Experimental Apparitions

24th May 2023. Reading Time: 11 minutes General, Paranormal Theories. 1331 page views. 0 comments.

When we talk about apparitions, it is time to think beyond the typical 'full-bodied apparition' that many paranormal investigators talk about. It is the apparitions of living people that I am most fascinated with as it challenges the typical viewpoint of what a ghost is.  These fall under the category of experimental apparitions. Lets look at this as well as thoughtforms, tulpas and the infamous Philip experiment!

Apparition is a common term used by paranormal investigators to describe a sighting of what is believed to be a spirit. While there are common associations we all make with this term, it may surprise you to know that there are several categories under this word. While a lot of people think of a spirit to be a see-through opaque view of a person, there is no one size fits all when it comes to these kinds of experiences. Sometimes, the apparition is not even a spirit but a living person from another location. The question of course becomes not why are we seeing them, but how?

And thus, absurdly enough, we sometimes hear men ridicule the phenomena which actually do happen, simply because those phenomena do not suit their preconceived notions of what ghostly phenomena ought to be;


'Human personality and its survival of of bodily death'

When we talk about apparitions, it is time to think beyond the typical 'full bodied apparition' that many paranormal investigators talk about. Going back to the above, it is these apparitions of living people that I am most fascinated with as it challenges the typical viewpoint of what a ghost is.  These fall under the category of experimental apparitions.  In short, an experimental apparition is where a person is purposely creating an apparition. Common reports of this are of people doing this by using astral projection or meditation in order for their consciousness to leave their body and travel elsewhere. Their form appears to another as an apparition. These are also referred to as Astral Bodies.

The Australian Institute of Parapsychological Research states:

Ruth was persecuted by the apparition of her father who raped her when she was ten (26,27). Ruth learnt to summon and dismiss it, and other apparitions, at will. Ruth (but not the therapist) could see an apparition; both could not see it on a video screen nor hear it on tape. Ruth twice produced apparitions seen by others. When Ruth produced an apparition in front of a screen, her EEG brain electrical pattern showed that the apparition blocked the screen behind it. This test confirmed Ruth’s belief that she was seeing a “real” apparition rather than it being an hysterical hallucination.

Ruth was eidetic, a good hypnotic subject, and very traumatised. Similar apparitions, however, are reported by fantasy-prone persons over-involved in some activity. Dickens was plagued by them as he wrote his novels (14). David-Neel created her own tulpa of a monk after instruction in Tantric Buddhism (16). Hill created apparitions of famous people to help him become a millionaire (15). Estabrooks used auto-suggestion to create a bear apparition; it became so lifelike he at times mistook it for a real bear – it jumped out at him from dark corners (7). “Sitter groups” of non-psychic, non-spiritualistic persons, in the absence of a “spirit control”, have produced raps from a self-created ghost (the Philip experiment, refs 2,22). This ability to create apparitions is a coping mechanism of therapeutic value.


Another term I have come across in relation to this phenomenon is what has been referred to as reciprocal apparitions.

Reciprocal Apparitions The term reciprocal apparitions is sometimes used for those experiences in which the apparition is that of a living person who afterward remembers seeing the percipient at the place where the latter saw the apparition. Such cases present for the telepathy hypothesis one of the difficulties posed for it by collective apparitions; we may indeed consider them a type of collective apparition, although one in which the physical bodies of the two percipients are located in different places. We could attribute reciprocal cases solely to activity on the part of the percipients of the apparition. But this means that we must suppose that these first percipients somehow stimulated the agents-the persons seen at a distance from their physical bodies-so that they also seemed to become percipients. We then must either credit the agents with also having paranormal experiences or say that they were deluded about having these. A delusion seems excluded in those cases in which the agent recalls details of the place where the apparition was seen, such as the furniture of the room or unusual clothes worn by persons present. (It is understood here that the agent could not have learned such details normally or inferred them.) If we admit evidence of paranormal processes in the experience of the agent and yet insist on attributing the combined experience to the first percipient, we have to account for the agent's suddenly developing paranormal powers (on a telepathic signal from the percipient) just at the· time when the percipient sees the apparition. The agent often has a strong desire or intention to "go to" the percipient at the time of the apparition; if we accept the living agent's claim to activity (and often initiative) in the combined experience, we cannot easily deny the possibility of a similar role in at least some cases in which the agent has died. 

The contributions of Apparitions to the evidence of Survival, Ian Stevenson (1982) The Journal of' The American Society for Psychical Research Vol. 76, October 1982

What I find quite fascinating in this case is the revelation that the person actually remembers their encounter while in 'spirit mode' meaning that it was a fully conscious act. 

It reminds me of what is called a thoughtform which while it is not a type of apparition, the concept is in itself similar.


A thoughtform is a mental image that you are consciously creating in your mind. In spiritual circles, it is thought to exist in both the mental and astral planes. They are generally placed in three categories:

  • The image of the thinker is simply the appearance of an individual in two places simultaneously
  • An image of a material object associated with the thought
  • An independent image expressing the inherent qualities of the thought

People often will use meditation or even hypnotherapy in order to create a thoughtform. It is thought however that a group of people can also manifest a thoughtform when you have a group of people concentrating on the same thing. A thoughtform is not something you can see physically. The person manifesting it can see it in their mind as they have created it. Spiritually, as it is said to exist in the astral plane, some psychics or clairvoyants are said to be able to detect this thoughtform in the form of energy as it is said to present itself as energy waves within a person's aura.

A thoughtform is a more temporary manifestation of this 'created' item or person and in a lot of ways is still controlled by your thought as it doesn't have its own will. A more permanent version that has its own will is known as a Tulpa.


A Tulpa comes from Tibetan Buddism where it is a consciously created being or object. In the same way, it is consciously created, it is thought again that a person can unknowingly create a Tulpa. When you look at the meaning of the word Tulpa, it means to build or construct. It is thought to be a much more complex version of a thoughtform that develops its own sentience and its own will. In modern-day society, people commonly will use lucid dreaming in order to 'create' their own Tulpa. They think of it almost as an imaginary friend they can communicate with at will and help them through certain things in life. The Tulpa is thought to always be growing and learning. In the same way our dreams can turn bad, so can a Tulpa. There are many people who report their Tulpa has turned on them and caused a lot of trouble in their life and it has taken them in some cases years to get rid of them.

On an interesting level, when you think of a group of people somehow manifesting a form of Tulpa just by thinking about it, some people believe that a lot of religious figures or creatures are actually forms of Tulpas. A famous creature such as Bigfoot could in fact be a type of a Tulpa. Sightings of 'Nessie' the Loch Ness monster again could in theory be a form Tulpa. One of the more popular theories at the moment is that of Slenderman. It is a figure that was created on creepypasta, yet people claim they have seen this fictional figure. Could it be a case of a Tupla? If you have people going to a location thinking in detail about what something looks like and how it moves, could you actually manifest it into existence?  To test this theory, there was a parapsychology experiment in the early 1970s which set out to do exactly that.

The Philip Experiment

In 1972, a bunch of Canadian Parapsychologists conducted a pretty cool experiment. Their aim was to ‘create’ a ghost to prove that the human mind could conjure a spirit through expectation, imagination and visualization. It was based on the very concept of a thoughtform. There was even a movie made inspired by this case called 'The Quiet Ones'. The experiment was led by a world-renowned self-proclaimed expert on poltergeists, Dr A.R.G Owen. His goal was simple. Create a group of people (none of which were mediums or sensitive to the paranormal) and have them use their collective thought to see if they could conjure a ghost to appear. And so Philip was born.

Initially, the group put together to conjure Philip would meet on a regular basis in an informal setting. They would sit around, with the lights on and talk about Philip. They had his picture and notes about his life and talked about him. They used his picture and focused on it. They used meditation techniques and tried to imagine Philip in their mind to see if they could make him 'appear. They tried this for a full year starting in September 1972. This brought no results apart from a couple of members saying they felt a presence.

Not willing to give up, Dr Owen decided to change the approach of the group as after a year of sittings, their methods were clearly not working. They decided to incorporate elements of the 'Singapore Theory' to bring him forward. Each member would bring in a trigger object of an item that they think Philip might have liked. They brought in pictures of a castle and imagined that this was the Castle that Philip might have lived in. They sang songs that they thought Philip may relate to, the most notable being '99 Bottles of Beer'. One of the most important changes they felt was successful to the experiment was that they duplicated what would be a typical ‘séance’ atmosphere, dimmed some lights, lit some candles and called upon Philip to come forward. It seemed this new method worked. Whilst Philip did not come forward as a full-bodied apparition that they could see, what they did receive appeared to be intelligent knocking responses (known as rapping) on the seance table they were using. They used the one knock for yes and twice for no method. So how did they know it was Philip responding to them? Their evidence was that they asked 'Is this Philip?' and received one knock meaning yes.

After the initial contact, it seemed with every session, Philip's communication became stronger. They felt they learnt a lot of about Philip from his knocking responses. What they found to be interesting was that Philip did not seem to know the questions to answers that they did not know - which convinced them that it was indeed Philip they had conjured from their collective consciousness. Simply put, if they didn't know the answer, Philip wouldn't either. As Philip became stronger, he was able to start moving the table and was apparently capable of levitating the table. Sitters reported seeing a mist over the table that they would see move across the room when someone entered the room as if it was greeting them. He was also capable of dimming the lights on command. In order to 'prove' this to the world, there was a final seance held in front of a live audience of 50 people and a documentary was broadcast on National television. Supposedly the table levitated during this session but it was not caught on camera. The experiment itself has been heavily criticised for relying on spiritualist techniques which can be manipulated by a person such as table rapping and table-turning. Dr Owen however, felt it was a success. So much so that more experiments followed. A new group of sitters and new fictional characters were created. There was Lilith a French Canadian spy, Sebastian a medieval alchemist and Axel a time traveller from the future. All were successful in their minds.

The human mind is an incredibly powerful tool.  So now the floor is over to you.  What do you think about experimental apparitions?  What does this all mean for the spirits we feel we are encountering on a paranormal investigation?  Maybe it is us that are the ghosts?



The contributions of Apparitions to the evidence of Survival, Ian Stevenson (1982) The Journal of' The American Society for Psychical Research Vol. 76, October 1982 

Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure In Psychokinesis by Iris M Owen (1976)
Conjuring up the Owens: A tribute to Iris M Owen and A.R.G Owen by John Robert Colombo (1999)




Cover Photo by Daniil Ustinov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/figure-covered-in-a-white-cloth-on-a-staircase-8360516/

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