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
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
The opening paragraph of this article is the basic storyline that was
concocted by one of the group 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 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-reasearch
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 basde on the earlier experiments and the
new group was able to sit in with the Philip group on an individual
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
For the believer no proof is necessary, for the non-believer no proof is
possible(Stewart Chase 1929)