Joe Dawson

The Planchette Psycophone


What thrills must have been had in Victorian times when electric lighting was in its infancy and smelly gas mantles flickered over tables soon to rock and sway of their own accord brought to life by wayward spirits keen to make their presence known.

Life and the afterlife were more closely aligned in those days, when a distant knock might herald the arrival of a spirit guide and hopefully news of a loved one recently passed over. Imagine the atmosphere: a half lit room, genteel ladies unfamiliar with the ever-changing mood of the spirits and there in the middle of the table lies the mysterious ‘Scientific Planchette’ or ‘automatic writer’. What will it do and who will they hear from tonight? A young widow of recent days takes out a black handkerchief - she shouldn’t be present - but couldn’t stay away.

A visit to a gallery of talking boards tells of the Planchette craze of the 1860s when games companies on both sides of the Atlantic churned out Planchettes and Ouija boards in their thousands. Phantasms were widely used in the printing of eerily colourful boxes. Bony hands hung from the heavens and spindly fingers pointed down from the clouds - yet care was always taken to avoid mention of spiritual communion of any kind.

Talking boards’ - who could believe in such things today? A time when a growing number of drawing rooms feature advanced LED down lighting, complex home cinema bundles and the latest electronic tomfoolery is on hand to amuse the young. The mysterious work of the Planchette Psychophone has largely gone forever and in its place life-size Hollywood horrors pour from illuminated talking walls to dwell forever in our dreams.

© Joseph G Dawson



  • Doggerel Dave

    Thanks Joe for a good little pocket guide to Victorian pseudo science.
    I was not aware of this when I posted "Storm" (just above) but it is evident from your piece here that we do move on...not necessarily in the absolute right direction...

    • Joe Dawson

      Yes, we do move on, and as for direction, TV ghost hunting might be considered a doubtful route forward. Thanks for reading. Joe

    • Neil Higgins

      Check the web Joe,and you will find lots of items for sale under Ouija.A massive interest in beyond world activity happened at the end of WW1,for obvious reasons.Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,writer of Sherlock Holmes,took an interest.
      Best to leave well alone and if you want to hear voices from the ether,splash out on a good 5.1 sound system,and listen to Mozart or The Beatles.
      A very interesting history lesson though.And very well researched and written.

      • Joe Dawson

        Like alternative medicine, the search for truth never ends; ghost hunting on TV, another form of the same thing. Thanks for reading. Joe

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