The Selchow and Righter Planchette

   Posted by: David   in Uncategorized

The Selchow and Righter Planchette

The planchette is an important piece of any Ouija session. It is like the receiver on a phone. Take the receiver away and technically you might still have a phone but you can’t use it. So it is with the planchette.

The planchette preceded Ouija at least as a marketable item.

At some point between 1848 and 1853 people began to experiment with various methods of communicating with the other side. In my article on the Fox sisters I alluded to an alphabet board suggesting that maybe, just maybe one was in use as early as 1848 at the dawn of Modern Spiritualism but the alphabet board in conjunction with knocks and raps was tedious.

Many people relied on table tipping as their primary method of communication with Spirit but again the process of communicating via knocks and raps was cumbersome.

Another more direct method had to be found at least for those who did not think themselves “gifted” as mediums. In my opinion we all have the ability; it is only a matter of desired, education, and practice like any other skill.

It is possible that some form of Ouija was in use between 1848 and 1853. The earliest known “boards” consisted of alphabet cards, sometimes under a glass top, spread over a table. A household glass was inverted. People placed their hands on it and they were in business so to speak.

Automatic writing was possibly the predominant household method in the late 1840s early 1850s. There are two types of automatic writing: there is true automatic writing meaning that the medium is not consciously aware of what is being written. The spirit takes control of the medium’s arm or hand and creates a message. Most found that this method produced volumes of illegible writing with the occasional, “oh that looks like dear departed John’s writing to me but I can’t make out what it says.”

The second form of automatic writing is more commonly referred to as inspirational writing. I write daily both fiction and non-fiction and sometimes I am surprised by what comes out of my pen or off the keyboard. I am referring of course to writing while under the inspiration of Spirit. The medium is conscious and aware but guided. The problem with this method is twofold: one, the medium’s attitudes and thoughts may color the transmission and two it is very much subjective.

At any rate another method was sought and in or around 1853 the planchette was invented or if not invented at least marketed on a wide scale. Some say it was invented by a man named Planchette. Maybe but I find it oddly coincidental that the word “planchette” is a French word meaning little plank.

People would place a pencil in the pointed end of the planchette and allow their arm and hand to be controlled by subconscious impulses or by autonomous spirit beings depending on your point of view. Most planchette sessions produced unintelligible scribble but some produced coherent messages.

Pictured below is a medium operating a planchette under test conditions:
MasterWorker 2

By the early 1860’s, plancettes were being manufactured and sold to a populace hungry for spiritual exploration, one of the first to manufacture the planchette was Kirby and Company. They began to manufacture and sell plancettes in 1868. While most were made of wood, usually mahogany, some were made of glass allowing users to see what was being written as it was being written.

The shape of the planchette may seem arbitrary but it is not. To the occultist or ceremonial magician the triangle represents a place between worlds. It is within the triangle that a spirit is summoned and it is within the triangle that physical mediumship takes place. This is not to say that other shapes will not work. I have seen circles, I alluded to an inverted glass above, I have seen pentagrams, and even half-moon shaped plancettes. My point is not to suggest a dogma but rather to point out that the triangle, being the first shape of the modern planchette, was not an accident. In fact I think those who actually did “invent” it knew very well what they were doing and why.

Instructions were usually glued to the underside of the planchette (unless it was a glass planchette). One set read, “For some persons, Planchette moves in a few moments and for others from ten to fifteen minutes is needed to charge the board.”

Most practitioners today begin a session with self-initiated movement normally in a clockwise circle or in the form of a figure 8 representing the symbol of time and eternity. The same can be said for Ouija. At first, especially when working alone, it can be helpful to set the planchette in motion but gradually something else will assume control.

In 1875 Selchow and Righter began to market and sell their own version of the planchette. It is a Selchow and Righter that I own and that is pictured here manufactured in 1875 and made of maple. Selchow and Righter also manufactured Parcheesi and Scrabble.
1 The Selchow and Righter Planchette

I realize the instructions may be hard to read in the picture. They read, “The Scientific Planchette from the original pattern first made in 1860 (IMPROVED).

How to work the planchette: Place planchette on sheet of paper (printing or wrapping will answer), then lay the hand lightly on the board; in a few minutes it begins to move and is ready to answer mental or spoken questions.

When a party of three or more come together, it is almost impossible that one cannot operate planchette. If one be not successful, let two try it together. That planchette is capable of giving a large amount of amusement is beyond doubt nor is it less likely to afford instruction and a wide field for speculation and experiment to the scientific.
Selchow & Righter
Manufacturers, New York”
1a The Selchow and Righter Planchette Underside

What you may not be able to see in the picture is that the wheels are also wooden. The Selchow & Righter planchette was a finely made example of Victorian craftsmanship that I am proud to own.

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