In 1972, a bunch of Canadian Parapsychologists conducted a pretty cool experiment. Their aim was to ‘create’ a ghost to prove that the human mind could conjure a spirit through expectation, imagination and visualization. There was even a movie made inspired by this case called 'The Quiet Ones'. The experiment was lead by a world renowned self proclaimed expert on poltergeists, Dr A.R.G Owen. His goal was simple. Create a group of people (none of which were mediums or sensitive to the paranormal) and have them use their collective thought to see if they could conjure a ghost to appear. And so Philip was born.
Dr Owen came up with the name Phillip Aylesford and gave him a very tragic backstory with a sad and tragic death. I suppose Bob Smith who lived a very happy life and died of natural causes just doesn’t have the same punch. So this is the story they created: Philip was an Englishman from the 1600's. He was a supporter of the King and of Catholic religion. He married the daughter of his neighbour who was a very attractive woman but had a very cold and frigid personality called Dorothea. One day Philip went out riding his horse. Near the boundary of his property, he came across a Gypsy campsite. He met a beautiful Gypsy girl with dark eyes called Margo and it was love at first sight. He brought her back to live in the gatehouse near the stables of Diddington Manor which was his home. Philip was pretty happy. He had his cake and was eating it too! His wife Dorothea may have been beautiful, but she also was not stupid. She worked out that there was someone else living on the property. She found and confronted Margo (the Gypsy mistress) and accused her of witchcraft and stealing her husband. Remember back in those days any sort of 'sin' was considered to be witchcraft. She was put to trial. Philip was too scared to defend Margo at the trial and speak the truth as he feared losing his possessions and damaging his reputation. Margo was then found guilty of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Not long after the trial, Philip was overcome with remorse. Unable to forgive himself, each day he would pace up and down along the battlements of his castle. One day, Philip's body was found at the bottom of the battlements where he had thrown himself.
To help bring Philip's story to life, one of the group members sketched an image of what they thought Philip would look like. This is the actual picture of 'Philip.
Initially the group put together to conjure Philip would meet on a regular basis in an informal setting. They would sit around, with the lights on and talk about Philip. They had his picture and notes about his life and talked about him. They used his picture and focused on it. They used meditation techniques and tried to imagine Philip in their mind to see if they could make him 'appear. They tried this for a full year starting in September 1972. This brought no results apart from a couple members saying they felt a presense.
Not willing to give up, Dr Owen decided to change the approach of the group as after a year of sittings, their methods were clearly not working. They decided to incorporate elements of the 'Singapore Theory' to bring him forward. Each member would bring in a trigger object of an item that the think Philip might have liked. The brought in pictures of castle and imagined that this was the Castle that Philip might have lived in. They sang songs that they thought Philip may relate to, the most notable being '99 Bottles of Beer'. One of the most important changes they felt was successful to the experiment was that they duplicated what would be a typical ‘séance’ atmosphere, dimmed some lights, lit some candles and called upon Philip to come forward. It seemed this new method worked. Whilst Philip did not come forward as a full bodied apparition that they could see, what they did receive appeared to be intelligent knocking responses (known as rapping) on the seance table they were using. They used the one knock for yes and twice for no method. So how did they know it was Philip responding to them? Their evidence was that they asked 'Is this Philip?' and received one knock meaning yes.
After the initial contact, it seemed with every session, Philip's communication became stronger. They felt they learnt a lot of about Philip from his knocking responses. What they found to be interesting was that Philip did not seem to know the questions to answers that they did not know - which convinced them that it was indeed Philip they had conjured from their collective consciousness. Simply put, if they didn't know the answer, Philip wouldn't either. As Philip became stronger, he was able to start moving the table and was apparently capable of levitating the table. Sitters reported seeing a mist over the table that they would see move across the room when someone entered the room as if it was greeting them. He was also capable of dimming the lights on command. In order to 'prove' this to the world, there was a final seance held in front of a live audience of 50 people and a documentary was broadcast on National television. Supposedly the table levitated during this session but it was not caught on camera. Here is a link to the video.
The experiment itself has been heavily criticised for relying on spiritualist techniques which can be manipulated by a person such as table rapping and table turning. Dr Owen however, felt it was a success. So much so that more experiments followed. A new group of sitters and new fictional characters were created. There was Lilith a French Canadian spy, Sebastian a medieval alchemist and Axel a time traveller from the future. All were successful in their minds. What is worth noting, in these experiments is that they did not work on the first try. It took 5 weeks for Lilith to come forward. Perhaps it really did work. Let's not forget the group of sitters were not just your average person that was interested in the paranormal. They were parapsychologists who look for the rational. They experienced things they claimed they could not explain. They thought it worked so well to the extent that the recreated this experiment several times. When I talk to investigators about the experiment, pretty much everyone I have spoken to has said there is some merit to it. When they have tried elements of this experiment during an investigation out on the field, they have had results. While it is not to the detail of the above, the seemingly were able to get it to work within a night. It doesn't work every single time of course, but when it does work, it has them scratching their heads with excitement.
I have a couple of theories here as well of possible alternatives. I'm not saying it didn't work or that it doesn't work, but as an investigator we have to look at other possibilities as well. I have tried this experiment as well as others which are inspired by or based on the concept of this experiment. All of them work on the pretence that a group of people together, can get something to happen by merely concentrating and using the power of their minds. In doing this, one would have to recognise how much the power of suggestion could also influence this experiment. Depending on the tools you are using to measure the experiment lets look at the Philip experiment as an example. Table rapping or knocks were used to determine the answer to yes or no questions. Apart from the fact that it is of course possible that someone could have been faking the knocks (as an investigator it is something we have to acknowledge when we are not there to witness it) any sound or knock could be incorrectly interpreted as a response from 'Philip'. Investing so much time, energy, heart and soul into a project, you obviously believe in it that much that you want it to work. Did they want it to work so badly that every sound, every cold breeze was quite possibly normal in nature, but they perceived it to be paranormal. If one person in the room is excited by the activity, it doesn't take long to get caught up. I was recently talking to a colleague about this very thing. I can stand in a room where nothing is happening, and by using my body language and excitement, I can completely change the feeling and atmosphere in the room and suddenly everyone is caught up in a moment where nothing has actually happened.
Another possibility could be that perhaps another spirit has taken the opportunity to communicate and assumed the identity as Philip. One of the things I know I have noticed in my time of investigating is that when you start investigating and the moment you turn on a piece of equipment, it is like you are setting of a beacon to say im here talk to me. It is for this reason that a lot of investigators including myself don't investigate at home. How do we know that a spirit is not using the opportunity to communicate? We have spirits that we communicate with on our investigations all the time. A lot of the time we assume it is a particular person perhaps the old owner of a building. So we call them by that name. Maybe it isn't them, but they are just answering to that name because they want to communicate. I often for some reason have people think my name is Sharon. Sharon to me sounds nothing like Sarah yet a lot of times people think not long after we are introduced think that my name is Sharon. Sometimes at the end of a conversation I hear them say ok bye Sharon or refer to me as Sharon and you know what? Sometimes it is just easier for me to let it go and for that 5 minutes my name is Sharon because I don't want to have an awkward conversation to correct them. When you think about it, during an investigation a spirit cant really correct someone and say sorry my name is not Philip my name is Rob and I'm from across the road. Perhaps a medium would be able to identify this, but an important point to remember with this particular experiment is that no mediums/psychic or sensitives were used as sitters so no one could use their abilities to confirm who it was they were talking to.
I recently discussed this very experiment with fellow blogger and friend Ashley Knibb (you must visit his site ashleyknibb.com he has some great insights) and we got onto the topic of wondering what an actual haunting may be. When you go on a ghost tour or a paranormal investigation for example you are often told stories of the spirits you are trying to communicate with. I am going to use Annie from Black Rock House as an example. She is a spirit that we believe we communicate with. How do we know her name is Annie? It is information we have received through our communication. Her name could be something completely different, but she answers to Annie because we call her that. Maybe Annie doesn't exist at all. By us going into a room and telling her story at the beginning of the investigation. we are almost conducting our own Philip experiment. The group are concentrating on her story and we are asking questions related to her story because we know from our experience that it gives us answers. Maybe Annie is actually a product of our collective conscious in that room?
It is a fascinating topic and probably one of my most favourite experiments. I'd love to hear from you. Have you tried this experiment? How did you do it and did it work for you? I will be publishing soon the result of an experiment I am running myself - The Phyllis experiment (because in my version, Philip is a female). I will be trying to conjure my very own Phyllis and instead of using spiritualist methods, I will be logging data as well as using ITC methods to see if we are successful. Im going to try it at a couple of different locations as well with different groups of people. Stay tuned!
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