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.