“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 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.
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.”
This of course is a very tragic tale that contains many elements normally associated with reports of historical ghosts. It is however a complete fabrication.
The true story of ‘Philip’ is actually a remarkable experiment that was conducted in the early 1970’s by The Toronto Society Of Psychical Research. The purpose of the experiment was to see if a wholly fictious historical character - ghost could in fact manifest itself through the groups efforts of concentration on the bogus data.
Dr. A.R.G Owen, a member of the Department For Preventative Medicine and Biostatistics at the University of Toronto and psychic researcher who specialized in poltergeist cases was the group’s scientific advisor. He is quoted in the introduction to “Conjuring Up Phillip” as saying, “It was essential to their purpose that Philip be a totally fictious character. Not merely a figament of the imagination but clearly and obviously so, with a biography full of historical errors.”
The opening paragraph of this article is the basic storyline that was concocted by one of the group’s members named only as “Sue” - a former nurse with the Canadian Armed Forces. Further details including a sketch were added on as the group discussed and immersed themselves in Philip’s invented biographical data. Contradictions such as Philip being reincarnated several times yet also being seen walking the battlements of Diddington every century or so were carefully woven into the story. And while a Diddington Hall really does exist in Warckshire, England the group made sure that the real location’s history in no way resembled Philip’s home. In essence the group sought to create a “collective hallucination” of Philip through subscribing to a common mental picture of him and his surroundings.They meditated on his appearance, his food preferences, and mostly his ‘feelings’ towards his wife Dorothea and his gypsy lover Margo.
The experiment went on for months with absolutely no success. The group would sit around a table and merely concentrate - much like the spiritualists of the 19th century. And then one day it just happened. There was a knock on the table, which at first was felt more than heard. All of the group’s eight members felt the vibration. This was followed by a number of distinct knocks that were in fact heard and felt. Skeptical at first, the group felt that 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 around the room. When a startled member asked aloud, “I wonder whether Philip is doing this,” a loud knock was heard as if in response. Philip, a made in Canada ghost had finally arrived.
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 ‘spirited’ conversation with Philip. This ‘entity’ 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.
It was noted 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 the result would be a corresponding hesitation in the sounds.
As their experiment progressed the participants would engage in teasing and joking with Philip. The table movements and knocks became more frequent and it was reported that the table would occasionally rush up as if in greeting to latecomers and even trap members in the corner of the room! Philip apparently was the cause of lights turning off and on by themselves and other strange anomalies as well.
The experiment captured the attention of local media with group and ‘ghost’ featured on the CBC television show “Man Alive” as well as other talk shows of the day.
A 16mm movie was produced by the group in 1974 entitled Philip: the Imaginary Ghost. It explains how the experiment was conceived, and what actually happened, showing tables movements and actual raps. Please see our note in regards below.
In conclusion the experimenters 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 conjure an actual entity that simply latched onto the story? We may never be able to actually answer these questions in regards to this particular case. However, the Philip phenomenon remains not only a groundbreaking experiment, but an important historical account of para-research efforts in Canada.
Further experiments with a different group were carried out in 1974, the story used with these was of a French Canadian girl by the name of Lilith who went to France during WWII and became a member of the French Resistance. She was however, caught and executed as a spy.
The Lilith experiments saw similar results to the Philip one in just 5 weeks. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the Owens were able to formulate shortcuts in method based on the earlier experiments and the new group was able to sit in with the Philip group on an individual basis.
During the 1974 Christmas party held by the organization members of both the Philip and Lilith groups got together and in jest called out, “Is anybody there?” They received a knock in response and in further jest they asked, “Are you Father Christmas?” Reportedly a long conversation with Santa Claus ensued! According to the Owens this last episode “illustrates the wonderful child-like approach taken to the phenomena and the fact that in these situations you get what you expect.”
Psychic Mysteries Of The North - A.R.G Owen (c) 1975
Conjuring Up Philip - Iris Owen and Margaret Sparrow (c) 1976
Into The Unknown - Will Bradbury (c) 1981
We at ParaResearchers Of Ontario will be carrying out similar experiments based on the Owens’ methodology. All results when available will be published to this website. We have set a two-year timetable for the project.
VHS or DVD copies of PHILIP THE IMAGINARY GHOST can be purchased from Raymond International at the following addresses:
122-33 Hazelton Avenue
Toronto, Ontario, Canada