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10 Chilling Crimes Involving Ouija Boards

Reader's Digest Canada Logo By Lauren Cahn, RD.com of Reader's Digest Canada | Slide 1 of 11: Chances are, you came across your fair share of Ouija boards as a kid, but it's probably been a while since you used one or even thought about one. Here's a refresher: A Ouija board consists of a board printed with letters and numbers and a small, heart-shaped plank (a "planchette") that slides smoothly over the board—seemingly of its own volition—to relay messages from "the spirit world." That being said, the planchette moves only with participant interaction (i.e., when participants lay their fingertips on it), and its current manufacturer, Hasbro, markets the board solely as a "game." When the Ouija board was first marketed in 1890, however, it was billed as a method by which the living could communicate with the dead. This was an attempt to capitalize on the Victorian obsession with "spiritualism," the belief that it's possible to communicate with spirits. The Ouija board has always had its believers. In 1916, for example, a woman by the name of Pearl Curran became an overnight celebrity by writing poems and stories she claimed were dictated, via her Ouija board, by the spirit of a 17th-century woman. The Ouija board has also always had its doubters. A few years after Curran enjoyed her wild success, her friend Emily Hutchings had a book published that she claimed had been dictated by Mark Twain (who had been dead for ten years) via Ouija board. However, Twain's estate was having no part of it and sued the publisher, which responded by ceasing publication and destroying all copies. Although scientific studies have debunked the Ouija board's ability to move without, at least, subconscious intervention, Ouija board historian Robert Murch takes the position that whether it's science or spirits, Ouija boards "work." What Murch means is that for the past 130 years, we've been asking Ouija boards questions, and they have been answering; the only issue is whether those answers come from the spirit world, from our subconscious, or from deliberate manipulation. For the unsophisticated, what the Ouija board says can seem like immutable truth. The same is true for those with mental illness or cognitive deficits. That's precisely why the Ouija board has played a role in some chilling crimes over the years.

The Ouija board's dark history

Chances are, you came across your fair share of Ouija boards as a kid, but it's probably been a while since you used one or even thought about one. Here's a refresher: A Ouija board consists of a board printed with letters and numbers and a small, heart-shaped plank (a "planchette") that slides smoothly over the board—seemingly of its own volition—to relay messages from "the spirit world." That being said, the planchette moves only with participant interaction (i.e., when participants lay their fingertips on it), and its current manufacturer, Hasbro, markets the board solely as a "game."

When the Ouija board was first marketed in 1890, however, it was billed as a method by which the living could communicate with the dead. This was an attempt to capitalize on the Victorian obsession with "spiritualism," the belief that it's possible to communicate with spirits. The Ouija board has always had its believers. In 1916, for example, a woman by the name of Pearl Curran became an overnight celebrity by writing poems and stories she claimed were dictated, via her Ouija board, by the spirit of a 17th-century woman.

The Ouija board has also always had its doubters. A few years after Curran enjoyed her wild success, her friend Emily Hutchings had a book published that she claimed had been dictated by Mark Twain (who had been dead for ten years) via Ouija board. However, Twain's estate was having no part of it and sued the publisher, which responded by ceasing publication and destroying all copies. Although scientific studies have debunked the Ouija board's ability to move without, at least, subconscious intervention, Ouija board historian Robert Murch takes the position that whether it's science or spirits, Ouija boards "work."

What Murch means is that for the past 130 years, we've been asking Ouija boards questions, and they have been answering; the only issue is whether those answers come from the spirit world, from our subconscious, or from deliberate manipulation. For the unsophisticated, what the Ouija board says can seem like immutable truth. The same is true for those with mental illness or cognitive deficits. That's precisely why the Ouija board has played a role in some chilling crimes over the years.

© Getty Images (4), Emma Kumer/rd.com

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