Most of us have fiddled around with a Ouija board during our childhood. My sister and I tried to contact the spirit of singer/songwriter John Lennon one afternoon in our living room. The planchette moved a few times. She later confessed to having moved it herself.
Oh well. I'm sure he had far better things to do with the afterlife.
The "mystifying oracle" is a popular topic of discussion whenever the paranormal world is mentioned. People occasionally try to hold their own séances using the board, contacting what they believe to be their dead relatives.
Unfortunately, most people don't know much of the history of the parlor game.
Ouija (derived from two translations for "yes": "Oui" being French and "Ja", German, therefore Ouija means yes-yes), as we know it, has been around for almost a century. Earlier versions of talking boards have existed since as early as 540, but the first patent was registered in the US for a "ouija board" by Elijah Bond in 1891. William Fuld took over production of the board in 1901. His name can still be found on modern boards. Parker Brothers purchased the full rights in 1966.
It is no surprise that the Ouija board first became popular during the First World War. Families were desperate to contact their deceased loved ones and find a little peace of mind. Another spike in popularity hit during the 1960s and 1970s, when mysticism began making a comeback. It remains a well-recognized image today, though its popularity has dwindled.
Today, most scientists rationalize the results of its practice with the ideomotor effect; that is, unconscious reflexive reactions of the body. Some paranormalists agree, but believe it to be the subconscious mind giving results from a higher power, without the knowledge of the conscious mind. Spiritualists maintain that it's the sole work of spirits and ghosts.
Modern day parapsychologists and paranormal investigators have abandoned its use. Generally speaking, it is not a trustworthy device for communication with the deceased. Would your dead Aunt Claire really be interested in returning home just to entertain a group of high school cheerleaders during a slumber party? Probably not. If it does indeed contact spirits, it is far more likely to randomly choose the nearest ethereal presence, be them good, bad, honest, or foolhardy. Many mediums and researchers go as far as declaring the boards "dangerous" and "demonic".
So, what is the Ouija board, exactly? It's a board game. It's a divination device. Take your pick. But if you decide to use one for yourself, it would be wise to treat it as a source of skeptical entertainment rather than definitive truth.