I Didn’t Do It, The Spirits Did It! (Or maybe The Devil Made Me Do It?)

A physicist friend recently wrote me how impressed he was reading about an old parapsychology experiment, the Philip Experiment, in which participants in table-rapping sessions invented their own discarnate entity, complete with biography and actually got “him” (Philip) to manifest with movements of the table and raps coming from it.  The séance participants had a great time, joking, singing hymns, and asking questions for Philip to answer about his life, as is typical of séances.  Philip seemed to real at times, and some of the movements and raps seemed inexplicable by normal means.  You can easily read about it on the web, but careful, trace it back to the primary report by Owen – you all know how things can changed by special interests on the web.

I realized at the time I read it that it was an ingenious psychological technique to try to get paranormal manifestations, but almost nothing has been done with it and variations since then, unfortunately.  There are way, way too few scientific parapsychologists!  I think the rationale at the time was partly to simply test whether the fun atmosphere of a typical séance could produce psi effects without necessarily have a “real spirit” around, and partly to use the psychological setting of a séance, where you are not responsible, it’s a spirit doing things, to allow people’s psychic abilities to manifest.  After all, it’s pretty heavy psychologically speaking for you to claim special powers, but if the spirits are just using you…..it’s much easier and safer.  Especially at the time Spiritualism developed, women were not supposed to express themselves, so they didn’t, the spirits did it, and bossed a lot of men around…..Fascinating sociology there, it’s been written about lately.  It’s can also be risky, even in these so-called modern times, to claim psychic powers.  In the long history of the human race, it’s only been a moment since we burned people we thought had psychic powers (we didn’t approve of or were afraid of) at the stake….

The one psychologist who really developed this technique further, Kenneth Batcheldor, started doing table-tipping and rapping sessions, but before the lights were dimmed or extinguished and the hymn singing started, sitters drew cards and one drew the “mischief” card, without telling anyone who it was.  That person was to subtly cheat near the beginning, manually lift a corner of the table or something like that, without revealing him or herself, and this created a mysterious atmosphere that maybe a spirit was manifesting.  Then the cheater would stop doing anything, but manifestations – raps, table liftings – often continued.  The psychological “ice” was broken, and nobody had to take responsibility, the spirits were doing it.  Overcoming this “ownership resistance” (Batcheldor’s term) was important, and, if my memory is correct, I think it worked well in a number of sitter circles.

One of the most interesting things nowadays has to do with “spirit raps” obtained in modern séances.  A number have now been electronically recorded, and an analysis of waveforms does not show what you would expect from mechanical raps, namely an immediate jump to maximum amplitude followed by steady falloff (what any tap does), but rather a gradual rise to maximum amplitude and then a gradual fall off.  This kind of rap sounds pretty much like an ordinary rapping sound made by tapping one object on another to the ear, but an oscilloscope detects how different it is……So far the few who have investigated this cannot find any reasonable mechanical way of reproducing this kind of rap under the usual séance room conditions……Interesting!

So claiming the spirits did it makes you safer in one way, you were just used, but we can start shading over to the excuse that a bad spirit, the Devil made me do it…..not a direction we like to think about.


    1. Certainly you may use some excerpts, and thank you!
      I’m no expert on copyright law, but normally there’s no restriction on using a few excerpts of up to several hundred words each as part of a review of a copyrighted work. So you didn’t really need to ask permission, but it was very decent of you.

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