“Philip” An artificial Poltergeist created by experiment by eight members of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research, under the direction of parapsychologists A. R. G. Owen and Iris M. Owen.
The group, none of whose members had any Demonstrable psychic ability, set out in 1972 to determine if they could mentally create a collective thoughtform, or artificial ghost, by intense and prolonged concentration. They fabricated a man named “Philip” and gave him a fictitious history. He was born “Philip Aylesford” in 1624, joined the military at age 15 and was knighted at age 16, was befriended by Prince Charles (Charles I), fought for the crown in the English Civil War, worked as a secret agent for Charles II, and knew Cromwell. He had an affair with a Gypsy. His wife discovered his infidelity and accused the girl of witchcraft. The Gypsy was burned at the stake and “Philip” committed suicide at age 30 in 1654.
With “Philip’s” life story set, the group in September 1972 began convening at the Owens’ house in Toronto, where they meditated and tried to establish communication with him. They visualized him and discussed the details of his life, hoping that eventually an APPARITION would materialize. No visual apparition appeared, but sometimes various members of the group reported feeling a presence in the room, or receiving an unusually vivid mental picture of “Philip.”
After months with no success, the group tried Spiritualist techniques for Table-Tilting, in which psychokinetic (PK) effects sometimes manifest when a group sits around a table with their hands placed lightly on it. The idea for this came from the work of British psychologist Kenneth J. Batcheldor, who had achieved PK effects in Séancelike settings. It was Batcheldor’s theory that the atmosphere of belief and expectation that permeates a Séance in effect creates the phenomena that Spiritualists attribute to spirits. (See SITTER GROUPS.)
On the third or fourth Table-Tilting session, the group felt a vibration within the tabletop. The vibrations became raps and knocks, and the table moved beneath their hands. When one member of the group wondered out loud if “Philip” was responsible, a knock sounded in answer. Using a simple code of one rap for yes and two for no, the group communicated with the spirit, who claimed to be the very man they had created. Although the spirit was able to give historically correct answers concerning events and persons—perhaps due to cryptomnesia or extrasensory perception (ESP) among members of the group—it was unable to provide any information about itself which had not previously been manufactured as part of his life’s history.
“Philip” sometimes greeted latecomers to the sessions by moving the table toward them, and on occasion he even managed to maneuver the table so as to trap some members in the corner of the room. With raps, he would play and beat times to tunes.
Sessions with “Philip” continued for several years. In 1974, a film was made in which the table levitated about one inch off the carpet and glided about four feet in distance. In 1975, the group was invited to participate in PK experiments at Kent State University. Interest in Electronic Voice Phenomena, in which attempts are made to record spirit voices on magnetic tape, led the group to try to evoke a vocal response from “Philip” in answer to questions. The group thought they obtained whispered responses, some clear, especially to questions posed by Iris Owen.
The group’s results encouraged other groups to try similar experiments to create artificial personalities. Another Toronto group created “Lilith,” a French-Canadian spy during World War II, and a group of French students from Quebec created “Sebastian,” a medieval alchemist, and “Axel,” a man from the future. The personalities communicated by rapping. One evening, the French students and the Owens group conducted a joint session, which produced an amusing evening of rapping. Each personality had its own identifiable character of raps.
The Owens experimenters believed that they succeeded in Demonstrating that a group’s subconscious could produce physical effects characterizing a poltergeist—“ PK by committee,” as they called it. The messages rapped out came from the group’s collective subconscious. The experimenters further believed they were only a step away from producing a physical manifestation of a spirit. That, however, was not achieved. After about 1977, interest waned and activities eventually were discontinued. The experiments were time-consuming, and after several years, the group felt they had made little headway in understanding the basic physical phenomena that were occurring.
- Owen, Iris M., with Margaret Sparrow. Conjuring Up Philip. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
- ———. “‘Philip’s’ Story Continued.” New Horizons: Journal of the New Horizons Research Fund 2 (April 1975): 14–20.