Disclaimer: The article shown here is for information purposes only. Para-Boston does not specifically recommend or condone the use of séances as a tool for investigative research.
Some paranormal researchers theorize that some ghostly manifestations and poltergeist activity (footsteps, door slams, moving objects) are products of the human mind. In the early 1970s, a Canadian-based group set out to test the theory by conducting a fascinating experiment. The Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) wanted to see if they could create a ghost. They wanted to get a core group together to concoct a fictional character and then conduct séances to see if they could contact him and receive messages from him. They theorized if they were really lucky maybe they’d see an apparition.
They “invented” a spirit named Philip. Would you believe Philip actually made contact with them through a series of possible psychokinetic phenomena? Read on…
Dr. A.R.G. Owen, the leader of this study group in the TSPR, gathered eight people from their membership. All claimed to not be pychics. This group, often called the Owen Group, were comprised of the good doctor’s wife, an accountant, a designer, a housewife, a bookkeeper and a sociology student. Also there was a psychologist, Dr. Joel Whitton, in attendance as an observer.
To create the fictional “Philip Aylesford”, as a group they began Phase One: Creating Philip’s Life. They wrote a short biography about him. He was an English aristocrat who lived in the mid-1600s. He was a supporter of the King, and was a Catholic. He married the Dorothea, daughter of a neighboring nobleman. She was a beautiful, but cold and frigid wife.
One day Philip was riding on the boundaries of his estates and he came across a gypsy encampment and saw Margo. She was a beautiful dark-eyed gypsy girl who he fell instantly in love with. He brought her back to his land, secretly, to live in the gatehouse near the stables of his family home -Diddington Manor.
He managed to keep this a secret from Dorothea for awhile, but eventually she figured out he was keeping someone in there, she found Margo and Dorothea accused her of Witchcraft. She also accused her of stealing her husband. Philip was afraid of losing his reputation, his wealth and possessions if he protested, so Margo went to trial and she was convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake.
Talk about guilt. Philip was overwhelmed with remorse that he never spoke up to defend Margo. He used to pace the battlements of Diddington in utter despair. Then one morning his body was found at the bottom of the battlements. It was assumed that he threw himself in after a fit of agony and remorse. He died at 30 years old.
The Owen group called upon one of their members with artistic talents to sketch a portrait of Philip. Now the Owen Group was ready. They had an image and a detailed background which was firmly set in their minds to focus on and they were ready for Phase Two of their experiment – Making Contact With Philip.
In September 1972, the group began their “sittings”. These were informal meetings in which they would discuss Philip and his life, they would meditate on him and focus to try to visualize their “collective hallucination” in greater detail. These sittings were conducted in a fully lit room and went on for about a year. Nothing happened. Some group members would occasionally claim they felt a presence in the room, but it was just a personal experience and there was no result they could consider any kind of communication from Philip.
Then they changed their strategy and began conducting classic spiritualistic séances. They lowered the room’s lights, sat around a table, sang songs and surrounded themselves with objects from Philip’s time period, pictures of the type of castle they imagined he would have lived in, etc.
That worked! One evening, during a séance, the group received its first communication from Philip in the form of a distinct knock on the table. Soon Philip was answering questions asked by the group – one knock for yes, two for no. They assumed the communication came from Philip because, they were attempting to communicate with only him.
The sessions escalated and produced a range of phenomena that couldn’t be explained scientifically. The group was able to learn more details about Philip’s life through the table-knocking communication. It appeared as if he had a personality and he conveyed his likes and dislikes and his point-of-view on various topics. This was deduced by how quick and enthusiastic, or plain, his knocking responses were. They joked with Philip, teased him, even flirted with him. When Philip was asked if Dorothea, his wife, didn’t want children, the group heard scratching sounds coming from the walls. One member asked if the question was too personal and one loud rap was heard (a strong Yes!) His “spirit” was eventually able to move the table and slide it from side (even though it was on a carpeted floor). Sometimes the table would “dance” on one leg.
Philip was a creation of the group’s collective imagination and had his limitations. He accurately answered questions about events and people of his time period, but it did not appear to be information that the group was unaware of: meaning Philip’s responses were coming from the group’s subconscious – their own minds. At some point some members thought they heard whispers in response to certain questions, but no whisper was ever caught on their audio recordings. Dr. Owen later stated that if the entire team were in agreement to the answer to a question, the responses would come very quickly but if one or more people were uncertain in the answer then Philip’s responses would be hesitant, taking some time to reply.
There was no explanation for Philip’s amazing psychokinetic powers. If the group asked Philip to dim the lights, they would instantly dim. When asked to brighten back the lights they would brighten instantly as well. The table that the group sat around was quite often the focal point of odd phenomena. They felt a cool breeze blow across the table and asked Philip if he could make it to start and stop. Yes he could and he did so. The group observed that the feel of the table was different to the touch whenever Philip was in their presence — it felt electric or “alive”. There were a few times when a fine mist formed over the center of the table. Quite unbelievably the group claimed that the table would sometimes be so animated that it would quickly slide over to meet latecomers to the session, and sometimes even “trap” members in the corner of the room!
The climax of the Philip Experiment was a séance conducted before a live audience of 50 people. This session was also filmed as part of a television documentary. Philip performed above expectations. There were table knockings, odd noises in the room, lights blinking off and on, and the table became fully levitated. It only rose a half inch above the floor, but this incredible feat was witnessed by the group and the film crew. Because the lighting was dim at this point – the levitation was not caught on film.
In a later session during an especially active night, one of the members jokingly told Philip that he could be sent away and replaced. After that, Philip’s activity began to decrease until it stopped altogether and the experiment was stopped.
The Philip Experiment was a success in all ways but one – the spirit of Philip never materialized into an apparition.
Because the Philip Experiment was such a success, the Toronto organization decided to try it again with a completely different group of people and a new fictional character. After just five weeks, this new group established “contact” with their new “spirit,” Lilith, a French-Canadian spy. Other similar experiments conjured up such entities as a medieval alchemist named Sebastian, and a man from the future named Axel. All were completely fictional, yet all produced unexplained communication through their unique knockings.
A group in Sydney Australia attempted a similar test with “the Skippy Experiment.” Six members created the story of Skippy Cartman, a 14-year-old Australian girl. The group reports that Skippy communicated with them through knockings and scratching sounds.
What the heck does one conclude about these experiments? A hoax? Real communication with a made up character? Real communication with another spirit posing as the character? There is no such thing as hauntings – just a psychokinetic manifestations of our minds? One thing is for certain – the experiment did not and can not prove that there are no ghosts.
In any case, the what the experiments did prove is that paranormal phenomena are quite real. These experiments leave us with more questions than answers about the world in we live in.
Want to try and create your own experimental ghost? British psychologist Kenneth Batcheldor and engineer Colin Brookes-Smith, back in the late 1960s and early ’70s, developed a methodology for educating psychokinesis as a group-skill, to provide phenomena for their research on the physical operating-mechanisms of psychokinesis. The key parts of their methodology was published in the Journal of the (British) Society for Psychical Research, Vol.47, No.756
Below from the June 1973 pages 69-89 are notes adapted from Batcheldor’s “List of Rules for Sitters”.
1. At least three but not more than six sitters
2. Only those capable of friendly co-operation
3. No extreme sceptics seeking convincing evidence
4. No inflexible Spiritualists or scientists
5. Both sexes, no age limit
6. Agree to meet once a week at the same place and time
7. Use a comfortable living room with familiar surroundings
8. Sit in any preferred order
9. Use the dimmest possible light tolerable without discomfort (unless extremely confident of success in stronger light)
10. Use total darkness for advanced phenomena (unless unusually confident of success in dim light)
11. Hands on table – not necessarily touching each other
12. Never change conditions even slightly, unless this is essential to relieve tension or increase expectancy
13. Avoid arguments – sense and resolve even covert disagreements about procedure
14. Avoid immobility of posture – move freely, behave naturally
15. Don’t worry about accidentally imparting movement to the table
16. Be relaxed – engage in light-hearted talk, jokes and laughter
17. Smoke initially or during breaks if you wish
18. Avoid long silences and boredom
19. Be patient, just wait calmly and cheerfully without irritation
20. Don’t comment on the time, weather or topical news
21. Don’t become too interested in any particular conversation
22. Don’t say or think anything that implies doubt
23. Don’t do anything that implies or arouses doubt
24. Don’t perform tests or impose controls in half-hearted belief
25. Don’t try to ‘will’ the phenomena
26. Cultivate an attitude of serene confidence
27. Avoid all thoughts of any particular experiment ‘failing’
28. Avoid both long-term skepticism and ‘instant’ doubt
29. Don’t explain away every little happening
30. Don’t express (surprise or) astonishment at any PK display
31. Don’t concentrate your gaze – even in the dark – where PK is imminent
32. Don’t focus your thoughts analytically on specific phenomena
33. Encourage a generalized idea or image of the experimental task
34. Don’t apply critical analysis during or after a PK display
35. Keep your mind in ‘neutral’ – be an uncritical observer
36. ‘Pigeon-hole’ your observations for future consideration
37. Let the spokesman give all the commands
38. Use wording unambiguous in its intention
39. Use a tone of voice implying unquestioned obedience
40. Don’t comment on or distract attention from specific commands
41. Start with what seems easy and plausible
42. Grade the tasks commanded
43. Maintain plausibility throughout the experiments
44. Practice each step sufficiently – but don’t let it become tedious
45. Don’t hurry the steps – wait for each response
46. Go back one step if no response is forthcoming
47. Don’t repeatedly call for something not forthcoming
48. Revive interest and excitement by some free uncommanded action
49. Call ‘STOP’ if free activity ignores commands, then regain obedience
50. Briefly express approval for successfully performed tasks
51. Don’t consult ‘the table’ on procedure or theories
52. Don’t ask for spiritistic messages
53.A void being led astray by the offer of prizes
[The above table is copyright ©1970 Kenneth Batcheldor.]