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How To Make A Ghost

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

There was a new supernatural drama on the goggle box recently , entitled "The Sister", to be honest, it was not as supernatural as I hoped, being more of a dark murder mystery, but nonetheless, an enjoyable watch..Now I don't intend to do a full review, but will warn you, that if you have not seen the programme, and wish to do so, this article does contain a few spoilers, so be warned.

OK, spoilers time!! The programme was based around the story of a missing girl, who disappeared after a New Years Eve party, the two male characters, in the above image were involved in the disappearance. The story unfolds around the male character with the short hair, it is revealed that he forms a relationship with the missing girl's sister, and eventually marries her, the wife does not know that her husband had been involved with the disappearance of her sister.

The long haired male turns up out of the blue, and reveals that they have to move the body. The two male characters were both there when the missing girl dies, and they decided bury her in some woods, to cover up what happened... you assume that the short haired male is the one to blame for the murder..but there's a bit of a twist.. It turns out, that the other male character ( the bloke with the straggling long hair) was some kind of paranormal investigator .He has this warped plan, where he wants to create a ghost, and this event is the perfect opportunity to run his twisted experiment!!

The premise being, that if someone was to die in this place, under certain circumstances, a haunting would occur, according to literature and tradition. He poisons the girl by giving her cyanide, that he pretends is cocaine, she dies, and they bury the body in the woods.

The paranormal investigator keeps going back to the site, but no ghost appears, instead she keeps turning up at the end of his bed, and begins following him around getting more enraged.

All a bit far fetched?

Well actually no its not!

Let me introduce you to an unusual group of Canadians, with a rather interesting story to share

Al.P: A self-employed heating engineer whose hobbies were scouting and photography

Lorne H: An industrial engineer, a creative and artistic person who studied Oriental philosophy and ancient history

Andy H: Lorne’s wife, who shared his interest in astronomy and was artistic;

Bernice M: An accountant who was widely read and interested in philosophy

Dorothy O'D:, A housewife trained in book-keeping and accounting whose main hobby was scouting

Sidney K: The youngest member, a sociology student taking time off to work as a salesman and travel

Margaret Sparrows:, Chairman of the Canadian chapter of Mensa and a former nurse with many interests; (also seen this lady called Sue)

Iris Owen: ,A former nurse, and wife of Dr ARG (George) Owen,

Dr George Owen: Mathematician, and lecturer.

What could possibly connect this disparate group of individuals?

Well, in the 1970s, they made a ghost, not in the same way as the TV drama, no one was murdered, and buried in the woods, it was much more calm and collected affair.

So let me tell you their story.

The Owen Group

1972, Toronto, Canada, A group of people, all members of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research, get together, at their head is Dr A.R.G Owen, he just happens to be one of the many researchers of the paranormal, who suspect that some ghostly manifestations, and poltergeist phenomena are products of the human mind. A Ghost, he proposed, is basically a hallucination, created by those who believed in it.

To test that theory, a fascinating experiment was conducted by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) to see if they could actually create a ghost. The idea was to assemble a group of people, none of whom were mediums or sensitive to the paranormal, to undertake the task. The purpose of the experiment was to see if a wholly fictious historical character could in fact manifest itself through the groups efforts of concentration on the bogus data.

The group would make up a completely fictional character and then, through intense and prolonged concentration, see if they could create a collective thought-form,or egrigor, thus proving that the human will can produce spirits through expectation, imagination and visualisation.

The meetings were to be overseen by a Psychologist, and Joel Whitton undertook this role.

They worked under the title of The Owen Group, and what they undertook became known as the Philip experiment

To begin the experiment they need to create a subject, a character to set their fictional story around.

The task was given to a mysterious "Sue" to create this character, I think Sue is actually the group member Margaret Sparrows, but don't quote me on that!! She came up with the story of Philip Aylesford, and here is his tale


Philip Aylesford was an aristocratic Englishman living in the middle 1600s at the time of Oliver Cromwell. Born in 1624 He had been a supporter of the king and was a Catholic

.At the age of sixteen he was knighted, he had an illustrious role in the Civil War, became a personal friend of Prince Charles (later Charles II) and worked for him as a secret agent

Philip was married to a beautiful but cold and frigid wife, Dorothea, the daughter of a neighbouring 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, raven-haired gypsy girl, Margo, and fell instantly in love with her.

Philip. drawn by Lorne H from The Owen Group

He brought her back secretly to live in the gate-house 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 of 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 subsequently was 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 foot of the battlements where he had cast himself in a fit of agony and remorse.

The thing I noticed about the fabricated tale, is that it contains many elements that have historically been associated with reports of ghosts: a secret love affair, a heartbroken person, the vengeful wife, a burning at the stake, and a tragic death by suicide., all very much the sort of back story for a spirit to remain earthbound, tied to a location, because of the aforementioned reasons. Was this a deliberate ploy? It's not addressed in any of the articles I read through whilst researching, but I suppose it makes sense somehow.

The Experiment Itself

After the story of Philip Aylesford was eloquently put together ,everything was in place for the experiment to to start. So in September 1972 The Owen group began conducting sittings. during which they meditated, visualised, and discussed the intricate details of Philip's life. Initially the group would meet on a regular basis in an informal setting. They would sit in a circle around a table, with the lights on and talk about Philip. They had his picture and notes about his life and talked about him. They used his picture and focused on it. They used meditation techniques and tried to imagine Philip in their mind to see if they could make him 'appear. They tried this for a full year without an awful lot of success, apart from a couple of members saying they felt a presence, whilst other group members claimed they experienced vivid mental pictures of "Philip.".

At this point Iris Owen read papers by psychic researchers C Brookes-Smith, DW Hunt and KJ Batcheldor that described techniques used during nineteenth century séances: the group decided to duplicate what would be a typical ‘séance’ atmosphere, they dimmed some lights, lit some candles and called upon Philip to come forward. Combining this with some additional elements, like trigger objects, and singing songs, they tried to create an ambience that Philip might respond to, and it actually worked.

The group gathered for one of their sessions, the lights were dimmed, candles lit, and they called on Philip to make himself known. There was a gentle knock on the table, which at first was felt more than heard, all of the group’s eight members felt the vibration from it. This was followed by a number of distinct knocks, that were a lot more easily heard and felt. Feeling a little sceptical at first, the group began to wonder if these knocks were perhaps inadvertently the result of one of the group’s participants. They quickly changed their minds when the table itself began to move. When one of the members asked the question, “I wonder whether Philip is doing this?,” A loud knock was heard as if in response.

The group devised a plan in which one knock would signify a yes and two knocks would indicate a no. Soon after they began enjoying a very spirited conversation with Philip. This ghost’ that they apparently conjured up “exhibited likes and dislikes, had strong views on some subjects and was hesitant on others.”  They questioned ‘him’ on his personal life. And once when an apparently too personal question was asked in regards to ‘his’ wife Dorothea loud scratching sounds were heard in response.

Using this method of communication, the group gradually had him tell them his story, to see if this would match their own original creative conception, and this proved generally to be the case. Any new material could usually be traced to an earlier comment by a group member, ‘Philip’ sometimes gave historically inaccurate answers, which could almost always be traced to incorrect knowledge on the part of the group.

As the sessions continued, the group began to notice that the ghostly sounds and movements of the table seemed closely related to the thoughts of the group. If they were in agreement to what an answer should be the resulting ‘yes’ knock was quick and loud. If there were doubts amongst the group’s members about the answer, the result would be a corresponding hesitation in the sounds.

The group remained aware that they had created Philip, but came to treat him as a group member. They would greet him each session, and he would rap the table under each individual member’s hand.  There were other physical manifestations: for instance, when asked if he could manipulate the lights, Philip would make them flicker, or go dim, and he could turn them on and off as well

Particular movements of the table could also be elicited. These movements became increasingly varied: it would tilt up on two legs or on one leg, rock in time to music, slide toward anyone new entering the room, revolve in a ‘waltzing’ movement, or chase people – while group members tried to keep their hands on it. At one point it jammed itself in a doorway, as it attempted to leave the room!   Eventually it even levitated entirely off the ground.

Of course, with so much going on, it was not long before the experiment captured the attention of the media, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation filmed an hour-long documentary entitled "Philip, the Imaginary Ghost".

I've managed to find a rather poor copy of the programme, and have added the link for you to take a look.

The Toronto station CITY TV broadcast an episode of the program"World of the Unexplained" about the Philip experiment, a more dramatised version of events,  It can also be seen on YouTube, and includes a full levitation of the table and some very forceful raps as answers

We started this article, by talking about a TV drama that I had recently watched, it just so happens that The Philip Experiment, provided inspiration for the 2014 film "The Quiet Ones", with the film being loosely based on the story of the experiment itself

So Making Ghosts has proved to be quite a popular subject, but what of the experiment itself?

The purpose of the Philip Experiment was to prove that the supernatural is a manifestation of what already exists in the mind. Proving such a hypothesis true doesn't necessarily mean that ghosts aren't real. It just means that they are created by us, instead of coming from somewhere else. For example, if as a child you grew up fearing that a boogey man lurks under your bed and will grab your ankles when you step onto the floor, you imagining that man in detail could be enough to manifest him into an actual evil spirit. Basically, thinking of a ghost and providing it an identity might be enough to conjure it into existence.

Taking that theory even further, the researchers behind the Philip Experiment gave the character they were imagining a full life, including a name, a nationality, a past and a personality. During their séances, they tried to converse with Philip, their once fictional character. They believed that giving Philip such realistic traits and attempting to communicate with him would help to conjure up an actual ghost.

In conclusion, you could say the Owen group succeeded far beyond their wildest expectations. However, in the end they were never able to prove the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ behind Philip’s manifestation.Was Philip a direct result of the group’s collective subconscious or perhaps did they bring through an actual entity that simply latched onto the story, and made it their own?

We may never be able to actually answer these questions in regards to this particular case. However, the Philip phenomenon remains as a groundbreaking experiment, so much so that it was repeated again by various other groups

If you want to look a little further into the experiment itself, The findings appear in the book Conjuring up Philip by Iris Owen and Margaret Sparrows (Harper & Row, 1976).

It continues to hold my attention

It just so happens that I was reading a recent book acquisition, and I stumbled once again on the Philip Experiment, it seems I was destined to put finger to keyboard, and tap out this post

The book was "A Haunted Experiment" by Penny Griffiths-Morgan, If you have not come across Penny yet, then hunt her down on FaceBook, and, if you like listening to podcasts, she also does a regular one on Paranormal Radio UK, her moniker is Haunted Histories, and, if like myself you have a fascination with the historical side of paranormal investigation its well worth looking her up.

In the book Penny touches on The Philip Experiment, with a rather interesting slant...going as far as creating her own ghost, at an investigation at an old WW2 airbase

The book itself is a very good read, Penny covers off a series of experiments for those investigators who like to do something a little different to the norm ,whilst out on an investigation.

I would go into a lot more detail, but that my friends, will be a whole other blog post, with the prospect of our first podcast interview too

Watch This Space 😊

links for a bit of further study

Another take on the Philip Experiment

The Australian Sydney Experiment

Penny's Haunted History website

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Ian Liston-Smith
Ian Liston-Smith
Nov 20, 2020

That's a great summary of the Philip experiment. Not seen that video before. Good find.

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