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Channelling or channeling is the act of allowing a spiritual entity to take control of your body and speak through you… or at least that's what New Agers, spiritualists, and similar types would have you believe. It is often just bad acting, sometimes combined with a bit of cold reading to impress the rubes.

There are several major variations. The channeler may produce speech or writing, or sometimes art or other things. Sometimes, the channeler is genuinely in a trance state (whether through self-hypnosis or self-suggestion, or with the aid of helpers who bring the medium in and out of hypnosis). Automatic writing using an Ouija board may have one or more channelers plainly wide awake while the "channeled source" guides their muscular movements to spell out the message. It also happens that people channel under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.

Channeled characters often take forms such as a mark's departed loved one, a long-dead alleged guru, or a loving paranormal alien. Channeled discussions are often formulaic, echoing spiritualistic and New Age tropes, or whatever is openly or secretly wished for in the circles where it is conducted. More clever channeled works sometimes gain recognition as scripture.

Temporary possession[edit]

Séance-style communication of "spirits" through the body of a medium is not considered to constitute a full "possession", as it is not seen as the complete, non-consensual takeover of a living being by a spirit or demon, something usually considered detrimental to the "victim" and requiring exorcism. Channelling is much easier to fake claimed by believers to offer opportunities for more positive and mutually respectful interaction between the living medium and the spirit. The most commonly-reported physical manifestations of channelling are an unusual vocal pattern or uncharacteristic physical behaviors by the medium.

Lack of Evidence[edit]

Channeling people from the distant past is rather easier than a conventional séance, in which the medium supposedly passes on messages from the recently deceased to an audience who knew the dead people in question. This requires a certain amount of skill in cold reading, or at least a certain amount of diligence in preparatory work to perform hot reading.

By contrast, channelers are free to make stuff up as they go along; there is no statement a channeler can make about (for example) the domestic life of Cleopatra which will positively be known by her audience to be false.

It would take considerable hot reading to convince a historian, an archeologist, and an expert in ancient languages that you were channeling Cleopatra; indeed, it would take actual scholarship, and anyone capable of it might give up their life of deception for a chair at one of the nicer universities. Interestingly, Cleopatra (or whoever is being channeled) always chooses to speak English (or any language the channeler speaks) when being channeled, instead of Koiné Greek, Demotic Egyptian, or any other of the nine languages she reportedly spoke. Similarly, those channeling Joan of Arc rarely seem to speak medieval French.

So far as we are aware, no channeler has ever done the research necessary to give even a moderately accurate impersonation of a historical figure. This might be because they recognize the extreme difficulty of the task, and find sufficient pickings among the gullible; or they may have convinced themselves that they really are channeling dead people.

Shirley MacLaine[edit]

Actress Shirley MacLaine and the ABC television network gave this modern version of ghosts-speaking-through-a-medium a modicum of credibility. In 1987, ABC broadcast a mini-series based on MacLaine's book Out on a Limb, which depicts MacLaine conversing with spirits through channeler Kevin Ryerson. One of the spirits who speaks through Ryerson is a contemporary of Jesus called "John". "John" doesn't speak Aramaic — the language of Jesus — but a kind of Elizabethan English. "John" tells MacLaine that she is co-creator of the world with God. MacLaine, a consummate egotist, becomes ecstatic to find out that she is right about a belief she'd expressed earlier, viz., that she is God.[1]

One of MacLaine's favorite channelers, J. Z. Knight, claims to channel a 35,000-year-old Cro-Magnon warrior called Ramtha. This preposterous notion has made her famous and wealthy. Some of her patrons pay as much as $1,000 to attend her seminars, where she dispenses such wisdom as "[we must] open our minds to new frontiers of potential".


See also[edit]


  1. Isness Is Her Business by Martin Gardner New York Review of Books (April 9, 1987)
  2. Stone, Joshua D. (1995). Hidden Mysteries: ETs, Ancient Mystery Schools and Ascension. Easy-To-Read Encyclopedia of the Spiritual Path Series. 4. Flagstaff, Arizona: Light Technology Publishing. p. 122. ISBN 9780929385570. Retrieved 2016-12-21. "Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, was a channel for Archangel Gabriel."