What are the odds?

11th November 2020. Reading Time: 9 minutes General, Paranormal Equipment. 5506 page views. 4 comments.

The Ovilus is a controversial yet popular piece of ghost hunting equipment. Most commonly used in dictionary mode, it is almost a game of odds. So what are the odds the word you are looking for will appear?

When I first starting investigating a few years ago, my favourite piece of equipment was the Ovilus 3. Not knowing much about it apart from the fact it was used on TV and could seemingly talk to me from the other side, I thought this was about as good as it could get. All I needed to do was to ask a question and the answer would appear on the screen. I didn't need a piece of equipment with flashy lights, this was so easy and I could sit and have a conversation with someone from the other side. As time went on and I investigated and learnt more and evolved as an investigator, I became more and more skeptical of the Ovilus. I realized that the power of suggestion really influenced how you use this device and I also noticed that a lot of random words not related to anything were appearing. What is your name? 'TABLE'. That just makes no sense, but someone in the room would say 'OMG I am standing next to a table'.

In order to really understand what was going on, I had to look past the bells and whistles and the famous voice saying 'dictionary mode' and work out what was really going on.

How does the Ovilus work?

The Ovilus has existed in many different formats, with the most popular being the Ovilus 3 model. This is the model which was most commonly seen on TV shows like Ghost Adventures and is probably the most recognizable to paranormal enthusiasts. It has been discontinued now and you can only buy it second hand from someone willing to sell it. It will set you back at least $800 AUD from my recent browsings on eBay. There is then the Ovilus 4 which has also been discontinued and the current model the Ovilus 5 which is on the current TV shows again like Ghost Adventures and Ghost Brothers. The Ovilus 5 device will cost you around about $465 AUD including shipping . * This pricing was in 2017 and has now increased as certain models are now out of production.  What hasn't changed since 2017 when I began my in-depth look at the ovilus, is that being a paranormal investigator is expensive.


They all work in a similar way, they are just updated to look fancier and each upgraded models has a larger database of words. For the sake of this exercise, we will be looking at the Ovilus 3 model as this is what I have been studying. It applies to all versions really, it is just the database of words for the newer versions that has more words in it.

The official explanation of how it works from the digital dowsing who create the device is:

"The revolutionary Ghost Box Ovilus III converts environmental readings into real words. Now you can get real words and phonetic responses to your questions. Theories suggest that spirits and other paranormal entities may be able to alter our environment such as electromagnet frequencies, temperature, etc. The Ovilus III takes advantage of this by using these frequencies to choose a response from a preset database of over 2,000 words. The idea behind this, is that an intelligent entity will be able to alter the environment in such a way that forces the Ovilus to "speak" an appropriate response." What is very important to note is the fine print and something that even appears on the box when you purchase one: 'For entertainment purposes only'.

Digital Dowsing

So what is in this database of words?

The database programmed into the Ovilus 3 contains exactly 2049 words. Newer models contain more words. How do I know this? A couple of years ago, I contacted Digital Dowsing who are the makers of this device. I managed to get my hands on the database. Thinking I was pretty special and the only one to have this information, I was surprised to find out the information was also readily available on their website. Here is a link if you want to have a look. I downloaded this a couple of years ago into an excel spreadsheet. Wanting to learn more about how this device works, I sat down and spent a good month looking up the dictionary translation for every single word in the database so that we could get a better understanding of what kind of words are in there. What I noticed straight away was that this device has been programmed with words that are quite specific to paranormal investigation. There are words relating to religion, crime, medical conditions, names, numbers even words relating to physics and astrology.  It means that the words that come up are tailored made to be relevant to paranormal investigators.

The majority of the database, is made up of verbs, adjectives, nouns etc words like run, because, tree, ball, even the word paranormal is in there and of course my favourite word orb. 

Why do random words come out?

Looking at the theory behind it, if it is using readings from the environment around you, it is picking up on everything. Even you just holding it could cause it to give a reading, the powerpoint in the wall, the static electricity in the air could all be contributing to the reading. This is what I believe is causing these random words. Some other theories I have heard from fellow investigators are things like: 

"The spirits are picking a word in the dictionary that might sound like what they are trying to communicate. Quite often when the device speaks, it sounds like it is saying a word completely different to what is on the screen",

"The device is preprogrammed to spit out random words in the hope it will match the conditions'

'It has a microphone inside that records your conversations and it works out what words might be relevant'.

These are not my opinion, these are theories I have just heard from fellow investigators and I am sure you have questioned it in the past too. 

What are the odds that the word I am looking for will come up?

My theory when it comes to using equipment and whether or not it is a useful tool or not is to know how it works so that you can properly interpret the data. So to make it easier for you, I have personally sat down and gone through and documented every single word in the dictionary and made a few categories to work out the percentage chance of the word you are looking for coming up. You can then decide for yourself out in the field that when you get a direct answer to your question, based on the odds how to interpret the responses you are getting. All numbers are approximate because it is possible in the scramble of words, I have missed one here or there.

Here is what I found:

  • There are approximately 103 names in the database meaning there is a 5% chance a response will be a name
  • There are approximately 41 words related to religion in the database meaning there is a 2% chance a response will be related to some sort of religion or religious belief
  • There are approximately 36 numbers or word spelling out a number meaning there is a 1.75% chance a response will be a number
  • There are approximately 29 words relating to family members such as Mother, Father etc meaning there is a 1.4% chance a response will be related to a family member
  • There are approximately 17 words relating to a country or nationality meaning there is a 0.82% chance if you ask 'What country are you from', that the device will answer with a country
  • There are approximately 20 words relating to body parts meaning there is a 0.97% chance a response will be a body part
  • There are approximately 7 words which are colours meaning that there is only a 0.34% chance a response will be a colour
  • All 26 letters of the Alphabet are programmed into the database meaning there is a 0.1% chance that if you ask what is the first letter of your name that the answer will be a letter

What do I do with all this information?

Well, whatever you want to really. The way I am looking at the above is that the odds of a specific word I am looking for coming up are actually pretty low. I would be looking at the conversation as a whole. If out of 100 words that have come through only 1 was relevant, it was likely to be a coincidence because even though the odds are low, they are still possible. If it seems you are getting several intelligent responses in a row, that to me would be pretty interesting. Just based on the odds of several intelligent words randomly coming up, I would suggest buying a Tattslotto ticket if it does happen! On TV it seems like they never get these 'random' words and their whole conversation appears to be intelligent. Don't be fooled by editing. I am sure they also get the random words, it just doesn't make great television. We all know how much the power of suggestion works with the Ovilus. Try to be aware of it and don't get caught up in the moment. Only concentrate and validate an answer if it seems to be a direct answer to your question. If they can give you an answer once, they can surely do it again. I have heard rumours that some people have claimed words that have come up on the device that are not pre-programmed. I have not had this happen but it is possible that there are extra words programmed in the device that are not listed on the database list made available to the public.  

What I do find interesting about the percentages as they don't necessarily leave a lot of up to chance.  It really is going to come down to your interpretation.  Now I know a lot of people dismiss this device because it talks.  When you look at how it works, it rely on reading the environment around us which is pretty much what a lot of other devices do.  This just assigns a word to that reading.  What I think would be a good test would be to set up data loggers and correlate the data from a data logger and match it up to the words that have been said on the ovilus at the same time.  You will then get a better understanding of what kind of readings influence the words you are getting.  It is also important to remember as well that the words programmed into the Ovilus are intended to be relevant in some ways to a paranormal investigation.  We have a pretty good set of cognitive biases ingrained into us which means we will tend to make the word relevant to us.  If it isn't the exact word we are looking for, we can sometimes clutch at straws making it relevant to us when it really is just random.  

Ultimately, take this device for what it is.  I wouldn't be relying on it to give you definitive answers.  Look at the picture as a whole and not just rely on the solid word in front of you.  If you do get a word that you feel is an intelligent response, aim for another.  If you can write down your questions and the answers you receive so you can look back on it.  If you start getting words one after the after that is a direct response to your question that can be matched back to history, that becomes pretty interesting!

Soon I plan to do similar work with the paranormal puk (which is a similar concept) to study that.  Stay tuned!

If you enjoy LLIFS, consider buying me a book (otherwise known as buy me a coffee but I don't drink coffee and I LOVE books). Your donation helps to fund the LLIFS website so everyone can continue to access great paranormal content and resources for FREE!

Follow LLIFS on Facebook

Don't forget to follow the Facebook page for regular updates 

Mailing List

Join the mailing list to receive weekly updates of NEW articles.  Never miss an article again!

Haunted Magazine

Buy the latest and past issues Haunted Magazine

Books by LLIFS

Check out the books written by LLIFS


  • kelly williams 6 years ago

    Can you are anybody explain in detail how the dictionary mode works. I don't understood it at all! any help would be greatly apricate it! and I already greatly apricate all the info i have learned from Sara. Thank you Sara for all the time & work you put into this!

  • Vampy 6 years ago

    I would like to see the inside components of an ovilus.

  • Steven Dragonfly 6 years ago

    I used an Ovilus 5b at an investigation of Mill Street Barracks in St Helens, England. I had a 45 min conversation with a friend who had passed in Afghanistan. I have the list of words and of all the words that came out only one doesn't appear in the list 'injury'. Also I never got any random words and we tried to used it in other areas of the building after my conversation and got zero responses or random words.
    Dragonfly Paranormal

  • Penny 6 years ago

    I always thought it was just a bit of fun, until using one recently at Hylands House in Essex and the answers we were getting were spot on, for example, the word "venus" comes up, and my friend pointed out what we were standing in front of....a statue of venus.
    That was just one of them, they seemed to like using it there!