Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

Rand_holding_light     I’ve worked as a psychic in Santa Fe and nationwide for many years. Around 20 years ago I was invited to attend a local skeptics conference. I was interested because I had long thought intuition and reason are both crucial to a balanced understanding of psychophysical phenomena, and I had been yearning to find a group that honestly and without bias investigated paranormal claims, experiences, and practices. To me a “skeptic” was an honest seeker of truth, in contrast to a “debunker,” an ideologue whose mind had already been made up, and whose purpose was to reveal as fake or erroneous a practitioner and his or her practices.
     When I arrived at the conference I sat with my host in the audience. The leader of the conference, a distinguished looking academic type, called the meeting to order and introduced me as the guest speaker. I politely informed him that I had not been told I was the guest speaker; I thought I had been invited as just another attender and observer. I noticed that he had on his table a compilation of fliers and other literature I had posted on bulletin boards around town to advertise my workshops and services; there had clearly been planning involved in the event.
     The conference leader acted confused and surprised that I had not been told I was to be the guest speaker. I glanced at the man who had invited me—the husband of a client—and the grin on his face made it clear that he was enjoying the situation. (I later realized that he resented the work I had been doing with his then-wife and that this was a form of retaliation meant to lower me in his wife’s estimation.)
     They invited me to give a demonstration of my trancework. I explained to them, essentially, that I was an agnostic spiritualist—that I did not know anything for sure about the existence of the paranormal—and I informed the group that I told my clients that I did not speak from any spiritual “authority.” A woman politely asked me if she could take my pulse as I did my trance; I told her I did not like being touched when I was in trance. Another woman asked me if my psychic abilities were proven to be imaginary, would I be willing to give up my career as a psychic? My honest answer was, “I hope I would have the courage to do so.”
     I attempted a demonstration, and it was a complete disaster. I felt surrounded by a 6 foot high, 6 foot thick, impenetrable wall. Absolutely no impressions of any kind reached me until the very end of the session, when I picked up a few mini-“hits” about two of the men in the audience. One set of impressions I received spontaneously, about a man’s popularity with his young students; the other set of impressions came as a response to a question that later proved to be a complete fabrication. At one point I saw an elderly man at the back of the audience staring at me, and the look on his face was pure unmitigated contempt. When I was done, I saw the delighted looks on the faces of a number of the audience members, and it was clear that I was not in a skeptics group, but in a debunkers group, and that they had gotten the experience they desired.
     After the meeting I was ignored by everyone in the group, and left quietly. A week or so later one of the audience members interviewed me privately, and although he was very polite, it was clear from the questions he asked, and the details he dropped about himself, that he was a conservative Catholic who believed that spiritual guides were Satanic deceivers promoting humanism above the revealed doctrines of the Church. Later he wrote a letter to the local paper claiming “Rand Lee may be the only honest psychic in Santa Fe,” a reference I believe to my hope that I would have the courage to quit my profession if proven a fake–and though some might take this as damning with faint praise, it did console me a trifle that at least one person at the conference did not believe I was a charlatan, just self-deluded.
     It took me many years to regain my confidence in my abilities. But I learned from this experience that (1) when I am in an altered psycho-receptive state my critical analytical faculties are offline, and I am unable to detect when I am being conned or lied to; (2) that I cannot read through my own fears—I must feel safe in order to relax and get objective impressions of my audiences; (3) that I cannot read people who do not wish to be read; and (4) that I have the right to say “No” to any situation aimed at humiliating me. I see now that I should have refused to give a demonstration at that meeting, and called out the man who invited me for his act of passive aggression. Not to have done so was, I fear, foolish. I regret that decision to this day.
—October 2, 2017
I’ve recently come across a very enlightening website that addresses the issue of honest skepticism vs. the current fashion in verbally abusive online pseudoskepticism. The site is http://www.skepticalaboutskeptics.org.

Do You Believe In Fairies? Clap Your Hands

Spoiler Alert: Last night, on Netflix, I watched a British film called “Hippopotamus”. The main character and narrator is a  late middle aged British critic whose sardonic skepticism is equaled only by his sense of personal failure and self-loathing. In the film, he is called to an aristocratic country home to investigate rumors that a younger son there—the critic’s godson—has developed supernatural healing abilities. A man, a horse, and several women have been reported as cured of life-threatening illnesses when the boy laid hands upon them.

“Hippopotamus” is well scripted and well acted. The main character’s acerbic wit both appeals and appalls. But the ending is predictable. The critic—a former poet plagued with writer’s block for decades—unmasks the “healings” as a con on the part of the boy: one of the women dies, and the others’ symptoms return, except for the horse’s, who turns out to have been suffering from nothing worse than a hangover brought on by lapping up an alcoholic beverage accidentally dumped into its water bucket by the critic.

There is a happy ending of sorts: the boy admits to the con; is reconciled with his father, whom the con had been designed to impress; the critic’s writer’s block dissolves; and he starts making poems again. But the underlying assumptions of the film are what I’ve come to expect from modern secular media: there is no God; “miracles” are simply chance occurrences explicable by natural law; and anyone who believes in God, the supernatural, faith, or life after death is a self-deluded lamebrain.

True confession time: The movie depressed me. Against all experience and true expectation, I had deep down hoped that the main character would at least have been left with some doubts about the certitude of his materialism. When the hope was dashed, my ancient doubts concerning the true nature of my own mystical and psychic experiences rose up chattering. This is nothing new—my mind has always been a house divided, rationalist on one side, mystic on the other—and when such dark moods descend on me, I feel like a charlatan who has wasted his life living in a dream world.

Oddly enough, when I go into trance, or throw the cards for a client, or am in the presence of others who have had mystical experiences, my doubts recede, and the quiet joy of knowing that Divine Love is real, and that we are all,  ultimately, safe, returns.  But when I am alone in my flat, at night, it is more difficult to recapture that startling sense of peace I experience in the day.

This dualism is in part inherited: My father was an agnostic and purported rationalist; my mother, a high church Episcopalian who taught me from an early age “If I should die before I wake, I pray my Lord my soul to take.” I always felt torn between them, to the point where, as a child, I taught myself to sleep on my back rather than on my left or right side, because Daddy slept on the left side of the bed he shared with Mommy, and Mommy slept on the right side, and I felt if I chose right or left I would be siding with one parent against the other.

Tonight, as I lay in bed suffocating beneath the dread that the materialists are right, and that my mystic experiences are nothing more than brain farts, I could understand how some people believe in demon oppression or soulsucking negative thoughtform attacks—because I felt attacked, not by demons, but by the overwhelmingly pessimistic materialism of modern secular intellectual culture. And the thought came to me: You don’t have to give in to these doubts. You have a choice, based upon your experience, to believe in spirit guides, nature spirits, ghosts, reincarnation, soul travel, ESP, Tarot, channeling, and other manifestations of nonlinear consciousness, or not to believe in them. Which choice makes your life run more smoothly while not violating either your reason or your intuition? Choose now.

My lifelong difficulty reconciling my father’s agnosticism with my mother’s emotional religiosity was predicted, many years ago, when I was a sophomore at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. I developed a crush on a bisexual upperclassman who dabbled in the occult, inspired by the characters in John Fowles’ The Magus. One day, while in a pot-fueled trance, he predicted that I would spend my life standing on the crossroads showing the way for others to follow, while never taking that path myself.

Tonight I say: I choose to believe that life is more than a molecular dance, wondrous though that dance may be. Tonight I choose to believe that Spirit is real, and that my experiences of It are glimpses of a truth underlying, upholding, and surrounding the truths of physical reality. To put it another way, words deliberately chosen to irritate the the sophisticated atheist who lives inside me: tonight I choose to believe in fairies. And if you choose to believe in them, too? Why, do what Peter Pan invited us to do when Tinker Bell lay at death’s door. If you believe in fairies, clap your hands. •