Is it possible to create a ghost? Consider these familiar
types of ghost experiences:
- A group of teenagers gathered around a
Ouija board receives mysterious messages from a person’s spirit who claims
to have died 40 years ago.
- A paranormal society conducts a séance
where they contact a ghost that communicates though table rappings.
- The residents of a century-old home continually
see the spirit of a young child playing in the hallway.
What are these manifestations? Are they truly the ghosts
of departed people? Or are they creations of the minds of the people who see
Many researchers of the paranormal suspect that
some ghostly manifestations and poltergeist phenomena (objects flying
through the air, unexplained footsteps and door slammings) are products of the
To test that idea, a fascinating experiment was conducted
in the early 1970s by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) to see
if they could create a ghost. The idea was to assemble a group of people who
would make up a completely fictional character and then, through séances, see
if they could contact him and receive messages and other physical phenomena –
perhaps even an apparition.
THE BIRTH OF PHILIP
The TSPR, under the guidance of Dr. A.R.G. Owen,
assembled a group of eight people culled from its membership, none of whom
claimed to have any psychic gifts. The group, which became known as the Owen
group, consisted of Dr. Owen’s wife, a woman who was the former chairperson of
MENSA (an organization for high-IQ people), an industrial designer, an
accountant, a housewife, a bookkeeper and a sociology student.
A psychologist named Dr. Joel Whitton also attended many
of the group’s sessions as an observer.
The group’s first task was to create their fictional
historical character. Together they wrote a short biography of the person they
named Philip Aylesford. Here, in part, is that biography:
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 neighboring nobleman.
One day when out riding on the boundaries of his estates
Philip came across a gypsy encampment and saw there a beautiful dark-eyed girl
raven-haired gypsy girl, Margo, and fell instantly in love with her. He brought
her back secretly 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, realizing 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 of witchcraft 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 in
despair. Finally, one morning his body was found at the bottom of the
battlements, whence he had cast himself in a fit of agony and remorse.
The Owen group even enlisted the artistic talents of one
of its members to sketch a portrait of Philip (see picture above). With their
creation’s life and appearance now firmly established in their minds, the group
began the second phase of the experiment: contact.