A Made In Canada Ghost
Eliot’s at Yonge and Wellesley in Toronto was an independent bookshop that operated for over 40 years before it was forced to close down because of 100% tax hikes in the city. The shop was a book lovers dream where you could get lost for hours seeking the hidden gems found in the multiple story shelves. I miss this place so much. 😦
In the 90’s and 2Ks Eliot’s was my number one go-to for used horror, occult and paranormal themed books. And it was there that for $4 and $5 bux each I found copies of Psychic Mysteries Of The North by A.R.G Owen and Conjuring Up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis. The latter has literally driven my research efforts and experiments ever since. These will be a large part the focus of a book I’m currently writing with the working title Conjuring UFOs.
You may be wondering at this point who was this Philip that was being conjured?
Philip was an aristocratic Englishman living in the middle 1600s at the time of Oliver Cromwell. He had been a supporter of the king and was a good Catholic. He was married to a beautiful, but cold and frigid wife. Dorothea, was the daughter of a neighboring nobleman, so it was an arranged marriage as was common back then among the aristocracy. One day, when out riding on the boundaries of his estates, Philip came across a gypsy encampment and saw there a beautiful dark-eyed, raven-haired gypsy girl, named Margo. As the story goes he fell instantly in love with her.
He brought her back secretly to live in the gate-house near the stables of Diddington Manor, which was his ancestral home. For some time he kept his love-nest secret, but eventually Dorothea, realizing he was keeping someone else there, found Margo, and accused her of witchcraft and of bewitching her husband.
Philip was too scared of losing his reputation and his possessions to protest at the trial of Margo, and she was convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Philip was stricken with remorse that he had not tried to defend Margo and used to pace the battlements of Diddington in despair. Finally one morning his body was found at the foot of the battlements where he had cast himself off of in a fit of agony and remorse.”
Sounding like a gothic romance novel, this tragic story contains many elements normally associated with reports of historical ghosts, but it is a complete fabrication.
The true story of ‘Philip’ is actually a remarkable experiment that was conducted in the early 1970’s by The Toronto Society Of Psychical Research. The purpose of the experiment was to see if a wholly fictitious historical character – ghost could in fact manifest itself through the groups creative efforts of concentration and meditation.
Dr. A.R.G Owen, a member of the Department For Preventative Medicine and Biostatistics at the University of Toronto and psychic researcher who specialized in poltergeist cases was the group’s scientific advisor. He is quoted in the introduction to “Conjuring Up Phillip” as saying, “It was essential to their purpose that Philip be a totally fictitious character. Not merely a figment of the imagination, but clearly and obviously so, with a biography full of historical errors.”
The basic storyline as outlined above was created by one of the group’s members named only as “Sue” – a former nurse with the Canadian Armed Forces. Further details including a sketch were added on as the group discussed and immersed themselves in Philip’s invented biographical data.
What appear to be obvious contradictions such as Philip being reincarnated several times, and also being seen walking the battlements of Diddington every century or so were carefully woven into the story. And while a Diddington Hall really does exist in Warckshire, England the group made sure that the real location’s history in no way resembled Philip’s home. In essence the group sought to create a “collective hallucination” of Philip as an apparition through subscribing to a common mental picture of him and his surroundings. They meditated on his appearance, his food preferences, and mostly his ‘feelings’ towards his wife Dorothea and his lover Margo.
In the beginning the experiment had very little success. The group would sit at a round table and conduct a theatrical-style séance patterned after the spiritualists of the late 19th century. After about 8 months of regular sessions the group finally saw results. There was a knock on the table, which at first was felt more than heard. All of the group’s eight members felt the vibration. This was followed by a number of distinct knocks that were in fact heard and felt.
Skeptical at first, the group felt that these knocks were perhaps inadvertently the result of one of the participants. They quickly changed their minds when the table itself began to move around the room. When a startled member asked aloud, “I wonder whether Philip is doing this,” a loud knock was heard as if in response.
Philip, a made in Canada ghost had finally arrived. And he was communicating!
The group devised a plan in which one knock would signify a yes, and two knocks would indicate a no. Soon after they began enjoying ‘spirited’ conversation with Philip. This ‘entity’ that they apparently had conjured up “exhibited likes and dislikes, had strong views on some subjects and was hesitant on others.” They questioned him on his personal life, and his love for Margo. And once when an apparently too personal question was asked in regards to his wife Dorothea, loud scratching sounds were heard.
It was noted that the ghostly sounds and movements of the table seemed closely related to the thoughts of the group. If they were in agreement to what an answer should be the resulting ‘yes’ knock was quick and loud. If there were doubts amongst the group’s members the result would be a corresponding hesitation in the sounds.
As their experiment progressed the participants would engage in teasing and joking with Philip. The table movements and knocks became more frequent and it was reported that the table would occasionally rush up as if in greeting to latecomers and even trap members in the corner of the room! Philip apparently was the cause of lights turning off and on by themselves and other strange anomalies as well.
The experiment captured the attention of local media with the entire group and Philip featured on the CBC television show “Man Alive” as well as other talk shows of the day.
A 16mm movie was produced by the group in 1974 entitled Philip: the Imaginary Ghost. It explains how the experiment was conceived, and what actually happened, showing tables movements and actual raps. Which I was fortunate enough to see before moving away from Toronto.
The experimenters succeeded far beyond their wildest expectations. However, in the end they were never able to conjure the apparition of Philip, which was their true end goal. Nor did they ever fully prove the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ behind Philip’s manifestation. Was Philip a direct result of the group’s collective subconscious or perhaps did they conjure an actual entity that simply latched onto the story? We may never be able to answer these questions in regards to this particular experiment. The conjuring of Philip phenomenon remains not only a groundbreaking experiment, but an important historical account of parapsychological experimentation and research efforts in Canada.
Further experiments with a different group were carried out in 1974, the story used with these was of a French Canadian girl by the name of Lilith who went to France during WWII and became a member of the French Resistance. She was however, caught and executed as a spy.
The Lilith experiments saw similar results to the Philip one in just 5 weeks. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the Owens were able to formulate shortcuts in methodology based on the earlier experiments, and the new group was able to sit in with the Philip group on an individual basis.
During the 1974 Christmas party held by the organization members of both the Philip and Lilith groups got together and in jest called out, “Is anybody there?” They received a knock in response and in further jest they asked, “Are you Father Christmas?” Reportedly a long conversation with Santa Claus ensued! According to the Owens this last episode “illustrates the wonderful child-like approach taken to the phenomena and the fact that in these situations you get what you expect.”
In 2015 I was very fortunate to be able to meet with the late Dr. Joel Witton who was another scientific advisor to the Philip group. He gave me some insights into how the experiment was formulated, including the screening process of potential group members. Once any potential psychological or psychiatric conditions were ruled out they used creative exercises such as picking out a character from a children’s book and acting out that persona in order to select people who were imaginative, and playful.
My own experimentation has been inspired by and similar in set up using modern technology and a UFO narrative, with much consideration to the ethics behind creating a Grey Alien. This along with other techniques will be discussed further in Conjuring UFOs, which I hope to have published in 2022.
For another experiment conducted in 2004 please see the Humphrey experiment, which was inspired by the original TSPR methods.
Psychic Mysteries Of The North – A.R.G Owen (c) 1975
Conjuring Up Philip – Iris Owen and Margaret Sparrow (c) 1976
Into The Unknown – Will Bradbury (c) 1981