The Creation of Philip
At an American Psychological Association conference in Toronto some years ago, I heard a fascinating talk by Iris M. Owen, author of Conjuring Up Philip. During my week in Cancun in early December, I finally took the time to read the book. It brought back memories of my early experiences with Spiritualism from 1955 to 1962 before I returned to school for my psychology degrees and became too busy to do more than read an occasional book about psychic research or attend an occasional lecture.
The Toronto Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1970 to investigate all areas of psi: paranormal experiences which are ignored or denied by most of traditional science. After investigating a supposed “haunted” house in 1972, a number of members of the Toronto group set out to test the theory that some supposedly psychic experiences might be collective hallucinations, whether visual, auditory, or involving other senses. Experiments by Dr. D.H. Lloyd had shown that telepathy could produce responses in the brain which seemed equivalent to responses due to physical stimuli (light, sound, etc.). The brains registered seeing or hearing something supposedly external but the source was an input from the mind of another person. Some members of the Toronto Society decided to test the possibility that group telepathy might produce a group experience for “ordinary” people with no special psychic talents. Eight individuals (both sexes and a range of ages) met weekly and concentrated on visualizing an imaginary man named Philip. One group member made up a “history” for Philip. He was placed in Scotland in the 17th century, in a real location but the historic buildings which were part of the story were changed by adding towers and other features. Everyone in the group memorized Philip’s fictional history, and discussed various details until all were in basic agreement on his appearance, character, and the events in his life.
The original intent of the group was to produce a visual hallucination that would be perceived by members of the group. They met faithfully every week for a year, meditating together and concentrating on seeing Philip, but without success. At the end of the year, they decided to change their methods to imitate the techniques reported by some English Parapsychologists, especially K.J. Batcheldor who described the achievement of paranormal effects within a few weeks by groups without special psychic ability. Batcheldor (and others) achieved physical noises and movements of pieces of furniture. The Toronto group still hoped to get visual results, but they shifted to the new techniques which included singing together, telling jokes, and chatting sociably. Unlike the Spiritualist psychic circles which originated these methods, the Toronto group continued to meet in a fully lighted room and to function without a “medium,” a person presumed to have special psychic gifts.
Though the initial attempt to be “casual and jolly” felt a little stilted, the Toronto group had become good friends in their year of meeting together, and after two weeks they were able to relax and sing and joke together. And the phenomena began almost immediately. On the third or fourth session using the new psychological approach, they felt a “vibration” in the table top. This felt sensation was soon followed by clearly audible raps as if someone had rapped on the table. The 19th century Spiritualist séances had spelled out messages with such raps, using the number of raps to signify letters of the alphabet. The Toronto group decided to stick to “yes” or “no” answers, with one rap for “yes” and two raps for “no.”
The physical phenomena produced by the Toronto group progressed rapidly into actual movements of the table similar to those produced by mediumistic circles but done in full light and by people without special psychic talent. The table (they used a variety of different ones over the course of several years) would lift one or two legs and on one occasion was able to fully levitate. Two outside witnesses were present at that time, but unfortunately it was not filmed. The table would glide across the floor with a smooth motion that group members were unable to duplicate by deliberate physical effort since there was heavy carpet and the legs would normally stick and jerk when they tried to push the table. Remember that participants’ hands were resting on the top of the table at all times, with everything clearly visible in good light. The table would “pursue” a member of the group, trap him or her in a corner, or block someone out of the doorway. The noises were recorded and analyzed and proved to be unique. The group was unable to duplicate them by rapping the table with knuckles, small objects, etc. The noises were heard by visiting guests, and the table movements were filmed on video and shown on TV in Toronto.
Though not as dramatic as the physical manifestations, the psychological implications of the results are very interesting. Remember that Philip was a fictional character, yet the group could get rapped responses from him which were totally in character with the history which had been created for him. That he was created by the group and knew only what the group knew was demonstrated by periodic historical mistakes in the “answers” when someone in the group asked a question to which no one in the group knew the answer. On only one occasion did “Philip” give an answer contrary to the belief of someone in the group and the answer turned out to be accurate when checked against history. At all other times, Philip knew only what the group knew, and gave them erroneous information when they lacked accurate knowledge of the area being discussed.
The experiences of the Toronto group support the power of the mind but they also complicate the simplistic view that all “ghosts” and poltergeist activity are created by “spirits,” formerly living humans. Often, such manifestations may be creations of currently embodied humans. This is not a denial of the possibility that some hauntings are produced by “spirits,” but a note of caution about blanket assumptions. For a fascinating story of the deliberate creation of a “thought form” or “ghost,” read the book Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Madame Alexandra David-Neel.
Mrs. Owen’s book brought back memories of my experiences with table-tapping some 30 years ago. I have seen a heavy, wooden “captain’s chair” stand on two legs and move across the room with a few people trying to maintain contact, with all hands on the surface of the chair seat! These manifestations occurred in broad daylight, in a room with large windows, and no one had a hand under the chair seat to do any lifting. It was strictly fun and games—no science—but assured me that “normal” people could produce “strange” phenomena. According to most of the literature on the subject of psi, one of the most essential requirements for producing results is a certain amount of faith in the possibility of the results. Skepticism tends to block the phenomena, which is understandable since the mind of the skeptic is desperately working to support his materialistic belief system. The book on Philip is out of print, but you might locate it in a library. A paperback edition was published in August 1977 by PaperJacks in Markham, Ontario, Canada. Such phenomena can apparently be produced quite readily. Someday, science will be able to look at them. In the meantime, they reinforce our confidence in the power of the mind.