Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Ouija Boards and Tarot Cards

by Susan Brinkmann


This article by Susan Brinkmann is the seventh in a multi-part series dealing with various New Age philosophies. In this installment the author provides information on ouija boards and tarot cards, both of which are marketed as children's games.

Larger Work

Colorado Catholic Herald

Publisher & Date

Diocese of Colorado Springs, unknown

Fortune-telling has real staying power.

It’s been attracting crowds since prehistoric time. And in the recorded history of Greece for the period spanning 700-800 B.C., the ancients believed the home of the oracle of Delphi was the center of the universe.

In modern times, divining the future can be cheap and convenient. For the do-it-yourself crowd, toy stores stock plenty of ouija boards and tarot cards, and any New Age bookstore will sell a variety of crystals and how-to manuals on palm-reading.

But don’t let the price tags mislead you. Those items might not seem to cost very much, but the spiritual price we pay for using them is often much steeper than we realize.

Some people are not aware that fortune telling and other forms of divination are linked to the occult. Consider the background of two of the most popular forms of modern fortune-telling: ouija boards and Tarot cards, both of which are currently being sold as children’s games.

Ouija Boards

The ouija board set consists of an alphabet board and heart-shaped pointer, known as a planchette, which are used for divination through spirit contact.

The use of alphabet boards for divination dates back to 1200 B.C. in China, when similar instruments were used to communicate with the dead, according to information from the Museum of Talking Boards. Ancient Greeks used a table that moved on wheels to point to signs that were then interpreted as revelations from the "unseen world."

Modern use of the ouija board entered the United States as part of the Spiritualism movement of the mid-19th century. In some forms, followers use a pendulum that swings over a plate or a table with letters painted around the edge to spell out messages.

In 1890, two businessmen named Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard patented the idea of using a planchette and alphabet board as a "talking board." An employee of theirs name William Fuld took over production of the product in 1901 and started selling the board under the name "ouija," which was derived from the French, German and Dutch words meaning "yes" — oui and ja.

In 1966, Fuld sold the patent to the Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) game corporation, which began marketing the board as a game. Although the company does not release sales figures on its ouija board, anywhere from 20-25 million boards have been sold, according to an estimate by Mitch Horowitz, the editor-in-chief of Tarcher-Penguin books and author of "Ouija: How This American Anomaly Became More Than Just Fun and Games."

The world saw how well a ouija board could work in the blockbuster Hollywood horror film, "The Exorcist," a fictional account based on the true story of an exorcism performed in 1949 for a 13-year-old boy from Mount Ranier, Wash. Introduced to the board by an aunt, the boy used it to contact her spirit after she died. However, instead of contacting his aunt, he unwittingly contacted demons who disguised themselves as friendly spirits and eventually possessed him.

The board is one dangerous toy, writes Joel S. Peters, an apologist for Catholic Answers in San Diego, Calif.

"The ouija board is far from harmless, as it is a form of divination (seeking information from supernatural sources)," Peters writes. "The fact of the matter is, the ouija board really does work, and the only ‘spirits’ that will be contacted through it are evil ones. . . ."

"Just because someone regards the board as harmless doesn’t mean it is," Peters said. "A disbelief in something does not necessarily mean that something isn’t real. The ouija board has an objective reality that exists apart from a person’s perception of it. In other words, it’s real even if you don’t believe it is."

Tarot Cards

Although there are many different theories about the origin of tarot cards (pronounced "tar-o"), there is some evidence that they originated in Italy in the 14th century, with the earliest recorded mention of their use dating to 1391, according to Father William Saunders, dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College, who wrote an article titled, "The History of Tarot Cards" for the Arlington (Va.) Catholic Herald.

Based in the occult, tarot cards are used predominantly for cartomancy, divination or fortune telling.

The modern history of the tarot, according to the New Age Almanac, can be traced to a French Huguenot pastor named Antoine Court de Gebelin (1719-1784). De Gebelin became active in Parisian freemasonry circles, and joined the Philalethes, a French Masonic occult order. He became an accomplished occult scholar and, through his various social connections, discovered the tarot.

De Gebelin believed the occult symbolism of the cards tied them to ancient Egypt, although that has never been substantiated.

In 1783, a fortune teller known only as Etteilla published a book detailing a methodology for tarot cartomancy, and the use of the cards for fortune telling continues to this day.

Father Saunders describes the composition of the 78 cards in the tarot deck this way: "The pack of cards — known as the "Tarocco" — is made up of 22 major "enigmas," whose figures represent a synthesis of the mysteries of life, and 56 minor images incorporating 14 figures in four series (gold, clubs, swords and goblets)."

The gold series symbolizes intellectual activity; the club series symbolizes government; the sword series symbolizes the military; and the goblet series symbolizes the priesthood.

"Practitioners of Tarot believe that these enigmas, images and series represent the sum of the knowledge of all sciences, particularly astrology, and that the permutations in "dealing with the cards" is capable of revealing the future and solving all problems," Father Saunders writes.

The occult links of ouija boards and tarot cards may not be immediately obvious to some individuals, especially when they are sold as children’s games. Some people fall unwittingly into the habit of using the divining devices without realizing they have exposed themselves to the influence of demonic spirits.

Because of such hidden dangers, strong warnings against all forms of divination are found throughout Scripture and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One such admonition is found in the book of Deuteronomy: "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist [spiritualist] or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord." (18:10-12)

The Catechism also notes that, along with breaking the first commandment, the use of divination devices is wrong because they "conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers." (No. 2116)

"To invoke Satan or any other power, to enter the darkness [the occult] for any assistance, or to attempt to usurp powers which belong to God alone is a defiance of the authority of almighty God," warns Father Saunders. "To commit such acts is to turn away from God and place our own souls in jeopardy."

(This article originally appeared in The Catholic Standard and Times, the Philadalphia archdiocesan newspaper.)

Other articles in this series:

PART I: Popular Movement Is One of the Most Pressing Challenges to Christian Faith

PART II: Divination: Consulting Psychics and Mediums

PART III: Reiki and Healing Touch

PART IV: The Enneagram: What's Your Number?

PART V: Is Acupuncture Acceptable for Catholics?

PART VI: Bewitched by Wicca

PART VII: Ouija Boards and Tarot Cards

PART VIII: Energy Medicine: Part One — The Science

PART IX: Energy Medicine: Part Two — The Theology

PART X: The Exercise of Religion: Yoga

Ten questions to help you determine 'Christian or New Age?'

© The Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs

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