Posted on Leave a comment

The Philip Experiment – did a 1972 scientific experiment conjure a spirit or create a real ghost?

The Philip Experiment

The 2014 movie The Quiet Ones, portrayed a historic event known as The Philip Experiment. What many do not know is that The Philip Experiment was an actual research project conducted by a Toronto organization in 1972 in an effort to prove that paranormal entities such as demons, spirits, ghost, and poltergeists were manifestations produced by human will through expectation, imagination, and visualization. A prominent group of citizens, three men and five women with no interest in the occult, participated in the study, the results of which not only shocked the group but stunned the world. The how and why of The Philip Experiment has never been answered, leaving many to wonder – did the group accidentally summon a demonic or spiritual entity or create a real ghost?

September 1972 – the birth of The Philip Experiment

Still frame from The Philip Experiment

The idea that paranormal entities could be manifestations of the human mind was not new. Paranormal researchers often noted that poltergeist activity, the movement of objects without an apparent visible cause, often seemed to center around a teenager in the affected household, most often a young female. Could such activity somehow be the product of human will or the emanation of a person’s “negative energy”? If so, through intense and prolonged concentration, could a group of people purposefully create a collective thought-form? Indeed, researchers at the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) believed they could prove that ghostly manifestations and poltergeist phenomena were the product of the human mind. Their research, conducted by the “Owen Group”, would become what many consider to be one of the most important parapsychological studies in history.

TSPR’s goal was quite simple. Could they create a ghost out of their own minds? To reach their goal, they first assembled a team of prominent, respectable participants. The group’s members were not skittish teenagers, crazy crackpots, or even believers in the paranormal in general but rather, a housewife, a bookkeeper, a sociology student, an accountant, an industrial designer, a psychologist, and a former chairperson of MENSA (an organization consisting of the top 1% of the county’s intellectual elite). The group was led by Dr. A.R.G. Owen, a member of the Department for Preventative Medicine and Biostatistics at the University of Toronto.  Together they became known as the Owen Group.

The Owen Group’s objective – to create a ghost

The objective of the Owen Group was to create a fictional character, whom they named “Philip”, and then, through a purposeful methodology, attempt to contact the fictional entity and receive readily apparent communications from it in return. To begin, they created a biography of their fictional character, Philip Aylesford, which described the tragic events that Philip had suffered. The biography that they created was based partly on fact but also included fictional elements inserted into the biography to “trip up” the group. According to Owen:

Still frame from The Philip Experiment

“It was essential to their purpose that Philip be a totally fictious character. Not merely a figment of the imagination but clearly and obviously so, with a biography full of historical errors.”

The invented biographical data included contradictions, such as Philip being reincarnated several times, and historical inaccuracies (e.g., Diddington Hall really does exist, but the description given in the biographical account is fake). Below, in part, is the biography that Owen Group member, “Sue”, penned for The Philip Experiment.

“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 group next petitioned a sketch of Philip, a physical caricature used to put a face on their fictional being. Work to contact “Philip” then began in earnest, which provided the group with more “results” than they had anticipated.

The Sittings commence – a spirit introduces himself to the world

In September 1972, the Owen Group began formal weekly sittings in the “Philip room” during which they sat together and discussed Philip and his life, meditated on his being, and attempted to create a “collective hallucination” of his spirit. During the early sessions, the group sought to create a common mental picture of Philip and his surroundings, focusing on his appearance, day-to-day activities, and his feelings towards his wife Dorothea and gypsy lover Margo. Although some members occasionally claimed to “feel a presence” at times, and others reported seeing vivid images of Philip in their mind, after several months, no communication, no manifestations, no phenomenon of any kind could be created through their attempts – that is, until they decided to turn off the lights.

A change in tactic produces astonishing results

The Philip Experiment

With no satisfactory result from their efforts, it was suggested (by British psychologist Kenneth J. Barcheldor) that the group change tactic, surmising that some group members harbored skepticism and hence, they should conduct their sessions in an atmosphere that was less academic and more conducive to the summoning of ghostly spirits. They began mimicking the procedures used in a traditional séance session – the lights were dimmed, and the group gathered around a table, surrounded with objects from Philip’s fictional time period. As popularized in traditional Spiritualism séances, group members sat around the table, placing their fingers lightly on the surface, and called for Philip to appear.

Shortly after the “traditional” séance settings began, suddenly, out of the blue, a loud rap echoed through the room. Members of the team noted later that the rap was distinctive, clear, and so violent that the table itself vibrated (members said that the sound was “felt” more than heard). This was followed by a number of distinctive knocks.

After these first communications from “Philip”, the group began querying the entity, agreeing on a “one rap for yes, two for no” means of expressing themselves. Through this new means of communiqué, the group learned finer details of Philip’s life. However, they noted that the only details Philip initially provided were historical details that any member of the group could have known beforehand. Hence, the Owen Group theorized that the information coming from “Philip” was information being fed into the conversation through their own collective unconsciousness.

Still frame from The Philip Experiment (table upside down)

From this point forward, however, the phenomena expanded, producing a wide range of paranormal activity that the group was never able to fully explain. Auditory study of the loud raps showed a unique sound envelope, one that could not be reproduced by the researchers.

Soon, the group recognized that the entity they had conjured had a distinct personality. He had likes, dislikes, and strong views on various subjects made clear to the group members by enthusiasm, or hesitancy, in his responses. Loud knocks were received in response to mundane questions but if the group asked Philip about his wife Dorothea, loud scratching noises would emanate from table or chairs instead.

Soon after the “verbal” communications began, Philip began producing extraordinary visible physical manifestations. In response to questions, group members began to hear whispers in their ears. In one of the early sessions, the group was stunned when the table suddenly, and violently, jumped and slid across the floor – despite the fact that the table rested on thick carpeting. At one point, it was documented that the table began to “dance”, tilting onto a single leg and spinning about.

Researchers now had serious questions about the results they were witnessing. To rule out hoaxers in the group, paper doilies were placed on the table, under the fingertips of participants, to foil any conscious attempts by members to make the table move. Cameras were brought in to film the proceedings, some placed strategically to capture any purposeful attempt to move the table using the participant’s knees. Still, the table would jump about, rock, and shake of its own accord.

Still frame from The Philip Experiment (table rising from floor)

The Owen Group members were both astounded, and terrified of what they were experiencing. According to participants, room lights would dim, and when the group politely asked Philip to return them to their normal brightness, they would instantly turn back on.

After feeling a distinct cool breeze blow across the table, the group asked if he could start and stop the wind at will. On command, Philip would send a whirlwind of air across the table and into the participants’ faces. On one occasion, it was reported that a fine cloud of mist formed and hovered over the center of the table.  Soon, the table began to move around the room, rushing across the room to greet latecomers and on several occasions, pushing, and trapping, a team member into a corner of the room.

Word spreads – The Philip Experiment becomes a worldwide phenomenon

Examining a table used in The Philip Experiment

Word of the experiment’s extraordinary results spread and quickly captured the attention of the public. A 16mm movie was produced by the group in 1974 (titled Philip: The Imaginary Ghost) which documented the experiment’s conception, what actually happened, and showed the table’s movements and loud, booming, raps. Media outlets responded and CBS Television even sent a crew to film the events for a TV documentary, Man Alive. During the filming, before a live audience of more than fifty people, Philip produced booming raps on the table, turned lights throughout the room on and off, and in front of all witnesses present, levitated the table off the floor.

The film crew, of course, was astounded but nevertheless, the Owen Group could not produce a scientific explanation for what they were witnessing. As far as anyone could tell, a physical entity had been summoned, and nobody knew how or why the manifestations took place.

Several books were penned about the events witnessed during The Philip Experiment. Iris Owen and Margaret Sparrows documented the events in their 1976 work, Conjuring up Philip, and several other paranormal-related books of the day included the incident in their works.  The 2014 movie The Quiet Ones was based upon the Philip Experiment case.

Some believe the group made contact while others believe their experience was not with the other side but rather, a form of psychokinetic phenomena, the ability to mentally affect the physical environment without any physical contact. Regardless, The Philip Experiment produced results that continue to confound researchers to this day.

Additional notes

Addition studies

The success of The Philip Experiment prompted the group to launch additional studies. Five weeks after the conclusion of The Philip Experiment, researchers assembled a new group of people and began again with a new “ghost”, named Lilith (a French-Canadian spy during World War II). Similar experiments were conducted using entities such as Sebastian (a medieval alchemist), and Axel (a man from the future). According to the researchers, all the subsequent experiments also produced unexplainable communications and physical manifestations.

The Philip Experiment – Owen Group members

Several of the Owen Group members operated anonymously and to date, we do not know the full identity of all participants. Below is what little detail we know of the people who participated in The Philip Experiment.

A.R.G. Owen – mathematician

Iris Owen – wife of A.R.G. Owen

Margaret Sparrows – former chairperson of MENSA

Andy H. – Housewife

Lorne H. – industrial designer

Al Peacock – heating engineer

Bernice M. – accountant

Dorothy O’ Donnel – bookkeeper

Sidney K. – sociology student

Dr. Joel Whitton – psychologist

Sue – former nurse with Canadian Armed Forces (penned the original biographical account of “Philip”)

The Philip Experiment film

The film of The Philip Experiment is widely available on the Internet. However, the film currently floating around the public domain is a *recreation* of the events and not the actual film shot during The Philip Experiment sessions. Thus far, Geek Slop had been unable to locate the raw footage shot during the sessions.

Below is a collection of video snippets from the original sessions (a big thanks to Steven Peacock, son of one of the participants).

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Still frame from The Philip Experiment via YouTube
The Philip Experiment via Pinterest

Featured Image Credit

The Philip Experiment via Pinterest


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *