(Investigator 47, 1996 March)

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, sharmen and many biblical characters are legendary but it was not until 1848, when the Fox sisters, two young American schoolgirls, allegedly began communicating with the spirit of a dead pedlar, that spiritualism entered its heyday.

The search to find the means with which to scientifically support traditional beliefs began following the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, and within a few years there were hundreds of practising mediums and millions of spiritualists worldwide.

Whereas in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century spiritualists concerned themselves primarily with consoling the bereaved by allegedly acting as a communication link between those passed on and the living, modern channelers have widened the parameters to include 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), and although they can be found in every country, 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 Ms 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.

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 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 wko speaks with the authority of one from the Essassani civilization 300 light years in the future, and Pamela Newstead whose inspiration comes from the star Sirius.

In seeking to understand the psychology of belief in channeling 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 perceived by believers to be a supreme intelligence, the channel as its communication medium. The scriptures are looked upon as being divine revelations dictated by God (a supernatural being) and recorded by means of automatic writing or orally by speaking through prophets.

A channel's revelations, while in the 1980s are predominantly vocal, they were in the Spiritualist era mainly the product of automatic writing or the written record of alleged voices. The religious worship and belief in the supernatural powers of idols, images and icons has been transferred in the "New Age" to crystals, 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?

Unfortunately, the fact is 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.

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 level 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), and (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 – are 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 Christian-Judeo 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 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.

It is a fact, that questions designed to solicit pertinent information from the "spirits" are always ignored or parried with 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.

Finally, how genuine are Ms Knight and Ramtha? Steven Bakker, formerly Ms Knight's advance man, struck a mortal blow at Ms Knight's credibility when he 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 and from the sale of video-tapes and other materials. She also confirmed what sceptics have believed all along, "I am nobody's saviour. This is a business."

[From: Skeptoon an illustrated look at some New Age Beliefs, 1994, Harry Edwards]

Skeptics versus religion and the paranormal: