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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 Dowling's The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (1907) and James Edward Padgett's 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 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 (1929-1984), the channel for the entity "Seth" beginning in 1963. Roberts's 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 named "James."

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. McClure's 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 Earth.

Actress Shirley MacLaine 's 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 "Ramtha's" 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 television audiences.

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 ascension scenarios.

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 (1893-1970) 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 individual's 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 sub-conscious 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 fraud associated with Spiritualism, provides an attractive image for a new generation of spiritual seekers.


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channeling: see quarrying.

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