No matter what you’ve been told, the original ouija boards were not ancient, nor were they based on an ancient tradition. They were a fortunetelling trick that grew out of the American spiritualism movement. They were first marketed as a fad that was a simple do-it-yourself project.
In 1886, the New York Daily Tribune reported on a new talking board being used in Ohio. It was 18 by 20 inches and featured the alphabet, numbers, and the words yes, no, good evening, and goodnight; the only other necessary object was a “little table three or four inches high … with four legs” that the spirits could use to identify letters. The brilliance of the board was that anyone could make it—the tools suggested in the article are “a jack-knife and a marking brush."
But of course, it didn’t take too long for someone to think of patenting the ouija board as a game of sorts. Read the story of where the ouija board came from, and how it ended up on toy store shelves, at mental_floss.