“I had a dream two days before 9/11. I dreamt I was on a plane and I saw stuff. I was supposed to be getting a flight on the twelfth, but it freaked me out so much I couldn’t even function the next day, and I wouldn’t pack or go to the airport. Then 9/11 happened and it all made sense”.
Rose* is one of many people in the UK working as a Psychic Medium, giving “ribbon readings” from her home in York.
Even if their talents often appear more than a little dubious, people have not ceased to be fascinated by the phenomenon of clairvoyance, and psychics have been popular throughout history.
The earliest human tribes started with mystical medicine men and shamen. While it seems more than likely that such incidents were wild drug trips, many psychics still place great emphasis upon what they view as the spiritual foundations of their trade.
The modern psychic industry is in fact booming across both Europe and America. A recent poll revealed that an alarming 41% of Americans believe in extrasensory perception and 31% believe in psychic communication. The second and third largest psychic networks in the US, Psychic Readers Network and Your Psychic Experience, annually take in about $50 million and $35-$40 million respectively and psychic hotlines are one of the largest growing industries today.
The current popularity of paranormal television and celebrity psychics such as John Edward and Sylvia Browne suggests that times have barely changed since the courts of Ancient Egypt, where psychics held such a high place in the royal court that entire battles, decisions about crops and even choices in government officials were often based entirely on their ‘visions’.
Rose claims that “you can train anyone to be psychic; everyone has an energy around them”, but that only certain people are born as mediums: “people who can transfer messages.”
She believes that to be a medium “you either have it or you don’t”. Her website claims that she is “able to connect directly with the spirits of those who have passed over and communicate with them”.
However, Rose believes that this isn’t always a good thing. “You see loads of stuff, like floods and things, but thankfully I’ve learnt how to turn it on and off. You have to live your own life. You’ve got to be in control of the spirits or they just keep coming to you all the time. At the moment I’m totally in control of them. I let spirits give me messages when I do readings, but the rest of the time I can turn them away.”
Rose believes that the biggest challenge she faces as a medium though, is not controlling her “gift”, but is dealing with society’s reaction to self-professed psychics. “Spirits used to say things to me in my dreams, and I wanted to talk about it, but my mum told me never to tell people in case I got put in some asylum or something. I’ve only just started telling people about it. I’ve been living in Australia and when I came back to the UK, psychic stuff seemed to be all over the TV and everywhere else. I guess that’s when I started being more open about everything.”
The first acclaimed psychic of modern times was Dr Franz Antoine Mesmer who was one of the initiators of the spiritualist movements in the 1900s. Among his many supposed abilities, he claimed to have been gifted with “thought transference, of clairvoyance, and ‘eyeless vision'” as well as other psychic phenomena in subjects, which he “mesmerized”. However, when called upon for his healing powers, he proved remarkably useless, and was subsequently discredited.
The next notable figures of psychic history have to be the Fox sisters who, in 1948, held mass séances, claiming they could speak to the dead. Their show also included strange tapping noises and mysterious moving objects. However, they were revealed as frauds when one of the sisters betrayed the clan, and revealed the tapping noises were merely the popping of their ankles and toes.
Spiritualism and the psychic phenomena were also brought to prominence by the Society for Psychical Research. However, the detailed research of the society – on everything from telepathy and hypnotism to mesmeric trances and haunted houses – did nothing but expose the flaws of most claims of clairvoyance.
Rose openly admits that not all of her friends are convinced of her ability to contact spirits and convey messages from them. “Some of them just take the piss, calling me a ‘hippie chick’ but I say ‘no, it’s real!’ My partner didn’t believe it for ages; he just kept saying ‘show me some proof’ for years. Finally, I told him something so specific that he really was shocked, and now he believes. Now I get messages from his dad all the time.”
Spirits used to say things to me in my dreams, and I wanted to talk about it, but my mum told me never to tell people in case I got put in some asylum or something. I’ve only just started telling people about it
Such gifts were brought into question publicly in the 1920s as Joseph Rhine Banks, not put off by previous discrediting of the ’gifts of the seer’, set up parapsychology in his determination to use a scientific method to investigate the existence and causes of psychic abilities and life after death. However, this did not bring as conclusive a result as he had expected: he made himself massively unpopular by ‘exposing’ as fakes well known and well respected psychics of the time. In fact, his actions so outraged people that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took out an in a Boston newspaper, stating “B. J. Rhine is a monumental ass”. He had the ad edged in black borders.
The investigation did, however, bring to light the lack of scientific evidence. So how does Rose know that her belief in her psychic powers is not purely delusional, as the critics suggest? “I know it’s not,” she states abruptly, “otherwise I’d be in a mental asylum.
“I’ve been to spiritualist church for years and my mum is a spiritualist healer. She used to work at the cancer hospital in Scarborough where they have a room for spiritualist healers. It’s not proven to cure people, but it’s proven to help them, and to make them feel better.”
I ask her if the readings could be delusional on the part of the client then, given that a large proportion of those who come to see her seem desperate to receive messages from deceased friends or relatives. She doesn’t think so, but reveals that “normally when you give messages you do get a lot of people crying”. She also believes that “when people have lost someone they love and they say that they feel like the person’s still around, they probably are. Spirits surround you all the time, and they are watching you.”
Indeed, Rose’s particular views in regard to spirits and the afterlife are representative of the spiritualist church which herself, and all of her psychic friends, attend. “The soul leaves the human state of the body when you die, and you go back up into a sort of universe of energy,” she explains. “Later the soul can come back to Earth and give messages, but it has to learn how to communicate again first.”
If she genuinely has a gift of psychic communication that she was born with, does she think it is right for her to charge people for sharing it with them? Rose states that she herself was “really umming and ahing” about going into business, but that she has “basically been forced into this by [my] friends”, despite their differing belief in her talent. “I guess it’s big business,” she adds.
In fact, she readily admits that a high proportion of ‘fake’ mediums exist in the industry. “Yeah, there are loads!” she exclaims. “I went to an event called ‘Mind, Body and Soul’, and decided I wanted to get a reading for myself for a change. I paid £30 to see this complete charlatan. She talked about herself for well over 15 minutes and asked millions of questions.”
So, how can you tell a fake medium from the real thing? “It’s hard,” says Rose, “but they shouldn’t be asking you very much at all, they should just be giving you messages instead. That’s what you’re paying them for.”
*Names have been changed.