“A poltergeist will usually claim to be whatever its human observers believe it to be” - Poltergeists & Other Hauntings (Rupert Mathews. 2009)
In 1972, Canadian Dr. G. Owen decided to conduct an experiment testing his theory that, “Ghosts have an objective reality, but they are created out of the minds of those who see them.” A ghost, he proposed, was basically a hallucination created by those who believed in it.
In the Philip Experiment a group of individuals met regularly and began to focus on a fictitious character with the aim of creating a ghost. This “spirit” was named Philip and was given a complete life biography including a tragic end. According to the group, Philip’s wife had murdered Philip’s real love by having her tortured and burnt at the stake for being a witch. The man had then fallen into a deep depression before eventually killing himself.
For a period of time nothing happened to the experimenters. The group then decided to add the 19th century practice of table turning, which was used by earlier experimenters to produce some interesting phenomena. All of the participants, it was agreed upon, needed to believe in the paranormal but not feel responsible for creating any phenomena themselves. If something unusual did occur, they all agreed that it would be met with a lighthearted acceptance.
After about a month into the Philip Experiment the table actually began to tremor. In the weeks that followed, the table then began to rock back and forth dramatically. Finally, a knocking sound was heard while they were seated around it.
The experimenters told the “ghost” to knock once for “yes” and twice for “no” and began to ask it questions. They always addressed this entity as Philip. Through the knocking communication, Philip gave a biography of himself that matched the fabricated story. This was complete to the smallest detail. Philip, however, continued to add unmentioned smaller details to the stories that had not been created by the group. When these details were checked, however, it would be determined that they were not always historically accurate.
The table itself then began to demonstrate some very strange behaviors. All of the participants were frisked and the environment was controlled. The table began to move even when no one was touching it. At one point, it even became stuck in the doorway as it attempted to leave the room. When this entity, Philip, was asked to manipulate the lights he would do so and they would flicker.
The volunteers’ knocks were recorded and compared with the knocks produced by Philip. There were distinct differences, however, as Philip’s knocks did not vibrate as long.
This activity was recorded and later captured on film. The table was moved to various locations but the activity continued. At a later period of time, the experiment was replicated by a new group of participants.
Many have noted the similarities between Philip’s abilities and those of the poltergeist. These experimenters had tried to create a physical manifestation of a ghost, but instead were rewarded with a different type of haunting altogether: the Poltergeist.
There have been those who’ve claimed that the original results from the experiment were hoaxed, but this has never been confirmed. The usual criticism is that the experiment lacked the control factors, which would have made it scientific. Attempts by other groups to replicate the Philip Experiment have usually, but not always, failed. The most successful – though not as powerful – replication has been the Sydney or “Skippy” Experiment.
Interestingly, the Philip Experiment is often quoted as being the inspiration for the upcoming movie the Quiet Ones, which Hammer Films has said is a “follow-up” to Woman in Black. The movie’s scheduled for release on April 25th, 2014.
The first Quiet Ones trailer was released on October 31, 2013.
Mathews, Rupert. Poltergeists and Other Hauntings. Arcturus. 2009.
Owen, Iris. Sparrow, Margaret. Conjuring up Philip. Harper and Row. 1976.
Schill, Brian. Stalking Darkness. IPRF. 2008.