All signs point to yes!

By Renee Tomcanin
April 18, 2002

Katie Reing

Oracles. Prognosticators. Mystics. Fortunetellers. Predicators of our futures. They claim to hold magical powers from beyond our realm of understanding. They harness our psychic energy and help to guide us and give us a glimpse into events to come. These supernatural items are, of course, Magic 8-balls and Ouija boards.

Both the Magic 8-ball and the Ouija board are taken as tongue-in-cheek fortunetellers, seeing how they are marketed as toys. Many people on Cabrini’s campus use them but do not take their claims of having mystical powers seriously.

“I have used them, but no, I don’t believe in them,” Melissa DiPietantonio said. DiPietantonio’s view is similar to many of those on campus, particularly about the Magic 8-ball.

“I prefer when you draw a circle and throw rocks into the air like in ‘The Lion King,'” Aking Beverly said.

Still others chalk belief in these items to other means. Kelly Wilson said, “It’s like Santa Claus or horoscopes; you interpret it to fit your life.”

Many people use or have used these toys as a game or a sleepover trick. “We had sleepovers in sixth grade, so we’ve all used them to freak people out,” Dori Cutler said.

The Ouija board actually did start out as a parlor game in the aftermath of a psychic craze in the 1800s. According to the Museum of Talking Boards (which is not a real museum at all, just a website), two sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, became celebrities when they contacted a spirit. From the fame of the Foxes, a fad and modern spiritualism was born.

An early predecessor to the Ouija board is table turning, where a medium and the interested participants would sit with their fingertips on the table and “the table would knock on the floor to letters called from the alphabet,” according to the Museum of Talking Boards. Spirit writing and planchettes, or “little planks,” were designed to accept messages from spirits and spell out words. From this concept, Charles Kennard developed the Ouija board as we know it today. According to an old advertising campaign, it was described as “interesting and mysterious; surpasses in its results second sight, mind reading, clairvoyance; will give intelligent answer to any question.” His financial backers soon took over his idea in 1892, and a former employee of Kennard, William Fuld, took over. Fuld mass marketed the board, and it became a huge success. Since then, Ouija boards have been sold by Parker Brothers and come in key chain and glow-in-the-dark varieties among other versions.

The Ouija board may have been billed as a “wonderful talking board,” but those around Cabrini are skeptical. When asked, “What makes the Ouija board work,” most people replied, “other people moving it.”

“I think it is the felt on the bottom of the little pointer,” Cecelia Francisco said.

“I think it is psychology,” Cutler said. “You all think the other person is moving it, but you end up moving it yourself.” Cutler’s observations are what most people see as the true moving force behind the Ouija board. According to, something called the “ideomotor effect” occurs. This is the result of involuntary movement that happens when your muscles move without you consciously thinking about it.

The Magic 8-ball’s history is not as deeply rooted in the spiritual. According to, in the 1940s, the Alabe Crafts company took the idea of the paper fortuneteller, also known as a cootie catcher, and evolved it into the plastic prognosticator the Magic 8-ball. They were promoted as a paperweight and a conversation piece.

Many versions and imitations of the Magic 8-ball exist today. It is now manufactured by Tyco and comes in standard black, pink and even smiley face styles. Yoda has had his own version, and Avon even made a lotion filled model. Barbie has one her own size. It is also possible to get a custom made Magic 8-ball if there is enough of a demand for it.

The anatomy of a Magic 8-ball is quite simple. There is the “Spirit Slate,” a plastic icosahedron (having 20 sides to match the 20 possible answers). The “Spirit Slate” sits inside a plastic cylinder. There is the hard plastic casing, which holds both the items. Then there is the mysterious blue fluid which floats around inside. While most believe it to be water and blue dye, sources have been unable to point to the exact contents of the fluid. “I don’t want to know what the blue fluid is,” Francisco said. “It reminds me of feminine hygiene commercials.”

When told of a report that ingestion of the blue fluid caused numbness and headache, Haven McMickle said, “I think it’s blue Novocain.”

“I think they [Magic 8-balls] are great stress relievers,” Mary Laver, coordinator of service and learning and community outreach, said. Laver mentioned that in the ’50s they asked the 8-ball many questions, from which boys liked them to whose parents would have the next baby. As for the blue fluid, she said it is probably very toxic, and the FDA would not approve it nowadays.

These toys are not seen as innocent fun to everyone. Many strong religious believers have seen trying to predict the future as contrary to their beliefs. “I don’t use [Magic 8-balls and Ouija boards] because they are demonic,” Catrina Brown said. “You are not supposed to use stuff like that.”

Whatever the common belief system, Magic 8-balls and Ouija boards have been popular forms of entertainment for many years. Maybe it has to do with the potential psychic powers they possess or the novelty of the items. Perhaps it is the fond memories of childhood. Or maybe, just maybe, the secret to their success lies with the formula of the blue fluid.

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Renee Tomcanin

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