3/16/06 (PMP) A Personal Journey from Mysticism to Clarity
( http://forums.randi.org/forumindex.php Username: chillzero)
Catherine writes from the perspective of scepticism, with an established background of belief in the paranormal. Having examined how psychics arrive at their predictions - from both sides of the fence - Catherine reveals here how they perform. It may be worth highlighting here that any psychic who appears on the media is granted permission to do so only under the laws that govern entertainment, and so the word perform is most appropriate.
"I used to believe I had psychic abilities. I gave tarot readings, I consulted my spirit guide, and believed in the spirit of nature as being a force in all things. I would not consider the old me to be a con artist - I was not intentionally deceiving people. I honestly believed I was given the ability to interpret signs, and that I was using it for good. So I believed I was genuine, as did plenty of other people. I could read the traffic around me uncannily well, knowing when a driver was about to turn suddenly, or not turn where they signalled to. I was good at reading tarot cards and at helping people come to decisions about events in their lives. I would spook people by telling them who was calling when the phone rang, or that someone we were waiting for had just come into the bar although my back was turned to the door – that sort of thing.
However, even as I did all this, I constantly came up with questions about what I was doing, and how I managed to do it. Why could I only get instinctive flashes about things? Why could I not use this 'power' when I concentrated hard on something important? What about the times I was wrong (although they were freakishly few - even looking back as a hardened sceptic) - what happened then?The new-age people I was involved with had no tolerance for such curiosity. They felt I should just accept my gift unquestioningly, and use it to the best extent I could. But I was never satisfied with this. Finally, guided by some sceptics, I tested myself on what external information I could possibly have noticed, and realised that I am more of an expert on body language, or verbal subtleties than most. I soon realised that I was very good at picking up subliminal signals from people, or noticing things in the distance. In traffic I could see reflections in streetside windows, or a change in the lights on the ground of the road where a car was approaching unseen. Phone calls were often a matter of logical assumption and deduction – it was all a matter of fast critical/ logical thinking. With doing readings I realised I was getting a lot more information about a person’s situation from them or their friends – often before we even met to read. I wasn’t asking for it or actively seeking it out, but I picked up on things that were said, or more – the way they were said. I filed information away and didn’t even fully realize that this mental library was where I was drawing information from when I spoke to them later. As I read tarot I could discern from the other person’s reactions whether I was on track or completely wrong, and was horrified to realize during one reading that I had adjusted what I told them accordingly. This realization rocked my self perception completely, and I felt unable to continue the deception. Continuing on this path would have made me a con-artist, without question.
The more I investigated, the less paranormal my abilities seemed to become. I revisited old acquaintances from the new-age shops and conventions I used to frequent and was disappointed to find that I could apply the same reasoning to what they did. I could reasonably determine what they would tell others, and where they had identified that information. Some of my associates were of the sincere belief that they had genuine powers, and that they worked for the powers of good. Some others, however, became obvious to me as frauds, who knew that they were able to read and manipulate people and situations to their own benefit or profit. This benefit is not necessarily monetary; it could come in the form of barter, time, advertising (even just by word of mouth) or gifts. One woman in particular was very good at convincing people that she wished to have no reward, no publicity, and so on, and yet the way she did this gained their further confidence and admiration, and ensured that they raved about her to just about everyone they knew. From conversations I had with her, I know this was a deliberate and very effective ploy.
Consider this: if a psychic contacts you about your missing family member, then they are obviously aware of your story, and therefore your control over this situation is non-existent. They may have heard radio appeals for information, or seen the news bulletins. They may have read the newspapers that covered your plight. They may even have actively researched all of these. They may contact you via a family member or friend. The point is that they already know something, and even if they tell you that they have only been made aware of the smallest bit of information about you – why would you believe a stranger? How can you know how much they have actually managed to learn, or whether they have contacts within the police? If they come to you through a close associate, then no matter how well intentioned your friend/relative may be, you can’t know how much information they may have passed on – even unintentionally and unwittingly. Even if this psychic genuinely believes in their ability, you can never be certain that they haven’t been exposed to more information than perhaps even they realize.
Then there is the information they provide. There is no documented evidence that any psychic has ever provided information that led directly and accurately to a missing person. There are plenty of stories of psychics leading police to the general areas where bodies have been found, stories of psychics determining the final fates of people, or identifying a vague description of a perpetrator. These stories are not substantiated by evidence that could confirm that psychics are any more accurate than a non-psychic making an educated guess. And much of this information cannot be verified because of the incredibly high percentage of unsolved cases.
Finally, there is the approach that psychics take. At first, most psychics will be incredibly friendly and open. They need to do this to build a semblance of trust between themselves and you – they need you to relax, and to feel that you can open up to them. That way you will give out more information and signals than you realize. I know this from experience, although I never realized at the time how manipulative the reading situation could be. I believed I was merely trying to set the other person at ease, but there is definitely a little more to it. Next, psychics tend to be unshakably confident that they are right, or must at least be deferred to. I have never yet seen a self proclaimed psychic defer to anyone else’s knowledge on any subject, or admit they were wrong. This was where my problems with my abilities began to shake a little; I knew I wasn’t an expert in everything, and was reluctant to insist upon my answers in the face of someone who could possibly know better. A person’s confidence in a statement they put forward can make it very difficult for you to consider it critically. It can be frustrating to attempt to discuss it, and that kind of discussion is less likely to happen between you and a psychic when you are already in an altered state of reality; whether from grief, confusion, lack of sleep, or even years later, lack of closure; and desperate for information.
You may like to believe that people in general are not that manipulative, and ask why should psychics be singled out for such criticism? My answer is this: find your local area’s most successful salesperson – an estate agent, a car salesman, or even a higher priced clothes retailer for example. Go and observe them selling items. Listen to what they say about their products. Watch how they read signals from their clients, and how they adjust their approach to match different types of client, determined by the client’s dress, speech, confidence, or the car they arrived in. See for yourself how much information can be gleaned about a person and their current situation – without the benefit of press coverage. Now think, why should psychics be any different?
You will be approached with an offer of help. The insinuation will be that you cannot possibly turn this away, because it is the closest thing to walking away from your loved one when you see them wave a hand for you to find them. This is nothing more than manipulation of your emotions. You should feel no guilt for ignoring these ‘leads’ that do not arise from any established evidential route. They may claim that they cannot rest, that they cannot quiet the voices, until they give you the information. This makes a direct connection to your own sleepless nights and lack of closure. It is a play on your grief that should not be tolerated.
I never lost a family member, but I had several continuous years of incredible misfortune, and I can personally vouch for the negative side of believing in psychic ability. I got plenty of help initially, but this waned as my misfortunes just continued and increased. I suffered for years as my new-age associates explained karma to me: everything happens for a reason/ everything you do comes back to you/ things only happen to you that you deserve to experience. In other words, when bad things happen to you, you personally did something to deserve it – maybe not even in this lifetime. All events are lessons to learn, and if things don’t get better, then you are clearly failing to learn the correct lesson. I consider this attitude highly abusive, and it cost me many years of personal growth and comfort when I was made to believe that basically I deserved everything I got and that I wasn’t doing the right things to make things go right again. My mental health suffered dramatically as a result, because it was frustrating and depressing in the extreme to experience what I was going through, let alone to be made to feel that it was all my own fault anyway. I am here now to tell you that this is wrong. It is not your fault that this terrible thing has happened. You are not being punished for past life sins, and nor is your loved one. You have no cause for guilt if you turn a psychic’s offer of ‘help’ away.
If a psychic contacts you to offer their help, hand them a load of posters to distribute, or bring them on a land search if you are still at that stage. Make their help be productive to you, and consider why they would not join in this kind of effort if they really ‘felt’ your plight as they claim to. They may ask you to weigh up what they have to gain against what you have to lose, for a simple conversation. Well, just think about this for a moment. They usually gain publicity, even if they do not perform well. They will always have apologizers to justify whatever they may get wrong. Even if they are completely wrong they can still gain sympathy with believers because at least they did their duty to try to help. They also step into your life for a while. They gain involvement in your personal trauma, and become involved in a drama outside their own lives. What do you lose? You lose time. You spend energy that you need for yourself and those who are still around you. You get distracted from your control of your situation; having to incorporate new opinions and ideas into the steep learning curve that you are already having to cope with. You may get ideas for new areas to pursue – this may even lead the police in new directions. Those directions could, unfortunately distract effort away from the correct areas for concern.
There are no genuine mediums. There are people with genuine intentions, but not psychic powers. There are people who could be helpful if you were discussing difficult choices you needed to make, but often your friends can do that for you without the mumbo jumbo. It's a matter of reading, yes, but not reading cards, or signs, or what spirits show you - it's a matter of reading the environment and the person before them. And then there are the con artists who read the newspapers, audience listings, area information, web sites, etc to glean what they need - as well as reading the people around them. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to distinguish between them. Your focus should remain on your loved ones, and not on placating a snubbed psychic, or inviting more strangers into your very personal situation."
Project Jason thanks Catherine for her willingness to share her personal story. Knowing it increases our understanding and ability to make rational decisions based upon what may be real and what is definitely imagined.
We understand that many people believe that psychics are effective in solving crimes and finding missing people. Please keep in mind that the goal of this series is to help families understand techniques used by persons making these claims and make better decisions about the use of psychics.
Project Jason and its volunteers cannot act as a clearinghouse for persons claiming success in using paranormal means to locate missing persons. We will be unable to respond to emails or other correspondence sent to us from persons making these claims or persons offering information about or referrals to psychics.
We instead invite those persons to present their evidence to the members of the James Randi Educational Foundation. They have a forum available for you to discuss your claims. http://forums.randi.org/forumdisplay.php?f=7
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