Two Hypotheses About Channeling

From the Rational Enquirer, Vol 2, No. 3, Jan 89.

Leonard Angel

At the turn of the century it was called spiritualism. Now it's called channeling. Three thousand years ago it was called prophecy. ("God spoke to me, saying, `...'"). From the psychological point of view, channeling, prophecy or spirit mediumship is a fascinating and important subject. There can be little doubt that there are sincere mediums or channelers who are able to enter an unusual psychological condition of some sort and speak in a `voice' (i.e., a manner) that does not seem to them to be their own voice, and to deliver content that does not seem to them to be generated by themselves.

Accordingly, various hypotheses come to be constructed about what happens when a medium or channeler or prophet delivers the messages that come during the altered state or session. Some hold that there are disembodied spirits who are delivering these messages. Others hold that the medium or channeler is dipping into the subconscious in some way, or is delivering messages that are generated by that part of the personality that for one reason or another does not get labelled as `me' by the conscious mind.

How can we distinguish between the two hypotheses? One way is to operate from the eminently reasonable assumption that we need positive evidence for disembodied spirits in the form of information delivered in trance or during channeling which the channeler (and therefore the channeler's subconscious) could not have had access to prior to the session. Another way is to compare the messages supposedly delivered by the same `spirit' to different channelers and see if they are consistent with each other.

I recently had an opportunity to test the disembodied spirit hypothesis in both ways just mentioned, and this report will summarize the test and the results.

All over North America there are `Michael' channelers, and there are numerous books about the amazing revelations given through Michael channelers: Michael, The Basic Teachings by A. Christeaan, The Michael Game put out by `The Michael Group', Warwick Press, Messages From Michael by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, as well as several other books by Yarbro, and others. These books are promoted with prominent announcements such as,

"YOU HAVE LIVED BEFORE AND WILL LIVE AGAIN. This is just one of the messages from Michael, an ancient entity that can unlock the wisdom of the ages. You will not fail to be amazed. Dispelling our fear and satisfying our curiosity...."

Of course one would want to allow for a certain tendency to hyperbole on book covers and inside front pages. Nonetheless, it seems reasonably clear from the literature that the past life assertions made by Michael channelers are taken to be literally true. For example this view is presented in one of the Michael messages in the Yarbro book :

"Some of the Buddhist monks are exactly what they say they are: they have clear recall of their entire past lives, recognize all the threads, acknowledge their agreements and associations, and recognize their entity mates. Others profess to have this knowledge and do not. There is no easy way to tell one from the other except to remember that those who are truly enlightened rarely advertise the fact." (Messages From Michael, pg l88).

Another source suggests that Michael can truthfully answer questions such as,

"How might my body go wrong in old age? Do I have any diet, vitamin, or mineral deficiencies? Describe why my parents married, how they see me" etc. (The Michael Game, pg 23-25.)

As it happened, one of my students at U.B.C., named Donna Schmid, who had been attending sessions with several Michael channelers, mentioned that during one session `Michael' had revealed that her previous incarnation was a man in England who had some form of association with Oxford or Cambridge, and who had committed suicide. I asked her if she would go to each of the three Michael channellers and ask them, independently, for information about her most recent incarnation. If vague information was forthcoming, she was to request more specific details. We would then be in a position to check the three channelers for consistency, and equally, if not more important, if specific information were given, we would check it out.

The information she received was as follows:

Channeler #l, Paul Clark, chanelled , `through Michael' that Donna's most recent incarnation was named Thomas Scott,

"born the second son of Elizabeth and David Scott in the year l865 in the town, or city now, of Derry... christened in the church of St. John's, a Protestant, Jan. l2, l866... Your parents came from different religious backgrounds, your mother Catholic, your father Protestant. At the age of 5 in order to find work... your family moved you and your siblings and his wife to London... In l88l your father was offered a position with the railroad. The following year you and your sisters with your parents sailed to Montreal... In October of l893 on the 3rd day, he was crossing the tracks in the Toronto switchyard, he lost his footing, and fell. An upturned spike pierced his right forearm. It was treated, though the infection persisted, ultimately killing him. His grave is on the north side in the cemetery of Mount Royal. The grave is unpretentious, though clearly marked. The inscription is simple: In the Beloved's Arms" (Transcribed from the audio tape recording of Paul Clark's channeling session.)

Channeler #2, Catherine Jennings, did not give any checkable information at all during her channeling (or at any other time) about Donna Schmid's putative last incarnation. On the contrary, Michael, speaking through Catherine, took a decidedly negative view of the enterprise of looking for details of one's past life of a sort which may be confirmed or disconfirmed. In fact, `Michael', speaking through Catherine, went so far as to say, "To supply you the information you seek would be to break the nature of the contract we hold as guidance for you" (Transcribed from the audio tape recording of Catherine Jennings' channeling session.)

Channeler #3, James Funmaker, whose channeling was the original source of the narrative concerning a suicidal academic in England, when asked to channel further details, became decidedly vague. To be more precise, `Michael' speaking through James Funmaker was happy to present an elaborate and richly detailed narrative concerning events in the life of the last incarnation of Donna Schmid, but was unable or unwilling to supply the name of the individual or any other details which would allow a researcher to do a proper search. The only solid factual information supplied -- and even this was hedged a bit -- was that Donna Schmid's last incarnation died in the l880's.

Donna Schmid and I set about to investigate the basic framework of facts supplied by `Michael' to Channeler #l, Paul Clark. I asked a Montreal resident, Helen Hall, to check the Mount Royal cemetery information. A phone call to them yielded the result that although they have a highly reliable list of people buried in the cemetery dating back to before the year of death of `Thomas Scott', there was no such person listed as buried in the cemetery. Donna Schmid wrote the various vital statistics offices. The office of Registration of Births Deaths and Marriages in Dublin checked out the birth registration information for the years l864 through l867 (inclusive) with the result that "No entry, corresponding with the particulars given in your recent application was found in that period" (Communication from Patrick J. Kehoe for said office to Donna Schmid, 25/2/88). Finally, we learnt from the Ontario office of the Registrar General, that "we have searched the province of Ontario Index for the period l89l-l895 and there is no record of a registration for the name indicated in the period covered." (Communication from Despina Georgas, Deputy Registrar General, for Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations to Donna Schmid, 26/3/88).

It should also be mentioned that the letters of inquiry asked the registrars to check both given names (`Thomas' and `Patrick'), and as the reader will note, the offices were also asked to check the surrounding years in case the channeler came close to the right year but was not exact.

Thus, the result of our inquiry was that the framework of information given by Paul Clark has no basis in fact at all.

What about the consistency of the messages delivered through the three channelers? The reader may make an independent assessment of the situation, but it seems to me that the three sessions could hardly have been more inconsistent! Michael, if he is an entity at all, is on the one hand happy to give out detailed factual information about Donna's past incarnations, and on the other hand, refuses on principle to give out such information to Donna, and on the third hand, gives out some vague factual information of which the only exact detail is inconsistent with the information he has already given out through another channeler!

On all counts, then, it seems that there is no reason to think that these channelers get in touch with a disembodied spirit when they are channeling. Since they were all happy to co-operate with Donna, and let their sessions be recorded, and so on, there is no reason to hold that these sessions were any different from their typical readings.

Finally I should mention that I interviewed Paul Clark about the negative results concerning the information `revealed' through him. He did not seem to be embarrassed by the results and was quite eager to see the information published. When asked about the fact that his information did not check out positively he allowed for the real possibility that factual information given through channeling (aside from information that the channeler already had) is, as he put it, "a bunch of garbage". The possibility that channelers are delivering messages from their own subconscious would not, in Paul Clark's view, detract from the value of channeling sessions even if it would alter how channeling were viewed. It was also interesting to me to note that Paul Clark took a very light view indeed of the `story' told about Michael, namely that Michael comprises exactly l050 souls who used to live on the Physical Plane, etc. etc. According to Clark, some people like to hear such stories, and one shouldn't places any faith in them.

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