By now, most have vague notions of the Ouija board horror narrative, in which demonic spirits communicate with – even possess – kids. Director Mike Flanagan furthers this trope in his new film ‘ Ouija: Origin of Evil .’ Set in 1967, a widow and her daughters earn a living scamming clients seeking to contact dead loved ones. The family business is relatively harmless until the youngest daughter discovers an old Ouija board, attempts to contact her deceased father and instead becomes possessed by evil spirits.
The Ouija Board Didn’t Always Have a Sinister Reputation
In fact, the Ouija board developed out of Spiritualism, a 19th-century movement known for its optimistic views about the future and the afterlife. As Spiritualism’s popularity waned, the Ouija board emerged as a popular parlor game; it was only in the 20th century that the Catholic Church and the horror movie industry rebranded the game as a doorway to the demonic.
The Spiritualist movement is often said to have begun in Hydesville, New York in 1848 when two sisters, Kate and Maggie Fox, reported hearing a series of mysterious raps in their tiny home. No one could discern where the raps were coming from and they manifested in other houses the sisters visited. With no apparent source, the raps were attributed to spirits and they appeared to respond to the sisters’ questions.
The Fox sisters became overnight celebrities and Spiritualism, a religious movement based on communicating with the dead, was born. Spiritualism spread across the Atlantic and into South America, but its popularity surged in the wake of the Civil War. The bloodiest war in American history had left many grieving families longing for ways to speak with their lost loved ones and many sought comfort from spirit ‘mediums’ – people like the Fox sisters who could allegedly talk to the dead. In 1893 Spiritualism became an official religious denomination and in 1897 The New York Times reported that Spiritualism had eight million followers worldwide.