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Attempts to Conjure up a Ghost to be Called ‘Philip’ by Robert A. Charman

Attempts to Conjure up a Ghost to be Called ‘Philip’ Show the Psychic Strength of the Group Mind

After a group of experimenters spent a year trying to conjure up a ghost, which they intended to call ‘Philip’, without success, they were ready to admit defeat. Then they tried again, and ‘Philip’ turned up in a way they didn’t expect. What happened questions our present understanding of mind and its relationship to matter.

There are claims in the literature on parapsychology that exerting strong willpower can move very small, light, objects, even when placed inside a glass jar, swing a compass needle away from pointing north, and influence random number generators (RNGs) to generate less random sequencies of 0s and 1s during periods of exposure to voluntary willpower. As yet, none of these claims have been considered evidential enough to be incorporated into scientific literature. According to the physical sciences, as well as mainstream psychology and the neurosciences, subjective intention, however emotionally intense, does not, and cannot, exert any direct physical effect on objects. It follows, therefore, that any claim of normally stationary objects moving without the application of some physical force must be in error. In daily life the mental desire to move an object is converted by the brain into instructions to the body to do the physical moving. Mentally willing something to move has no external effect.

The problem for this assumption, backed by daily experience, is that there seems to be experimental evidence demonstrating that when some people, and maybe all people, are in a particular state of mind, objects do move without being touched (see Randall, 1982, for review of research). If, as seems to be the case, this phenomenon, known as psychokinesis (mind moving matter), or PK, is genuine, then something other than consciously applied willpower must be involved.

The ‘Philip’ case

With this possibility in mind, this chapter is devoted to a re-examination of the ‘Philip’ case as recounted by Iris Owen and Margaret Sparrow in their 1976 book Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis. It involved no cheating (confirmed by independent observers and on film), no emotionally disturbed teenagers, no wilful children, no attention seekers, no hidden magnets, no hidden strings, no dim lights, no smoke, and definitely no mirrors.

This experiment, with its completely unexpected outcome, was devised and performed by seven middle-aged, well-educated, sensible, practical people, together with one college sociology student of the same cast of mind. None possessed any skills as a magician or claimed any psychic abilities. But all were determined that if anything unusual did occur it would be noted and recorded objectively.

Group Members

Iris Owen. Married to Dr A. R. G. (George) Owen. WW2 radio intercept officer, qualified nurse.

Margaret (Sue) Sparrow. Ex WW2 nurse in Canadian Armed Forces. Chair of Mensa for Canada.

Al Peacock. Heating engineer and businessman. Keen photographer.

Lorne. Industrial designer. Amateur astronomer. Member of Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). An expert on old maps, ancient history and oriental philosophies.

Andy, Lorne’s wife. Artist (she drew “Philip’s” portrait). Also a keen astronomer and member of the RAS.

Bernice M. Qualified accountant. Artist. Keen student of philosophy.

Dorothy O’Donnell. Qualified bookkeeper and accountant.

Sidney, K. College student on sociology course after gap year travelling.

The eight investigators were all members of the Toronto Society of Psychical Research, and their experiment was monitored throughout by independent observers.


The Toronto Society of Psychical Research was a voluntary society affiliated to the New Horizons Research Foundation. Based in Toronto, the Foundation was founded in 1970 by Dr George Owen (1919-2003) to investigate paranormal phenomena. He was a mathematical geneticist and research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge before he, and his wife Iris (1916-2009), emigrated to Canada in 1970. Dr Owen was also a seasoned psychical researcher, particularly concerning poltergeist activity and psychokinesis (Owen 1964).

The Society was committed to field research into various aspects of parapsychology. Their ‘ghost hunting’ group investigated reports of hauntings, and soon found that the experience was both unwanted and upsetting to the majority of those concerned. Features common to many of these hauntings were noises such as footsteps, knockings, raps, doors independently opening and closing, untouched objects being moved, and sometimes ghostly figures being seen, causing considerable distress. These effects were usually attributed – by the families or single people involved – to the presence of a ghost of a previous occupant thought to have died in tragic circumstances and unable to ‘move on’. When it was a new house or flat it was assumed that a ghost had moved in. In no case did the people involved feel that they were personally responsible for the phenomena; it was happening to them. During one investigation several Society members thought they saw a ghost but, on reflection, remained unsure.

While the group realised that these were real experiences for those concerned, there seemed to be no way of resolving whether ghosts were real in the sense that they existed as entities in their own right, or were hallucinatory experiences, either individual or collective, that were unconsciously generated by the anxieties and beliefs of those concerned. Of the two possibilities, they felt the latter was more likely. To try to resolve this question the Society decided to test the hypothesis that observable ghosts could be created by telepathically shared imagery in the minds of the experiencers.

The question

The experimental question they set themselves was this: could a group materialise an observable thoughtform of a ghost in physical space as a product of their shared imagination? If so, could its materialisation be photographed as objective evidence of its existence?

The scenario

The eight investigators decided that their intended ghost had to be an invented character who, they knew, had never existed in real life, and the story needed to be set in a real-life setting to provide geographical and narrative context as in a historical novel. The period of the English Civil War was agreed upon, and Margaret Sparrow, one of the group members, was delegated to compose the story of Philip Aylesford (1624-1654), a handsome, dashing, well born Cavalier officer who fought in support of Charles I, often acting for the king on many hazardous missions. Here is her original story:

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 Catholic. He was married to a beautiful but cold and frigid wife, Dorothea, the daughter of a neighbouring nobleman. One day, when out riding the boundaries of his estates, Philip came across a gypsy encampment and saw there a beautiful, dark eyed, raven-haired gypsy girl, Margo, and fell instantly in love with her.

He secretly brought her back to live in the gatehouse near the stables of Diddington Manor, his family home. For some time he kept his love nest secret, but eventually Dorothea, realising that he was keeping someone else there, found Margo, and accused her of witchcraft and stealing her husband. Philip was too scared of losing his reputation and his possessions to protest at the trial of Margo, and she was convicted and burned at the stake. Philip was subsequently stricken with remorse that he had not tried to defend Margo, and used to pace the battlements of Diddington Manor in despair. Finally, one morning, his body was found at the foot of the battlements where he had cast himself in a fit of agony and remorse.

It was decided that the real Packington Hall and Diddington Hall (where Margaret had once lived in the 1960s), both in Warwickshire near Kenilworth Castle, would become Packington Manor as Dorothea’s family home, and nearby Diddington Manor as ‘Philip’s’ family home. Over time the group gathered photographs and local guide books to provide background detail for fictional embellishment. The group was asked to absorb the story and think of Philip’ as a real person. So that everyone had the same mental picture of ‘Philip’. Andy drew his portrait and everyone had copies. It was decided that once every century his ghost would be seen on the battlements of Diddington Manor, still desperately searching for Margot to ask her forgiveness, and 1972, when the experiment would begin, would be such a year.

The re-examination

For the purpose of this re-examination the events experienced by the group between September 1972 to late 1975, as described by Owen and Sparrow, will be divided into two distinct phases and their implications explored.

Phase One (September 1972 to September 1973)

With the story of their fictional ‘Philip’ agreed upon, the group commenced weekly, evening meetings in September, 1972, with the intention of creating ‘Philip’ as a visible ghost, summoned into existence by collective intent. They sat round a table in good light with their hands flat on the table, ‘Philip’s portrait in the middle, and a growing number of Diddington area photographs on the walls to remind them of the scene.

To attain what they hoped would be the right frame of mind they first meditated together to clear their minds of other affairs, then they discussed ‘Philip’s’ story at length, filling out details of his appearance, dress, personality, family, his relationship with cold Dorothea, his disastrous affair with Margo, the Assizes trial, her being burnt at the stake, his remorse and despairing suicide. They also elaborated on his military service on behalf of King Charles. Each session finished with another meditation, visualising ‘Philip’ in the hope that he would appear before them in space, rather like a modern hologram.

They engrossed themselves in the history of the Civil War, including music and songs of the period, and the changing fortunes of war between Charles I and Cromwell. By the end of a full year, after some fifty sessions and hundreds of hours together, the group had become very closely bonded and ‘Philip’ had become like a real historical person. But of ‘Philip’ himself there was no sign. Despite their united effort to visualise ‘Philip’ into existence, the experiment had ended in complete failure.


If the dispirited group had given up after this year of non-achievement they would have fulfilled sceptical expectation that nothing could come of their experiment because, being impossible in principle, it was impossible in practice. However, while debating what to do next, if anything, one of the group had come across the pioneering work of British clinical psychologist Kenneth Batcheldor who, working with two colleagues, provides a full account of his investigations into table turning psychokinesis (Batcheldor,1965-66). For the first few sessions, as Batcheldor and colleagues sat round the table with their hands flat on top, the table tilted and rocked, which was remarkable in itself, but nothing else happened. Then during the eleventh sitting the table rose clear of the floor with all their hands on top. In later sessions this became a common feature, rising up to chest height and often crashing down, even with one table weighing some 60 lbs. The table levitation was confirmed using contact switches attached to the table feet that switched on a light, or buzzed, when the feet of the table left the floor. Later, fellow psychologists Brookes-Smith and Hunt (1970), and Brookes-Smith (1973), repeated Batchelor’s experiment and instrumentally confirmed Batcheldor’s findings.

They found that group psychokinetic (PK) ability could be achieved by developing what the three investigators described as a ‘paranormal skill’ that could be acquired by any group. Success in PK was not the result of determined ‘make it happen’ group willpower, but of a relaxed, shared belief, that table tilting and lifting occurred quite naturally, had happened many times before, and would happen again with them. The experimenters found that when they adopted a relaxed, light hearted, storytelling, atmosphere, together with this shared ‘childlike’ belief that table turning would occur, then it did occur. The phenomenon fulfilled the scientific criteria of being a predictable experience. This light hearted approach was typical of successful Victorian and Edwardian table turning séances where the gatherings were considered as enjoyable social occasions.

Phase Two (November 1973-late 1975)

The group decided that if this light hearted approach worked with tables, they would continue their quest to materialise ‘Philip’ as a visible ghost by taking the same light hearted approach. For the first couple of meetings they felt rather awkward and self-conscious when trying to tell jokes and sing songs. But after about three weeks, as they sat round the card table with their hands flat on top, they found a new, light hearted expectancy that ‘Philip’ would soon materialise as an observable thoughtform, and their cameras were at the ready.

What happened next?

“Attempts to Conjure up a Ghost to be Called ‘Philip’ Show the Psychic Strength of the Group Mind” is a extract from The PSI Mind in Action: Exploring the Powers of the Human Mind beyond the Brain by Robert A. Charman, published by White Crow Books.

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