"DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL!"
THE NEW AGE PRACTICE OF CHANNELING
copyright 1988 by Eric Pement
Nov. 28, 1988
They close their eyes and lips. For a minute or two, sitting
with quiet focus, they breathe in great volumes of air, sucking up
strength for a momentous journey. Suddenly, another personality takes
over and an alien voice speaks.
Channeling has become one of the paramount landmarks of the New
Age movement, eclipsing herbal cures, mundane astrology, and flotation
tanks. Now an integral part of the Aquarian scene, channelers seem to
have multiplied geometrically in the past fifteen years.
Trying to monitor this wave is an incredible task. Its influence
is propagated through multiple avenues -- radio and TV interviews,
private channeling sessions, cassette distribution, videotape sales
and rentals, newsletters, magazines, mass seminars, conferences, and
an endless stream of channeled literature. (They don't call it
"automatic writing" for nothing.) Net profits on all this have been
estimated at from 100 to 400 million dollars annually. 
Exactly what is it? Jon Klimo, author of a sympathetic yet
thorough survey of channeling, says it "is a phenomenon in which
otherwise ordinary people seem to let themselves be taken over by, or
in other ways receive messages from, another personality who uses them
as a conduit, medium, or channel for the communication -- hence the
term MEDIUM or CHANNEL." 
One of the more popular channelers is J.Z. (Judy Zebra) Knight.
She channels Ramtha, also known as "the Ram," supposedly a 35,000-
year-old being from Atlantis who invented the practice of war. I like
Martin Gardner's summary of Ramtha's story: "Slowly he came to realize
that he himself was part of the God he hated. After 63 OBEs [out-of-
body experiences], his body vibrating faster than light, he became one
with the wind.
On the side of Mount Indus, in Tibet, free of weight,
he ascended into the Seventh Heaven, where he and God became one. He
is now part of an 'unseen brotherhood' of superbeings who love us and
hear our prayers."  Ramtha has made Knight a millionairess several
times over; she, in turn, has had Ramtha's name copyrighted to prevent
anyone else from channeling him.
Penny Torres and Jach Pursel are the two most popular rivals to
J.Z. Knight. Penny channels Mafu, "a highly evolved being from the
seventh dimension, last seen on earth when he incarnated as a leper in
first-century Pompeii."  Mafu, like Ramtha, speaks with a Slavic
accent. Meanwhile, Jach Pursel channels Lazaris, a "group being" from
beyond time and space who has (have?) never been embodied in our
dimension. Lazaris speaks with a lisp.
The range of "entities" supposedly being channeled today is
virtually unlimited. SPIRIT SPEAKS, a bimonthly magazine from
California, is a READER'S DIGEST of messages from various channeled
entities. Some of its regular contributors include Dong How Li (a
Tibetan monk last incarnated 2600 years ago), Gabriel (an angel), Dr.
Peebles (a Scottish physician from the 1800s), and Zoosh ("a non-
physical being from Alpha Centauri").
An excellent survey of the channeling scene (from a Christian
perspective) is provided in a recent book by John Ankerberg and John
Weldon. They note that the personalities being channeled "claim to be
various aspects of the human mind or the 'collective' mind of humanity
. . They also claim to be the Holy Spirit, troubled ghosts, the
spirits of animals and plants (dolphins, trees, flowers), multiple
human personalities, the inhabitants of mythical cultures (Atlanteans,
Lemurians), and even a possible alien computer that exists in the
future. Critics, realizing that some people are claiming to channel
dolphins, others the spirits of fruits and vegetables and still others
computers from the future, have come to conclude the sanity of the
nation is at risk." 
HISTORICAL AND BIBLICAL BACKGROUND
Channeling activity, understood in its wider sense to include
spirit possession in general, can be traced back to the earliest times
and civilizations. The acceptance of animism (the belief that spirits
are present in all of nature, including plants, inert objects, and
seasons) or the practice of ancestor veneration have provided
primitive cultures with sufficient groundwork for the rise of
spiritism. Certainly, spirit mediumship, as well as attempts at
spirit-control, can be seen in shamanism (the activities of the tribal
witchdoctor, magician, or healer in controlling the forces/spirits of
Channeling can be traced back to the ancient religions of Egypt,
India, and the Near East; thus, we should pay special attention to the
Biblical injunctions on this topic.
The commandments given to Moses after the Exodus from Egypt
(about 1400 B.C.) expressly forbid communication with "spirit mediums"
(Lev. 19:31) , or going to one who "inquires of the dead" (Deut.
18:11). Mosaic law prescribed the death penalty both for the medium
and for the person who sought out the medium for advice (Lev. 20:6,
27). Indeed, one of the chief reasons that King Saul, the first king
of Israel, was slain was for "going to one who had a familiar spirit,
to inquire of it" (1 Chron. 10:13). Seven hundred years after Mt.
Sinai, in the days of Isaiah, the prohibition still remained. Those
who sought information from "mediums and wizards" were to be answered
brusquely: "Should not a people seek their God instead? Should they
seek to the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isa. 8:19)
In New Testament times, possession and control by discarnate
spirits were accepted realities. The actions of Jesus in casting out
"demons" and "unclean spirits" are mentioned repeatedly in the New
Testament (Matt. 8:28ff, 9:32ff, 12:22ff, 17:14ff, etc.). Jesus
likewise commissioned his apostles to cast out demons (Matt. 10:1) and
gave this authority to others not numbered among the Twelve (Luke
10:17). The early church continued to conduct exorcisms (Acts 8:7,
An interesting incident regarding a channeler appears in the
sixteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. While Paul and Silas
were evangelizing in Philippi, a city of western Greece, they were
persistently followed by a slave girl "with a spirit of divination"
(Acts 16:16). The Greek text literally reads a "python spirit" [Gk.
PNEUMA PUTHONA], a reference to an entity named The Python, which
inhabited the high priestess of the temple of Apollo at Delphi.
(Remember hearing about "the oracle of Delphi" in school? That was
her.) "The Python" or "python spirit" later became a generic term for
a discarnate entity which predicted the future. The apostle Paul
finally "turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of
Jesus Christ to come out of her.' And he came out that very hour."
It bears noting that this spirit of divination evidently could
provide some genuine information (verse 16). This was not a natural
ability, nor was the woman using methods of fraud or "cold reading,"
because when Paul cast out the spirit, she lost her powers and the
ability to make money for her owners (v. 19). If the woman had been
drawing upon a natural talent or using a swindle technique, she should
still have been able to earn money by deception, as previously. In
any case, this was not a power the Lord wanted in her life, and
through the authority of Jesus Christ it was cast out.
CHANNELING IN MAJOR RELIGIONS
For centuries, among monotheistic cultures spirit communication
was usually limited to spirits of divine origin (God, Jesus, one of
the angels, etc.). Muhammad claimed multiple encounters with the
angel Gabriel, whose messages are preserved in the Qur'an. In the
Middle Ages, Roman Catholic mystics were permitted visions and
appearances of Jesus or the Virgin Mary.
Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), the brilliant metallurgist,
inventor and scientist of the eighteenth century, abandoned his career
for spiritism. Claiming to be in contact with angels, he wrote
prodigious treatises and commentaries based on these visions and
communications, and founded a major cultic movement influential among
European and American intellectuals. In nineteenth-century America
several cults, such as the Mormons and the Shakers, claimed communion
with angels or spirits of the dead.
Mary Baker Eddy often attempted to distinguish Christian Science
(which she founded) from spiritualism. Yet she herself acted as a
trance channeler briefly before "discovering" Christian Science
(1866). In "The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of
Christian Science", Georgine Milmine describes the experiences of Mary
Baker Patterson (who later became Mrs. Eddy). Mary Baker Patterson
channeled the spirit of her dead brother Albert in 1864 (or claimed
to, anyway). Milmine's book reproduces a photograph of automatic
writing, purportedly from Albert, in Mary's hand.  Two years
later, in the company of other spiritualists, Mrs. Patterson [Eddy]
acted as a trance medium, this time claiming to channel only the
spirits of the Apostles and of Jesus Christ. 
The channeling floodgates opened in this country in the mid-
nineteenth century with the advent of spiritualism, the attempt to
communicate with spirits of the dead. Historians almost universally
trace the origin of the spiritualist movement to 1848 in Hydesville,
New York, with the Fox sisters, Margaret and Kate.
Margaret was 14 and Kate was 11 when they first heard the sounds
of knocking, furniture being moved, and other sounds in various rooms
of their home, in late 1847.  At these times, their beds would
vibrate and shake without any reason. The children were terrified and
Mrs. Fox's hair turned white through this ordeal. 
On the night of March 31, 1848, 12-year-old Kate challenged these
unseen powers to repeat the snaps of her fingers, which they did.
Each number of snaps would be followed by the same number of raps, and
thus the girls began to communicate with the spirits. News spread
rapidly, and the family home was visited by interested writers and
curiosity seekers. The sisters began to hold seances, communicating
with the spirits by means of a simple code. In mid-April, Kate's
parents sent her away to live with her older sister Leah in Rochester,
N.Y., hoping to quell the disruption it had caused the family. (The
spirits were usually more active in Kate's presence.) The rappings
immediately spread to Leah's house, and Leah also became a believer.
The first message the Fox sisters received was this:
"Dear friends, you must proclaim these truths to the world. This
is the dawning of a new era, and you must not try to conceal it any
longer. When you do your duty, God will protect you and good spirits
will watch over you." 
Fascination with spiritualism spread like wildfire, and within 30
years there were tens of thousands of spiritualists in the U.S.,
England, and across Europe, and national organizations were formed.
In 1855 the first national spiritualist newspaper was issued in
England; in 1866 a national conference was held in Rhode Island, where
resolutions were passed that citizens should abandon all Christian
ordinances and worship and close down all Sunday schools. In 1870,
Sir William Crookes, famed British scientist who invented the Crookes
tube (forerunner of the modern picture tube), called on the nation's
scientists to investigate spiritualism. Seeking to contact his dead
daughter, Crookes was convinced of spiritualism's validity.
Queen Victoria consulted several mediums, hoping to speak with
her late husband Prince Albert, who died in 1861. Seances were held
at the White House under Lincoln's presidency. British prime minister
William E. Gladstone, Canadian prime minister MacKenzie King, and Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) were all converts to
Famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini tried to prevent
Conan Doyle from being duped by crank mediums, but Doyle remained
convinced that the spiritualists had true supernatural powers. He
believed spiritualism was "a new revelation" to mankind.
"Christianity must be modified by this new revelation," Doyle
wrote, referring to spiritualism and psychic phenomena generally.
"One can see no justice in a vicarious sacrifice, nor in the God who
could be placated by such means. Above all, many cannot understand
such expressions as the 'redemption from sin,' 'cleansed by the blood
of the Lamb,' and so forth." 
Houdini's 1924 autobiography, "Houdini: A Magician Among the
Spirits", is a fascinating account of the origins and numerous frauds
connected with nineteenth-century spiritualism. After over thirty
years of research, he wrote, "I have accumulated one of the largest
libraries in the world on psychic phenomena, Spiritualism, magic,
witchcraft, demonology, evil spirits, etc., some of the material going
as far back as 1489, . . . but nothing I ever read concerning the so-
called Spiritualistic phenomena has impressed me as being genuine."
It was not Houdini, however, who struck the greatest blow against
spiritualism. A shattering revelation had come a generation earlier,
from Margaret and Kate Fox themselves.
Forty years after the Fox sisters told the world of the spirit
rappings, both confessed they were frauds. On October 21, 1888, 54-
year-old Margaret Fox gave a public confession at the New York Academy
of Music, before an audience of over two thousand people. Standing in
her stocking feet on a small pine table on the stage, she produced
loud, distinct raps which could be heard throughout the building. Her
sister likewise gave consent. That same year, she told a crowd, "I am
here tonight, as one of the founders of Spiritualism, to denounce it
as absolute falsehood . . . the most wicked blasphemy the world has
ever known." 
One year later, they changed their minds, and both recanted their
previous confessions! They claimed the spirit manifestations had
always been genuine, and they had never tricked anyone with false
knocks or raps, retracting all they had said in 1888. The Fox sisters
had become alcoholics in the 1860s, and fellow spiritualists claimed
their confessions had been bought off. The last years of their lives
were spent in drunkenness, and their public speech now contained
little more than profanity. Both died as alcoholics, Kate in 1892 and
Margaret in 1893, both cursing God as they died. 
CHANNELING IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Spiritualism by no means disappeared with the death of the Fox
sisters. In fact, it diversified into spiritualist sects which could
be rationalistic (strongly anti-Christian), average (mildly anti-
Christian), and strongly religious, complete with sacraments and
baptism. The spiritualist movement also provided the impetus for the
study of psychic research and parapsychology.
The early quarter of the twentieth century witnessed the epiphany
of a few shining stars in the astral firmament. Two of these were
channeled books, the other was the so-called "sleeping prophet," Edgar
Cayce was raised in rural Kentucky. His parents were
Campbellites. He claimed to see "little people" as a child. The
turning point in his life occurred in 1901, at the age of 24. Cayce
had been suffering from a chronic case of laryngitis and voice loss
after contracting a cold a year earlier. In desperation, he turned to
a hypnotist, Al Layne. After Cayce had entered a deep trance, Layne
asked him to diagnose the cause of his hoarseness.
"Immediately the fateful words came forth: 'Yes, we can see the
body.' The voice diagnosed the problem as insufficient circulation.
Layne gave a suggestion that the body cure itself. Cayce's neck grew
pink, then bright red. Twenty minutes later, it became normal again.
Layne told Cayce to wake up, and when he did, his voice had returned."
 So goes the story in the Cayce biographies.
Cayce's life was changed permanently. News of this story spread,
and Cayce's neighbors asked him to diagnose their diseases for them.
Cayce learned how to put himself in a trance state fairly quickly, and
after he appeared to fall asleep, the voice would take over and
prescribe various unorthodox cures which always seemed to work.
Eventually, the questioners began to ask him about spiritual matters,
and from then on Cayce channeled metaphysical "truths," promoting
reincarnation, monism, astrology, gnosticism, Atlantis, mediumship,
etc. Cayce's followers were devoted to these "readings," and over
14,000 trance sessions have been transcribed, cataloged, and indexed
since his death. This material forms a vast body of occult reference
material which has been used for decades.
Equally potent has been "The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the
Christ", published in 1907, channeled through Levi Dowling, who was
purportedly empowered to read the "Akashic Records" (a scribal form of
the Universal Mind, containing all the history of the universe).
Levi's "Aquarian Gospel" has provided a mythical history of the life
of Christ picked up by many cults and New Age devotees. It describes
a reincarnated Jesus, who attained Christ consciousness after visiting
Egypt, Greece, and India, during the so-called "silent years" before
his public ministry in Palestine. 
For a book supposedly transcribed from the Akashic records, "The
Aquarian Gospel" is riddled with error, beginning from its first
verse. It says "Herod Antipas was ruler of Jerusalem" when Jesus was
born. That should have been Herod the Great, not Herod Antipas. It
has Jesus visiting Lahore in Pakistan (31.1); Lahore didn't
historically exist until 600 years later. It shows Jesus visiting
magicians in Persepolis (39.1); Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander
the Great in 330 B.C. and was never rebuilt. Nonetheless, this book
has been adopted by many unwitting readers as "proof" of a secret
occult past for Jesus Christ.
"The Urantia Book" was also obtained through trance channeling.
Its unknown author served as a medium for dozens of extraterrestrial
intelligences, beginning in the early 1900s. ("Urantia" is the name
these space beings give to the planet earth.) Ironically, it was a
Seventh-day Adventist minister and physician, who had spent over a
decade debunking and refuting spiritualism, who was ultimately
responsible for the publication of the Urantia papers. Dr. William
Sadler finally found a channeler he couldn't expose as a fraud, whose
entities were utterly inexplicable.
Beginning in 1923, Dr. Sadler invited a group of friends,
informally known as The Forum, to examine and question these
intelligences, which were rapidly becoming more numerous. The
channeler began producing automatic writing in response to their
questions, and eleven years later these papers were completed. The
entities asked Dr. Sadler, by now a true believer, that the work be
published, though it wasn't until 1955 that the 2100-page volume made
it into print.  The "Urantia Book" has influenced thousands of
people, and is fully consistent with New Age ideology.
THE ADVENT OF MODERN CHANNELING
It would be hard to say just where "modern" channeling practices
should be dated from, but I'm inclined to point to the Seth material,
channeled through the late Jane Roberts (died 1984). Jane, a
housewife and would-be writer, first encountered "Seth" through a
spontaneous experience in September 1963. Jane said "a fantastic
avalanche of radical, new ideas burst into my head with tremendous
force," not unlike an LSD trip. 
Jane transmitted this material for over twenty years and, like
most channeled writing, it is amazingly consistent with New Age
philosophy (reality is a construct of our minds, etc.). Jane Roberts
was the first contemporary channeler to gain widespread acceptance in
the 1970s, and since then the volume of channelers and channeled
writings has fallen on our society like a deluge.
How does channeling fit in the larger picture? We interviewed
Joel Bjorling, author of a forthcoming bibliography on channeling.
Since he's up to his eyeballs in studying channeled writings, we asked
him how contemporary channeling differs from its nineteenth-century
predecessor. He pointed out that in terms of content (i.e., what is
taught), both have the same philosophy and share a common root. The
outward phenomenon is also similar -- in both cases, a disembodied
entity speaks through the channeler, usually in a trance state.
One difference this author has observed is that the spiritualist
movement focused on seances (dim lights, formal invocations, etc.) and
supernatural manifestations -- table lifting, "direct voice"
phenomena, ectoplasm, materialized writing or faces, etc. By
contrast, today's channelers do everything under bright lights,
usually on stage, and the only visible event is when an alien
personality takes them over. The channelers usually don't exhibit the
powers or physical phenomena, such as levitation, that were present in
spiritualism. (This may be due to the development of infrared
photography, but that's another matter.)
The basic themes have also differed. In spiritualism, the
emphasis was on "proof of survival" after death, and the public
largely sought reassurance that their deceased loved ones were happy
in the Great Beyond. In modern channeling, the focus is on "higher
intelligences" who have come to teach us Truth, showing us how to
alter reality and achieve self-fulfillment.
Modern channeling centers around certain themes: (1) we are all
God(s), (2) there is no death, (3) reality is a product of the mind,
(4) prosperity is our right and "we can have it all," and (5) we must
preserve the earth from nuclear or ecological catastrophe. This last
point is especially prevalent among UFO contactees, who communicate
telepathically with various "space brothers" (their term). The UFOs
generally warn that continued testing of nuclear weapons will disturb
the earth's rotation or cause some kind of interplanetary disaster.
The space brothers are also concerned about environmental pollution on
our own planet.
Despite the differences between the two movements, both
spiritualists and channelers are agreed that the traditional Christian
concept of God is false. Consider the following statement:
"Agreement [among channelers] can be said to exist on one point
only, namely, that the historic Christian doctrine respecting the
nature and character of the Deity is an imposition, the fabric of an
artificial scholastic philosophy, and contradicted by sound reason as
well as by the unanimous testimony of the spirit world. It is
certainly a remarkable fact that on this point the higher
intelligences are strangely unanimous and emphatic in their
statements, and all spiritualists are agreed." 
Though this observation seems strikingly contemporary, it was
actually written over 80 years ago, in an analysis of the spiritualist
movement. We believe the parallels are too close to be coincidental.
Is all channeling Satanic? In the direct sense, no. Many
channelers are not communicating with any spirit, but are simply
hucksters who have "learned the rap" and are capitalizing on the
current fascination with discarnate intelligences. J.Z. Knight may be
one such person -- former followers testify to having seen her
practice Ramtha's mannerisms, speech patterns, and accent.
Personally, I have adopted Occam's Razor when dealing with most
supernatural claims. Named after William of Occam, this principle of
logic states that when several explanations or solutions to a problem
are possible, the simplest is to be preferred to the more complex. As
he phrased it, "Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity."
William was undoubtedly using "entities" as a synonym for
explanations, but in this context I find the phraseology
Some channelers may not be intentional fakers, but self-deceived
instead. I have known individuals who couldn't tell the difference
between their own wayward thoughts and the voice of God. Stream-of-
consciousness musings and personal urges have been mistaken by some
for divine revelation. Self-deception of this sort can range all the
way to outright mental illness.
I also don't discount the possibility that some trance channeling
may arise from a one's own unconscious self-will. For instance, a
voice which claims to be Sushi from Napaj, a deity of great power and
pomp, may simply spring from the inner fantasies of the unregenerate
mind. Those who believe in man's depravity should consider that man's
own evil heart may well be the source of the channelers' vulgar
Yet we cannot deny the reality of the spiritual realm. Both
Scripture and experience show that certain phenomena can only be
accounted for by demonic spirits. History records intrusions of the
demonic throughout all times and cultures, and we have no less an
authority than the Lord Jesus Christ himself who testifies to the
reality of this fact -- and to his own power to save men from the
powers of darkness.
In the preceding discussion, though Satan need not be the
immediate source of a channeled message, he may be the remote cause
behind it. Jesus called Satan "a liar and the father of it" (John
8:44) and Satan's parentage to occult sin is sure even though it may
not be immediate. On one level, whether channeling is "real" or
"faked" is immaterial; the person who seeks after "mediums and
spiritists to prostitute himself by following them" will be alienated
from the presence of God and subject to judgment (Lev. 20:6).
A man may forfeit his soul for counterfeit money just as surely
as for "real" money. But the effect of each loss will be the same,
regardless of the currency used. And in like manner, ultimately it's
not the medium of exchange which matters but the consequences of the
1. Katharine Lowry, "Channelers," OMNI, Oct. 1987, p. 50.
2. Jon Klimo, CHANNELING: INVESTIGATIONS ON RECEIVING INFORMATION
FROM PARANORMAL SOURCES (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1987),
3. Martin Gardner, THE NEW AGE: NOTES OF A FRINGE WATCHER (Buffalo:
Prometheus Books, 1988), p. 195.
4. Brooks Alexander, "Theology from the Twilight Zone," CHRISTIANITY
TODAY, Sept. 18, 1987, p. 22.
5. John Ankerberg and John Weldon, THE FACTS ON SPIRIT GUIDES
(Eugene, Ore: Harvest House Publishers, 1988), p. 16.
6. The Hebrew word here translated "mediums" (NASV) or "them that
have familiar spirits" (KJV) is the Hebrew word <'obh>. It appears 16
times in the OT and was used to indicate both spirits and spirit
7. Georgine Milmine, THE LIFE OF MARY BAKER G. EDDY AND THE HISTORY
OF CHRISTIAN SCIENCE (1909: rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
1971), pp. 64-68.
8. Milmine, pp. 111, 115-116.
9. The exact year the raps began is dispute (1846-48); 1847 seems
most accepted and the birthdates of the sisters is not certain.
10. This account of spiritualism has been taken from several reliable
sources and reference books. The reference to Mrs. Fox's hair turning
white comes from Raphael Gasson, THE CHALLENGING COUNTERFEIT
(Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1966), p. 47.
11. Gasson, p. 48; also cited in Klimo, p. 98; and in Nandor Fordor,
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PSYCHIC SCIENCE, London, 1934, ad loc.
12. Arthur Conan Doyle, THE NEW REVELATION (London: Hodder and
Stoughton, 1918), pp. 70, 71.
13. Harry Houdini, HOUDINI: A MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS (1924: rpt.
New York, Arno Press, 1972), p. xix.
14. Gasson, p. 48.
15. Gasson, p. 49.
16. Gary North, UNHOLY SPIRITS: OCCULTISM AND NEW AGE HUMANISM (Fort
Worth: Dominion Press, 1986), p. 198.
17. See Per Beskow, STRANGE TALES ABOUT JESUS (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1985), for good summaries of this "gospel" and other pseudo-
18. Steve Cannon, "Evaluating the Urantia Book," PFO NEWSLETTER
(quarterly newsletter of Personal Freedom Outreach, St. Louis, Mo.),
vol. 7 (Oct.-Dec. 1987): pp. 4-6.
19. cited by Klimo, p. 30.
20. J. Godfrey Raupert, MODERN SPIRITISM (London: Sands & Co., 1904),
(Used by permission of the author)
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