Every year around Halloween, millions of teenagers, drunk adults, and terrified believers gather around Ouija boards to contact “The Other Side.” We’ve all been a part of it, and we know we weren’t moving that little thing, but it was definitely moving. So what’s really going on here?
Welcome to Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan and fact-checker, comedian, and podcast host David C. Smalley break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions.
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- How a pair of sisters playing a prank on their parents in upstate New York escalated into a spiritualism craze that took the 19th century United States — and then the world — by storm.
- The Medieval Chinese origins and evolution of what we know today as the Ouija board.
- How the spiritualism craze boosted the Ouija board’s adoption into millions of households (even outselling Monopoly in 1967).
- The indelible marks the Ouija board has made on our lives — from pop culture to the law.
- The science behind what makes the Ouija board “work.”
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know!
- Connect with David at his website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and make sure to check out The David C. Smalley Podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts! If you like to get out of your house and catch live comedy, keep an eye on David’s tour dates here and text David directly at (424) 306-0798 for tickets when he comes to your town!
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Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- Peloton: Learn more at onepeloton.com/row
Miss the conversation we had with science champion and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson? Make sure to catch up with episode 327: Neil deGrasse Tyson | Astrophysics for People in a Hurry!
Resources from This Episode:
- Daughter Issues | Patreon
- Ouija Board | Amazon
- Ouija | Wikipedia
- Before the Ouija…There Was the Planchette | Harvard Library
- The Ghost Hoax That Sparked a 19th-Century Spiritualism Craze | History
- The Fox Sisters: Spiritualism’s Unlikely Founders | Historynet
- The Creepy Truth of the Fox Sisters Who Fooled America | Nutty History
- The Table That Could Talk to the Dead | Atlas Obscura
- The Death-Blow to Spiritualism: Being the True Story of the Fox Sisters, as Revealed by Authority of Margaret Fox Kane and Catherine Fox Jencken by Reuben Briggs Davenport | Project Gutenberg
- Reiki Healing | Skeptical Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- Table Tipping Proof! | lee4more
- Table Tipping Alone | Zephina Rose
- Table Tilting Alone | PlatoDNA
- The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board | Smithsonian Magazine
- US446054A: Elijah J | Google Patents
- What “Ouija” Actually Means, and How the Game Has Changed | Vox
- The Strange History of the Ouija Board | History Hit
- Penn & Teller: BS! Season 1 | Prime Video
- The Exorcist | Prime Video
- William Fuld | Wikipedia
- The Story of America’s Most Unique Inventor | WilliamFuld.com
- Lottery | Skeptical Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- Remembering the Trial of Nancy Bowen and Lila Jimerson | WGRZ
- Chilling Crimes Involving Ouija Boards | Reader’s Digest
- Slender Man | Wikipedia
- Jersey Man Joins Army On Ouija Board’s ‘Advice’ | The New York Times
- Ouija Board Inheritance | Weird Universe
- Helen Dow Peck’s Amazing Will | The Yankee Express
- David C. Smalley Podcasts | Patreon
- What Is the Ideomotor Effect and How Does It Work? | The Association for Critical Thinking
- Zozo | Gods and Demons Wiki
797: Ouija Boards | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:07] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger, and this is Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where fact-checker and comedian David C. Smalley and I, we break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up and debunk common misconceptions — topics such as why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why expiration dates on food are nonsense, why tipping makes no sense, recycling banned foods, toothpaste, chemtrails, and a whole lot more.
[00:00:32] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers.
[00:00:50] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, our episode starter packs are a great place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like persuasion and Influence, China, North Korea, abnormal psychology, crime, and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start, or take a look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:13] Today on Skeptical Sunday, every year around Halloween, millions of teenagers and drunk adults and terrified believers gather around Ouija boards to contact the other side. Now, we may have been a part of this and we weren't moving that little thing of a jig, but it was definitely moving. So what is actually going on here? Skeptic comedian David C. Smalley is here to discuss it. And before we start, David, I understand your daughter has found a way to contact ancient people.
[00:01:38] David C. Smalley: Yeah, I'm that ancient person, at least the first one. We just started a podcast called Daughter Issues, where I tell her all about what she calls the olden times.
[00:01:48] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:01:48] David C. Smalley: Which is the '80s and '90s where we grew up. And she tries to bring me up to speed on like Gen Z slang and music. And we do music tests with each other. It's a blast. And yeah, people can search for Daughter Issues on their podcast app or they can go to daughterpod.com for all the episodes and videos.
[00:02:06] Jordan Harbinger: Sounds lit, fam.
[00:02:07] David C. Smalley: Yeah, those I now understand. It's pretty cool.
[00:02:12] Jordan Harbinger: I bet you do feel older, more out of touch and irrelevant after every single episode though.
[00:02:16] David C. Smalley: It's depressing. You are 100 percent correct.
[00:02:19] Jordan Harbinger: All right, so back to the olden days. What is this fascination with Ouija boards?
[00:02:24] David C. Smalley: Imagine after years of dealing with the stresses of social media, meetings you don't want to attend, phone calls you don't want to take, text messages you don't want to respond to, and loads of social anxiety that we all develop, you finally get to die, right? Only for some asshole to buy Ouija board. Now, you're taking a spelling test, you know, you didn't sign up for. I don't get the fascination, but imagine just being heckled by the living when you finally think you're escaping into death.
[00:02:52] Jordan Harbinger: So this is like a game board with a little magnifying glass and you all put your hands on it and supposedly you're talking to dead spirits.
[00:02:59] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:02:59] Jordan Harbinger: And that's what an Ouija board is. And many people have seen this. I'm sure there's some who are Googling it and they're like, "Oh, that thing. I have seen that thing." And I maybe didn't know how to pronounce it because it's O-U-I-J-A, which we'll talk about in a second but—
[00:03:10] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:03:10] Jordan Harbinger: I just hope there's a block feature when we die. Like my phone, my iPhone won't ring when I get calls from unknown numbers. It just goes straight to my voicemail. I want these Ouija requests to go straight to my celestial voicemail.
[00:03:24] David C. Smalley: Like an unknown messages thing, like on Facebook or Instagram, you get to decide if you're going to take a look at it later.
[00:03:29] Jordan Harbinger: It goes in my requests folder. Yeah, possible spam Ouija board requests. When did this all get started? This seems like an old thing that just got commercialized.
[00:03:40] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so we've been annoying the dead with the equivalent of impromptu Zoom meetings since 1100 AD.
[00:03:47] Jordan Harbinger: All right.
[00:03:48] David C. Smalley: The earliest record of this is actually in China where Fuji or planchette writing was used to contact the other side to ask them to write us messages. Now, most people would recognize a planchette as the thing you just mentioned, the little magnifying glass that you move around.
[00:04:02] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:04:03] David C. Smalley: Ouija board, or sorry, the thing you rest your fingers on as the spirits solve your unsolicited riddles. People would take a planchette, but imagine that little thing with like a hole in it for a pen or a pencil or some kind of writing utensil.
[00:04:15] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:04:16] David C. Smalley: The early ones, it would be that thing with a little hole in it for a writing utensil. They would rest their fingers on it, and then they would ask the spirits questions and then have the spirits write out answers. And there are people who still do this version of it, and they usually end up just drawing a bunch of nonsense on the paper and then try to interpret that as like a car accident. And they almost always say something like that the spirit is trying to tell you how they died.
[00:04:39] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:04:40] David C. Smalley: As if this mess of Interactive pen is all some kind of car accident situation.
[00:04:45] Jordan Harbinger: Imagine trying to draw a regular English letter using a planchette, and then imagine trying to draw a symbol, a character in traditional Chinese using that same method.
[00:04:55] David C. Smalley: Oh, I thought about that. I'm like, that is so complicated. Like that would be incredibly difficult.
[00:05:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. 14 strokes instead of three or four. Yeah. Good luck, folks. And also as if that's what dead people want to communicate if they found a way to cross dimensions and speak to living people. "Here's how I died."
[00:05:12] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:05:13] Jordan Harbinger: No universal truths, no lessons. Just, "Yeah. Jen was texting and driving again. It finally caught up to us and we paid the price. See you guys later."
[00:05:20] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah. Don't worry about solving the afterlife or religious questions that have plagued humanity for millennia. Just scribble a car like a three-year-old.
[00:05:27] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so people were doing this in 1180 AD. I wonder if they were trying to sell something even back then.
[00:05:33] David C. Smalley: I mean, I don't have evidence of that, but I wouldn't doubt it but this is America. So you know, we got in on it as soon as we could.
[00:05:40] Jordan Harbinger: You know it.
[00:05:41] David C. Smalley: We could trace the money back to 1848 in New York. The Fox sisters started doing this and they claimed they were being contacted by a spirit who was communicating with a series of knocks. It was just a story at first. They were saying that a spirit was coming to them and would knock and they would ask questions, knock once for yes, twice for no things like that. And then eventually they whipped out a spirit board or a talking board, and they started asking questions and getting answers. And then before long they started telling others people came to watch them. And as far as we know, the Fox sisters are the first recorded spiritualist to perform for a crowd and actually be paid.
[00:06:20] Jordan Harbinger: Wait, I was talking about selling a board-like thing, but they're performing with this.
[00:06:25] David C. Smalley: Right. Yeah. So like Ouija board is now a tax write-off as long as you use it to con people.
[00:06:31] Jordan Harbinger: Of course, of course.
[00:06:32] David C. Smalley: Yeah. These sisters, they actually like toured with this thing. They toured with the spirit board or the talking board and they also performed table-turning or table-tipping. Do you know what that is?
[00:06:43] Jordan Harbinger: Is that where the magicians make the table float and move around? Because if so, that's probably pretty mind blowing back then the first time anyone saw it. It's even mind blowing now. So I get why they would make bank do it.
[00:06:54] David C. Smalley: I wish it was that sexy because that is cool. I've seen Chris Angel do that.
[00:06:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:58] David C. Smalley: I've seen David Blaine do that. You're wondering like, how the hell are they getting this table to float and move around? But that takes effort and planning.
[00:07:05] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:05] David C. Smalley: And set up and skill.
[00:07:07] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:07:08] David C. Smalley: Table-tipping is literally just table-tipping. You put your hands on a table and you ask the spirits to move through you. And by the way, it's always best to pick a tiny circular table because it's easy to throw those off balance.
[00:07:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:22] David C. Smalley: And you just put your hands and you ask the spirits to move it, and then when they comply and the table moves, your metaphysical abilities are proven.
[00:07:30] Jordan Harbinger: Hold on.
[00:07:31] David C. Smalley: Jordan, don't think about this too much. We'll get an aneurysm. It doesn't make any sense.
[00:07:35] Jordan Harbinger: You're telling me people just put their hands on a table. Push it down or around and when it tilts they're like, "Oh, it's the spirit world doing it." And people just give them money for this.
[00:07:45] David C. Smalley: Yeah. It's the opposite of Reiki.
[00:07:47] Jordan Harbinger: Right, right because they're actually touching something. I see what you did there.
[00:07:50] David C. Smalley: They almost always do it with like a group of people, like a Ouija board where everybody like puts their hands on the same thing. And so you never really know who's doing the moving, right? There are some brave people who have like, you know, put themselves on YouTube and saying like, table-turning alone, or table-tipping alone. And wouldn't you know it In every situation, the table always tips down in the direction where their hands are?
[00:08:16] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting how the most, the easiest way to actually do this, if you were tricking people and the way the spirits do it happens to be exactly the same—
[00:08:24] David C. Smalley: Yep.
[00:08:24] Jordan Harbinger: —type of result.
[00:08:25] David C. Smalley: Exactly.
[00:08:26] Jordan Harbinger: Look, if the table were to float up to where their hands are seemingly being pressed down from an empty spot on the table, at least we would have some questions here. How are they doing this illusion? But if it's what you're talking about, it's like they're just not even trying.
[00:08:38] David C. Smalley: It's almost always like a sweet elderly lady—
[00:08:41] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:41] David C. Smalley: —with like 49 views and two comments. So it doesn't feel right to just like be a jerk in the comments like, "This was a bunch of bullsh*t."
[00:08:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:08:49] David C. Smalley: You know—
[00:08:50] Jordan Harbinger: Fake.
[00:08:50] David C. Smalley: So I just leave it alone. Yeah, fake news. I just leave it alone, but it's pretty ridiculous. But if you want to cringe, just go search for table tipping alone on YouTube. You'll see plenty of it.
[00:09:01] Jordan Harbinger: So how did this go from planchette writing in Middle Ages China, during the Ming Dynasty or whatever, to a global brand?
[00:09:09] David C. Smalley: Okay, so in 1886, the Associated Press was writing about the Fox sisters. They were reporting on how they were using this talking board and all of that. There was a guy named Charles Kennard. He read the article and basically stole the idea. Within four years, he had created what's called the Kennard Novelty Company with a man named Elijah Bond, who was a patent attorney. They filed for a patent and then the rep at the patent office in order to complete the process. He said that Elijah needed to demonstrate proof that this actually worked. This guy was a skeptic.
[00:09:41] Jordan Harbinger: I like it.
[00:09:41] David C. Smalley: So then he asked the board if he could spell his name, and it did. And if you're wondering how that's possible, you may have forgotten from literally 17 seconds ago when I said Elijah Bond was a patent attorney. So he clearly knew the name of the rep at the patent's office. It's spelled out his name, and Elijah got the patent.
[00:10:00] Jordan Harbinger: So how did they name this thing and come up with a name? Is it wee-jah board? It looks like wee-jah board or wee-yah board but everyone says wee-jee board.
[00:10:09] David C. Smalley: Everybody says wee-jee. It's kind of confusing. Both are technically acceptable, so it's spelled O-U-I-J-A. So when I say it by itself, I say wee-jah because it just feels weird to say wee-jee when there's clearly an A at the end of it.
[00:10:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:24] David C. Smalley: But because I grew up in the states that thing is a wee-jee board.
[00:10:27] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:10:28] David C. Smalley: And I think we all know that. So some people believe that the name comes from combining the French and German words for yes. So you have oui and ja.
[00:10:36] Jordan Harbinger: Like yah. Yeah, it's just ja.
[00:10:38] David C. Smalley: I'm saying, yeah, the English version of it.
[00:10:39] Jordan Harbinger: You're very sophisticated. Sure, yeah.
[00:10:42] David C. Smalley: Yeah. But the maker's claim, the board was asked what its name was, like it had its own personality and they asked the board what it, "What's your name?" And it just said, "Good luck."
[00:10:51] Jordan Harbinger: Fair.
[00:10:52] David C. Smalley: So, yeah, I mean, pretty smart board. So the creators just claimed that wee-jee or wee-ja is ancient Egyptian for good luck, but this can't be confirmed. Mostly because ancient Egyptians didn't write any vowels. Just consonants. So we don't know what their language sounded like. And by the way, four out of the five letters in Ouija are vowels. So what? It would've just been a J. You know it doesn't make any sense. So—
[00:11:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:11:17] David C. Smalley: —since no one knows if that could be correct or not, that's probably why they claimed it. However, there's another story. Multiple sources have confirmed or claimed from their perspective that the name likely came from a woman named Helen Peters who was the sister of Elijah Bond. She reportedly had spiritual powers and she was wearing a locket with the name Ouija while she was sitting in the patent office. But other people have said the name was Weda. It was like a person she knew who had died and it said weda or quida or something along those lines.
[00:11:46] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:11:46] David C. Smalley: And then they just said it was Ouija. But since the entire concept is based on bullsh*t anyway, it's not shocking that even the name is in question.
[00:11:53] Jordan Harbinger: You know what's not just a product of our collective delusion? The fine products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
[00:12:02] A lot of people ask me how I'm able to stick to my fitness routine, especially since I have such a bananas schedule. For me, it's really creating a routine that is sustainable and can be duplicated on an ongoing basis. Consistency is the key, right? And Peloton helps me have a sustainable fitness routine because there are thousands of classes to choose from. It's also 24/7. I've always got time for it. I might only have 15 minutes in between calls, but I can still fit in a Peloton class. Peloton is really famous for their bikes, but they also make a top-notch rowing machine that stores upright, which you think no big deal. But when you try to have a rower on the floor, you'll be so glad this thing goes upright. If you're a newbie to rowing, the Peloton Row has sensors that can track your movements, that shows you how your form is doing, and it warns you if you're doing something wrong that could injure you or whatever. And right now is the perfect time to get rowing. With Peloton Row, we can promise you've never rowed like this before. Peloton Row offers a variety of classes for all levels and game-changing features that help you get rowing or advance what you can already do. Explore Peloton Row and financing options at onepeloton.com/row.
[00:13:04] Thank you for listening to and supporting the show. It's your support of the sponsors that keep things going. All the advertisers and discount codes are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for any sponsor using the AI chatbot on the website as well. Please consider supporting those who support the show.
[00:13:19] Now back to Skeptical Sunday.
[00:13:22] You know what it reminds me of is it the usual suspects where he's just making things up based on the crap that's stuck to the detective's wall. That's what we're doing right now.
[00:13:31] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:13:31] Jordan Harbinger: We're like, "Hmm, maybe they went with—" and it's like, "No, they're also doing this." They're just like—
[00:13:35] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:13:35] Jordan Harbinger: What do you call this? What's the spirit's name? And she's looking at this thing and the back it says like Made in Taiwan. And she's like, it says Won Thai. The name is Won Thai, and it's like, oh my God. Oh, the spirits are speaking to her. That's like how I feel how much effort they put into this con. Furthermore, the guy's name, the guy's last name was Kennard. Doesn't that mean something like ruse or unfounded rumor?
[00:13:57] David C. Smalley: Oh my gosh. I want to fact-check that immediately.
[00:14:00] Jordan Harbinger: Look that up because I feel like there is a word canard and it means like a nonsense trick or something along those lines. I could be imagining this. I'm thinking C-A-N-A-R-D, an unfounded rumor or story.
[00:14:13] David C. Smalley: Oh.
[00:14:14] Jordan Harbinger: The old canard is that LA is a cultural wasteland. So that's—
[00:14:17] David C. Smalley: Oh.
[00:14:17] Jordan Harbinger: And his last name is Kennard, K-E-N-N-A-R-D. Well—
[00:14:20] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:14:20] Jordan Harbinger: —that's almost too convenient.
[00:14:21] David C. Smalley: That's funny.
[00:14:22] Jordan Harbinger: That it just basically means unfounded rumor or question.
[00:14:24] David C. Smalley: See, now you sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I like it.
[00:14:26] Jordan Harbinger: I do.
[00:14:27] David C. Smalley: It sounds funny.
[00:14:31] Jordan Harbinger: Speaking of bullsh*t, Penn & Teller covered the Ouija board on their show. I watched that whole thing like 20 years ago. Did you see this? Are you familiar with this?
[00:14:39] David C. Smalley: I did. I saw the episode and then I went back and re-watched it this week while I was fact-checking myself.
[00:14:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Okay. I don't remember it because it has actually been at least 20 years since I watched it.
[00:14:51] David C. Smalley: I don't know if it was that long. Was it that long ago? Was it 90?
[00:14:53] Jordan Harbinger: I was in law school, so it had to be like 2000. It might have been like 2004 or 2005.
[00:14:58] David C. Smalley: Wow. So I just watched it again. And the thing that I did not remember, the main thing I didn't remember, I knew that they did the thing with the Ouija board with like professionals who like—
[00:15:08] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:09] David C. Smalley: —you know, are selling their own version. And then I remember them trying to summon a spirit with a group of volunteers. I did not remember who the spirit was. Do you remember the spirit they were trying to summon?
[00:15:20] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:15:21] David C. Smalley: It was Fred Mertz.
[00:15:22] Jordan Harbinger: Who's that?
[00:15:23] David C. Smalley: William Frawley from I Love Lucy. The guy who played Fred Merz.
[00:15:27] Jordan Harbinger: That seems rude to go for a specific person somehow that you're not related to.
[00:15:30] David C. Smalley: They went to the Knickerbocker in Hollywood, and he died on the steps of the Knickerbocker, like literally right outside on the sidewalk. And so they went into the lobby. Feet away from where he died and tried to do it right there. So they picked him to try to call his spirit since that's where his life ended.
[00:15:48] Jordan Harbinger: Is this what your daughter's podcast is like, where you bring up references like this and I have no idea who you're talking about, and she just spaces out and stares at you.
[00:15:55] David C. Smalley: Right. But it's things like Atari and Nintendo and she's like—
[00:15:59] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:59] David C. Smalley: —what? Or I'll go, how do you make your bicycle sound like a dirt bike? She's just like, "What are you talking—?" I'm like, "You use a Coke can or a bottle or a card—
[00:16:08] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:16:08] David C. Smalley: —in the spokes. She's like, "What? Nobody does that." It's things from our childhood, but yeah, very, very similar. I thought you would know. I thought you would know William Frawley. You never watched I Love Lucy?
[00:16:18] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, I maybe yes, I know of the show.
[00:16:21] David C. Smalley: Oh, wow.
[00:16:22] Jordan Harbinger: The actors on there besides Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
[00:16:25] David C. Smalley: Yeah. The only other two, Fred and Ethel.
[00:16:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:16:26] David C. Smalley: It was Fred on the show.
[00:16:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:16:28] David C. Smalley: So they tried to summon his spirit right there and then they had a funny little moment where they literally blindfolded the people and then they turned the board 180 degrees without them knowing it and they kept going back to where yes used to be. They were going to where they remembered it being so clearly, it wasn't spirits doing it but we'll get into why and how that works in just a second.
[00:16:52] Jordan Harbinger: So I'm guessing the Ouija board also became popular along the time of The Exorcist, because wasn't it involved in that movie? Or was it—
[00:17:01] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:17:01] Jordan Harbinger: —sort of around that time.
[00:17:02] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so there was a book in 1971 called The Exorcist, and then in '73 they released the movie and basically the storyline is a young girl becomes possessed after using a Ouija board, and they say that it was based on a true story of a kid in 1949 whose aunt died, gave him some kind of talking board or Ouija board, and then she died recently after she gave it to him, and then he became possessed and ended up actually going through an exorcism.
[00:17:27] Now, of course, the possession not true, but they did exorcise this kid, and I don't mean jumping jacks. They did, and it's on record and it was a real thing. I mean, I personally think exorcisms are just abusive. It's just—
[00:17:40] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Yeah.
[00:17:40] David C. Smalley: It's horrific making someone think there's a literal demon inside them and doing things to them, but they did it to this kid and then the movie The Exorcist was built on that. So yeah, she uses a Ouija board in the movie and then becomes possessed by a demon from the Ouija board.
[00:17:54] Jordan Harbinger: I just remember the green barf projectile green vomit.
[00:17:57] David C. Smalley: Oh yeah, yeah, there was pea soup. It's what they used for that, I think.
[00:18:00] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay. It does look like pea soup.
[00:18:02] David C. Smalley: But then immediately after that, like every teenager, in the '70s and '80s, were just convinced they could summon demons. At least, they made their little brothers believe they could in the '80s. So, thanks, Tammy.
[00:18:13] Jordan Harbinger: Tammy is your sister.
[00:18:14] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:18:15] Jordan Harbinger: You good? You okay?
[00:18:16] David C. Smalley: I'll be all right. I'm fine. So according — I'll talk to someone else about this.
[00:18:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, like your therapist.
[00:18:21] David C. Smalley: Maybe, or the Ouija board.
[00:18:22] Jordan Harbinger: Christmas is going to be awkward. Sorry, Tammy.
[00:18:25] David C. Smalley: So, according to the Smithsonian, the Ouija board was very popular almost immediately after it was released. And this is what they say in the Smithsonian, it says, by 1892, the Kennard Novelty Company went from one factory in Baltimore to two in Baltimore, two in New York, two in Chicago, and one in London.
[00:18:44] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:18:45] David C. Smalley: And then a man named William Fuld worked for Kennard, and he eventually took over the business and then he renamed the company the Fuld Company. The Smithsonian goes on to say that during the Great Depression, the Fuld Company opened new factories to meet demand for the boards.
[00:19:02] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:19:02] David C. Smalley: So over five months, in 1944, a single New York Department store sold 50,000 Ouija boards.
[00:19:09] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:19:09] David C. Smalley: And in 1967, a year after the Parker Brothers bought the game from the Fuld Company, two million boards were sold and they actually outsold Monopoly.
[00:19:19] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So even during the Great Depression, Americans were like, "I guess food and clothes for the kids are going to have to wait. I got to reserve a little money for talking to dead people."
[00:19:28] David C. Smalley: Pretty much.
[00:19:28] Jordan Harbinger: That is sad and I can definitely see lottery tickets being the new Ouija board in tough times, which is kind of depressing.
[00:19:36] David C. Smalley: Yeah. But it's pretty spot on. You're right. It's sad and reality was so damn depressing that breaking the monotony and reaching out to a spirit world kind of made sense for the times.
[00:19:47] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. Maybe they were cheap too. I don't know. It's just a board, right?
[00:19:50] David C. Smalley: For sure. Yeah. I think right now they're only like 12 bucks, so, you know, it couldn't have been too bad.
[00:19:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:19:54] David C. Smalley: The Smithsonian lists a few crazy stories over the years about Ouija boards, and so I've got a couple of these quick stories. So in 1921, the New York Times reported that a Chicago woman was being sent to a psychiatric hospital, but she tried to explain to doctors that she wasn't suffering from mental illness, but that the Ouija spirits had told her to leave her mother's dead body in the living room for 15 days before burying her in the backyard.
[00:20:19] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, it's so easy for the Ouija board to say because it doesn't have finger. Or have to deal with the smell, unlike her neighbors.
[00:20:25] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:20:25] Jordan Harbinger: That is grim.
[00:20:26] David C. Smalley: Right. It's like, "Just do it. Tell them I said it was cool. They'll totally understand." It's like a perfect scapegoat. "The board made me do it." In 1930, there were accounts of two women in Buffalo, New York who murdered another woman, supposedly because of the encouragement of Ouija board messages.
[00:20:42] Jordan Harbinger: Again, the perfect crime, no accountability, except of course the police and the prosecutor are having none of that. I would imagine. It reminds me of Slenderman. Have you heard about this?
[00:20:51] David C. Smalley: I know that there was some sort of like stabbing or like a teenage stabbing. I don't know the details of it.
[00:20:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:20:57] David C. Smalley: But I know some girl or a group of girls killed somebody over it but I don't know the details.
[00:21:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, they tried to. What happened was, and this is very brief, but there's this character, this Slenderman, and it was like a comic book character type thing, and the guy who wrote it, who drew, he feels awful about this whole thing, but I guess the Slenderman became this thing and these mentally ill girls were like, "Oh, if we want to get in with the Slenderman, we have to sacrifice someone." So they lured this like, I guess, nerdy girl to the forest and they attacked her and stabbed her, and she somehow got away and crawled to a road and I think has lifelong injuries from it but is alive. The other girls are in prison or one of them at least was in prison. It's a horrific thing because none of it was real and it's back then it was like, "Oh, this is evil." But now just, of course, 20/20 hindsight, it's just mental illness. This girl was schizophrenic or something and psychologically unstable and imagined the character was talking to her.
[00:21:50] David C. Smalley: Right, and that's the problem with these types of things. We can say it's for entertainment, we can say it's for fun. But there are people who are more susceptible and more vulnerable to believing this type of thing, and those people may act on those beliefs.
[00:22:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:22:05] David C. Smalley: It is a little bit of a dangerous game in 1941, a 23-year-old gas station attendant from New York told the New York Times that he joined the Army because the Ouija board told him to. So I guess it's not all bad.
[00:22:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I got my life together because the Ouija board made me do it.
[00:22:20] David C. Smalley: Ouija board said, "Put down the whiskey, go to college."
[00:22:22] My favorite story. In 1958, a Connecticut court decided not to honor the Ouija board Will of Mrs. Helen Dow Peck, who left only a thousand dollars to two former servants but an insane $152,000 to Mr. John Gale Forbes, a lucky but bodiless spirit who contacted her via the Ouija board.
[00:22:45] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, weird.
[00:22:47] You know what's probably not a scam that takes advantage of your belief in superstitious nonsense? The products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
[00:22:57] This episode is sponsored in part by Peloton. I take my health seriously and invest time into making sure I stay active. I always try to get 10,000 steps a day, okay, maybe 8,000, but I needed a better way to build muscle and improve cardiovascular health, and I wanted to switch things up a little. Plus, it's tricky for my schedule. I'm off and on back-to-back calls. I'm reading, I'm researching. I'm preparing for my next interviews. I don't want to get in the car and get dressed and changed and look for parking and then get athlete's foot in some communal shower. Plus, with two kids, I can't just wake up and get out of the house. That train has sailed. Working out at home before they're awake or during their naps has just been a key to staying active, staying healthy. Many people understandably fall off the wagon when they have these responsibilities, but you don't have to now. With Peloton, there's many reasons why I love Peloton. First of all, one membership is good for the whole family. They're not under this delusion that every person should be charged in the house. I think that's just insulting somehow when companies do that. Peloton makes top-notch machines. The classes are taught by world-class instructors. Peloton bikes and treadmills also are great, but they've got the rower, which I honestly prefer out of all three. As typical with Peloton, the row is a well-made piece of equipment. You can tell a lot of thought went into the design. The handle's a comfortable grip. The seat is plush. My butt doesn't hurt when I'm on there for a while. Rowing is great for a full-body workout and good for improving your cardiovascular endurance. Gives you a little bit of a burn right in all the right places. Doesn't mess up your joints when you're rowing correctly. And I love that I can get my heart pumping in the morning before the kids wake up. I can get in a quick class if somebody cancels a Zoom meeting or whatever. And what's unique about the Row is it gives you real-time form feedback. I mentioned earlier, if you're doing it right, it doesn't have impact on your joints. The seat and handle contained sensors. And during setup, you go through this sort of five-minute calibration process that enables a feature called Form Assist, which I fell in love with kind of right away. It's a little collapsible window on the left-hand side of the screen where you can monitor your technique in real time and it kind of gives you a grade and shows you highlights of areas that are bending or aren't bending correctly. Correct rowing form, it's not as intuitive as I thought it was going to be. And doing it correctly is actually harder than it sounds, especially once you start getting tired. Form Assist shows you a figure of yourself as you row. And when you screw up, like I said, it highlights you and shows you, hey, you got to avoid doing this and you're going to get super injured if you do this. You're going to tweak something if you do that. You don't want that because then you can't work out which stops a lot of people who I dive in for the first time or getting back into it after a long time. You don't want to fall off the wagon because of an avoidable injury. At the end of the workout you get a readout of how well you did and a breakdown of your most common mistakes, which is cool because then you're kind of competing against yourself. A little bit of self-grading never hurt anyone. The classes are also top-notch. There's also scenic row workouts as well. I loved this on the bike. You could bike through, you know, Taipei, Taiwan, or whatever. Definitely go try it out. Right now is a great time to get row with Peloton Row. You've definitely never experienced — I've used many rowers. You haven't seen one like this before. At least, I haven't. Peloton Row offers a variety of classes for all levels and game-changing features that help you get rowing or advance what you can already do. Explore Peloton Row and financing options at onepeloton.com/row.
[00:26:02] Again, thank you for listening and supporting the show. All deals, discount codes and the like ways to support the show, jordanharbinger.com/deals, or use the AI chatbot to find a promo code and support the show.
[00:26:13] Now for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:26:16] She left her money to nobody. So the court had a problem with that primarily, I would imagine.
[00:26:20] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:26:20] Jordan Harbinger: And her sound mind, they're like, "Hmm, okay, she thought she was talking to spirits. We're going to go ahead and nullify this document."
[00:26:26] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah. So according to the Ouija board, she was supposed to leave it to the spirit or whoever convinced her, and perhaps there was a person who opened a bank account under the name John Gale Forbes, but I guess we'll never know because the court threw it out.
[00:26:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's three million in today's money. So—
[00:26:43] David C. Smalley: Damn.
[00:26:43] Jordan Harbinger: —if those servants ended up getting it instead, they probably weren't servants after that. You have to wonder how much of this is actually because they believe it versus how much is intentional manipulation. Sometimes it's impossible to tell the difference. So like, all right, we said this, we've both seen bullsh*t with Penn & Teller on Showtime. They reveal how this works.
[00:27:02] David C. Smalley: Right. They do. And yes, I even fact-checked Penn & Teller as I'm sure they would appreciate it. I also replicated their results, by the way, with my own group of people a few years ago on my podcast. So if you've ever used a Ouija board and the planchette moved, but you swear it wasn't you, it doesn't mean the other person is lying. Originally, when I started looking into this, I was like, "Oh, my sister was doing it the whole time and she was intentionally yada, yada, or my friends as teenagers or whatever." It's likely that both of you are telling the truth as far as you're aware. So the short answer is you're both actually moving it. You just don't realize it.
[00:27:37] On bullsh*t, they have a psychologist named [Loren Pankratz] who describes it this way. He says, ordinarily, when you move a hand, you're consciously aware that the hand is moving, but with the Ouija board, you're not. Now, that may seem strange to people, but it's a response known as the ideomotor effect. In 1852, physician and psychologist William Benjamin Carpenter published a report for the Royal Institution of Great Britain explaining what he called automatic muscular movements that take place without the conscious will or the volition of the individual, like crying during a sad movie. It's not like you have a thought and make it happen. It just happens to you, even though it's your biology doing it. It's the same principle that makes dowsing look like a real thing. It's those copper rods people use to find water in scams back in the day, people get on TikTok or Instagram Live now, and they do, they call them answer rods. They're just holding these two rods and they're just answering questions from people in the comments like, "Will I get married soon?" And the rods will spin and they'll be like, "Yes," and then people throw five dollars at them.
[00:28:35] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:28:36] It's the biggest scam ever. But yeah, it's crazy. By the way, that's also the science behind table-turning. So those sweet elderly ladies on YouTube may actually not be fully aware that they're moving the table, although I have my doubts about that one because it takes way more pressure and purposeful, muscular strength to move a table than it does to slide a planchette a few inches.
[00:28:56] Yeah. Especially if you're a 70-plus-year-old woman doing this on YouTube. You know you're pushing the table enough so that people can see it on camera. I just don't buy it. So your hands are moving the planchette. How can you not realize this is happening? Is it all subconscious basically then?
[00:29:11] David C. Smalley: So belief has a lot to do with it actually.
[00:29:14] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:29:14] David C. Smalley: So when we talk about how that belief is powerful, I've never argued that. I think belief is very powerful, but not actually doing things, but convincing yourself of things. So I have a Ouija board. I bought it several years ago to do the test on video for the podcast audience. But my daughter and I are both aware of the ideomotor effect. She's seen me cover this before, and I was reading this to her, so we tried it last night. We actually pulled it out. We set it down, we said some stuff to spirits and we ended up just sitting there staring at the planchette with nothing happening. And so it moved a few centimeters and she was like, "Is that you?" I was like, "No. Is that you?" And she's like, "No." And we just looked at each other. It stopped. We waited a few minutes in silence, and then we just looked at each other and started laughing because we felt like idiots with—
[00:29:57] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:29:58] David C. Smalley: —our fingers on this planchette. So we just put it away. But if you believe in things like the Ouija board and spirits, and you're totally convinced that there's a spirit around you, and there's someone you're trying to contact and you really think this is a real thing. Your subconscious mind wants there to be an answer and expects there to be an answer, and therefore your body begins responding and your eyes are necessary to hit those marks. That's why Penn & Teller blindfolded those people and got the result they did by flipping the board around.
[00:30:26] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:26] David C. Smalley: Those people were still doing it, but swearing up and down that they weren't moving it. And I believe them when they say they weren't intentionally doing it. Now, remember, there's not one person who's in charge of the movement so when you get gibberish or nonsense, people start trying to interpret what's going on. It's a collective failure of each ideomotor effect fighting each other. And sometimes, I don't know if you've ever done it before, have you ever played with the Ouija board?
[00:30:47] Jordan Harbinger: Maybe a long time ago, but not any time seriously ever, because I always thought it was silly.
[00:30:52] David C. Smalley: So this happened when we were in studio doing this. This was my first time of hearing about this special demon that contacts people who use a Ouija. This thing started happening. The participants were, I wasn't a part of it, the participants were sliding back and forth, and if you look at a Ouija board, you've got Z at the end of one side, and I believe it's N at the end of the other side, but O is right next to it. So sliding back and forth to one extreme to the next just ends up being Z-O-Z-O. And so people have come up with this evil spirit named Zozo who gets really pissed when you use the Ouija board and laugh and don't take her seriously. And so everybody just says, "Oh my God, Zozo came while we use the Ouija board." And then people who really believe this stuff can actually get themselves worked up and believe they get, you know, they're possessed if they feel weird or their fear gets the best of them or whatever. But it's all mental and it's all biological.
[00:31:45] Jordan Harbinger: So does the ideomotor, does it happen in other aspects of our lives? Because I'm never wasting a cent on a Ouija board, but I want to feel like this conversation with you was not just a complete waste of time for me and hundreds of thousands of other people as well.
[00:32:01] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So there is a way to literally feel it right now. I can do it with you right now if you're not driving. Please don't do this if you're driving, but if you can safely follow along with me, I want you to do this. So, Jordan, I want you to do it with me.
[00:32:14] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:32:15] David C. Smalley: I'm going to show you exactly how you can experience it. So understand that your body and your eyes are going to be connected here, but you really have to focus in order to make this happen. So hold your hands up in front of your face about four inches apart, three, maybe three inches. Let's get a little bit closer.
[00:32:27] Jordan Harbinger: So I'm making like an 11 with my hands close together. Like I'm almost clapping, but not really.
[00:32:34] David C. Smalley: So hold them about two and a half, three inches apart. And then we're going to clap slowly four times, so one, two, three, four. Now, hold your hands together back to the little gap and just hold them right there. Now, what's going to start happening in just a second—
[00:32:52] Jordan Harbinger: It's already happening.
[00:32:53] David C. Smalley: —you'll start filling the rippling in the palm of your hands. It'll start as a ripple in the bottom palm of your hand, and then slowly start to move your hands back and forth like you're rolling a tiny ball in the palm of your hand and you'll feel a little bit of a ball in your hand.
[00:33:11] Jordan Harbinger: A little bit or you're programming me to feel this.
[00:33:14] David C. Smalley: No, no, no. It's real. Your body is feeling it.
[00:33:17] Jordan Harbinger: But it also, my hands are sort of moving on their own because it's really hard to hold them still.
[00:33:20] David C. Smalley: Right, I know. But you can just kind of wobble them around each other and there's this effect of a little ball in between your hands.
[00:33:25] Jordan Harbinger: That is very bizarre.
[00:33:27] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:33:27] Jordan Harbinger: I don't know if I would notice it if you weren't telling me it was there.
[00:33:30] David C. Smalley: When it happened to me the first time I saw this, the person didn't tell me what I would feel, they just did it. And they said, now hold them still and see if you feel anything. And I started to feel, it felt like rippling waves coming up from my wrist through the palm of my hand.
[00:33:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:33:44] David C. Smalley: And just as I was feeling it, they said, "You should feel a rippling sensation soon." But I felt it before they said it.
[00:33:49] Jordan Harbinger: I just felt my hands kept moving further and further apart, even though I felt like I was pressing them together, which is part of that same thing.
[00:33:55] David C. Smalley: You can also try it on your own without like a microphone in front of you. Because the way we're doing this, we have to stretch weird.
[00:34:00] Jordan Harbinger: I do have to stretch weird.
[00:34:00] David C. Smalley: Without the microphones in front, try it later and you'll see what I mean. When you're more relaxed and you're not on camera and you're not dealing with a mic in front of you, the sensation's actually better.
[00:34:09] Jordan Harbinger: Spoken like a true psychic huckster. Oh, it didn't work because there's a mic in front of you, but normally, normally.
[00:34:16] David C. Smalley: Actually, if you Venmo me $75, it works instantly.
[00:34:19] Jordan Harbinger: The problem is you didn't believe enough that it would work, so the spirits decided—
[00:34:22] David C. Smalley: Yeah
[00:34:22] Jordan Harbinger: —they weren't going to help you. That's what happened.
[00:34:24] David C. Smalley: Look, just remember anybody out there, because there are people who are terrified to use this thing. I mean, I say it's a waste of time as well, but if you're freaked out, you're super scared, you think that this thing is going to change your life for the worst, there's going to be something terrible. Just remember that Ouija board is a trademark owned by Hasbro. It's literally a toy.
[00:34:43] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks, David.
[00:34:46] Here's a sample of my interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. We talk about why an interest in science serves every field of expertise from law to art, what our education should ideally train us for. Here's a quick look inside.
[00:35:00] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Walt Whitman.
[00:35:01] When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
[00:35:04] When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
[00:35:08] When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
[00:35:14] When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
[00:35:20] How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
[00:35:24] Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
[00:35:28] In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
[00:35:33] Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
[00:35:39] It's the same curiosity you have as a kid but I just have it as an adult. I've had it since childhood. You don't have to maintain it, you just have to make sure nothing interferes with it.
[00:35:49] So the counterpart to this would be, "Oh, sir, literate one, why ruin what something looks like by describing it with words when I can see it fully with my eyes? Your words just get in the way. I'd rather my mind float freely as I gaze upon something of interest than have the writer step in between me and it and interpose his or her own interpretation.
[00:36:13] You don't know the thoughts that you're not having. What keeps me awake is wondering what questions I don't yet know to ask, because they would only become available to me after we discover what dark matter and dark energy is.
[00:36:25] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, man.
[00:36:25] Neil deGrasse Tyson: Because think about it. The fact that we even know how to ask that question, that's almost half the way there, but I want to know the question that I can't know yet. What is the profound level of ignorance that will manifest after we answer the profound questions we've been smart enough to pose thus far.
[00:36:51] Jordan Harbinger: For more including how science denial has gained a global foothold, what it'll take for the US to get to Mars before China, and why it's dangerous for people to claim the Earth is flat, check out episode 327 of The Jordan Harbinger Show with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
[00:37:08] All right. All right. Many of you have gotten back to me with something that's way off or a topic suggestion. I welcome it all at email@example.com, giving your thoughts, especially on new Skeptical Sunday ideas. A link to the show notes can be firstname.lastname@example.org. Transcripts in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find David Smalley at @davidcsmalley on all social media platforms, at davidcsm.com, or better yet, on his podcast, The David C Smalley Show. Links to all that in the show notes as well.
[00:37:38] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own, and I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer, so do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. In fact, if you want legal advice, you're better off asking a freaking Ouija board, honestly. Remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. And if you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:38:11] Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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