Psychic Mysteries of Canada

A.R.G. Owen



Bibliographical References to Chapters
Index 239


What have auras to do with psychical research? Well, it is very difficult to be sure, but it does seem that a significant proportion of the people who see auras do, from time to time, have psychic experiences. Similarly, many psychic people claim to see auras. How they see auras is a mystery. James Wilkie, the celebrated Canadian psychic, tells me that he sees the aura as a very narrow band pulsating with color. The color varies with the person. Douglas Johnson, the renowned English psychic, sees larger auras but not in color. Clearly, their experiences are quite different. They were both kind enough to let me test their color vision. Oddly enough, though neither psychic is color-blind in the ordinary sense, they both have a minor anomaly of color vision which, incidentally, I have too, though I see only rim auras.


Psychic abilities seem to be distributed very fairly among the nations of the world. Poltergeist outbreaks seem to take much the same form whether they manifest in Poona, Peking, Paris, or Pretoria. Similarly, each country has its psychic sensitives-Uri Geller in Israel, Croiset in Holland, Douglas Johnson in England. Canada too has great psychics like James Wilkie and very interesting people like Jan Merta. But to concentrate on the star performers would be to overlook the fact that psychic experiences befall a great many ordinary Canadians found in every walk of life. In 1961, in preparation for a series of radio programs, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation advertised in newspapers for people who had had psychic experiences. They hoped for at least a dozen replies but received almost two thousand. Sidney Katz, then associate editor of Maclean's magazine, wrote (1961) that he was impressed by the intelligence and objectivity of so many of the respondents. They included businessmen, engineers, accountants, writers, actors, artists, and housewives. Some were university graduates or actively engaged in academic work. A high proportion of them seemed to be down-to-earth people free from crankiness or any unhealthy interest in the bizarre.

The more striking accounts were narrated in a series of CBC radio broadcasts but an interesting selection was published by Sidney Katz in Maclean's. This included several telepathic communications of the kind we mentioned in an earlier chapter, but also many precognitions and some interesting examples of possible clairvoyance. In one of these latter cases the chief designer of a construction company woke up in the middle of the night with a strong presentiment that a strut was missing from a particular section of a highway overpass that was under construction. He found no error in the blueprints. The next day he was assured by the engineer on the site that there had been no omission. But, still very concerned, he went straight to the section that had been indicated in his premonition and found that the strut was indeed missing. The designer had had other experiences of this kind which he felt amounted almost to possession of a sixth sense. Possibly this particular experience was merely coincidence and his concern merely the reflection of great conscientiousness. However, if it was ESP, then it may well have been pure clairvoyance or direct knowledge of the defect in the structure. But, as in many other instances of presumptive clairvoyance, it is almost impossible to prove that it must have been clairvoyance and not telepathy. One can argue that one of the site engineers or foremen, though not consciously aware of the omission, had noted it unconsciously and was being subliminally "nagged at" by the knowledge; the designer could have picked this up by a form of telepathy, because just as telepathic messages can be unconsciously received, so, it would seem, they can be subconsciously transmitted.

Katz's selection of precognitions was a very interesting one. Most of them, as he remarks, were presentiments of disasters or unpleasant experiences but they came to the percipients in different ways. Also, the time interval between the premonition and the event showed a remarkable degree of variation. For example, a man in British Columbia left a plane for Vancouver, which he had boarded at Kemano, because he was suddenly overwhelmed by a strong conviction that it would crash. En route it flew into the side of Mount Benson. Here the event followed the premonition by at most an hour or two. But in the case of Mrs. Andress of Brockville, Ontario, the time interval or latency was three days. On 7 July 1959 she dreamed that her son was lying trapped in a wrecked car by an uncompleted stretch of the MacDonald-Cartier Freeway near the Thousand Islands Bridge. The accident actually happened at the precise spot three days later.

A Toronto housewife, Mrs. Forgie, used to have regular premonitions with a similar latency but in connection with a happier kind of subject matter. A few days prior to a horse race she would dream of the winner! Often these horses would have very long odds. Her dreams were, therefore, true precognitions and not rational predictions based on study of the form. A lady at Thornhill, Ontario, had a sudden hunch that her brother in England would soon be dead. It was ten days later that he became the one fatal casualty in a train crash.

In the case of a woman living near Halifax her premonition preceded the event by several months. Sitting at home with her husband one day, she experienced a sudden dizziness followed by a kind of waking dream. In the dream it seemed she was sitting in a fast train with her husband. He silently left the coach. She followed him through the train until he entered the luggage car, slamming and locking the door behind him. In the dream she banged desperately on the door shouting, "Let me in!" At that stage she awoke in her own living room, where she found herself beating the walls with her fists. The same dream was repeated twice; but when a few months later her husband suddenly died, it had faded from her memory. She took her husband's body on a long train journey back to his hometown for burial. En route, feeling a sudden urge to look at his coffin, she left her coach and went to the luggage car. The door was locked, and overcome with emotion, she found herself pounding on the door with her fists crying, "Let me in!" just as in her waking dream.This form of precognition, in which the percipient, as it were, lives through a future experience in advance, is a fairly common one.

A Hungarian widow living in Montreal told the CBC how she had had a dream symbolizing her son's death eight years before the tragedy occurred. When the child was three she dreamed of a priest standing beside a coffin. In the dream she knew it was her son at age eleven. In 1945 when Soviet troops advanced into Hungary \ 162 PSYCHIC MYSTERIES she left her suburban house and took refuge in Budapest. Every night for two weeks she had the same dream repeated-she and her son were at home-suddenly the boy ran out into the garden (which in the dream she saw through a kind of haze) and lay down in a wading pool and died. Thinking the area was not under bombardment, in spite of the dream, they returned home one day to collect some of their possessions. A shell exploded in the garden and the boy's clothes were ignited by a splinter. He rushed out through the smoke and fumes, flung himself into the pool, and died. (Incidentally, it seems that this premonition would not have come true had the mother taken it as a warning and avoided going home.)

A woman in Vancouver, now a novelist and broadcaster, when living in England and only fifteen years old had a dream in which she found herself being held down in a bed of a hospital, which she felt was not in England, while she struggled to regain her sanity. She also awoke with a strong feeling that she would not survive her thirty-fifth year. She told the CBC that the dream was repeated at intervals, strengthening her foreboding of dying in a foreign hospital. The presentiment was so strong that she broke off several engagements to marry as she felt that she had no future. Though she came to Vancouver to do radio work she refused several good offers of posts in New York, feeling that the United States might be the foreign country of her dream. However, she eventually took a job in New York, which she held for five years. But, she developed a brain tumor and from March to June of her thirty-fifth year she was in a New York hospital fighting for both life and sanity. Fortunately she survived and has had no premonitions since.

Not all precognitions are concerned with disasters. One Toronto woman we know does often have genuine precognitions of deaths and illnesses of relatives and friends, and very upsetting it is. However, sometimes she has trivial precognitions about matters of no importance. Thus in 1967, whenever she reminded herself that she ought to get her car license, the number 100 came into her mind. When she finally lined up at the office to get the license, she checked to see what the number was likely to be. If received in order it would have been 487 083. In the event, the typewriter jammed and she got 487 100.

Often a precognition correctly reflects aspects of what will happen but the percipient receives no clue as to how it will come about. Carol Zmenak, wife of a Grimsby chiropractor, often has psychic impressions that come true. One night in 1970 she told her husband that if he went out somebody would be killed. She had had impressions of being awakened by a telephone call from the police and of a body without legs. Her husband went to a committee meeting in Toronto and before leaving spoke of this to two witnesses. On the way home all the electrical circuits in his car suddenly failed. Though a large truck was hard on his tail, he managed to park the car on the roadside near the Stoney Creek traffic circle and set out on foot for the nearest telephone. A police car stopped and when he learned what had happened the officer gave him a lift. They had hardly started when a car stopped on the other side of the road (Highway 8) and a man got out to ask the way. After receiving directions he started across the road toward his own car but was recalled by the police officer, who spoke with him again. The man set off across the road once more and walked in front of an oncoming car. He was killed instantly. Both of his legs were broken; his body was crumpled up so that only the torso was visible. Since the chiropractor had to stay as a witness, it was the police who telephoned his wife. Thus both parts of the premonition came true (Zmenak, 1972).

In the episode just described Mrs. Zmenak associated her presentiment with her husband's proposed journey to Toronto. This was correct, so that the time lag between prediction and realization was only a few hours. It is more usual, however, for the percipient to have no clue as to when the event foretold will actually take place. It may be days, months, or years later. This is equally true of highly endowed psychics. For example, on 13 September 1962, James Wilkie made a very striking prediction while making a recorded interview for Tempo Toronto, a nightly radio show. Present in the CKEY Studio were Norm Perry, Michael Hunt, Brad Crandall, and Allen Spraggett. Wilkie said that total war was nearer than at any time since 1945. There would be a crisis centered on Havana. Disaster would be averted but only after a build-up of United States forces in Florida for an invasion of Cuba (Spraggett, 1967).

At that time no member of the public knew of the Russian missiles in Cuba, though it may be that the suspicions of the United States authorities had already been aroused. The missile bases were, of course, known to some Russians and Cubans, so that Jim Wilkie's prediction might possibly not have been a true precognition but have arisen from telepathy. However, what he had to say did refer to what was then the future and not to what was then the present. When the interviewers asked Wilkie when the crisis would occur, he said it was difficult to be precise, but he hazarded that it would occur in the first week of the "Christly month" (presumably December). The crisis was in fact more imminent: it flared up in October. However, Wilkie's guess was less in error than those made by many psychics in estimating the date of events they had foretold even though they may have accurately foreseen them in detail.

Some psychic people are able to recognize when a hunch is the "real" thing, i.e. a psychic impression and not a random thought, though usually they are unable to explain exactly what the difference is-it just "feels" different. Sometimes a hunch demands to be acted upon and if it is ignored the percipient will be punished by feelings of anxiety or even physical discomfort. For example, the woman mentioned above in connection with the 100 premonition suffers a severe headache if certain of her hunches are not immediately followed up.

However, sometimes a psychic impression cannot be acted upon, even when the percipient is convinced that it contains genuine information. This occurs when the meaning of the images which the percipient sees in a dream or in his mind's eye is obscure. For example, an Ontario high school teacher had a dream which he felt to be precognitive. In the event it was shown to refer to an accident happening to someone else and which was totally unforeseeable Psychic Canadians 165 at the time. Among the images seen in the dream were two blue squares which the percipient could not interpret. However, on the basis of past experience he believed that the squares would, together with the rest of the dream, become meaningful. This in fact was so. A few weeks later he was attending a funeral service for victims of the accident. The blue squares of his dream were immediately recognizable: the members of the choir were wearing blue robes and blue "mortarboard" hats. Because psychic impressions can be so obscure, it is never wise to try to deduce logically what they refer to. Douglas Johnson, the English psychic, who visits Canada from time to time, says that he has to exercise great restraint not to attempt logically to deduce what an impression is really about, for the interpretation is all too likely to be mistaken.

Some people get psychic impressions but cannot reliably distinguish them from their other random thoughts or dreams. Consequently, they cannot be sure if their premonitions are genuinely prophetic or not. This makes it especially difficult for them to act on the basis of their hunches or presentiments. For instance, should they issue warnings of catastrophes? No one wishes to look a fool or be regarded as slightly mad. We run a Premonitions Bureau in Toronto. If you have a presentiment you are invited to send it to Box 427, Station F, Toronto. Public events are easier to evaluate than private ones and our correspondents tend to predict these rather than happenings in their own lives. Confidentiality is maintained and nothing concerning the person or his or her premonition is published without written permission. We are sometimes asked whether we would warn a person of a danger which had been psychically foretold. Our answer is that the person who has the premonition must do this himself if he has sufficient conviction in the truth of his prediction. This is not to say that if we had several detailed predictions of the same thing from different sources we would not act, but so far this has not happened.

It is sometimes very difficult for a person to decide whether to give a warning or not. One man we know had had some experiences which turned out to be true predictions and others which were not.

Last year he had an impression that a woman at his place of work was going to be killed in a street accident nearby, and in the lunch hour. He did not know her very well. After some thought we decided on a compromise solution. He would visit her office on some routine pretext and in casual conversation complain of the prevalence of street accidents and stress that it behooved everyone to be very careful, especially in that district. A few days later the woman was struck by a vehicle in the neighborhood during the lunch hour. Happily the premonition was not quite exact; she was injured but not killed. Precognition is rarely one hundred percent accurate.

If one deals much with psychic people one is always at risk of having predictions made about oneself. If possible, I always refuse them on the simple principle that if one is professionally concerned one should not allow oneself to get emotionally involved in the question of whether the psychic sensitives one is working with are right or wrong. This is not to say that I would ignore a very specific warning given me with great conviction by a psychic of high caliber like Douglas Johnson or Jim Wilkie. If told, for example, to avoid a certain plane flight on a specified day, I would probably do so. But vague warnings from lesser psychics are, I have found, not sufficiently reliable to burden one's mind with. Incidentally, we did once accept a prediction but this was from no less a person than Douglas Johnson. We were setting off to address a group at Port Credit on the subject of "Prophecy." Douglas said we would win a prize in a raffle and we did! We have won nothing else before or since.

Many people nowadays, especially in the big Canadian cities, have "psychic readings" from psychic sensitives. They often go to the reading with only the faintest idea of what to expect. At the worst, with the lowest class of professional psychic they will be shrewdly looked over. This psychic will make intelligent guesses as to their profession and character and will fish for information. The client's responses will often give away a great deal of knowledge about him without his realizing it. The better type of psychic will genuinely get a great deal of information about the client via telepathy or clairvoyance and will be able to discuss his particular Psychic Canadians 167 problems, and if the psychic is a responsible kind of person (as the better ones usually are) he will get quite good advice. Indeed, some of the top psychics, in my opinion, successfully perform a role akin to that of the psychiatrist or social worker.

What people do not always realize is that most psychics, though they may be telepathic and even clairvoyant in some degree, are not necessarily precognitive. It is extremely unwise to regard the psychic as an inspired prophet, whose statements about the future are to be taken as gospel. Of course the best psychics do have flashes of genuine precognition and sometimes make remarkably detailed predictions which come true. But unless the client has had similar predictions previously from that particular psychic how can he put reliance on what is told him? The statements of some self-claimed psychics are indeed worthless and on a par with the "fortunes" vended by automatic machines at fun palaces. However, the better psychics will often give excellent advice. Sometimes this is just good advice, such as one might get from any experienced and wise person. At other times it may probe fairly deep. A psychic may say something like this: "If you overcome your tendency to indolence, stop quarreling with your boss, and cease resenting your wife's abilities, you will get a promotion and have a happier family life." When this is not based on what the client has inadvertently told the psychic, it may yet be true because it follows from a knowledge of the client's circumstances and character which the psychic has acquired by ESP.

Even with a great psychic it is not always easy to decide whether he had a genuine precognition or is making a projection into the future of present tendencies that he perceives by ESP. Thus a few years ago when Jim Wilkie was lecturing in Toronto he gave lightning readings on individuals in the audience. To one person he said, among other things, "I see you standing before a committee. Don't say too much. They will have all they need on paper. Just give token answers to their questions." Not long after, this person was interviewed for the post of school principal. His qualifications were excellent but he did not get the job because he did say too much-he put forward various educational ideas which were too innovative for the board at that time. Whether this was a precognition on Wilkie's part or a lightning summation of knowledge he had received by ESP is not really decidable.

The majority of psychics are less penetrating than Wilkie. However, those of good reputation will usually give advice which, if not especially pertinent, will be harmless and may be good. But, like all good advice one receives, it should be treated as merely one item among the many counsels and pieces of information one would normally draw upon when making a decision. On no account should one uncritically follow the advice of fortune-tellers whether they use playing cards, Tarot cards, palm reading, or scrying in a crystal ball. What they say is best totally ignored unless it is advice of the most platitudinous kind. This is not to say that some of the practitioners of the fortune-telling art do not have psychic ability. They may, on occasion, employ this talent to say something true and penetrating; but unless the client has already proved this as the result of much experience with this particular soothsayer he will not be in a position to assess the reliability of what is said.

A surprising number of people play (either singly or in groups) with the ouija board; and a surprisingly high proportion tend to take literally the messages or commands which are spelled out. Usually there is little justification for this, and both spiritualists and psychic research workers issue warnings against developing an obsessive interest in the board's pronouncements. Dr. Albert Durrant Watson, who was president of a now defunct organization-the Society for Psychic Research, Canada-wrote to this effect in the early 1920s. "Howsoever we may waver in our theories of the source of matter communicated through ouijary [i.e. via a ouija board] we can be certain of the fact that continual use of the board is prejudicial to that end towards which all education should bend-careful and vigorous thinking" (Watson and Lawrence, 1923).

It is possible that sometimes there is an ESP element in the "messages" spelled out on the ouija board, but usually they merely reflect the fantasies or wishful thinking of the operators.

The most experienced and gifted psychics have to guard against not fantasy but logic. If a psychic impression is received it may well be an isolated scrap of information and the meaning totally obscure. For example, I recall a woman of considerable psychic talent giving an experimental reading on another woman, who was completely unknown to her. At one stage the psychic lady said with some irritation, "I get 'Aggie,' and I get 'bandit.' What's bandit got to do with it?" Actually, Aggie is the second lady's mother, and Bandit is the name of Aggie's cat! One can easily imagine a puzzled psychic trying to reason out the meaning of "bandit"-was Aggie about to be captured by bandits, etc., etc? Douglas Johnson says that he has to take care not to try to deduce logically what some of his psychic impressions mean. They are best reported in their raw form without attempting interpretation.

This may be one reason why some psychics like Jim Wilkie deliver their impressions at a very fast rate-a precaution against their being adulterated by conscious reflection. Wilkie has several modes of acquiring knowledge by ESP. Since the age of twelve he has been able to go into the trance state. Allen Spraggett (1967) has described how Jim goes voluntarily into a trance state by relaxing in an armchair, closing his eyes, and breathing steadily. After a while he slumps in a limp condition. After a further interval his muscles tauten and he sits up again in a dignified posture. Though his eyes remain closed his face takes on a somewhat imperious and authoritative expression with a somewhat Oriental look. He then speaks with a voice differing considerably from the one he talks with in his normal waking state. It is as if the mind of a totally different person occupies Wilkie's body. This person calls himself Rama and describes himself as an ancient Egyptian who lived by the Upper Nile about 2000 B.C. When he awakens from the trance Jim Wilkie has no recollection of what Rama has said. This is usual with trance mediums, as they are called. Douglas Johnson has a trance personality, Chiang, who describes himself as a Chinese of the medieval period. Like Wilkie with Rama, Johnson is unaware of what Chiang says during the trances.

What is rather unusual among trance mediums is for them to be able to communicate with their "guides" (as personalities like Chiang or Rama are called) when they are in the normal waking state. But Wilkie says that while in his normal conscious state if he wants to know something he asks Rama and "Rama tells me." Whether Rama is a spirit or a construction of Wilkie's mind is extremely hard to decide. However, Wilkie says that he does acquire a lot of information by ordinary ESP without the intermediacy of Rama. His ESP feats include hunches and sudden psychic impressions such as he described in his own book (Wilkie, 1971) and traveling clairvoyance, as well as extremely insightful readings given on sitters in his presence. Like Johnson and other distinguished psychics, he is also adept at the strange art of psychometry, which we mentioned in an earlier chapter.

Jim Wilkie also has a method of working which does not seem to be psychometry but resembles psychometry to the extent that it exploits a kind of link or "ESP channel" by which information flows into his mind. He can get a very good impression of a person's character and circumstances from a quick glance at a sample of that person's handwriting, even though he is quite ignorant of handwriting analysis and makes no attempt to analyze the handwriting word by word or letter by letter. My wife and I did an experiment in which I showed Jim nine anonymous handwriting samples. Each specimen was a copy of the same text, which had been adopted on the advice of a qualified handwriting expert. The reading on each sample was dictated to me at great speed. Jim looked at the specimens very casually and briefly and I could not feel that he was actively analyzing the handwritings.

Jim had never met any of the people concerned; they were totally unknown to him. His readings were put away for a year and a half. I then gave them in random order to my wife-the only other person who knew all nine people-together with their names on separate cards in a different random order. Jim's descriptions were so good that my wife had no difficulty in matching them unequivocally to the names. On looking at the descriptions in detail we found also that Jim had correctly given the marital status of each of them and the sex of five of them, and picked out the only one of the nine who was born in the United States and not in the British Commonwealth. Statistically the results were so good as to leave no doubt that ESP had been at work and ESP of a high order (Owen and Owen, 1973). Of course the experiment had a flaw as Jim could have received the information from my mind by ESP. However, I respect his own opinion when he says that handwriting is a form of "link" to the person concerned which he finds particularly felicitous for establishing rapport, and my experiment certainly did nothing to contradict his belief. I may also have been wrong in thinking that he did not in some intuitive way analyze the handwriting, but the speed of his readings seemed much too fast for this to be a realistic possibility.

There are striking similarities and equally striking differences among the phenomena of leading psychic sensitives. Thus Douglas Johnson, like Jim Wilkie, while in his teens surprised his family by going into trance. Both have trance personalities or spirit guides (according to how one cares to look at it). However, Jim Wilkie's Rama will do ESP when Jim is in a trance, but Douglas Johnson's Chiang confines himself to moral teaching and answering questions about life after death and other philosophical topics. Both are capable, as we have found, of extremely high scores in readings on people directly or via psychometric objects. Each has, on occasion, scored one hundred percent in the sense that no statement made in the experiment is incorrect. Both have a minor anomaly of color vision, yet both see auras: Jim sees them narrow and in color, and Douglas sees them large but colorless! Turning from eminent psychics to the average run of humanity, it would appear that the majority of us go through life without any striking psychic experience. This does not mean necessarily that we have no psychic talent. Many of us are "good guessers." This may result merely from natural shrewdness; on the other hand, many of us may have psychic ability in a muted or unobtrusive form. No one knows just how many psychic impressions are received unconsciously. Information obtained in this way, without our being consciously aware of it, could affect our judgments and course of action. What is called intuition may of course consist chiefly of subtle, rapid, and unconscious reasoning, but it may also involve some ESP. If, as I have often done, one addresses clubs or other groups on the subject of psychical research one will inevitably find that if there are thirty or more people present, then at least one of them will talk of some psychic experience he or she has had. It may be telepathy from a friend, a vision of a crisis apparition, a precognition, or involvement in a poltergeist outbreak. Therefore, at least three percent of Canadians must be expected to have had some "flashes" of ESP during their lives.

In between the rather small group of the very powerful psychics and the people who are psychic once in a lifetime come those who have repeated psychic experiences but irregularly and unpredictably. These may be telepathy, clairvoyance, or precognitions of the kinds we are already familiar with. Or they may be of a highly individual kind. Thus one Torontonian occasionally when he is reading a newspaper instead of seeing the actual page in front of him will briefly see what will be printed there in one or two days' time. There is a woman who sometimes sees not an aura but a kind of pall of blackness on a person. Each time that has happened the person has soon after been taken seriously ill or has died. This kind of vision would seem to be a premonition taking a symbolic rather than a literal form. Another woman sees a fleeting, shadowy kind of phantom a few hours before there is a death in her family. Some people do not seem to have psychic experiences as such but possess rather strange and individual talents such as an uncanny facility for finding missing objects or for making their way without the aid of maps or detailed instructions to obscure and totally unfamiliar places.

It may seem strange that nature has allotted psychic ability in such a capricious way. But though ESP is admittedly a strange faculty if we think of it as parallel to any other talent such as musical ability, then we should expect its distribution to be uneven and highly individual. Some can compose music and others conduct; some can sing beautifully, while others caterwaul; some have absolute pitch and others are tone deaf; some are congenitally incapable of reading a bar of music but can "vamp" on a piano, and so on and so on.

Psychic Mysteries of Canada by A.R.G. Owen
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