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channeling

Channeling is a process whereby an individual (the "channeler") claims to have been invaded by a spirit entity which speaks through the channeler. The channeling craze began in earnest in 1972 with the publication of Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts and Robert Butts, her husband. They claim that "Seth," a very wise "unseen entity," communicated his wisdom to Jane, who dictated to Butts while she was in a trance. Though Roberts, a somewhat accomplished poet,  was obviously very literate and widely read in many religious and occult traditions (including Jung), her advocates portray her as communicating ideas beyond her ability. They take this as proof she was inspired. This is true: Roberts and Butts were probably inspired by the depth of human credulity.

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 showed 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 a 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 a god (Gardner, 1987 ).

One of MacLaine's favorite channelers is J.Z. Knight who claims to channel a 35,000 year-old Cromagnon 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 "Carlos" hoax, dianetics, Bridey Murphy, Edgar Cayce, Rama, Ramtha, reincarnation, and the Steve Terbot hoax.


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further reading

Alcock, James E. "Channeling," in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal edited by Gordon Stein (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996), pp.759-766.

Gardner, Martin. "Isness Is Her Business," New York Review of Books, April 9, 1987.

Gardner, Martin. The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988).

Gordon, Henry. Channeling into the New Age - The "Teachings" of Shirley MacLaine and Other Such Gurus (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988).

Schultz, Ted. editor, "Voices from Beyond: The Age-Old Mystery of Channeling," in The Fringes of Reason (New York: Harmony Books, 1989).

news stories

According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 9% of Americans believe in channeling, down from 15% in 2001.
Last updated 15-Jan-2014

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