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

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: medium

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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