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Séances, Psychics, and Ghost Hunters: Smoke and Mirrors or the Real Deal?

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Seance

Starring Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and the late Patrick Swayze, the film Ghost remains a classic not only with romantics enamored of a good love story, but also with those who believe that life does not end with the death of the body.  Brutally murdered, the soul of Swayze’s character, Sam, remains tethered to Earth in order for him to warn his lover (Molly, played by Moore) that she too is in danger.  Desperate for an emissary able to bridge the worlds between the living and the dead, Sam stumbles upon Oda Mae Brown, a rather reluctant spiritualist played by the irrepressible Whoopi Goldberg.  Unaware of her true gifts and hailing from a line of psychics, Oda Mae bilks clients wishing to contact their loved ones on the other side, via séances.  Her cash-cow subterfuge continues until Swayze intervenes, convinces her of her talents, and spooks her into helping him protect Molly and bring his killer to justice.

 

The comedy in much of Sam and Oda Mae’s early interactions was, of course, a result of an inventive twist: most of us have been schooled to believe that psychics are full of what makes the grass grow green and that séances cannot possibly call forth the dead.   But are they?  And can they?

 

The ritual of the séance rose to its height in Victorian times, ingeniously marketed by a woman who called herself Madame Blavatsky.  Ingratiating herself into high society, this diminutive and charismatic Russian immigrant preyed upon her clients’ grief and curiosity, employing sleight of hand that would have made a magician proud.  Levitating tables, unexplained flickering lights, disembodied moans, ghostly apparitions, and trances through which the dead “spoke” from beyond the grave all marked the séances of Blavatsky, who was eventually exposed as an impostor.  When the famed escape artist, Harry Houdini, lost his beloved mother, he frantically sought a medium capable of contacting her.  Undeterred by the infamy of charlatans such as Madame B., Houdini searched in vain until the day that he died.

 

Despite Houdini’s failure and the machinations of the self-proclaimed spiritualists, human beings continued to search for means through which they might communicate with the dead, or at the very least, gain proof of life after death.  As part of Blavatsky’s ruses, her accomplices often conjured up apparitions of what became known as ectoplasm.  These filmy specters were nebulous clouds (smoke) said to represent the spirits of those passed on.  Although the majority of the photographs capturing ectoplasm proved that the ghosts were manufactured, there remained a handful that defied scientific explanation.

 

Modern-day ghost hunters, including psychics, utilize sensitive, state-of-the-art recording devices and cameras to gather evidence of those who linger in the earthly plane, including ectoplasmic proof.  Those who are on the level have no problem submitting their evidence to intense scientific scrutiny, and in fact, invite such analysis.  And the fact remains that a certain degree of this evidence cannot be explained away as smoke and mirrors; in fact, it cannot be explained, period.

 

Over the years, a growing body of data substantiates the fact that places — physical locations — retain energy.  This includes voice recordings of spirits and photographs of the here-and-now that, inexplicably, illustrate visages as well as full-body images of those long gone.  What happens to one’s spirit when his body is cremated or buried?  What if one does not heed the call to meet one’s maker, but chooses to remain instead rooted to this world, perhaps out of malice, perhaps out of love, perhaps out of nothing more phantasmagorical than genuine confusion?  Do these souls capitalize upon the talents of mediums or the use of other vehicles by which their very existence may be substantiated?

 

The Ouija Board is one such time-honored vehicle that should be approached with trepidation.  The board itself is printed with letters and numbers. Participants (the living) very gently rest their fingers upon the placket, a triangular-shaped piece of wood or plastic, and ask questions of those gone before them.  The placket is thought to move upon the will or whim of spirits, touching upon the alphabet and/or numbers to spell out answers.  As a child in Catholic school, I was taught never to treat a Ojai Board as a game, for it was believed to be — even by the Catholic Church — a portal onto another world, a world perhaps best left unexplored.

 

I did not give this caveat much thought until, long after I’d graduated, a woman I trust, a woman who has never been given to flights of fancy, told me a story that raised the hackles all along my spine.  After an acquaintance of hers, a friend of a friend, had died of a drug overdose, those closest to him were in terrible shock, as the man had been quite young.  Wishing to know if he was all right on the other side, two of these people appropriated a Ouija Board one night and asked my friend if she were willing to participate.  Having an open mind, she agreed.  She swears that her hands, and those of her friends, barely touched the placket.  And yet, upon questioning, the thing spelled out the dead man’s full name, the reason for his death, his apology to those he’d left behind, and his explanation that his death had been an accident, as the drugs with which he’d injected himself had been too pure.

 

Still skeptical, my friend asked the spirit where he was at that moment. She’d hoped he would describe heaven and dearly prayed that he would not describe hell.  To her amazement and horror, the man spelled out the name of the establishment that he used to frequent, the one whose clerk was rumored to have supplied the drugs that had killed him!  Many years after this incident, this woman has never again stepped foot within sight of another Ouija Board.

 

During the course of producing work for a great number of clients, I met and later established a friendship with a very gifted psychic; often, she had supplied the police with clues that helped them solve puzzling and/or high profile murders.  This was always done at the command of the police, who were aware of my friend’s reputation and accuracy.  She had given me a few readings and I’d always found her to be quite accurate.  However, her gifts did not really phase me, as I have researched the paranormal ever since I was a small child.

 

What did stun me, however, was something that happened one night as we were having dinner in a nice restaurant.  Our conversation had been anything but metaphysical; we were discussing work and other mundane things.  As I raised my arm to call the waitress to our table, my friend caught sight of a bracelet that my husband had given me the prior Christmas.  Admiring the bracelet, my friend reached out quite naturally to touch it.  Suddenly, her gaze went flat and in a rather deadpan voice relayed very personal things about one of my in-laws; things so personal, in fact, that most of the family were not aware of them.   Due to the nature of this information, I had never shared it with my psychic friend.  This particular in-law had touched my bracelet but once, the previous Christmas, to admire it!  When the woman “came out of it,” she explained what I already knew: that objects hold the energy of those who had once possessed or touched them.  She also confided that this was how she had broken a number of the murder cases, by touching personal items, such as keys and wallets owned by the victims, to “read them.”

 

Maybe the answer to the question of connecting with our loved ones beyond the grave is not a matter, after all, of seeking out a third-party psychic, or ghost hunter, or medium.  Maybe it’s simply a matter of faith, of waiting patiently for them to contact us. 

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