How Ouija Boards Work

Making Contact

From the 19th to the 21st centuries, the instructions included with the Ouija board have stayed pretty much the same. The basic process of conducting a séance via Ouija goes like this:

Two or more players lightly rest their fingertips on the planchette. One asks a question while everyone in the séance concentrates. Players then watch as the planchette glides around the board, seemingly of its own accord, to various letters or numbers or the "yes" or "no" words. The planchette has an opening in the center through which players can read the letters and numbers it stops on. The yesses and noes are instant answers, while the letters and numbers are written down for later analysis. Ideally, they spell words or sentences the players can understand [source: Hasbro].


It may take up to five minutes for the planchette to start moving. If, after five minutes, nothing happens, players should ask another question and try again.

But that's a pretty bare-bones approach. The Internet has many tips for improving chances of contact. For instance, you should set the mood. Mr. Fuld himself advised that you:

Have no one at the table who will not sit seriously and respectfully. If you use it in a frivolous spirit, asking ridiculous questions, laughing over it, you naturally get undeveloped influences around you [source: Museum of Talking Boards].

Concentration is essential. Experts in this sort of thing advise that you dim the lights, burn incense and breathe deeply. Witchboard World recommends turning off daily "noise" like televisions and computers and using candles instead of electric lighting. Some practitioners begin with a ritual: perhaps a recitation, song, or request for only friendly spirits to speak through the board [source: Museum of Talking Boards].

How players pose their questions matters, too. You should ask simple questions, one at a time, speaking clearly. Avoid scary questions; if the spirit you contact turns out to be an evil one, it may "feed on your fear" and use it to mess with you [source: The Astral World]. Along those lines, always move the planchette to "good bye" before ending a séance, lest the portal to the other side stay open, allowing entry to all sorts of unsavory entities [source: Thrillvania].

Finally, the ability to channel the dead doesn't happen overnight. The Museum of Talking Boards recommends 30 minutes of practice daily for two weeks. The Astral World, however, recommends moderation, "only a handful of hours each week, if that." If you develop a Ouija addiction, unscrupulous spirits might sense it and decide to mess with you.

Got it, you say. But what, if anything, is really going on? Are spirits really moving the pointer?