A contemporary term for the earlier Spiritualist idea of
mediumship, spirit entities conveying philosophical or spiritual
advice or healing through mediums. Mediumship is generally
thought of as the special activity of a few people who operate
primarily to put people in contact with their dead friends and
relatives. Channelers operate primarily to bring philosophical
and theological teachings from a disembodied entity. Since the
development of modern Spiritualism, mediums have also operated
as channels and many channels also operate as mediums.
The channeling of philosophical teachings, especially on
the nature of continued existence in the afterlife, began with
Andrew Jackson Davis, who published a number of volumes of
channeled material. Numerous platform mediums became
known for their spirit discourses, which they would offer in
place of lectures or Sunday sermons. Compiled into books,
channeled material would often become the basis of new religious
groups, one notable example being Oahspe The New Age
Bible (1881), channeled by John Ballou Newbrough and
around which he organized the Faithist religion.
Through the twentieth century, other important channeled
works such as Levi Dowlings The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the
Christ (1907) and James Edward Padgetts True Gospel Revealed
Anew by Jesus have appeared in profusion. The channeled material
of Grace Cooke became the basis of the White Eagle Lodge
in Great Britain and those of Osker Ernest Bernhardt the basis
of the Grail Movement in Austria.
A great deal of channeled material originates from ultraconservative
Catholic sources as revelations from the Mother Mary.
This phenomenon is known as apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
The term channeling as presently used seems to have arisen
within the UFO contactee community, which found its focus
around individuals who claimed to regularly channel material
telepathically from the space brothers. In the 1950s Charles
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Channeling
Boyd Gentzel and Pauline Sharpe began their channeling activity,
which still exists as Mark-Age, Inc. Violet Gilbert of the
Cosmic Star Temple began her public work in 1960. Even earlier,
flying saucer channel Dorothy Martin, better known by her
spiritual name, Sister Thedra, became the subject of a classic
sociological study, When Prophecy Fails.
The present popularity of channeling stems mainly from the
activities of Jane Roberts (19291984), the channel for the entity
Seth beginning in 1963. Robertss first books, The Seth
Material (1970) and Seth Speaks (1972), became best sellers, led
to some 20 additional volumes, and gave channeling a popularity
it had never previously experienced.
The Seth books expounded a coherent philosophy dealing
comprehensively with alterations of consciousness, grades of
reality, reincarnation, psychology, and a spiritual universe.
Roberts also channeled communications claimed to be from
psychologist William James and psychotherapist Carl G. Jung.
Her first communications were by Ouija board, many were
transcribed by her husband as she spoke them in trance, while
others were recorded by automatic writing.
After the death of Jane Roberts in 1984, her husband Robert
Butts edited new Seth manuscripts, which were published by
Tam Mossman in his journal Metapsychology; The Journal of Discarnate
Intelligence. Mossman himself also channels an entity
Other channelers appeared by the end of the decade, the
most prominent through the 1980s being JZ Knight, who
channels Ramtha, and Jach Pursel, who channels Lazaris.
Channeling became an integral part of the New Age movement
and numerous New Age channels arose. Included in their number
are Ken Carey, Virginia Essene, Ruth Montgomery, and
Penny Torres. Their number has continued to grow.
Also at the end of the eighties Janet McClure began to channel
both spiritual and extraterrestrial information from her
guides. Her Tibetan Foundation trained many others and a
trend became established which continues to this day. With her
boldness came a divergence from the traditional message of
ageless spiritual wisdom. McClures contactee messages center
on our place in the universe, our origin as a planet whose life
was seeded by other civilizations and our need to honor the
Actress Shirley MacLaines several New Age books, especially
Out on a Limb (1983), which was televised as a five-hour
prime-time ABC mini-series in 1987, and Dancing in the Light
(1985), further popularized the concept of spirit guides and
underlined her spiritual odyssey and New Age beliefs. She also
made special mention of JZ Knight. Knight began to channel
Ramtha in the late 1980s. She now heads a school for the
more serious students of Ramthas gnostic teachings.
Alan Vaughan, who first became known as a writer on psychic
topics, emerged as a channel in 1987. In a useful survey
of the phenomenon in New Realities, he disclosed that he had
commenced channeling in 1983. He had been teaching at a
psychic seminar in Sedona, Arizona, and was asked by a couple
if he could tell them something about their past lives. Although
at the time he was editing Reincarnation Report, he was somewhat
skeptical about past-life readings. He describes the incident
Suddenly a tremendous energy flooded over the top of my
head. It was like watching a dream, as the Chinese entity Li
Sung began to speak through me. He gave them [the couple]
some detailed information about past lives and how they fit into
their present life paths. The couple verified many specific details.
For me, it was the beginning of an enlargement of consciousness.
Sixteen years earlier, Vaughan had been told by three British
mediums that he would begin channeling the Chinese
guide one day, but he was skeptical about the prospect of being
invaded by some Chinese spirit. After the first channeling of
Li Sung, the Chinese guide continued to manifest and has offered
treatment at healing sessions. Vaughan has now channeled
Li Sung to thousands of people, including radio and
Another well-known channeler is former insurance executive
Jach Pursel. One day, while relaxing after a busy executive
program, he went into the trance state in which he was first contacted
by the entity Lazaris. With the encouragement of his
wife Penny, Lazaris began to manifest regularly to friends
and small groups and gave both personal advice and philosophical
teaching. Eventually Pursel gave up his business career
and devoted himself full time to channeling Lazaris.
Popular in the nineties are prolific channels named Neale
Donald Walsch and Lee Carroll [Kryon] both of whom have a
strong web presence. As the century drew to a close many channeled
works made prophetic references to earth changes and
It has to be admitted that the names of spirit guides are
often unconvincing and seem like parodies. In the heyday of
nineteenth-century Spiritualism, Native American guides were
more frequent, and even today such claimed personalities still
appear to manifest, usually speaking in broken English but unable
to communicate in Indian dialects. Other guides have represented
themselves as famous characters in history, such as
Socrates, Confucius, Abraham Lincoln, Shakespeare, St. John
the Baptist, and even Jesus Christ or God. The communications
channeled from such exalted guides were not always of
the high intellectual or philosophical level that might be expected,
and in many cases consisted merely of banal platitudes.
Many claimed entities of channeling may be regarded as fictional
creations. The measure of their importance, at least to
those who look to channeled entities as authorities, is whether
they give information, insights, or philosophical teachings that
are beyond the normal capacity of the channeler. For example,
one of the spirit guides of the celebrated medium Eileen J.
Garrett (18931970) was named Uvani, a name that does not
seem to belong to any known Oriental tradition of nomenclature,
but the communications received through Uvani were
of a highly evidential nature.
It may well be that in many cases a claimed spirit guide is
merely a personification of an individuals unconscious or
higher self. In other cases, communications may emanate
from an impersonal source of intelligence that establishes a
channel by assuming a conventional personality.
Throughout history, popular religions have found it difficult
to establish contact with a more austere impersonal deity,
such as the concept of Brahman, the Infinite, in esoteric Hinduism,
and have found it convenient to postulate a host of anthropomorphic
gods and goddesses, which become a familiar
focus for worshipers in societies based on interpersonal relationships.
Religion requires the spiritualization of emotions,
and it is difficult to attach emotions of love or veneration to an
impersonal absolute. In Christianity, the concepts of God the
Father and God the Son have provided a familiar and helpful
focus for worshipers, while older religions have favored the
concept of a Mother Goddess. Throughout India, millions of
worshipers have found the gods and goddesses of their sect or
tradition a personification of divinity.
Parapsychologists have found that the personalities of communicators
channeling through mediums may be manufactured
consciously, and that such fictional entities can produce
paranormal phenomena, as in the famous case of Philip.
Such experiments have validated the concept that spirit guides
may often (but not invariably) be an artificial creation of subconscious
mentation by the psychic or the sitters. Sometimes
spirit communications are a strange mixture of genuine and
false information, perhaps influenced by the conscious memory
of the channeler.
The reemergence of the concept of spirit guides in North
America comes at a time when popular interest in traditional
Spiritualism seems less widespread than in Britain. It may be
that the new name channeling and its disassociation from the
Channeling Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
fraud associated with Spiritualism, provides an attractive image
for a new generation of spiritual seekers.
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