A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: medium

29 Nov 2015
I just read your comments on mediumship and in particular James Van Praagh. The article was written in 2013. I don't remember the exact date. What I do remember is the acidic and self-righteous approach with which you presented your views. You are exactly the type of person I feel I can't learn from...

reply: Acidic and self-righteous is how I would describe Van Praagh. However, I've learned a lot from him about how easy it is to deceive others when you can make stuff up at will and exempt yourself from any reality checks. I've also learned a lot from studying those who admire Van Praagh and think he really communicates with their dead relatives or pets. There is no limit to self-deception when it comes to emotional beliefs about loved ones and death. The easiest marks in the world are the vulnerable, bereft, and heartbroken. The phony psychics of the world will never go broke underestimating the gullibility of their clients.

You have decided within yourself that you know best, and other's experiences be damned. I do not know a lot about Mr Van Praagh, but I know a lot about the type of work he does, as I am a clairvoyant reader, energy worker, and have recently been doing mediumship work as well.

reply: I have made no decisions about what is best and I don't damn anyone's experiences. I do, however, consider how people interpret their experiences, especially interpretations based on supernatural or paranormal explanations of events. I wish you and others who think they have special powers would study the work of people like Ray Hyman who got so much positive feedback from his clients that he came to believe that he really did have paranormal ability. Dr. Hyman came to his senses after performing an experiment: he told his clients exactly the opposite of what he would usually tell them and he found that his clients were even more impressed with his powers. Dr. Hyman went on to a long career in psychology, focusing much of his study on why people believe the things that mediums, fortune tellers, palm readers, and the like tell them. He became one of the world's experts on subjective validation and cold reading. I give a short account of how Dr. Hyman came to his senses in my SD entry on criminal profiling. It turns out that mediums are not the only ones who deceive themselves about their talents due to not understanding some basic psychological mechanisms involved in forming beliefs.

James Michener, the writer who performed as psychic medium Mitch the Witch, wrote a very interesting account of how he learned fortune telling, came to believe in it, and abandoned it once he realized what power he had over people who didn't understand what was going on when he was making stuff up and they were finding deep personal meaning in the products of his imagination. I've written a review of Michener's account, which you can peruse at your leisure.

You will be thinking by now, "another poor delusional loon who thinks herself a psychic." And given your ! negative mindset on such things, I'll not try to prove myself to you. But I will say that I have had the privilege and extreme honor of seeing people truly helped by coming to my sessions. And that's what matters to me. For me, there would be no point doing what I do if people weren't finding peace and healing by it. I am certainly not rich or famous by anyone's standards. I do the work as it comes to me. I believe that I am meant to help the clients that are sent to me, and when I do, it's generally a very good thing for my clients as well as for me.

reply: You read my mind! Except for the part about being a loon. I think there are simpler explanations for deluding oneself about being psychic. It requires an enormous amount of creative energy to do readings. Granted, the positive feedback from clients who desperately want guidance or contact with a deceased loved one makes your task a bit easier, but it still requires a good bit of skill and focus to control the session. Though at times it must seem like shooting fish in a barrel, the way clients will struggle and search desperately to find personal meaning in anything you throw at them.

I can't speak for Mr Van Praagh, but I can speak for me and for the stellar group of readers and healers I'm associated with when I say, I'm sure there are frauds out there, but I'm not one of them. And quite frankly I highly doubt you'd know the real deal if it was to stare you in the eyes... you've made your decision, you see. And you will only ever see people like me as frauds no matter what we say or do.

reply: Your powers seem to be diminishing. I don't see people like you as frauds. I am sure that many people have had an experience similar to Dr. Hyman's and are so taken in by their experiences that they sincerely believe they are psychic. The frauds, I think, are easier to detect that the sincere mediums such as yourself. I doubt if anyone in your group would ever pull the curse removal scam on one of your clients.

You are biased in the extreme and therefore, cannot be trusted to view such experiences as I've had objectively. You will always see this subject with despising eyes, and this makes you unable to constructively criticize the work done by those like me. So I wish you'd refrain from further comment on things you really do not know.

reply: Yes, I am biased and I could say the same about you. You are biased in the other extreme and can't be trusted to view your experiences objectively, especially since you seem to believe that your subjective experiences are necessarily objective since you are the one who has had them!! I don't, however, look at the subject of mediumship with despising eyes. I have spent many years trying to understand people like you and your clients. All my findings are posted on my website. I admit that my goal has not been to offer "constructive criticism," as I have no interest in your lot improving your work. If, however, one considers trying to help people think for themselves and not let others think for them by providing readings, whether they be based on clairvoyance, the alignment of the stars, or patterns on an inkblot, then I think my criticism has been very constructive.

It seems in your world there is black and there is white. You have no time for those of us who live in the grey. I'm very sorry for it. You miss much, and you take hope from others, too. All because you are so afraid of hope yourself. It's arrogance to think and insist that you are the purveyor of the truth in these matters.

reply: Ancient wisdom has it that this is an example of the pot calling the kettle black. I neither deny nor regret that I have tried to take false hope away from people who let themselves be led by others claiming to have paranormal access to the future. I understand your claim about arrogance in those who think they are purveyors of truth about mediumship since they apply as much to you as they do to me, but I don't understand why you say I'm afraid of hope and that's why I take hope from others. Afraid of hope? What does that even mean?

Please have the goodness to at least recognize that just because someone else's experiences do not match yours it doesn't mean there is nothing to psychic and/or mediumship work. I'm sure you're armed to the teeth with scientific evidence of your "rightness" and my "wrongness" as well. But, my truth is that science and spirit are not mutually exclusive. It's all in perspectives, to my mind. You have one world view and I've another. The difference is I don't feel it necessary to be so cutting and despising to those of us who believe differently.

reply: From your comment about being sure I'm armed to the teeth with scientific evidence for my views on the paranormal, I take it that you have not read much of what I've written about such matters. A list of topics can be found here. Your tone, however, seems to reflect a common sentiment of our times: belief in the right not to be offended. Sorry, there is no such right.

I have realized that we all create our own reality by what we think, feel, speak, and do. I experience what I do because I am open to it. You experience life another way, which ultimately is your choice. Just open yourself to the idea that yours is not the only perspective that is viable. Believe it or not, the world will get along just fine without people insisting on forcing what they view as ultimate truth on everyone else.

Sincerely, Elizabeth

reply: Nice try, Elizabeth. You are not being forced to view anything. You just don't like your avocation and worldview being criticized. Grow up. Defend your beliefs, but don't demand that others shut up if they offend you.


20 Nov 2013
My wife was watching a program called “The Happy Medium”, with a “psychic” called Kim Russo.

I haven’t seen any mention of her on your site. Do you know about her? 

Barry (South Africa)

reply: Never heard of Russo until now, but it took about five minutes at Google University to find out more than I'll ever want to know about her and her clientele. As noted, she's a TV psychic. Her current show is called "The Haunting Of" and seems to feature Kim and various "celebrities" telling their ghost stories. Her web page says she's appeared on A&E's "Paranormal State," a show featuring amateur, non-scientific paranormal investigators (PIs). They bring in tape recorders, EMF detectors, video cameras, and a few other devices and set to work calling anything that affects their devices a ghost. When these investigators hear a gate close behind them, they think ghost rather than wind.

A&E is the go-to channel for paranormal entertainment these days. Paranormal State evolved from The Paranormal Research Society, which originally was called the Penn State Paranormal Research Society. In 2006, the A&E television network began filming these students for a show called Paranormal U, which morphed into "Paranormal State." Each incarnation featured PIs that are not very scientific or skeptical in their approach. The success of Paranormal State has spawned several copycat television programs, none of which feature skeptics or critical thinking, though they all claim to be scientific.

Russo also brags about being on a few episodes of the hit TV show "Psychic Kids," which is less entertainment and more child abuse.

Whether Russo is a fraud or deluded, I can't tell. The probability that she is getting messages from spirits is nil. What she does is popular, however. A look at a what a couple of her fans have to say reveals why she and others like her are favored by a good segment of the population:

Hi Kim, my family have a curse on them or us 4 generations now and we r dropping like flies. I myself just got out of the hosp-. PLEASE PLEASE !!!!! ME. there r so much more to this story, but I don't want 2 do this knowing someone is reading this. because i'm scared, I can't sleep, can't focus on life because is consumming so much of my time and thoughts.

s/Sandra Williamson

Kim I think you are a big help to people who need your kind of help! I need your help if you could contact me  at streitjan@yahoo.com please


Kim, my mother was psychic and I grew up with a sort of an understanding of the spirit world. As a kid, I used to experience things and as an adult; I do get premonitions from time to time. I enjoy your shows and
can't get enough of them, as your work is identical to the mediums I would visit in England, growing up. It is great to see someone going about this type of work respectfully, rather than all of those other Ghost Shows on the networks.

s/ John Coe

If you really want to understand why this kind of magical thinking will never die, read Mark Edward's book Psychic Blues. A&E has chosen to exploit the superstitious niche, along with The History Channel, The Biography Channel (from Russo's website: Her most recent appearance was on  The Biography Channel's "Celebrity Ghost Stories" featuring the Country Legend Music Star, Loretta Lynn), and the Lifetime Movie Network (Russo's current home base). According to Wikipedia, "The Haunting Of" is a spinoff of the Biography Channel's "Celebrity Ghost Stories."

The Skeptic Society is offering a free PDF download by Michael Shermer and Pat Linse listing 13 reasons people see ghosts.


15 Apr 2003
I have recently lost my 17 year old son in an automobile accident and in my grief and shock I had somehow fallen into new age spiritualism.

I bought James Van Praagh's book Talking To Heaven and have seen his show and I began to wonder if this was really possible. Then, as I got further along in his book, he mentions his beliefs about people who die in car accidents and people who die of AIDS somehow had a destiny to fulfill and only then did I realize what nonsense all this was.

Fatal Collisions: First, there are no accidents and such accidents are the direct results of the spiritual law of cause and effect, or karma.

AIDS: During sessions with spirits who have passed with this condition, many gave reasons for having to go through this experience. Many have said that they are helping to balance the negative karma on this planet about our wrong way of thinking (gay lifestyle) and behaving towards each other.

I really doubted my 17 year old son had bad karma or that this was his destiny to die in a fatal car crash. It was an accident. With a little common sense, one could read between the lines of his book to discover his own personal issues with homosexuality and AIDS and how he incorporates that into his work.

I searched his name on the internet and found your article (among others) to be what you could call the real enlightenment, especially the part that this so called phenomena only works because of cold readings and a basic belief system. I had almost bought into spiritualism because I wanted to believe it was true and your article probably saved me a lot of additional grief. I just wanted to thank you for affirming my suspicions with basic facts and principals, which is a lot easier to accept than talking to the dead.

L. S.

reply: It never occurred to me that Van Praagh might be working out his own neuroses with his messages, but the idea makes a lot of sense.  Van Praagh calls himself a "grief counselor" yet some of his notions seem aimed at causing more grief to the grieving. It is hurtful enough to lose a son or daughter, but then to be told that they got what they deserved is to rub salt into the wound.

16 Jun 2002
I would like to thank you for putting this site on the web.

My son-in-law and daughter are into this psychic medium stuff hook, line and sinker. They recently lost their youngest son, an adorable 5-year-old, to a freak accident. They have buried themselves in George Anderson's books. My son-in-law was recently baptized with his 11-year-old son as a nondenominational Christian. However, since his son's death, he has completely thrown out his religious beliefs for the views of George Anderson, and the touchy, feely, nobody suffers kind of new world in which God has no role to play. Instead of reading books on how to deal with grief, of which there are many excellent ones (I know because I also lost a 23-year-old son in an auto accident), he and my daughter just reads George Anderson over and over. My daughter got in touch with James Van Praagh through his web site and Mr. Van Praagh wants to interview her and my son-in-law on some TV show. When my grandson died, there were no fewer than 15 articles in various newspapers regarding his freaky death of being asphyxiated by getting his head caught between two tree branches. There are also obituaries, so it will be easy for Mr. Van Praagh to get information on our entire family in advance and look like a hero. I feel that Mr. Van Praagh is predator, preying on those who are grieving the most.

I thank you for your web site and hope my daughter and son-in-law come across it and actually look at some of your information as they are surfing the web.

3 Aug 1999
Just to add my 2 cents in...... well if you don't want to believe in James then just don't watch or listen.... you must be insane yourself ..... this man is for real... believe it or not !! let him talk to one of your relitives [sic] and I guarantee you will believe!!!

god bless

16 Jul 1999
James Van Praagh was profiled recently on 48 HOURS, which aired again on 7/15/99.

Once again, Van Praagh proved the gullible types in this world far outnumber those given to skepticism and reason.

At one point, the talking head presenting the story stopped and asked, to no one in particular, in a incredulous voice, "How can anyone believe this..."? Indeed.

The presentation was even-handed and skeptical and (hallelujah !) resulted in a controlled "reading" wherein Van Praagh would talk to the dead again.

A woman was shipped in from out of state for the reading, which occurred in Van Praagh's 'normal' house: "See, I don't make money from any of this..." Oh, really ?

Van Praagh's usual refrain dominated the exchange, saying things like: "He is here by your side", "He wants you to know he's OK..." and such twaddle.

The Amazing Randi was allowed to review the performance and clearly showed how Van Praagh uses generalized statements (Do you know a John ?) that are true for anyone. Indeed, it is safe to say we all know at least one John in the world. Sad to say, Randi noted, that people want to believe they can settle accounts with the dead and will go to any lengths to live the illusion. Wise words.
Chris Long

13 Jun 1999
It really ticks me off that a person like James Van Praagh can go around doing the crap he does. Why on earth would my dead relatives talk to a total stranger like Mr. Van Praagh, instead of coming straight to me.? That is, if they are able to communicate in the first place.

He is as phony as they come and I really would love to believe he is the real thing, but I know with all my heart he is a phony.

Thank you for letting me speak my mind. I wish I could tell Mr. Vanpraagh myself, but his website is a joke and of course, at this moment , he is not accepting any e-mail because he is on "tour". Yeah, right.
Thank you again
Sheila Hancks

11 Jun 1999
Van Praagh surfaced on Maury Povich during the week of 6/699 - 6/13/99 (Wednesday, I believe) purporting to communicate with deceased loved ones of guests appearing for "closure".

Van Praagh's performance was as silly as it was crude, displaying no ability to divine any information about a deceased relative beyond the usual "cold-reading" technique, which he doesn't even do well.

If the guests had not 'fed' information during Van Praagh's Q&A it was apparent he would have been rendered entirely helpless. After a correct guess ( far fewer than incorrect guesses ) Van Praagh would make non-specific, generalized statements to which the tearful relatives on Povich's stage would nod and agree.

Incorrect statements by Van Praagh were always followed by the comment "...maybe not now but watch for that - it's coming..." Yeah, right.

Van Praagh in incompetent to counsel and pry into the affairs of emotionally-wrought people with his crude, guessing style that just is not convincing. But Povich was in ascendancy leading choruses of oohs and aahs during the very few correct guesses by Van Praagh.

The show was little more than hype for a new book by Van Praagh and a staged PR exercise. It's sad that entertainment has reached this sort of low, eliciting teary, gut-wrenching personal horrors from devastated people by a clown like Van Praagh for little more than entertainment.
Chris Long

22 Jul 1998
James van Praagh appeared on "Positively Texas" not too long ago...being a big skeptic myself I watched to see how someone so obviously fake could fool so many (I've honed my skills watching people such as Peter Popoff and Robert Tilton).

Anyway, TV seems to be a bad medium for his "product"...the cameras show right up his sleeves. The episode I watched had him doing a reading with a woman who obviously was a believer in Praagh. James starts off doing what's expected...throwing out very general comments and looking for positive feedback. However, because the camera was focused on her and not him, you were able to notice the slight quirks that would spread across her face whenever he mentioned something, quirks that he used to decide which way the reading should go. She'd either crinkle her brow in confusion, or kind of release the tension in her lips as a sign of "whew...there was something I recognize." As she became more and more disgruntled that he wasn't "hitting" on anything, he all the sudden stopped and went a MORE general route:

"Ok, I'm sensing someone...a woman...who has died." James looks at the woman for feedback, which he gets. Eventually he establishes that he's talking about her dead mother and that he can see her dead mother standing right beside her. Already I'm wondering why he couldn't see the dead mother standing beside her before and why he couldn't give a better description other than "she's dead." So, keeping with the general questions, he says: "I'm sensing someone had a heart attack...I see a heart attack." She smiled real big and said "Yes, my cat had a heart attack." James is off and running. "Ok...Your mom is here, she's holding your cat. She wants you to know that your cat is going to be taken care of in the next life."

I'm now wondering why he never saw the cat before: after all, if he can see her mom standing next to her, he should be able to see the cat she's holding. That's basically all her dead mom had to say to her. Not "Time is but an essence of life and the whiskey of the damned. Drink to me tonight." Not "All is just as just is all. A profound experience of you I have dreamt; let me tell you of it..." Not, "The swirls of life coalesce and collide and bind you to the crystals of your empathetic mind. Peace be with you my daughter, I am dancing with the fates." But..."I'm taking care of your cat." If I were dead and I knew I probably had only one chance to talk to my "dearly stuck-in-the-mortal-world,"I'd try and come up with something more searching, more important. Not pet arrangements.

However, I now know that when our pets die our ancestors take care of them. Whew...that's a relief. I wonder if that applies to someone with insects as pets. What if someone has a pet rock?

Also, has Van Praagh ever told someone "Your mother still hates you. She wishes you were dead so she could smack you around in the after-life." Are ALL his readings positive? Whew...apparently all our dead relatives have forgiven us for everything.

Van Praagh is so obvious, it's actually painful to see someone swept up by his obvious lack of originality. I personally prefer the woman that channels that 35,000-year-old warrior. At least there you get a floorshow. With Van Praagh you get just about as much as if you'd dialed 1-800-PSYCHIC.
Aaron Nations

25 Sep 98
I had the chance to see James van Praagh on a TV appearance not long ago, and was, quite frankly, astounded that people can believe that he is real. The clip I saw was full of him making vague statements, including some where he managed to say that something was either X or not X. I watched as he pursued several dead-ends, stopping only when the subject showed no recognition of the topics he described.

One part deserves special mention - van Praagh said "...whenever this person died, or 'was killed'...." (single quotes indicated by van Praagh with hand motions). This was the most egregious fishing - he was able to catch both natural deaths, accidental deaths, and murders in this net of a question. All in all, it was a very enlightening example of how well cold-reading can work.
Pete Hardie

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