(Investigator 133, 2010 July)

Channeling is the New Age word for spiritualism or mediumship in which a spirit, control, or guide from the past, or in some cases an entity from the future, speaks through a chosen medium.

The auguring and prognosticating by ancient oracles, shaman and many biblical characters are legendary, but it was not until 1848, when the Fox sisters, two young American schoolgirls, began allegedly communicating with the spirit of a dead peddler, that spiritualism entered its heyday. Starting with raps and knocks, which seemingly came from nowhere, the girls developed a system whereby conversations could be carried on at length.

Following the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, and the discovery of electricity, religious dogma became subject to scrutiny resulting in religious dichotomy. The search to find the means with which to scientifically support traditional beliefs began, and within a few years there were hundreds of practicing mediums and millions of spiritualists worldwide. Some of the principal mediums and the phenomena associated with them are mentioned elsewhere.

Whereas in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century spiritualists concerned themselves primarily with consoling the bereaved by claiming to be a communication link between those passed on and the living, modern channelers have widened the parameters to include psychological counseling, apocalyptic predictions, and a wide variety of socio-economic advice and philosophical teachings.

The last decade or so has seen a phenomenal resurgence of modern spiritualism (now called channeling). Gone are the traditional physical appurtenances, reliance now being on the thespian charisma of the medium, the "spirit" voices produced by them, and the percipient’s credulity.

Channelers can be found in every country, but the principal concentration is in California.

Ms. J.Z Knight for example, channels Ramtha, whose wisdom, according to her followers, appears to be infinite. Ms. Knight, a former Seattle housewife and TV cable executive and her spirit "Ramtha", are undoubtedly the best known channeler and entity in the USA, possibly the world. Her spirit control allegedly came to her in a blaze of light (typical of the visitation descriptions in the Old Testament) when she was experimenting with pyramids in her kitchen one day in 1977.

Claiming that he was "Master of the Winds", and that he had come to "get her over the ditch", he allegedly told her that she was his daughter. "Ramtha", we are told, is a 35,000 year old Atlantean warrior who swept through Atlantis into India where he ascended into a higher consciousness and became a Hindu God-man. Speaking through Ms Knight, he teaches that we create our own reality; that God is not a remote deity but is part of all human beings, therefore man is himself divine and has no reason to feel guilt; that there is no heaven and hell and that man has within himself the means to achieve whatever goals he chooses.

 These are all standard New Age metaphysics about self-created realities. The sale of Ramtha books, videos and cassette tapes, seminars and consultations have made J.Z. Knight a millionaire. A session with the "ascended master" costs $400, a weekend $1,500. People have sold up their homes and businesses, and families have broken up and moved to Oregon to be near their guru.

Channeling is promoted as a way to obtain new knowledge and to enhance general problem solving abilities and personal development. Ramtha, like all the other channeled entities appears well versed in the minutiae of modern life — strange for one so long dead, and from a mythical continent to boot. The name "Ramtha" is copyrighted, and in 1985, Knight told her followers that Ramtha was a non-profit organization. One year later they were informed that it could no longer be used as a tax deductible. Whether the status ever existed or whether it was revoked by the Inland Revenue Service is a matter for conjecture.

One of Ms Knight's more lucrative enterprises was the raising and selling of Arabian horses to followers who bought them on Ramtha's advice. One woman paid a quarter of a million dollars for a horse. Subsequently Washington State issued a cease and desist order to prevent Ms Knight selling horses on the supposed advice of her spirit guide.

Other well known channelers in America include, Jac Purcel, who has two spirit guides — Lazaris, a non-physical entity, and Dr Peebles, a 17th century Irish doctor. Kevin Ryerson, who advised on, and appeared as himself, in the Shirley MacLaine film Out on a Limb, has four guides — a 17th century Irish pickpocket, a Haitian witchdoctor, a Nubian slave and biblical John. Other channelers even have messages coming from the stars and the future, as in the case of Darryl Anka who speaks with the authority of one from the Essassani civilization 300 light years distant, and Pamela Newstead whose inspiration comes from the star Sirius.

Perusing the evidence given in other relevant chapters in this book for the existence of spirits it would be reasonable to assume that they are in fact nothing less than complete corporeal entities who have not only retained all the physical characteristics and faculties they possessed before departing this world, but have acquired some remarkable powers in addition. In seeking to understand the psychology of belief in spiritualism it is necessary to note the religious parallels.

The Bible is regarded by the faithful as the word of God and its interpretation the sole prerogative of the priests. A channeler's "control" is seen by believers to be a supreme intelligence, the channel as its communication medium.

The scriptures are looked upon as being divine revelations dictated by a supernatural being and recorded by means of automatic writing or by speaking through prophets. A channel's revelations, while in the 1980s predominantly vocal, they were in the Spiritualist era mainly the product of automatic writing or the written record of voices allegedly heard by the medium.

The religious worship and belief in the supernatural powers of idols, images and icons has been transferred in the New Age to pyramids and crystals, the latter whose putative power has transformed this common mineral into an artificially expensive and widely sought after philosophers' stone.

Man's consciousness after death, a pagan belief contrary to that found in the scriptures, is epitomized by channelers in their frequent references to past and future lives.

The medieval church's doctrine of indulgences whereby forgiveness could be purchased, equates with the payment of a channeler's fee, for which the client is told that there is no such thing as good and bad and that we need feel no guilt for anything we do.

Many channelers have a formal religious background and believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of natural immortality adopted from the pagan philosophy — that it is the spirits of the dead who return to minister to the living, and that it is the dead who are admitted to the presence of the highest authority gaining access to knowledge exceeding that which they previously possessed. This being so, why should they not return to enlighten and instruct the living?

It is a fact that when the higher knowledge purported to have been acquired by the spirits of the dead is relayed, it never exceeds that already available on earth. Further, the Bible itself states unequivocally that "the dead know not anything", "that their thoughts have perished", "they have no part in anything that is done under the sun" and "they know nothing of the joys and sorrows of those who were dearest to them on earth." Indeed, according to the scriptures, God has expressly forbidden all pretended communication with departed spirits under the penalty of death, such visitants being declared in the Bible to be "the spirits of devils" (1 Corinthians 10:20; Revelation 16: 14, and in Leviticus 19:31; 20:27).

Alleged intercourse with evil spirits is but a revival in a new disguise, of witchcraft. While today we tend to regard those who call themselves witches and warlocks as eccentrics, in the Middle Ages they were accused of being the devil's disciples, doing his bidding, and because their bodies were allegedly taken over by demon spirits they spoke with the voice of the incubus. In other words, they were "channelers". Despite the demonic and paranormal powers attributed to these channelers of old by their ecclesiastical persecutors, one question has never been satisfactorily answered — why, if they were endowed with supernatural powers, were the hapless victims unable to save themselves by bringing down the wrath of the devil on their tormentors?

Today you are free to believe without fear of persecution, that the human body can be taken over by discarnate spirits and used as a mouthpiece, or you can dismiss it as nonsense. The high levels of belief in various paranormal phenomena was evident in a study carried out at the Concordia University in Montreal, Canada (Gray 1984), which showed that sixty-nine per cent of students believed in reincarnation and UFOs, eighty-five per cent in ESP, and approximately half believed in astrology, faith healing, ghosts and miracles. Other surveys (Happs 1985) (Feder 1986) confirm this incidence of high belief.

How much credence can we have in those who claim to "channel ''?

Basically their teachings are a mixture of Western occult traditions, Hinduism, Jungian philosophy and contemporary positive thinking attitudes — a hyped up New Age pop philosophy, which is a common thread in all the quasi-¬religious sects and human potential groups so popular today.

What is it that persuades often intelligent and successful people to throw caution to the winds and fall for the shenanigans of channelers? The reasons are many and diverse, among them a disaffection with conventional Judea¬Christian doctrines. Followers seek a direct encounter with one who can provide simple answers for every problem, an authority figure to give their lives structure and discipline, and a sense of security and friendship.

The "knowledge" perceived to be coming from an entity such as Ramtha is a lifeline thrown to save those floundering in a sea of perceived threat and stress. In reality there are two sets of delusions at play — the channel making putative authoritative statements from a higher source and the believers who accept whatever is said as profound wisdom.

Eugene Aquili (1987), associate professor of psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, suggests that channeling reflects a declining influence of traditional religion — people reach out for a sense of transcendent meaning; and Professor Harvey Cox (1987), a Harvard theologian, cautions, "never underestimate the ability of organized religion to adapt — it's very market conscious. They are all so cuddly and friendly they seem to be yuppiefied versions of the demons and spirits of another time."

Carl Raschke (1986), professor of religious studies, University of Denver, sees the self induced hypnotic state of the channeler mesmerizing an audience already predisposed to accept "God is everywhere" philosophy, and that the New Age movement's emphasis on human potential psychology gives these people a certain credibility — it's a form of mass hypnosis which is leading to a mass acceptance of the irrational.

It is a fact that questions designed to solicit pertinent information from spirits are always ignored or parried by evasive answers, and tape recordings of alleged spirits' voices when analysed by philologists (specialists in the field of languages) have been found unconvincing from every linguistic aspect.

There are two basic methods used, first if the "entity" provides historical or geographical information which places him or her in a particular place at a particular time, this information can be checked against the "entity's" speech to see if the sound patterns and other linguistic features match our expectations for that time and place. Second, even without that information the speech itself can be checked to see whether it is consistent in ways that natural dialects normally are.

A good example of linguistic analysis was cited by Rebecca Long (1994) in the Georgia Skeptic. A supposedly discarnate 13th-century Scotsman from the Isle of Arran by the name of Samuel is channeled by Ms Lea Schultz of the Phoenix Institute located in Lexington, Kentucky.

Tapes of Samuel sessions were sent to several experts for analysis. The Arran museum Association responded that Samuel's accent was fake and not Scottish at all. Two linguistic specialists at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that Samuel's speech patterns were neither Scots English not Scots Gaelic, and "not those of a Scotsman of any century." They pointed out that the sounds of an authentic 13th-century dialect would be unintelligible to modern ears. They concluded that the accent was "faked by someone who doesn't know enough about Scots English to do it well."

Finally, what of Ms Knight and Ramtha? Steven Bakker, formerly Ms Knight's advance man, struck a mortal blow at Ms Knight's credibility when told how he had observed Ms Knight smoking and practising Ramtha's gestures, slipping in and out of her Ramtha personality without bothering to go into a trance.

In an interview reported by The Oregonian (a US newspaper) on November 27, 1986, J.Z. Knight acknowledged that she was taking in millions of dollars a year from the fees collected at her personal appearances, from the sale of video-tapes and other materials, and confirmed what sceptics have believed all along, "I am nobody's saviour. This is a business." Perhaps this last message is getting through as some of Ramtha's followers have expressed disappointment with the teachings of the enlightened one. Pam McNeely of Sausalito for example, spent more than $10,000 on Ramtha seminars, video-cassettes and audio tapes and nearly went bankrupt following Ramtha's advice.

Notwithstanding Ms Knight's lack of credibility, and complete absence of any tangible evidence that her entity ever existed, she successfully sued in an Austrian court a channeler who also claimed to be in communication with Ramtha.


Bradon, Ruth 1984. The Spiritualists. Prometheus.
Cox, Harvey 1987. Cited in The Age. February 27, 1987.
d’Aquili, Eugene 1987. Cited in the The Wall Street Journal. April 1.
Edwards, Harry 1987. "Channeling and Schizophrenia." the Skeptic. Vol. 7. (3): 10-12.
------------------- 1987. “The Case of the Dribbling Psychic." the Skeptic. Vol. 7(4): 24-27.
Feder, K.L.1986. “The Challenge of Pseudo-science." Journal of College Science Teaching. 15 (3): 180-186.
Friedrich, Otto. 1987. "New Age Harmonies." Time Magazine. Dec. 7th.
Gardner, Martin. 1987. "Isness Is Her Business." The New York Review. September 4, 1987.
Gray, Thomas. 1984. "University Course Reduces Belief in Paranormal." Skeptical Inquirer, 8 (3) pp247-251.
Lee, Craig A. 1987. Voices from Other Worlds. L.A. Weekly, Oct. 1987.
Long, Rebecca. 1994. Encountering an Ancient Entity. Georgia Skeptic. Fall 1994. pp13-14.
MacLaine, Shirley. 1986. Out on a Limb, Bantam.
Raschke, Carl. 1986. Cited in Newsweek, December, 1986.
Stillings, Denis. 1987. "Channels: Stripminers of the Psyche." Utne Reader. May/June.
Weinberg, Steven. (Ed.) 1987 Ramtha. Sovereignty Inc.
Young, Stanley. 1986. "Body Doubles?" Los Angeles Magazine. Dec.
From: Edwards, H. A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age.

Harry Edwards versus the paranormal on the Investigator Magazine website: