. The father's spirit takes up residency in the boys' robot, and in one scene the robot reveals his true identity to the boys' mother.
- Radio Flyer (1992 drama-fantasy film), this film centers on two brothers whose drunken stepfather - who insists upon being called "The King" - sadistically terrorizes and beats them. "The boys try to deal with the real-life monster by vanquishing imaginary ones and spending their days as far from 'The King' as possible." While using a Rajah Far East Talking Board, two brothers ask, "Is there really a Bigfoot?"
- Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway (1993 horror film), Paige (Ami Dolenz), a timid, attractive woman, lets an artist's loft to escape a controlling boyfriend and to pursue her interest in painting. Her problems begin when she uses a Ouija board left by a former tenant, an exotic dancer named Susan, and she learns from the Ouija that Susan was murdered and no one is aware of the crime. Paige searches for Susan's body, intending to expose her killer, but an ungrateful Susan escapes the spirit world and possesses Paige's body so that she can "get her life back."
- Only You (1994 romantic comedy film), 11-year-old Faith first learns who the man of her dreams is when she asks a Ouija board who her future husband will be, and the message indicator spells out D-A-M-O-N B-R-A-D-L-E-Y. Years later at a carnival, a fortune teller startles her by revealing the same name. Convinced that Damon Bradley is her destined soul mate but resigned to the realization that they will never meet, Faith (Marisa Tomei) settles for a really boring guy instead.
- Witchboard 3: The Possession (1995 horror film), a young married couple inherits from their recently deceased landlord a Ouija board that can correctly predict the stock market. However, unbeknownst to them, the landlord is actually a demon who uses the Ouija as a portal, possesses the body of the young man, and then tries to impregnate the wife and later her best friend. The wife must battle for her husband's soul.
- What Lies Beneath (2000 supernatural horror drama film), Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer), the wife of a university research scientist, uses a Kmart Ouija board to try to determine whether she's having an attack of "empty nest syndrome" and losing her mind, or a her lakeside Vermont home is haunted by a ghost. This is the first film to feature a séance in the bathroom.
- Ouija (2003 horror film set in Barcelona, Spain), a group of friends plays with a Ouija board and communicates with spirits.
- Satanic (2006 horror film), directed by Dan Golden and starring Annie Sorell, Jeffrey Combs, Angus Scrimm, and James Russo.
- Left in Darkness (2006 horror film), produced by IDT Entertainment, and Soul Eaters Productions Inc., the film features a young woman, whose mother died giving birth to her, who is facing eternal life in either Heaven or Hell. She must make the choice to listen to either her guardian angel, whom she met when she was a child, or the evil ones.
- Ouija (Seance) (2007 Filipino drama, horror, international, art house fim), as described at Rotten Tomatoes: "Reunited for their grandmother's funeral, half sisters Aileen (Judy Ann Santos) and Romina (Jolina Magdangal) decide to play with an old Ouija board with their cousins (Rhian Ramos and Iza Calzado). Bad idea: In the process, they release a deadly spirit intent on destruction. This Filipino horror film follows the girls' terrifying ordeal and desperate effort to lay the murderous spirit to rest.
- Paranormal Activity (2007 American supernatural horror film), the film centers on a young couple, Katie and Micah, who are haunted by a supernatural presence in their home. It is presented in the style of "found footage", from cameras set up by the couple in an attempt to document what is haunting them.
- Tempus Fugit (2008 film), as described by IMDb, "Hector and Katie Anderson's marriage is thrown into upheaval when Hector finds and begins experimenting with a mysterious Ouija board."
- Credo (2008 low-budget psychological horror film, also known as The Devil's Curse), five British college students find themselves trapped in an abandoned seminary with a demon.
- Necromentia (2009 horror film), as IMDb describes, this film "Explores the use of a tattooed Ouija Board through the lives and perspectives of 4 people."
- Ouija Board (2009 film), directed by Matt Stone. As described at IMDb: "Escaping to the Scottish countryside for a weekend of sex and drugs seemed a good idea to Kerry and her new boyfriend Paul."
- Haunted Poland (2011 horror film in the found footage genre, pieced together from amateur footage), the story, told cinéma vérité-style, depicts the contents of recorded tape filmed by a couple Ewelyn (played by Ewelina Lukaszewska) and Pau (played by Pau Masó), who visited Poland to meet and visit family. However, our duo soon find themselves disturbed by all manner of strange phenomena upon visiting the girl's hometown where she once played with a Ouija board.
- The Pact (2012 American horror film), follows Annie, whose mother has recently died, as she tries to discover what caused her sister, Nicole, and her cousin, Liz, to disappear. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
- Ouija (2014 action, adventure, horror, mystery, suspense, supernatural thriller film), as described by Rotten Tomatoes: "a group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board".
- In the I Love Lucy episode "The Seance" episode (November 26, 1951; season 1, episode 7), the Ricardos visit Ricky's possible boss, Mr. Merriweather, a theatrical producer, who wants to talk to his "dear, departed Tilly" who the Ricardos think is his wife, but was his cocker spaniel. He tried unsuccessfully to contact her using the Ouija board, wearing out three of them. He next wants to try a seance to contact her. The seance takes place later at the Ricardo's apartment, with both Lucy and Fred Mertz pretending to be his wife, but are shocked to find out later who Tilly really is. Ethel Mertz is the Medium, with Fred introducing her, "Introducing, Raya, the Medium. Well done, Medium Raya!"
- In the The Sopranos episode "Calling All Cars" (November 24, 2002; season 4, episode 11), the De Angelises and Baccalieris visit the Soprano house for Sunday dinner. After dinner, Carmela insists that A.J. and his girlfriend Devin play a game with Bobby, Jr. and Sophia. In response, A.J. pulls out a Ouija board conducts a mock, prank séance (during which A.J. fakes the sound of a spirit knocking and squeezes water on Bobby, Jr.'s head) that terrifies the Baccalieri children. Carmela and Tony scold A.J. for being insensitive to the kids who have lost their mother.
- In the "Friends" episode "The One with Phoebe's Ex-Partner" (February 6, 1997; season 3, episode 14), Phoebe and Monica are seen using a Ouija Board at the kitchen and Monica startles when Phoebe’s pager goes off.
- In the Breaking Bad episode Caballo Sin Nombre (March 28, 2010; season 3, episode 2), a group of drug dealers use a ouija board to communicate with their mute uncle, Hector Salamanca. Hector chimes a bell every time that they cross a letter that he wishes for them to note and spells out 'Walter White' the real name of their rival Heisenberg.
- In the "Crazy" episode of "Pretty Little Liars (TV series)" (July 24, 2012; season 3, episode 7), Mona Vanderwaal and Hanna Marin use a ouija board to try and contact their apparently deceased friend Alison DiLaurentis. This a flashback scene from after Alison's murder and before the pilot episode. Mona encourages Hanna to join her in using the ouija board to find out if Alison is truly dead. They join hands and ask after the fate of Alison. The ouija board spells out A-L-I-V-E and when Hanna looks up she believes she sees a flash of Alison on the porch.
- In an American Horror Story: Coven episode, The Axeman Cometh (November 13, 2013; season 3, episode 6), the witches utilize a ouija board in order to find out who was responsible for another witch's death. The witches, Zoe, Nan and Queenie, communicate with the Axeman's spirit and is released after making a deal with Zoe.
- "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" was a 1989 single released by Morrissey
- Marilyn Manson notably used a huge Ouija board backdrop during a few of their early concerts and guitarist Scott Putesky was known for his infamous Ouija board guitar.
- In the video slots game Hex Breaker, if the player gets a ladder on the second and fourth reels, he/she enters a bonus game. The bonus game features a black cat which hops from one step to another on the ladder, earning credit points of the step the feline stops on. The number of hops the black cat makes from step to step on the ladder is determined by the number on the board selected by the planchette.
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- Raising the devil: Satanism, new religions, and the media. University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved 2007-12-31. "Practically since its invention a century ago, mainstream Christian religions, including Catholicism, have warned against the use of Oujia boards, claiming that they are a means of dabbling with Satanism (Hunt 1985:93-95). Occultists, interestingly, are divided on the Oujia board's value. Jane Roberts (1966) and Gina Covina (1979) express confidence that it is a device for positive transformation and they provide detailed instructions on how to use it to contact spirits and map the other world. But some occultists have echoed Christian warnings, cautioning inexperienced persons away from it."
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- "The Ouija Experiment (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes.
- Cain, D. Lynn, "OUIJA – For the Record" 2009 ISBN 978-0-557-15871-3
- Carpenter, W.B., "On the Influence of Suggestion in Modifying and directing Muscular Movement, independently of Volition", Royal Institution of Great Britain, (Proceedings), 1852, (12 March 1852), pp. 147–153.
- Cornelius, J. Edward, Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board. Feral House, 2005. ISBN 1-932595-10-4
- Gruss, Edmond C., The Ouija Board: A Doorway to the Occult 1994 ISBN 0-87552-247-5
- Hunt, Stoker, Ouija: The Most Dangerous Game. 1992 ISBN 0-06-092350-4
- Hill, Joe, Heart-Shaped Box
- Murch, R., "A Brief History of the Ouija Board", Fortean Times, No.249, (June 2009), pp. 32–33.
- Schneck, R.D., "Ouija Madness", Fortean Times, No.249, (June 2009), pp. 30–37.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ouija.|
- Information on talking boards
- Museum Of Talking Boards
- The Official Website of William Fuld and home of the Ouija board
- World wide Ouija on Facebook
- Ouija Board Instructions
- Ouija board helps psychologists probe the subconscious from New Scientist
- The Skeptics' Dictionary: Ouija
- An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
- How does a Ouija board work? from The Straight Dope
- Trade marks and patents
- Trade-Mark Registration: "Ouija" (Trademark no. 18,919; 3 February 1891: Kennard Novelty Company)
- "Ouija or Egyptian Luck Board" (patent no.446,054; 10 February 1891: Elijah J. Bond – assigned to Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin)
- "Talking-Board" (patent no.462,819; 10 November 1891: Charles W. Kennard)
- "Game Apparatus" (patent no. 479,266: 19 July 1892: William Fuld)
- "Game Apparatus" (patent no. 619,236: 7 February 1899: Justin F. Simonds)
- "Ouija or Talking Board" (patent no.1,125,833; 19 January 1915: William Fuld)
- "Design for the Movable Member of a Talking-Board" (patent no.D56,001; 10 August 1920: William Fuld)
- "Design of Finger-Rest and Pointer for a Game" (patent no. D56,085; 10 August 1920: John Vanderkamp – assigned to Goldsmith Publishing Company)
- "Message Interpreting Device" or "Psychic Messenger" (patent no.1,352,046; 7 September 1920: Frederick H. Black)
- "Design for the Movable Member of a Talking-Board" (patent no.D56,001; 10 August 1920: William Fuld)
- "Ouija Board" (patent no.D56,449; 26 October 1920: Clifford H. McGlasson)
- "Psychic Game" (patent no.1,370,249; 1 March 1921: Theodore H. White)
- "Ouija Board" (patent no.1,400,791; 20 December 1921: Harry M. Bigelow)
- "Game Board" (patent no.1,422,042; 4 July 1922: John R. Donnelly)
- "(Magnetic) Toy" (patent no.1,422,775; 11 July 1922: Leon Martocci-Pisculli)
- "Psychic Instrument" (patent no.1,476,158; 4 December 1923: Grover C. Haffner)
- "Game" (patent no.1,514,260; 4 November 1924: Alfred A. Rees)
- "Amusement Device" (patent no.1,870,677; 9 August 1932: William A. Fuld)
- "Amusement Device" (patent no.2,220,455; 5 November 1940: John P. McCarthy)
- "Finger Pressure Actuated Message Interpreting Amusement Device" (patent no.2,511,377; 13 June 1950: Raymond S. Richmond)
- "Message Device With Freely Swingable Pointer" (patent no.3,306,617; 28 February 1967: Thomas W. Gillespie)
- "'Ouija board' appeal (against second guilty verdict) dismissed" – R. v. Young (1995)
- BBC video on Ouija Board
- Ouija at DMOZ