Question: Does the parlor game "ouija board" have rules? What are they?
A "Ouija board" is one kind of "automatic writing" device. There are many others going back into ancient history. The "Ouija board" as we know it today originated in 1901 from an earlier device patented in 1891.
So what are the "rules?" Here's how the device is operated: The device consists of a board and a moving pointer called a "planchette." The board has letters, numbers, the words "yes" and "no," and some other things on it. The device is placed on a round table top and several people sit around the table with the fingers of both hands lightly resting on the planchette. The planchette will move due to slight motions induced by the participants' fingers. The participants should not try to force the planchette anywhere; they should just relax and let the planchette move wherever the random motions of their collective fingers move it.
The planchette will move "at random" around the board, occasionally stopping and perhaps seeming to point at a letter or symbol on the board. These symbols are to be written down and analyzed later. It's often unclear what letter the planchette is pointing at; perhaps it stops halfway between two letters. Such cases are open to interpretation by the participants.
Eventually there will be a general consensus by the participants that the session is over. This may happen because the planchette has moved off the board, or because it stops moving at all, or because it has pointed at the word "goodbye" that is written on the board. At this point, the participants can try to analyze the letters that were produced by the activity. Typically the letters will appear as random nonsense, leaving a lot up to interpretation. Sometimes extra vowels are inserted between the letters. It's not uncommon for ancient languages to not use vowels in writing, so if one believes that an ancient spirit is speaking through the board then the lack of vowels would not be completely unexpected. Sometimes a few of the output letters might be interpreted as someone's initials or as an abbreviation for a noun.
There are many variants on the Ouija board that are easy to make and have been used as "parlor games" for a long time. One such variant is portrayed in a 1944 movie called "The Uninvited," which stars Ray Milland. In the movie, a series of small flat cards, each with a single letter of the alphabet, are placed in a circle on a round table that has a smooth surface. A small drinking glass is placed upside down in the center of the table to act as the planchette. The participants place their fingers on the glass and it moves around the table surface "pointing" at the letter cards. Of course, since this is a movie it spells out something very clear!
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