Channeling: Information from Beyond
James K. Walker
People have long sought answers to spiritual questions outside God's word, the Bible. Historically these attempts at extra-biblical revelation have included new "scriptures" like the Book of Mormon or Bhagavad-gita; new prophets such as Joseph Smith; or through occultic "readings" as in astrology, or palm reading.
Lately there has been a revival of a fourth source of extra-biblical revelation. Similar to old-fashioned seances, this occultic practice involves the alleged contact with spirits of the dead who are temporarily invited inside the body of a practitioner to speak through the vocal cords of the host and give special messages from beyond the grave.
Called Spiritism in the 19th century, today this procedure is named Channelling.
"Seated in front of a hushed audience of 200 in a ballroom of the Red Lion Inn in Seattle, JZ Knight, 40, a lith blonde dressed simply in a white tunic, taps herself on the forehead and chest and closes her eyes. After breathing rhythmically for several minutes, she leans forward with clenched fists. In a guttural voice she announces that she is Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit who once conquered (the mythical city) Atlantis. `You need answers,' she/he rasps. `I am here to answer you'" (People, 26 January 1987, p. 30-31).
Channelling, also known as Trance-channelling, is one of the more bizarre examples of New Age practices that are sweeping the United States and Europe. And it is not just being performed by back-alley palm readers or in gypsy camps.
Available in the New Age sections of bookseller giants like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks is a large selection of books on channelling. These include entire books dictated under the influence of channelled spirits as well as "how to" books teaching readers how to contact their own "spirit guides."
The New Age Yellow Pages lists a number of non-profit organizations and educational institutions that promote channelling and the book, Channelers: A New Age Directory, contains the names and addresses of professional channelers in all fifty states and Canada.
Actual numbers are difficult to obtain. Most channelers operate independently without a central headquarters or official membership. However, the channelling movement is widespread. Two organizations alone, Spiritual Frontiers and Free Soul, boast a combination of 30,000 participants.
It is also difficult to estimate the dollar value of the channeling industry.
Charges vary widely but with more successful channelers the fees can be quite costly. Prices for the services of channelers may cost more than a visit to the family physician with some charging "up to $100 for a private session to $1,500 for a seminar" (Channelers: A New Age Directory, Robin Weston, p. 13).
Most Christians understand the desire of New Agers to seek supernatural, spiritual answers to life's challenges and questions. The problem most Christians see is that the source of these channelled messages is deceptive and dangerous.
There are three possible sources for the messages of the New Age channelers.
The Dead Masters Model
Most channelers claim to be receiving messages from the spirits of great masters, spiritual leaders, or historical figures who have through enlightenment and/or reincarnation gained spiritual truths that they now wish to impart from a higher plane beyond the grave.
These "masters" include Ramtha, a warrior who died 35,000 years ago who speaks through Knight; Mafu, a leper in first century Pompeii who speaks through Penny Torres; and Dr. Peebles, a nineteenth-century physician and philosopher who speaks through Thomas Jacobson.
Some channelers, like Helen Schucman author of A Course in Miracles, claim to channel Jesus Christ Himself (Channeling, Jon Klimo, pp. 40-41).
However according to the Bible generally and the teachings of Jesus specifically, channeling is incompatible with the Christian world-view. Christians have long pointed out the warnings against communication with the dead (Duet. 18:9-15; Isa. 8:19-20).
Jesus taught that those who die - even the righteous - are not able to share truths with the living. The rich man in Hell requested that a messenger from the dead be sent to give his family an important spiritual message (a phenomena not unlike channeling). He desired that righteous Lazarus return to his family to warn them, "lest they also come into this place of torment" (Luke 16: 19-31).
As important as that message was, Jesus taught that it was not to be shared by the spirits of the dead but was to be learned through the written teachings of "Moses and the prophets" (i.e., the Bible).
Because the Bible forbids Necromancy (communication with the dead) and rejects reincarnation (Heb. 9:27), Christians should reject any claim of revelation from these sources as valid. Therefore a Biblical perspective will rule out the "dead masters" model.
The Demonic Manifestation Model
If channelers are not communicating with dead teachers, who or what have they contacted?
New Age thinker, Jon Klimo, lists a number of possible sources. He notes that besides dead humans, some channelers claim to receive messages from fairies, sprites, elves, polytheistic gods and goddesses, UFO astronauts from other planets, animals such as dolphins, and even plants (Channeling, p. 168-184).
He gives several alternate explanations to channeling other than the actual contact with the spirits of the dead, plants, animals, and gods. He suggests the possibility of psychological phenomena based on the views of Freud and Jung. He also gives other possibilites based on parapsychology, psychophysiology, physics and paraphysics.
However, Klimo only briefly deals with another alternative, a source the Bible calls a familiar spirit or a demon. Klimo mentions the fact that some channelers do speak of "nonhuman demons, evil spirits, forces of Satan or Lucifer, and the `Dark Brotherhood'" (Channeling, p. 183).
He dismisses much danger in this, however, noting that: "the vast majority of human (as well as other kinds of) spirits reported to be channeled throughout history, and especially in the present, come across as benign, loving, and helpful.
"On the whole, the majority of recorded sources appear to be a good deal more spiritually evolved and oriented than most of us" (Ibid).
By judging spirits based on "how they come across" is to ignore the Biblical warning that "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).
The messages that demons give do not seem evil and wrong but warm and seductive.
The Bible explains that "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1).
In order to teach their "doctrine" these "devils" will present their messages seductively. Would this not suggest that they would attempt to, "come across as benign, loving, and helpful?"
The Bible speaks of only one "Holy" spirit but suggests many more (possibly thousands or millions) of demonic spirits (Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 11:4).
This is why the Bible advises its readers to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
The Deceptive Manipulation Model
A third and final possibility is that the channelers are involved with some form of deception or fraud. It could be in some if not every case, that the channelers are simply good actors and actresses.
Researchers in parapsychology like early pioneer, J. B Rine (1895-1980), of Duke University, have attempted with little success to "scientifically prove" such paranormal concepts as ESP based on experiments comparing the results of "gifted" subjects with mathematical probabilities of random guesses (ESP in Life and Lab, Louisa Rhine).
Far more difficult would be any objective test or study that could verify whether channelers are telling the truth.
The public should be even more sensitive to the possibility of fraud when they remember the lucrative financial package that so often accompanies a successful channeling practice.
One former follower of J.Z. Knight's Ramtha claims to have witnessed Knight "doing Ramtha" without going into the necessary trance state saying, "she did a better job of doing Ramtha than Ramtha. In fact, we couldn't tell the difference" (Newsweek, 15 December 1986, p. 42).
Some Christians themselves become victims of fraud in the name of spiritual manifestations.
Television evangelist Peter Popoff's claims to supernaturally discern information about his followers by the power of the Holy Spirit were debunked on national television.
The stage magician, James Randi, discovered that Popoff was utilizing a small radio receiver in his ear to pick up "revelations" from his wife who was off stage with a microphone (The Faith Healers).
If Christians can be deceived through the use of electronic devices and the tools of illusionists, certainly the followers of channelers should be wary of similar deception.
A basic overall theme of New Age channelers is a mixture of occultism and Eastern mysticism.
As Christian researcher Elliot Miller observed, while the methods and characters may vary, the main message always seems to be the same, "the central `truth' of this channeled `gospel' is the twin doctrines `You are God/You create your own reality'" (A Crash Course on the New Age Movement, p. 169).
Both doctrines are incompatible with Christian monotheism that teaches a personal God who is separate from his creation and that the creation has an objective reality.
A biblical approach to channeling rejects both its method and message is being ultimately demonic - regardless of its claimed sources.
As Elliot Miller concluded after a televised encounter with Penny Torres channeling Mafu: "My conclusion was that `Mafu' is probably, at best, a dissociated part of Torres's own consciousness, and at worst, her conscious creation [fraud].
"But in any case, through practicing the biblically forbidden art of mediumship, she has become a satanically energized and guided agent of deception. In other words, even if Mafu is unreal, Torres is probably possessed" (Ibid).