An Adventure in Psychokinesis

Which is the subtitle of a book published in 1976 entitled “Conjuring up Philip”i. It details an experiment carried out over several years in the early 1970s by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research.

The original aim of the experiment was to create a ghost and have it appear before the group as a consensual hallucination or other similar manifestation. In order to so they deliberately created a fictitious character, one that every member of the group knew could not exist, nor ever could have existed.

Additionally it was decided to form a group of ordinary people none of whom claimed any psychic ability whatsoever. The experiment was to be scientifically controlled and as such it was conducted in light sufficient for visual recording.

Initially some fourteen people were willing to involve themselves in the experiment with a schedule of weekly meetings lasting up to one year. As group rapport was felt to be important it was also agreed that if any member felt incompatible with the group or another person then they should withdraw. Eventually the group was whittled down to eight members.

The task of creating a suitable biography for the ghost fell to (Margaret) Sue Sparrow, one of the co-authors of the book. The character was named ‘Philip’, an aristocrat who lived in England during the time of Cromwell, with an interesting story to tell complete with impossible details. His character and history were ‘fleshed out’ during early meetings of the group and they made themselves very familiar with the agreed upon details of his life. A portrait was even produced by one of the members so that a visual representation existed for them to focus upon.

Simple relaxation and meditation techniques were used with the participants either seated in a circle or around a table bearing items associated with Philip. These meditation sessions were interspersed with conversation and analysis. Philip rapidly became a ‘real’ person in the minds of those present.

Several safeguards were included. The first was that Philip was to be a wholly benign character. Second, that Philip would not be active outside of the group meetings and those meeting were to be confined (initially) to a particular room where his artefacts were kept. All the members agreed not to attempt any kind of individual contact outside of the experimental context.

After one year no progress had been made.

It was at this point that the insights, methods and theories of Brooke-Smith and Huntii, and Batcheldoriii came to the attention of the group and a new direction was taken. The meditations were dropped and replaced with some séance techniques used by the Victorians. Specifically, a kind of light-hearted party atmosphere with jokes, singing, music, poetry recital and casual conversation etc. Instead of darkness they decided to use coloured lights, but always at the level whereby everything was visible, although the colour could be changed throughout the sitting. Crucially, they had to believe it would work

The first results appeared on the third or fourth session with a vibration being felt in the table, which evolved into a rapping sound. The table then began to slide about the floor in an apparently random fashion even though nobody was consciously pushing. And to make sure such actions were not taking place unconsciously paper doilies were placed under the hands of the sitters to make an almost frictionless contact with the table. The phenomena continued.

In true Victorian fashion the group established a code – one rap for ‘Yes’, two raps for ‘No’. The contact with Philip had been made, albeit in a manner not expected by the group.

Subsequently when the group met they each greeted Philip and received a rap by way of reply, without any preamble or ‘warm-up’. Seemingly this rap came from under the hand of the person speaking. The table itself was a light plastic topped card table with folding legs. As the sessions progressed Philip was treated as ‘one of the group’ and responded with various noises, including scratching sounds, and quite vigorous table movements including ‘jumping movements’ in reply to questions or conversation. The strength of the noises was often an indicator as to the strength of feeling Philip expressed.

Another feature of Philip’s conversation was the way his answers occasionally appeared to be elicited ‘by committee’. That is, they would change according to what members of the team were present and what opinions or beliefs those member held.

An extreme form of this was the sensitivity the Philip phenomena showed to ‘disapproval’ or ‘disbelief’. It was very easy for one member of the group to ‘banish’ him, as was discovered by accident when one person voiced the possibility of sending him away. It took the remainder of the session to coax him back.

These phenomena were recorded on film and even before an audience of some fifty people under the bright lights of a television studio where Philip’s interaction was broadcast on the CBC television show “Man Alive” as well as other talk shows of the day.

Other phenomena that were ‘created to order’, but not filmed, included cool breezes in a closed basement room, electrical disturbances and once a complete levitation of the table. Even ‘spoon bending’ popularised at that time by Uri Geller was tried, with some success. The phenomena was also seemingly capable of extending itself not only into the walls of the room, but both other rooms and on several occasions to the locations of absent members.

Also interesting to note is the fact that not all the members had to be present. Philip was quite capable of manifesting, albeit more weakly, when only four were available. And two members did not even have to have their hands on the table in order to get a response. Their presence in the room was sufficient.

As to the strength of the psychokinetic (PK) phenomena, two examples will suffice. On one occasion the light table was replaced by a much heavier one, but that practice had to be discontinued due to damage to the walls caused by collisions. On another occasion a physicist actually sitting on the table was thrown off quite violently.

Psychological Factors

Probably the most important factor was the rapport of the group. In the previous year they had developed bonds of friendship and the ability to relax completely in one another’s company. Coupled with this they had a common goal and motivation, plus a detailed object of focus – Philip.

Another requisite was an open minded approach that could accept paranormal phenomena without, either inwardly or outwardly, expressing disbelief or astonishment. There must be an attitude of ‘heightened expectancy’.

One unique factor involved that separated the experiment from a conventional séance was that there was no one person who was the focus. Instead of the Medium, or ‘Channeller’, being the focus it was Philip via the table. Often the table itself was addressed directly. Hence there was no pressure on any individual to ‘perform’. The atmosphere was one of relaxation – not concentration.

In their interactions both with each other and Philip there was an element of playfulness described as ‘childlike creativity’ by one of the observers.

The members of the group were not exhausted by the proceedings despite significant energy being utilised (energy here is used with its scientific meaning). There was also no psychological exhaustion either – just the opposite.

Other similar studies were instituted at this time. The other experiment briefly reported in the book, using the techniques developed above, took only five weeks to come to fruition.

Probably the most amazing fact to emerge is that a method has been developed to demonstrate psychic phenomena to order.

Overall, the key finding is simple - belief is everything.

Disembodied Intelligences?

The obvious question arises as to whether Philip was actually a manifestation of group consciousness, or some disembodied intelligence masquerading as Philip and deliberately (or otherwise) deceiving them. Since there is absolutely no way to determine the truth of the matter it seems reasonable to apply Occam’s Razor. Namely, that the simplest explanation is likely to be the truth and that Philip was purely a thoughtformiv.

Another question naturally follows from this – are all spiritual phenomena that seem to exhibit intelligence actually projections from Human Beings? It would certainly simplify matters if this were so. However, the only possible way for an entity to prove it was independent of the Human mind would be for it to impart knowledge that was unknown to anyone, anywhere and additionally had never been known i.e. knowledge that could not be derived by telepathy or clairvoyance (assuming such abilities exist). It would also have to be of a complex non-trivial nature in order to rule out the ‘lucky guess’. As far as I know, this has never been the case.

Thoughtforms also provide neat explanations for such things as poltergeists and other hauntings, as well as explaining the effectiveness of exorcism and other rites of banishment.

A Religious Context

Years ago it was standard practice when Christians were discussing history to disparage our ‘primitive’ Heathen ancestors and illustrate the point by telling of how they foolishly worshipped idols – dead things of wood and stone, or believed in ‘magickal’ objects. Naturally the heroes were the Christian missionaries who rescued them from their ignorance and superstition through the power of Jesus etc.

The Philip experiment recasts the whole issue in a new light.

Substitute ‘idol’ or ‘altar’ for ‘table’, ‘Philip’ for the God of ones choice and we have the core of a very convincing religion complete with physical phenomena that backs up and validates whatever worldview the adherents subscribe to. For all practical purposes, and amongst a small group of people, idols and magickal items can be imbued with real power and apparently meaningful communications for good or ill.

Conversely, the sensitivity of the phenomena to disbelief, or the undermining of belief, gives us insight into the way Christian priests can display the ‘Power of Christ’ over the ‘Heathen Idols’. As always, it is easier to destroy than create. Which brings us to the ‘dark side’ of this experiment which was not discussed at all. Any force that can throw someone off a table could in principle cause immediately fatal brain damage (for example) if directed as a weapon. It becomes a lot more than a ‘rap on the head’.

The experiment also strongly reinforces the theory of our deities as being dynamic archetypes. That is, living entities that represent the group unconscious of entire cultures across millennia. Naturally, the Gods are potentially orders of magnitude more powerful than anything that a small group of people is capable of creating, but it might be interesting to scale the ‘Philip’ approach accordingly or at least take steps in that direction.

Additionally, given that the phenomena are governed by belief one can deduce quite a lot concerning the success, or otherwise of magickal practice and ritual. For this was a ‘magickal working’ of a power most would-be magicians can only dream of.

A major lesson concerns ritual. It becomes obvious that the purpose of ritual is to put the participants into the correct mindset whereby the group-mind can create the expected effects. The downside is that ritual then becomes a constraining factor. For example, why draw circles and create protections unless you intend to create something that is inherently inimical to its creator (at least unconsciously)? While such elements engender belief, they also shape that belief into creating something to be guarded against, as well as limiting the spontaneity and usefulness outside of the immediate magickal working. Of course, that’s not a problem if you want to conjure up a ‘Demon from Hell’, but given that these are ‘only’ projections of the practitioners why do something so potentially self destructive?

There is also the danger of creating self validating magickal belief systems of pointless complexity.

Finally, to end this section and illustrate the degree of malleability of the thoughtforms various members of the experimental groups at a Christmas party in 1974 ‘conjured up Santa’ – and no, unlike in the joke they were not dyslexic!


What has been done in the thirty years subsequent to the publication of the book? It certainly appears that either very little progress has been made, given the lack of headline news in the world, or perhaps progress has been made and kept secret. Can these results have escaped the attention of the CIAv, amongst others, who are known to have run ‘psychic programs’ which were intelligence or weapons related? I suspect we hear only of the failures.

  • What limits the power of the entities?

  • If it can produce raps, what about more modulated sounds such as voice?

  • Where do they get the energy to create physical effects? It almost certainly does not come from the bodies of members of the group.

  • What is the optimum number of people in a group?

  • What are the maximum and minimum numbers of people in a functioning group?

  • What problems might arise if such a group contains mentally unbalanced people?

  • What effects do various intoxicants have, ranging from alcohol to (say) LSD?

  • Can separate groups combine their power?

  • Could such an entity act as an ‘ambassador’ to the Gods?

  • How dangerous is this, potentially?

The list above is by no means exhaustive and you may very well have questions of your own, in which case…

The Next Steps

Part of the reason for this article is to serve as an introduction for people who wish to replicate and extend the experiment, ideally in a Pagan/Heathen religious context in order to answer some of the above questions.

For example, given the required closeness of the group and it’s almost ‘family’ nature a viable approach would be to create a Dis (plural Disir). This is a benevolent female being, generally attached to certain family lines, or certain houses, or even to individuals – a kind of guardian spirit. A Dis most commonly was considered to be a dead female ancestor, but could also be a minor goddess, Alf, troll, or even a Valkyrie. A Dis approached for aid in fortune-telling was referred to as a Spadis. The holy festivals in their honour were called Disablots.

Interestingly, the pre-eminent Dis was the Goddess Freya (meaning Lady) whose title was Vanadis, that is, Dis to the Vanir. It was she who taught Odin Seidr, or Norse shamanism.

To that end this is probably the most ambitious project of the Nine Worlds Groupvi. The latter is a non-hierarchical experimental special interest group exploring the mystical/shamanic aspects of primarily indigenous European traditions. Anyone interested in participating should contact us (see below). Consenting adults only.

Incidentally, ‘The Amazing Randi’vii has a standing offer of one million dollars for anyone who can demonstrate psychic phenomena in a laboratory setting of his design. Isn’t it time some of us collected?

Dirk Bruere – September 2004


iConjuring up Philip by Iris M Owen with Margaret Sparrow, ISBN 0-7701-0005-8

iiBrooke-Smith, C and Hunt D W (1970) “Some Experiments in Psychokinesis” Journal, SPR Volume 45, No. 744

iiiBatcheldor, K J (1966) “Report on a Case of Table Levitation and Associated Phenomena” Journal, SPR Volume 43 No. 729

ivA major contributor to the literature on thoughtforms, or ‘Tulpas’ in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, was Alexandra David-Néel who travelled widely in Tibet.

vSTAR GATE was one of a number of "remote viewing programs" conducted under a variety of code names, including SUN STREAK, GRILL FRAME, and CENTER LANE by DIA and INSCOM, and SCANATE by CIA.

viNine Worlds Group: Contact: or Fiona Tel. 0207 737 1107

viiJames Randi Educational Foundation: “At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.”

201 S.E. 12th Street Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316-1815 U.S.A.