When I found out that James Van Praagh was coming to a town near me to do a large-audience mediumship demonstration, I jumped at the chance to see one of the most famous mediums (at least in the US) ply his trade. I made up my mind to go into the show as an investigator and an open-minded skeptic, well-aware that Mr. Van Praagh could employ some or all of the many tricks used by fraudulent mediums to convince audiences that they are speaking to the dead. On the other hand, I reserved some hope that James Van Praagh by virtue of his popularity would wow the audience with hit after hit containing specific and detailed information that could not have been gained through hot or cold reading. My mother has a degree in psychology and agreed to accompany me to the show to help watch for any trickery and to also analyze the performance for cold reading techniques. This would be the first time either of us had attended a mediumship demonstration, and I could hardly contain my excitement. Before walking into the theatre that night, I resolved – no, promised – that whatever the outcome, I would be completely honest in my assessment of the show. I prepared myself to take notes so that I could record the evidence that was being presented for later analysis. From the moment we arrived at the theatre, my mother and I were in investigative mode, looking for hidden microphones, watching for staff eavesdropping in on conversations and surveying the vestibule for impromptu interviews attempting to glean information from the sitters. Once the show started, we would be analyzing James for any evidence of cold reading which we prepared for in the days beforehand by studying videos of other mediums employing this trick.
Cold reading techniques are used to gain information through non-verbal clues and through generalizations based on the sitter’s clothes, jewelry, body language and with knowledge of human behavior and statistics. Generally, a medium will start by throwing out general and vague references that might apply to anyone. Then, when they catch a bite, the medium might begin by making assumptions about the person, changing up their guesses as the person’s facial expressions give hints to the medium if they are or aren’t on the right track. Cold reading also entails making rapid fire guesses until the medium gets a hit (shotgunning), or even asking the sitter direct questions to gain information. Many times in an effort to save the medium the embarrassment of being wrong, the sitter will even claim something as true when it wasn’t, or attempt to retrofit the guess. Mediums count on this technique when people don’t want to be seen as ‘being difficult’.
There’s also the concern that mediums, especially famous mediums who are wealthy enough to hire a huge staff, may employ hot reading techniques. One very famous female medium has been accused of googling her clients, buying information from databases and even hiring private detectives to gain information on her clients before readings. I cannot verify that this is true, but just think about how much personal information you share on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. It’s probably enough for someone to construct a very decent reading of your life, no private investigator needed. In other cases, mediums who do large audience shows will have their staff mingle with the people who are waiting in the vestibule and listen into their conversations. Other techniques employed are direct interviews by the staff, or ruses to get people to sign up for things – which can give vital information to the medium before the show begins.
Armed with this information, we prepared to go into the theatre with an open mind and a critical eye.
The following is my reconstruction of the evening, complete with most of the evidence that James presented to the people he selected to read. Obviously, I am reconstructing this based on notes and our shared memory of the events, but I am very certain that what I have presented here is fair and accurate. I have left out some details but none that consisted of jaw-dropping evidence. I do apologize in advance that this post is very long and detailed, but I feel that it is important to include the evidence provided so that readers can truly get a sense of what was presented.
Evidence provided during the James Van Praagh Evening of Mediumship in Morristown, NJ
When we approached the theatre, people were mingling outside and inside the vestibule, but were also allowed to go directly to their seats in the theatre. I stood outside for a few minutes to look for anyone who might be acting suspiciously and listening into conversations, but saw nothing amiss. There was music playing throughout the theatre, and the noise level would have made it difficult to hear any conversation unless one was standing right next to the person in question. I tried it myself, but couldn’t hear any information that could be passed along to a medium. I didn’t see any staff interviewing guests so I ruled out that particular hot reading technique and continued inside the vestibule. There was a woman advertising a raffle, and a table where James Van Praagh’s books were being sold. I inquired at the raffle about a sign-up form, and the woman replied that they only needed name and phone number. Even when buying the tickets, no additional information was asked by the theatre website aside from information needed to actually purchase the tickets. Hmm. Not enough information to help the medium 5 minutes before show-time, I decided. There were no other sign-up sheets or registrations to be seen either at the book table or anywhere else. So far, so good.
We grabbed our seats and the show started a little after 8pm. James came on stage and proceeded to tell the crowd about mediumship, and about spirituality in general. I enjoyed his talk about spirituality, and pretty much agreed with what he shared with the audience, particularly about reincarnation and the purpose of hardships in life. He took a few questions from the audience, then led us all through a meditation to help us relax and get into the mood of the evening. Around 30 minutes into the show, he began with the mediumship demonstration portion. One thing I noticed throughout the evening was that James never left the stage. The combination of the stage lights shining directly into his face and the darkened theatre, he could barely see his audience. He frequently shielded his eyes to attempt to see who was standing as he called out evidence, so cold reading based on visual clues gained from the sitter would have been impossible. In many cases, he was reading for people at the very back of the theatre, or on the balcony. James was simply too far away to use any visual clues from the person he was reading to include in his evidence. Cold reading relies heavily on these visual clues and facial expressions, so if James was relying on this technique, he would have been at a serious disadvantage right from the start.
As expected, video and audiotaping was not allowed but I took pages and pages of notes at a furious pace throughout the entire evening in order to reconstruct what occurred. Although at a public show no one who gets a reading can truly expect total privacy, I will leave out any names or identifying information to protect the bereaved.
James started out by asking who in the audience was wearing their mother’s bracelet on their left wrist. Two women raised their hand, but the second woman was wearing the bracelet on the right wrist. James was very specific about the bracelet being on the left hand and the woman in front was asked to stand.
The mother who hides her money in the linen closet:
James says to the audience, “I have a mother coming into the spirit world and is telling me that you are wearing her bracelet on her left wrist.” He mentions that at some point the clasp wasn’t working and the lady affirms this is true.
James then says that both her mother and father are coming in together and that the month of December is very significant to her. The woman answers that December is the month of her birthday.
James asks if the deceased needed an oxygen tank before death and had trouble breathing. The woman affirms this was the case.
James then asks, “Is this person related to someone who is here tonight?”
The woman answers, “Yes, my mother-in law, she is right here.” At this point, James asks the mother-in-law to stand and begins directing his questions to her.
James asks the mother-in-law to confirm that she has her deceased husband’s ring, and she agrees. James then says that the mother-in-law’s mother is also there.
James then describes the woman’s mother as the type of person who always had to have the pillows and sheets and the bed made just right, and taught her daughter (the mother-in-law who is now standing) how to make sure the beds were made perfectly.
The woman answers in the affirmative and says something to the effect of, “the beds are always made.” James continues, “She’s telling me about the linen closet, how everything is folded very neatly in the linen closet and the pillow cases are folded neatly on the second shelf, but the hinge makes a noise, does that make sense?” The woman answers, “Yes.”
He says that the mother in spirit is happy that her daughter is so organized but mentions that there is some disorder on the second shelf – that her daughter throws things back there.
The woman replies, “well, there’s money back there!” and the audience laughs.
James mentions that the woman was thinking of her mother when looking at the second shelf, to which the woman replies, “Yes.”
Then James asks, “Would you know a R______?” The woman replies, “Yes. My husband’s brother.” James answers that he wants to wave and say he’s alive, “believe it or not” because the man was a skeptic about the afterlife. James asks if this makes sense to the woman and she says that it does.
James then guesses a surname (for privacy reasons, I will not share what was said. The surname was close to the surname validated by the woman but not exact.)
“Now I want to talk about crossword puzzles, you must sit and do crossword puzzles.” At this point, the mother-in-law doesn’t speak. There is silence for a few seconds as the family looks at each other. James persists about the crossword puzzles, then asks if anyone takes public transportation and does crossword puzzles on a train or bus.
The family still doesn’t connect with this reference and there is silence for a few seconds before the daughter jumps in and says, “Down the shore I do them sometimes.” James then tells her that her father wants to acknowledge the crossword puzzles.
He then changes back to speaking to the mother-in law about her husband and says that the wife kept her husband’s ties, especially the red one. The woman says that she has a Christmas tie that he always refused to wear. James then asks if she has kept his checkbooks, to which she says, “Oh, boy!” James continues and says that she has kept his checkbooks and pens and keeps these things in a drawer. The woman agrees.
James then describes her dead husband as someone who was very careful and sacred about his things and didn’t want anyone to touch his stuff. At this, the woman got excited and exclaimed how much he hated when anyone touched his stuff. James continues to say that the man especially hated when anyone, especially the kids, touched his flashlight.
“Oh, yes!” the lady gasps. James then tells her that the flashlight in is a drawer next to the measuring tape. “Yes!” The lady seems surprised he would know this fact.
James then talks about how the man was in a wheelchair before death, but because he was very prideful he didn’t want anyone fussing over him. The family agrees.
James then talks about the man’s military background and mentions a friend named Skip who was in the military with him, but the wife doesn’t exactly know. James asks about her yearbook and she confirms that she was looking at it recently. James asks if she has a picture of her husband with the rest of his military buddies and she confirms that she has it. He tells her to check for the friend by looking at that picture.
The conversation lasted a few more minutes, but my notes are a little hard to piece together at that point. From my recollection, there was nothing more of consequence except the usual platitudes that the family in spirit were sending their love.
The couple whose son committed suicide with a belt:
Next, James asked about a son who committed suicide with a belt. Although two hands were raised, a man and his wife were eventually selected as fitting the description. James tells the women who wasn’t selected that he would try to come back to her. He asks the couple, now standing, if they have a photo with them on their person, but they only have a picture on their phone. He says that the boy was in his early 20s when he passed and living outside the house. The couple agrees. James says he feels “wacked out” in the head, like drugs were taken.
The couple didn’t agree with that statement, and say that their son was disabled. James asks if the son was living in a center. No, his own apartment, they reply. James asks if they found him after he committed suicide. No, his roommate did. James asks if he was in a wheelchair. The couple says, “No”, he had Asperger’s syndrome. Four misses in a row.
James then asks if they have a pair of glasses that belonged to him in their house. The couple confirms that they do have a pair of his old glasses.
He says the boy wants to send love to his brother. The couple initially says he only has a sister, but then recants and says that their son does have step-brothers that he always called “his brothers.”
James also says the boy wants to thank his mother because she helped him. The woman standing there was actually his step-mom, but the man said that she was like a mother to the boy.
Now James says that he feels the boy is very intelligent but he felt like he never fit in.
At this point, I could see from my spot half-way down the theatre that the couple were crying, the woman was hugging her husband close with her arms around him. The man could barely answer James when he asked questions. His anguish was palpable to everyone in the theatre.
James mentions writing letters and a connection to Florida, both which are verified by the parents. Then James says that the son wants them to know that “it wasn’t their fault”. James mentions a parade, but the parents are so overcome its hard to know if that was a hit. Then James asks if they ever made models together when his son was young. The father confirms that they made model cars together.
The second woman whose son committed suicide with a belt:
James then goes back to the other woman who had initially raised her hand to accept the call that her son hanged himself with a belt.
She verified that in the last few days she was thinking about her son while sitting on the edge of the bed. James says that her son is ‘coming in whistling’, meaning he’s happier and lighter now, and indicates that this means her son was depressed or sad before death. He says “I don’t know if its bipolar or another mental illness, but I’m definitely getting something like a mental disorder..”
The woman then tells him that her son was depressed.
Then James says that the boy is mentioning an issue with his father, and when his father passed into the spirit world he met him on the other side. He mentions a problem with alcohol. The woman confirms that her husband had a problem with alcohol. He asks if she met her husband in 1963. She says she met her husband in 1964.
He gets another hit by mentioning that she is having photos redone of her son and that there are pictures in frames lying in a drawer. He then mentions a dried rose in a book, but the lady says that the dried rose is on the kitchen counter. James then sends messages and well-wishes from her now ‘cleaned-up’ husband and her son, and even tells her that she may expect to be re-married in the future.
The daughter who lost her father:
The last woman he reads before the intermission lost her father. James gets a hit by getting his name correct right off the bat, and by mentioning that someone was in a hospital with this man and was combing his hair and put lotion on his hands and feet. Then he says that the woman “was lying on the left side of the bed, embracing him, and someone had to help her off of him.” James mentions three people at his bedside, and a procedure that was tried and did not work. He asks if they understand, to which they reply “Yes.” The family also confirmed that they were going to do something charitable in the name of the deceased. He also mentions that it was hard for the man to speak at the end. The woman was agog at this, crying, and exclaimed it was true.
After the show, I visited James Van Praagh’s facebook page and found this comment (names removed):
“Was there last night with my girl A___ in the center, in the back. You were so spot on with her dad R_____, who passed on a little over 10 months ago. She was hugging him on the bed, on the left side, fixing his hair. Putting lotion on his Hands and feet. There were 3 of us in the room. He had Jaw surgery a while back and had new teeth on the bottom, and it was hard talking. Amazing. You touched her heart. Thank You”
James also mentions that when you would look at old photos of the man, he was “all teeth”, that he had a very big, wide smile. The family seemed genuinely surprised at this fact and emphatically agreed that his teeth were a prominent feature of his face when he was younger. The audience laughed uproariously at this.
Interestingly, James mentions that although in this lifetime her husband left early, in another lifetime it may have been her who left early. James then mentions a Volkswagen beetle and the family doesn’t recognize it, but the woman who is sitting right next to them tells James that her brother (with the same name as the deceased) was nicknamed ‘beetle’. James explains this as the way “spirit organizes coincidences for our benefit”, and arranged for those two women to sit next to each other.
James then tells the woman to make sure that her husband goes for a checkup of his liver or kidneys right away, and the woman amazingly says “he went to the doctor this morning.” He then mentions a connection with the coast guard which doesn’t seem to resonate with the family, but continues on by reassuring the woman that her family in spirit is always around her.
At an hour and 20 minutes, we break for an intermission. During the intermission, I overhear one of the woman who got a reading speaking softly with a friend. I try to stand close enough to hear what she is saying and I catch her exclaiming how right James had been during his reading of her. I did another round of the tables to observe the process of buying books and signing up for the raffle, but still didn’t see anyone filling out registration forms or giving out personal information. About 15 minutes later, the show resumed.
The two sisters and their dead mother’s wigs:
James asks who in the audience had a mother pass around 72-74 years of age and wore wigs before death. A few people stand. He then asks who still has their mother’s wigs in their house. He specifically says that the mother’s daughter is in the audience. The daughter has her recipes. A few people are still standing. One of the women says her mother passed at 71, and he declines this as a possibility. James then mentions a significant weight loss, and the name B____. One of the women who has remained standing says her friend sitting next to her is named B____.
James then asks the woman B____ to stand up. She does and he tells her that her dad has passed and is here as well as her mother. James then asks the two women to stay standing and begins the reading with them. To the women who has her dead mother’s wigs, he says that he knows that her mother passed from breast cancer, and the woman yelps in surprise. He says that there was a mastectomy and the woman agrees.
James then mentions the wigs again, and the woman tells him that her sister is a hair dresser and always fixed her mother’s wigs for her. James says, “I see that you both tried on the wigs with her.” and the woman responds, “we always did.”
James then says that he knows they still have a few wigs at their house and that she was recently looking at them. The woman volunteers that they wear the wigs for Halloween. The audience erupts in laughter at this.
Then James asks if one of the sisters still brushes the wigs out and speaks to the dead mother at the same time. The woman responds that her sister still does that. James then describes the wig color as a reddish blond color. The woman affirms that it is auburn, but James insists that it is a light auburn because he’s getting more of a light red. The woman agrees with this statement.
He continues to say that “there is a side part on the wig with a little bit of bangs…”, and the woman says, “yes! yes!”. James begins talking about jewelry and exclaims that she keeps it in a tin cup and the woman agrees. James stumbles a bit on costume jewelry, suggesting that they kept their mother’s costume jewelry in a plastic bag. The woman was confused and claimed that she had costume jewelry herself. James continues, asking if she looked at it recently. She said she had, and he moves on.
He then returns to the second woman, B_____, and tells her that she has kept her father’s watch. She agrees with this statement. He mentions a connection with Disney and she says yes. He then scores a seemly big hit by telling the woman “Your mother is singing, she keeps singing really loudly and saying, ‘I can sing now!'” the woman interrupts with a loud “Yes! YES!” and James continues to say that the mother had complained that she couldn’t sing anymore before she died. The woman confirms that her mother had been a singer and lost her voice before death and did complain about it. James mentions something about art or being and artist and the woman again yells out ‘Yes!” because she is an artist. He then admonishes both of them to “believe in themselves, and don’t waste their time on this earth.” to which both women are visibly moved.
The women who lost her only daughter:
James tells the audience that he has a young girl here, a daughter whose mother is sitting in the audience. He says the daughter was thin before she died. A woman stands and he asks her if she has three children. She says that she does, but she had four: her three sons are living and her only daughter is in spirit. James tells the woman that there was a suddenness or a surprise in this girl’s passing. James tells her he feels it was an accident of some kind. He then says “I don’t want to be graphic, but would you know if her head was involved at all?”
The woman replies that her daughter was in a car accident. James quickly states that he knows about the car accident and that the girl’s head goes through the windshield.
James tells the woman that her daughter didn’t suffer. He says to the woman, “Didn’t you go to the place where this happened?” The woman says, “yes.” James continues by asking, “did you bring a candle with you, or was there a candle there?” The woman doesn’t recognize this statement, and says no, before volunteering that she put flowers there. James continues to insist on the candle until the mother finally says yes, and then also mentions a teddy bear.
James asks if the girl is buried, and the woman says no, she was cremated. James then tells her that he sees that the girl’s ashes were divided among family and the woman agrees.
James tells the woman that he knows that she was recently looking at the girl’s old childhood pictures. The woman says, “yes.” He then tells her that she kept a lock of the girl’s hair. The woman tells James that she has a locket with a piece of her hair in it.
James says, “I know July is significant” but the woman can’t place it. He then asks if there is some meaning behind the name Elizabeth. She can’t place it, but volunteers that her mother lives in a town called Bethany. James tells her that it doesn’t fit and he doesn’t want to try to make it fit.
He then moves on to the girl having pierced ears and gold earrings, both of which the mother agrees to, and mentions a tattoo in memory of her. The mother says that she is indeed getting a tattoo in memory of her daughter.
With regard to the tattoo, James mentions a heart. The mother says, “No.” He then moves on to seeing “angel statues” and says, “I don’t know if the angels are holding a heart?” the mother gasps and says, “Yes! Yes! YES! YES!!” and confirms that the angels are holding a heart.
He then asks if she has a ribbon or badge of hers with her, and the mother says she has a scarf of her daughter’s with her. James then tells the mother that he knows they went out to dinner before the show and that her daughter was there with her. He tells the mother that her daughter was there when she toasted to her daughter at dinner with a glass of wine, and she says, “yes.”
At that point, the deceased girl’s older brother is asked to stand and James asks a few questions, all of which were misses. He asks if the son is getting a tattoo in honor of his sister, “no.” He asked if he rides a motorcycle, “no.” Then James says, “good, don’t.” James then tells the young man that he will eventually be a father and name his son Jimmy.
There was one more reading after this one, but I will not bother trying to reiterate it because I believe the family who answered the call really weren’t meant for it. James asked for a husband who died, and a woman stood up who claimed it was her father. James became confused and the audience seemed confused. My notes on this are a mess, so I won’t try to reconstruct it for you.
My thoughts on the show:
James Van Praagh scored more than a few amazing hits which is undeniable. In the first reading, he scored a hit by mentioning that the woman keeps something in the back of the second shelf of the linen closet (money) and that the linen closet door hinge squeaks. He gets the husband’s brother’s name exactly, and gets a close match to their surname. He also scores a hit by describing her husband as the type who hated when anyone touched his flashlight, and knows that the flashlight is kept in the drawer next to a measuring tape.
He also gets hits with the daughter who kept their mother’s wigs when he asked if someone still brushes out the wigs and speaks to the dead mother. He accurately described the dead mother’s wig exact color, cut and shape and knew the mother loved to sing and lost her voice before she died. With one of the women who lost her son to suicide with the belt, he knew her husband was dead, had been an alcoholic, and the year that she met him (although he was one year off). He also knew the woman who lost her daughter kept a lock of her hair, which is somewhat unusual. James also gets a hit when he mentions the angel statues. Although I could argue that angel statues are pretty common, especially as a bereavement gift to a mother who has lost a daughter, it was still a great guess, especially since James mentions that the angels are holding hearts. The mother was visibly stunned when he mentioned this.
The man who was “all teeth” was definitely a hit, and not something one could guess from cold reading, as well as his statement describing the daughter laying on the left side of her father, combing his hair and putting lotion on his hands and feet. He even mentioned the three people in the room, which was confirmed by the sitters themselves on Facebook the next day.
There were many more hits and misses and some guesses that perhaps could be characterized as ‘obvious’, which is consistent with cold reading. For example, in the first reading, James mentions to an elderly woman that she has kept her dead husband’s ring. What poor widow doesn’t keep her dead husband’s wedding ring? The woman who used wigs was described as losing a significant amount of weight before she died, something that is consistent with cancer victims. In addition, most young people who commit suicide are depressed, so I’d call that one a lucky guess. He describes pierced ears and gold earrings to the woman who lost her daughter, common for little girls to have. These vague guesses don’t necessarily prove he was using cold reading tactics, as they were all still true and valid statements. They simply weren’t evidential enough to use as proof.
At times James made statements that didn’t resonate with the family. The crossword puzzle was a stretch during his reading with the first family. He initially thought the little girl who died in the car crash was buried, not cremated. He mentioned a connection with the coast guard that made no sense to one woman in the back. The name Elizabeth is never claimed or the month of July. Skip, the military friend couldn’t be identified, and more.
We discussed the possibility that James used plants in the audience. It’s possible, but I didn’t get any sense that these people were anything but ordinary people. Their reactions, both positive and negative seemed truly genuine. I overheard one woman who was given a reading speaking quietly to a friend and confirming that his reading was true. Would a plant go so far to convince the odd passerby by engaging in conversation that could barely be heard above the music and talking in the vestibule? In addition, for James to use plants in the audience, he would need a very large staff of plants and somehow ensure that they never talk. Considering how famous James Van Praagh is, I think someone would succumb to the temptation to make a little money by going on a talk show and outing the medium. James Van Praagh has had a very long career; it seems unusual that he would use plants in the majority of his shows and risk that kind of exposure. Surely, he would have been exposed by now.
In addition as I mentioned before, James couldn’t see the audience from the stage very well due to the lighting and many of the people read were in the back of the theatre or on the balcony. James could not have used their facial expressions, clothes, jewelry, age or other visual factors for use in employing cold reading tactics. If James were cold reading, he would have put himself at a great disadvantage with this setup.
My mother suggested that James may be a very intelligent man who is simply a great judge of character. I agreed, and also suggested that he might possess a combination of genuine talent and yet still unconsciously employ some techniques of educated guessing. We both agreed that we feel that James himself believes he is a medium and speaking with spirits. If he is simply making lucky guesses, we didn’t feel that he is doing it consciously. There were definitely times when he could have smooth-talked his way out of a few wrong guesses, but James always stood by his impressions, even if they didn’t seem to fit. He also never pressured anyone to make something fit, something I have seen other mediums do on shows. James in fact very bluntly reminded audience members several times not to make things fit, even when the audience member was willing to make it a hit for James.
It’s important to note that no medium will ever be 100% correct with all of their impressions, especially in a large-audience reading, so I cannot fault him on some inaccuracies.
My mother was impressed by his kind and gentle nature, and grateful that he is willing to discuss death candidly and give hope to so many, especially since death is so taboo in our western culture. The audience genuinely loved the show, evidenced by their rapturous applause and by all of the comments on his Facebook page the next day from people who attended the show. They were all exceedingly positive.
Were some of his hits truly amazing? Yes. Absolutely. Were his amazing hits numerous enough to convince me without the shadow of a doubt that he was connecting to deceased people? No.
I can’t say that I am 100% convinced based on James Van Praagh’s performance. I saw a bit too much shot gunning, retrofitting and vague guesses. However, some of the more accurate hits were detailed and specific enough that I was filled with awe. Although I remain undecided, I’m definitely intrigued and my belief in the possibility of mediumship certainly didn’t decrease after this experience.
I hope James Van Praagh comes back to New Jersey again so that I can attend another show. Even if I haven’t decided on his abilities, I did truly enjoy the experience overall. His message was overwhelmingly positive and he has a gentle spirit that exudes kindness and love. We walked into that theatre and for two hours confronted death in all of its darkest shades and forms. Yet, at the end of the show, we all walked out of the theatre feeling uplifted, hopeful and at peace. In our push for scientific evidence and proof, I think sometimes we forget the power of faith to transform us and carry us through our darkest times. For those who found their faith in James Van Praagh that night, a little light was shined into their lives and they were given the courage to face another day under the burden of crushing grief. It may have been a beautiful connection to spirit, or simply a beautiful illusion, but I think everyone in that audience could agree that it was definitely a beautiful experience.
So what do you think? Have you seen James Van Praagh or another medium in a large-audience setting? Do you feel that they are truly connecting with spirit, making excellent educated guesses or exploiting the bereaved?
32 thoughts on “A Complete and Honest Account of The James Van Praagh Evening of Mediumship in Morristown, NJ”
Excellent report Jenn Will comment tomorrow as it’s two in the morning here! Dave
Thank you Dave! Go get some sleep, night owl! pleasant dreams 🙂
Loved your post, Jenn.
Have never seen James perform, and in fact don’t know much about him or even that he did perform, but I read a book of his some years ago and was very favourably impressed. Yes, based on what I read, he does have the knowledge of spirituality, Reincarnation IS a reality and I, in fact, do know of some of my past lifetimes. In my last lifetime apparently I was a pilot in the Luftwaffa in WW II by the name of Karl Heinz. This came to me in a sequence of dreams. I died in 1944 and reincarated in this lifetime in 1960.
On the only occasion in which I underwent hypnotic regression, what I “saw” was myself as a soldier in the crusades by the name Ezequeiel. I will keep what I saw in my regression short, but when the regressionist told me to go the moment of my death, I saw myself in a battle, on a horse, and literally jumpes from the reclining chair when I felt a stab in my back. Then felt myself being pulled off the horse by two men and having my throat slit. When asked what year it was, I spurted out 1480! But then in my thoughts I began to question this date as I believed / knew that the crusades had been in the 12th and 13th centuries. Not in the 15th. When I arrived home, however, I google searched, and indeed found the battle in 1480 still related to the crusades:
I also know of a “famous” past life of mine, which I won’t go into right now as this is an argument used by skeptics that people who claim to have lived past lives were always someone “famous”. This is not so. Most people record quite normal lives. I will just say that I was born in Scotland. And that my full name in this lifetime is Charles Edward Stuart Boden.
As eternal souls, we are born, live, die, spend some time in the dimensions of the spiritual realms and then are born again. This is how the process of our spiritual evolution works, the spiritual evolution of all humankind,. We ALL reincarnate. All of us. No exceptions.
Just wanted to comment on one point in your post:
“He initially thought the little girl who died in the car crash was buried, not cremated.”
No, I think he was actually aiming at the fact that she had NOT been buried.
As I said in a post in the James Randi thread, sprirtual communications are not an exact science. Often it is difficult for the medium to differentiate what is truly mediumistic and that which is the interpherence of the medium’s own mind and thoughts.
Chico Xavier never “performed”. He attended people at his spiritual center and people came to him. He never reached out looking for people to attend. He also never charged.
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Your regressions sound so fascinating! Have you ever looked into finding any information on the WWII pilot? It would be really interesting to learn more about the life of that man, since you have his full name. Did his name come to you during the regression?
As for what James said about the little girl – I will go back to my notes and see; I could have been wrong about it. I’ll double check. I would love to be regressed sometime. Have you ever read the books by Dr. Michael Newton and his Life Between Lives regression techniques? He has two books and both are fascinating.. Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls. I’d be really curious, if you haven’t read them, to see if any of it rings true to you. When you were regressed, did they take you into the spirit world between lives, or just from one life to the next?
Hadn’t received notice of your reply.
I only have his first two names: Karl Heinz. Not a surname. And as I don’t speak german, it makes research rather dificult. Don’t really know if I want to go there either. This lifetime came to me in a sequence of dreams over a relativley short period of time of about 2 months. It was at a phase after my 1st divorce when I was 28 at the time. I have a son from my 1st marriage so was going through a very tough time, and constantly questioning why I was going through all that. The dreams gave me the answer, and ended when I dreamed of my death in that lifetime. Never dreamed of it again.
As for the regression, after I was regressed to the moment of my death, the regressionist asked me to go to the moment after my death What I saw and felt was myself elevating weightlessly above the battle ground, looking down as I distanced myself from it.
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No, have never read the books. I only underwent regression once, and the only lifetime I “saw” was the one I described. My life as a German pilot came to me through a sequence of dreams. The other lifetime I know of for sure came from a combination of coincidences, spiritual communications and dreams. When I went for the regression, I expected to see something related to the two I already knew, but what came to me was an entirely diferente one.
Excellent, comprehensive report. Large audience situations may not be the best situation for a medium to function in. However, this seems quite typical of such performances. Interesting, but I don’t think this is the place to look for personal proof. Because, when it comes down to it, the proof must be personal to work. It’s when you know, you absolutely know, there was no other way the information could have been received. Or better still, when you receive and pass on something yourself. You have to be psychic for that to work, of course, and even psychics doubt their own abilities. But sometimes you are spot on accurate and you KNOW you didn’t know that. You couldn’t have known that. That’s the real proof. Only of course, you can’t prove it to anyone else.
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Yes, there really is no substitute for personal experience. Bob Olsen’s book, Answers About the Afterlife talks in length about the different types of belief. He says that you can “believe” in the afterlife based on the experiences of others, or you can “know” there is an afterlife by experiencing something paranormal yourself. I would love to find a really good mediums to have a personal reading. Right now, I believe but I don’t ‘know’. The goal of my whole search for life after death is to feel like I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the afterlife exists. Personal experiences are definitely going to be a huge part of that. Have you ever had a personal experience, Sally, where it has led to feeling like you ‘know’ it was paranormal in origin?
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Hello Jean. Yes, there is a big difference between “BELIEVING” and KNOWING”. I believe all sorts of things, but I don’t necessarily know them to be true. I try to keep my belief system flexible and am prepared to change my ideas if presented with contrary facts. To do otherwise would ultimately lead to religious fanaticism and a delusional obsession.
Have I experienced irrefutable proof of survival? Well, I have certainly experienced psychic events and communications that I KNOW were genuine. And I have received communications from mediums, the knowledge of which could not have been obtained by any normal, physical, means, fraudulent or otherwise. Yes, we all know about cold reading, but I credit myself with some intelligence. I have been told things that could have been wild-guessed, but the odds would have been millions to one of being correct – a miracle in itself. I have also channeled “messages” which I definitely KNOW I had no previous knowledge of. When they are verified, no one is more surprised than I am.
I have no doubt that, on many occasions, I have received proof of the existence of the paranormal. This naturally supports the possibility that other people’s experiences are could also be genuine. For instance, I encountered a medium in unplanned circumstances following an impulse decision on my part. With no prompting, she dived straight in to a description of my mother, her physical appearance and a rare spinal defect which developed from childhood conditions which she also described, along with many details of my own circumstances. My mother died forty years ago, on the other side of the world. No one on this side of the planet knows anything about her. Weeks of work by a private detective would have not turned up this information, especially as I have changed my name twice in the interim.
So what does this prove? I think it proves, to my satisfaction, that a “Psychic Event” happened. Does it prove survival? Unfortunately, no it does not. Certainly, survival of is one possible explanation of how and why the information was received. But – we must be honest and admit that there could be a number of other explanations. There are so many aspects of the Cosmos and our own existence that are completely unknown to us and dimensions of which we are totally unaware.
Yes, I do believe in survival. However, I am not going to knock myself out looking for proof one way or the other. Whatever happens at death will happen, whether we believe in it or not. Maybe it’s not what you believe that matters, but how those beliefs affect the quality of your life and the impact you have on the world around you. I like to think that I will survive and enter another layer of existence. But if I go out like the proverbial candle, well then so be it. After all, I won’t be there to worry about it, will I?
Hi Sally, wow! You’ve had quite a number of amazing experiences! I hoping to experience some of that myself. I have never had a one-on-one reading with a medium, but I am making that part of my goal for this year. Its amazing that a medium was able to pick up on your mother’s rare spinal defect. That would convince me! You are correct that mediumship doesn’t necessarily prove survival. I do worry about the unknown PSI effect that might be at play. Amazing as it is, could mediums simply be reading minds? The study by Dr. Julie Beichel tried to address that, I think, and proved that mediumship is not just mind reading. For me, the search for life after death is like a continuing journey into spirituality. Although I no longer have the same fear of death that I did when I was younger, I still have never had the kind of personal experience, or as you call it, ‘psychic event’ that have proven to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that we survive. I admire your acceptance of death either way, though. You have a very healthy view of death. There was a great ted talk that I watched recently called “the four stories we tell ourselves about death.” Although the guy is an atheist, I found it strangely interesting. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/PB7xs7UpIfY
Hello – I just came across your blog somehow. Just want wanted to say I really enjoy your perspectives. It’s a rare balance of open minded skepticism (isn’t that what skeptism is supposed to be?) very similar to my own. I’m in the same camp of searching for that elusive ‘proof’ or personal experience but it hasn’t happened for me. I almost feel like that’s part of the game, we aren’t all meant to know for sure.
In the meantime all I can do is research other people’s experiences and validations. It’s great to see a blog doing it with such a rational perspective. Keep up the good work!
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Terry, thank you so much for such a wonderful compliment! I really strive to investigate the subject of life after death with an “open-mind and a critical eye”, and I’m so very glad that it’s coming across that way. Sounds like we have that in common – lacking a significant and conclusive personal experience and yet feeling intrigued by the personal experiences of others. I agree that maybe some of us aren’t supposed to know for sure. At least, I have always felt that I am meant to search, and in searching connect with others on the same path. It’s why my inner voice kept nagging at me to create a blog, even though I’m shy and have no clue what I’m doing. I guess it’s to meet people like you – rational open-minded skeptics with a flexible belief system capable of expanding with the evidence. There are a few of us around here, and I hope you’ll stick around and join in! ‘The Search for Life After Death’ is a group activity 🙂
Jenn, thank you for writing and posting this comprehensive report on your adventure. I just wanted to add that if you have not already encountered it, the work of Gary Schwartz is worth noting. I read his books “The Afterlife Experiments” and “The Sacred Promise,” which are both about his work in his laboratory testing and scoring mediums for accuracy. Very interesting accounts of trying to design studies that would appeal to open-minded skepticism.
Joshua, you are a great soul… Welcome to the current battle. It is a time of regeneration. Contribute with what you can. If you need someone beside you, just holler. You too, Jenn… I even faced the “skeptics” and stood up to them, didn”t I? Didn’t come out defeated, either… 🙂 (Y)
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Charles, you were so brave! I applaud you for hanging in that particular fight long after I abandoned it. You are a class act. 🙂 Glad that you are here with us!!
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Joshua, thank you so much for the recommend – I am definitely going to pick up those books. Are you familiar with the work of Julie Beichel? On Skeptiko, there is a audio interview that describes how she triple-blind tested mediums herself. I think I linked to the interview in a post some months back. I am very interested in this type of work, so I very much appreciate the recommend!
No “pride” involved here either. I assure you….
Excellent report. Have read many pro and con books on this subject, including Unbelievable by Stacy Horn. It is scientifically based. Considering going on a vanPraagh weekend this March. The story of your experience makes me want to go. But couldn’t the names of the raffle entries be googled and info fed to James via an earpiece? I an sure many are his fb friends. Just looking at their photos could glean a lot. Not sure about the linen closet though! Would love to interview participants afterward. Hope he is on the up and up but only he and his staff knows. A staff member of John Edward does not believe in his abilities. To me, that is telling. She is famous herself now and has no reason to lie. Best wishes in your search for truth!
Thanks. Still to this day, I’m not sure about JvP. I guess names could have been quickly googled but with just a name and phone number it might be tough to get that much info that before the show began. Who knows? I’m always skeptical, especially with big name mediums because I know they have the resources to investigate people. There were a few hits that I thought were pretty unusual, like the linen closet thing. Others, such as the Angel statutes might be a good guess. Rival mediums talk about each other, so that’s not unusual. They can be a catty group bc they are all competing in the same market. Anyway, If you do decide to go see him in March, I would love to hear what you thought! Please come back and let me know if he gets any hits that convince you.
Watched him “perform” in Canada. I believe the cost of a ticket was $100. My ex paid it. I tried to remain non-skeptical but the evening was a complete bore. He was not even close on one call after another. And most of his shtick was onstage talking about personal life. To stretch out the allotted time I presume he had to be there. I have had quite a few personal events happen in my life to know there is another dimension or realm when we leave here. Not so sure if it is religious related or not. Had a session with a well known psychic and she told me I had drowned in a previous life. Which it made sense why I always had a fear of water. And drowning dreams. She also said I was in the Holocaust and was crushed to death entering a tunnel while trying to escape from a railroad car I was forced into with other victims.
Hey Shipdog 7,
That’s really interesting – I always like to hear about other people’s honest opinions when they’ve seen a mediumship demonstration. Sorry you didn’t have a good experience though. I appreciate you letting us know anyway. Have you considered doing a past-life regression? I wouldn’t go to just anyone, but the Newton Institute has pioneered a technique that I think it very interesting. Dr. Michael Newton wrote two books about his experiences with his patients – Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls, both which I love and highly recommend. Anyway, he goes through previous lives where people have been affected in some way in this life and relieves the trauma. Sounds like you’d be a good candidate if you are interested, since you are having these dreams and fear of water.
All the best,
I haven’t seen James but I have had readings with other known mediums: two group events and one private reading. If you as a skeptic want to really experience what a medium can offer, you should try a private reading with someone well-known such as Van Praagh or Thomas John. I find that in group setting details can get confused between audience members, etc. For your own research you could sign up under a different name so they can’t research you. Reputable mediums do not wish to have any information before doing a reading. They want you to just answer “yes” or “no” to their questions. You may find yourself truly amazed. Are they actually talking to the dead, or are they just psychically reading the energy? Either way it’s pretty amazing.
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Thomas John is a fake and it has been proven . Recent NY Times article.
James Van Pragh on the other hand has a true gift . This I know for sure !
We all believe in whatever keeps us feeling safe. I know, I believed a lot of different things over the years. However as I have grown up and not in the growing older sense I have had the fortunate experience of having some very painful things happen to me and endured some very bitter losses. It is thanks to these that my beliefs were challenged and just basically obliterated. I was a very ‘open’ child and had many very terrifying ‘encounters’ that I could not understand as none of my friends had anything like them. So I learned to keep quiet and I also – sadly – learned to be deaf to anything that was not of the 5 senses world we live in. Skip ahead many many years and I am opening up slowly again; seated at my computer working on a design; I am ‘told’ to get up and get the scarf in my top cupboard (I bought it for my friend, Cath’s birthday) and take it to my son’s play therapist as a present. I sat there thinking – What? Where did that thought come from and why on earth would I do that? That scarf is for my darling friend Cath. There was nothing… So I got up, put the scarf in a gift bag and took it along when I fetched my son from play therapy. I gave it to the Therapist who exclaimed with shock and delight that it was her birthday that very day and she had not received any presents yet (It was late afternoon at this stage). That the scarf was her first and only present! I was beyond floored with shock! What!? Seriously, I could not believe what I was hearing at all. I could not understand why I was ‘told’ to give my scarf to this lady … sometimes it is the things that we don’t understand with our Brains that we need to wrap our heads around the most. If I ever doubted my connection, after that day I was entirely converted and have been open to messages since. I am not a medium, but I feel and get ‘told’ or sent ‘visuals’ and I act on them and they are always beyond my comprehension but I am blessed to be open again. It is hard to believe without ‘first hand experiences’ I know – I know! Good luck and you can only see miracles if your eyes are open to them. Be safe and don’t always be so sure, it makes life interesting. x
Give me the billing info from the tickets sold to the event and a staff of 4 people to look up info on facebook, instagram, and twitter and I will be a pretty remarkable medium, too.
I’m agnostic on this whole topic, but if you can charge your tickets to a credit card (and i presume you can), that does not give access to your personal information to the vendor.
Why didn’t Van Praagh ever accept James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge offer? All of those big ticket celebrity psychics backed out of the challenge. The most notorious being the late Sylvia Browne.
No psychic or anyone claiming to possess paranormal powers that had the guts to be tested by Randi ever won the prize. I wonder why? I’m sure Randi would’ve been elated to actually witness some purported psychic as the real deal.
The reason Randi terminated the million dollar challenge (after 20 years) is because he’s getting very old and his health is not the best. He doesn’t have the time and energy that he had in the past.
The fact remains that there is absolutely no emperical scientific evidence proving psychic mediumship, the afterlife or the paranormal. There are only theories that circulate in the fringe circles amongst some researchers.
The disgraced UC Arizona professor Dr. Gary Schwartz’s “afterlife experiments” testing psychic mediums left much to be desired. Schwartz’s experiments supporting the validity of mediumship has been put through the ringer by the skeptical community. UC Oregon professor of psychology, Ray Hyman, completely and successfully debunked Schwartz’s data as erroneous and preposterous.
Dr. Michael Shermer also did an expose of Shwartz’s work on a NBC Dateline interview. Shermer did his usual fantastic job of exposing the experimenter effect and how shoddy Shwartz’s techniques were in the experimentation process.
Dr. Richard Wiseman and Dr. Susan Blackmore also successfully debunked Schwartz’s flawed work.
One reasonable theory regarding esp that Randi, Wiseman, Shermer and Blackmore have discussed is super esp. Of which a purported medium may possess a greater than average intuition and that they are able to intercept information from the minds of the living. Perhaps this is where Schwartz fell flat. James Randi even admitted to believing in esp but only amongst the living.
On another note there’s an elderly (probably suffering from dementia) retired Australian attorney, Victor Zammit, who runs a loopy website about so called scientific evidence of the afterlife and psychics. Zammit claims that “with absolute certainty” science provides emperical proof of an afterlife and psi phenomenon.
Zammit claims that “he and his wife have personally witnessed” seeing ectoplasm, disembodied beings, and hearing actual voices in seances conducted by physical medium David Thompson. Really? Oh, please.
Well, sorry Mr. Zammit, if there was absolute certainty regarding the existence of the afterlife, the validity of psychics and the paranormal, there would be no nays uttered in the scientific and skeptical community.
I don’t care if some fringe scientists have “researched” psi phenomena for over 150 years and “consistently” got repeatable results. It’s well known that some scientists have been fooled by their subjects and have skewed their data to get the results they want. This is likely the case with Schwartz’s endeavor.
Until then, since there is absolutely NO conclusive evidence that the paranormal exists, and NO conclusive evidence that it doesn’t exist, the ideas as to why it doesn’t exist are far more agreeable than the ideas of why it can or does exist.
Wait wait, Randi admitted to believing in ESP? When? I’m sure he never did such a thing. That would have been huge and totally out of character.
On CNN’s Larry King Live back in the early 2000’s Larry King asked Randi if he believed in ESP. Randi’s response was, “Sure I do”. Not ESP in mediumship, rather ESP through the physical world. More or less mind reading techniques.
I distinctly remember seeing this CNN LKL episode because it is the one where Randi challenged Sylvia Browne to his million dollar challenge and she accepted. Van Praagh and John Edward were also on this episode. I think Randi challenged them too.
He might have said cold reading. I’m quite sure he doesn’t believe in anything related to PSI or ESP.
It is very true that there are people who can communicate with dead or see the past/future.
I used to attend the meeting where several of medium gather and help audience, they pray, cleans, also teache us how we should live according spirituality besides giving us the reading..
And it is all free, all they ask is donation of whatever we can for the place they rent.
But it was by Hispanic community, it seems common for them, you will only know those place by words of mouth.. and it wasnt only one place i knew but several.
What James Van Praagh or Silvia Brown , or someone famous on TV can do arent so extraordinary, they just made it to be known on tv. There are many regular people who go to work and struggle to pay expenses, go through the life problem like everyone else who have that kind of ability.
Sometimes they could tell things so private that you wouldn’t want other people hear😞.
What Im trying to say I don’t know how accurate Mr James V P is , but those ability are real. And no one is 100 % .
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I took your course and opened to the spirit world and have been abused by spirits ever since. I tried sending an email to the school and was advised to surround myself with white light did not work. I again emailed the school and got no reply.
I am being abused by spirits for well over 6 months now. I have repeatedly tried to find a way to talk to you directly with no luck. Not everyone opens to love that’s for sure.
Please advise how can I stop this. I have had to pay to people to try to help me and had no luck.