Introduction to this electronic version.
You may make this electronic version available to others, in any manner you wish, as long as the book is out of print, but you may not ask money for it, and you must impose these same conditions on anyone that obtains it from you.
The Psychic Mafia
By M. Lamar Keene
As told to Allen Spraggett
Retyped by an anonymous someone
who doesn’t want to be prosecuted under copyright laws.
Originally published by Dell Publishing Co.
Copyright 1976 by M. Lamar Keene
I, Lamar Keene, hereby affirm and warrant that the experiences related in this book, written in collaboration with Allen Spraggett and William Rauscher, are the truth and nothing but the truth (though, it should be added, not necessarily the whole truth, which would be even worse). These experiences are from my career of thirteen years as a fraudulent spiritualist medium.
Introduction by the Anonymous Typist
[Note: I wrote this several years ago, and while I might revise it sometime in the future, I figure, I'll include it for now.]
This book has been out of print for many years, and Lamar Keene hasn’t been heard from ever since an attempt was made on his life shortly after the publication of this book. It’s too bad, because a tell-all book in the world of spiritualism is a very rare event. It takes some thought to appreciate just how rare such books are.
A book about Spiritualism seems a little out of date, even during the current resurgence of paranormal beliefs under the `New Age’ banner. There’s something quaint, and obviously bogus, about little old ladies invoking ghosts who spew ectoplasm and whirl trumpets about the place. It’s as if the special effects have been forsaken these days, in favor of vague pronouncements over `The meaningfulness of what you have named being’ and 35,000-year-old warriors from Atlantis.1 The spiritualism described in this book has a kind of pre-war feeling about it, next to the New Age. It’s like putting a velvet-black digital stereo rack system next to an old Philco radio in its cathedral-shaped oak case, with maybe some Glenn Miller or Kay Kyser floating out of its fuzzy speaker.
But, getting back to the subject, this is a pretty rare sort of book. The vast majority of books about the paranormal are strongly `Pro,’ with rarely a hint of doubt. They’re filled with wonderful and intriguing stories, and much of the drama is skewed towards encouraging the reader to believe that something truly astounding is going on. Rarely are books written debunking these claims; a casual appraisal of the local B. Dalton’s won’t turn up more than two or three on an `occult’ rack holding a hundred titles.
Books debunking the paranormal operate under several constraints and burdens that pro-paranormal books simply don’t have. First and
foremost, debunkers are in the position of telling people that things they want to believe may not be so. And, as The Psychic Mafia details,
the Will to Believe is surprisingly strong. Even when a medium admits to fakery, there are those who persist in believing that he’s genuine, or resorts to trickery only when under pressure, or that the presence of skeptics somehow causes the psychic to fake it, or. . . well, you get the idea.
Second, because the debunker has to overcome this Will to Believe, he has to make his arguments that much more forceful. The only thing on his side is the research required, and his audience’s ability to reason. Many paranormal books repeat many of the stories published in others, occasionally with a little embellishment here and there.2 But the debunker must track down the correct details, stick to established sources, cut away the intriguing details that the myth-mongers have added, and appraise the claim as honestly as possible. I’m speaking from experience when I say that any flaw in one’s arguments, real, imagined or irrelevant, becomes the Devastating Blow to Science that the True Believer seizes upon.
Third, these added details have become facts in the mind of the believer, and the debunker is then called upon to explain every little
aspect of a claim, real or mythical; if he can’t, the believer walks away feeling that the debunker hasn’t done his job. For example, Philip Klass has investigated most of the major UFO sightings over the past two decades, and has explanations for all that he’s investigated. But the UFO believer can always mention some obscure sighting or event that Klass hasn’t had the resources to investigate. If Klass can’t debunk that one, well, that just proves to the True Believer that Klass hasn’t proven his case.3
Fourth, there is a peculiar mythology about paranormal claims and science that colors every debate on the subject. Proponents of
paranormal claims frequently present themselves as heretics whose unconventional views and disconcerting data threatens to overturn all of established science; and that’s why, they claim, science refuses to acknowledge this data.4 Strangely, most of the unconventional `Heresies’ are old orthodoxies (Creationism, astrology, the powers of prophets and seers, some aspects of herbalists’ claims, tarot cards, the existence of ghosts, etc.) that were overturned by the heretics of science. In this sense, many pro-paranormalists seem not only somewhat conservative, upset at how science threatens conventional beliefs, but can legitimately be termed reactionaries, demanding that progress and change not only be halted, but reversed.
This may seem like an extreme assertion, and I admit, it is somewhat unconventional– but only if we adopt the framework of science being the orthodoxy, with old mythologies being the heresy. Imagine if someone were to claim that the medieval theologians were correct; the Earth is the center of the Universe, and the planets rotate about it in crystal spheres. That person will very likely present his view as unorthodox heresy undermining the authority of monolithic, conservative science– even though, centuries ago, his claim was the orthodoxy in more oppressive times, enforced with torture and imprisonment, and the cosmology we take for granted today was a truly dangerous heresy to believe in.
(One can appraise many other pseudoscientific beliefs in this manner, and easily understand how, rather than challenging popular myth or unquestioned orthodoxy, they actually perpetuate and enforce it. Science’s process of self-revision marks it as far more inherently heretical than most religious or political outlooks, and demanding of a more subtle understanding of the world.5 And on the whole, it’s been far more tolerant of opposing opinion than most religious or mystical institutions.)
Fifth, and finally, the debunker frequently has to explain science to his readers, and this is a delicate art that even only a few scientists can do. For example, an astrologer can simply say, “The moon causes tides, doesn’t it? Human beings are ninety percent water; do you really doubt that whole planets don’t influence our lives?” But someone debunking astrology must explain why this analogy is false, and how gravity really behaves, and why human beings just don’t have enough mass for the moon’s gravity to affect them to any great degree. And sadly, many of these explanations sail right over peoples’ heads.
The few books which have had a measurable impact in debunking paranormal claims share one important aspect; they provide an inside
view into how things are done. A book like Douglas Stalker and Clark Glymour’s anthology Examining Holistic Medicine, which dissects such claims as chiropractic, visualization therapy, and homeopathy in detail, doesn’t affect someone in the same way as James Randi’s
excellent The Faith Healers. Randi not only discusses the medical aspects of faith healing, but exposes the deliberate fraud of several
faith healers. Randi makes a story out of it; the investigation is fascinating by itself, but Randi describes such wonderful tricks as direct-mail fundraising, the selling of `Blessed’ trinkets, the way the money is spent, etc. In other words, people may not want to bother with scientific principles involved, but they love to see how the special effects work.6
Such a book is The Psychic Mafia.
The critical reader will find a lot in this book to criticize. The writing is awkward in places, and the habit of ending chapters with ellipses (. . . ) is irritating. The chapter “Sex in the Seance” has some passages that haven’t aged well into the 1990s, especially the sniggering remarks on homosexuality. I get the impression that these two troublesome aspects of the book come from co-author Allen Spraggett, mainly because of certain aspects of his book Arthur Ford: The Man who Spoke with the Dead. (See Appendix 1 for details.)
Another issue should be mentioned at the outset. While Keene’s story is fascinating in and of itself, not much can be said for William Rauscher or Allen Spraggett’s participation in the project. Spraggett, a former Fundamentalist preacher, proclaimed himself a `Psychic investigator’ and had a radio program about “The Unexplained.” He wrote a series of books about what he considered to be legitimate paranormal events, such as astrology, and the spirit mediums whose trickery he couldn’t detect. Rauscher, as you’ll see in his foreword, is convinced of the reality of psychic phenomena as well– apparently, one has to be a truly inept medium to be debunked by these guys (see Chapter 6), or be a former fraud who brings his story to them (see Appendix 1). One truly wishes that Keene had sat down with someone else for this book– someone more critical minded, or with better training as a journalist.
About This Computer Disk Edition
So, why did I go through the trouble of converting this book to computer text?7 Because the book is so hard to find, mainly. I felt that a lot of people would get some benefit from it. I’ve also taken the liberty of adding footnotes, which did not appear in the original text. Usually, they’re meant to provide additional information or a different perspective on the events described– a passage from another book describing similar events, more info on various people mentioned in the book, etc. With William Rauscher’s foreword, for example, I couldn’t help getting a little sarcastic.
It’s also been my experience that material stored electronically has a better chance of staying available. Copies can be made in seconds. Topics and passages can be found with the help of a good search feature in a word processor.8 The material can be excerpted into a research paper or essay with little fuss. The text may find its way into something more permanent, like a CD-ROM or database.
Also, material stored electronically is far more malleable. Those who have poor or failing eyesight can print a copy in larger than normal type, and blind computer users can use any of several programs that `Read’ text and use a sound synthesizer to simulate a human voice
reading the material aloud.9
So, to do this book a service. Please distribute as many copies as possible. Upload it onto computer bulletin boards, preferably in straight ASCII format as well as Word Perfect. Give printouts to friends, especially the ones who want to pay psychics for powers they don’t have.
We’re not cutting Dell out of any profits, because they haven’t published the book since 1977. And those of us who circulate this book aren’t making money at this at all.
By the way, if Lamar Keene is out there reading this. . . I hope you’re doing well, and wish you the best of luck.
The Anonymous Typist
The Rev. Canon William V. Rauscher
This book is true.
At first, when I met Lamar Keene, the former fraudulent medium whose story it is, I found his revelations in some respects almost incredible.
Oh, I knew, as does every serious investigator of the psychic scene (and I have been one for more than eighteen years) that fraud existed. There was the expose at Camp Chesterfield in 1960 (described in this book) when infrared film of a materialization seance showed that the “spirits” were staff mediums dressed up in chiffon ectoplasm. I had personally checked out Camp Silver Belle, a spiritualist establishment in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and Camp Chesterfield, and found rampant fraud. And I had heard of other cases, other exposures.
But with all the whispers, rumors, and suspicions nobody really knew how widespread the fraud was, whether it was organized or
haphazard, or whether spiritualist authorities actively connived in it or merely winked at it.10 What was needed to set us straight was the inside story from someone who knew. And who would know? Only one who had been part of the fraud.
We now have that story– in this book.
Lamar Keene’s account is supported by a wealth of documentary evidence, which I have examined. I have met and talked with some of
those he duped while he was a medium. I have checked out the church of which he formerly was minister-medium. His story is fact, not fiction.
In my judgement, this book may be one of the most significant in the recent history of psychical research. It will not be so important for the professional parapsychologist (who no doubt will tend to feel that Lamar’s tricks wouldn’t have fooled him) as for the interested layman, the average person who shares today’s popular fascination with anything psychic.
The enormous rise of interest in psychic phenomena and ESP in the last ten years has made it easier for the fake medium and clairvoyant
to gain clients. A recent poll showed that a majority of Americans now believe in such phenomena. This new climate of opinion is a gold mine
for the phony psychic.
The general public, softened up by watching mentalists on television and reading in popular magazines about psychic experiments in labs and universities, is prone to overbelief. The average person is exceedingly easy to fool. No book could ever detail all the methods by which the fake psychic or medium performs his wonders. Most people, with no inkling of such methods, believe in psychic phenomena much too readily.
This may sound strange coming from one who accepts the reality of paranormal manifestations (as attested in my own book, The Spiritual Frontier, an account of my psychic explorations). However, I have spent as much time arguing some people out of an overly credulous attitude toward the subject as arguing others into being open-minded toward it.
As Lamar’s story devastatingly reveals, the greatest friend the fraudulent medium has is overbelief on the part of his victims. Lamar
calls it “the true believer syndrome.” The need to believe in phony wonders sometimes exceeds not only logic but, seemingly, even sanity.
A portrayal of this very attitude can be found in the unusual opera, The Medium, by Gian-Carlo Menotti. The central character is a
fake medium, Madame Flora, who one day tells her sitters that all the wonderful phenomena she has produced were fraudulent. And the result
of this confession? The sitters refuse to believe her!
Madame Flora says:
Listen to me!
There never was a seance!
I cheated you!
Do you understand?
Cheated you, cheated you!
But the true believers won’t give up their deluded faith. Echoes of this are found in Lamar’s story and are for me perhaps the most terrifying part.
In my pastoral ministry, as a priest with a profound belief in the importance of psychic experience for religion, I quickly learned how vulnerable the bereaved are to any promise of reassurance that their beloved dead still live. People who have lost one they cherished will travel anywhere, pay anything, believe anything, it seems, to hear again that voice that is stilled. I’m personally besieged with requests to recommend “a good medium.”
Now, I believe that “good mediums” exist. I believe I have met some of them.11 Not all mediums are dishonest, and this book is not intended to discredit those who are legitimate.12 Nor will it do so. The honest psychic or medium has nothing to fear from this book.13
It can only help him by making it harder for the fakes, cheats, and liars to continue their nefarious work and confuse the sincere seeker. The only medium threatened by this book is the fraudulent one.14
My basic attitude toward mediumship and psychic phenomena in general is that historically taken by the Church.15 Long ago, wary of the dangers of psychic dabbling, the Church openly discouraged the mourner from seeking communication with deceased loved ones and instead stressed the reality of communion with the dead.16 This is the “communion of saints.” We the living are linked to the so-called dead in God’s fellowship of love. Attempts to go beyond communion to overt communication, however, as through a medium, can become a dangerous addiction.17
But in trying to avoid extremes for the good of souls, the Church went too far and unfortunately abandoned some of its own mystical
heritage. It so downgraded the reality of personal psychic experiences– which have happened spontaneously to millions of
believing Christians18– that unwittingly it played into the hands of those who would exploit man’s natural hunger for mystery for their own purposes.19 My firm opinion is that much of the current excessive fascination with mystery, especially by young people, results from the Church’s aloofness toward the true, profound, and
wonderful mysteries which lie at the heart of spiritual experience.
This is why I have taken a strong lead in urging the Church to rediscover its mystical and psychical roots– not to strengthen belief in the psychic, as such, but to strengthen belief in the Church’s message that there is a spiritual world, that man is part of it, and that Time is the antechamber of Eternity.20
However, I have spent almost as much energy in trying to combat the abuses of psychic experience as in trying to win the Church back to an acceptance of the validity of such experience.21 It is precisely because I believe so deeply in the psychic dimension that I detest those who pervert and misuse it to their own advantage: namely, phony mediums. These desecrators of the holy, these blasphemers of the dead are psychic parasites fattening on the sorrow of the bereaved.
This remarkable, unique book is the testament of one such fraudulent medium who lived for thirteen years in darkness and then
emerged into the light. It is a spiritual story, not in the goody-goody sense, but in the most profound meaning of that word, because it tells how a man came to feel that he had gained the whole world but lost his soul.
When I first met M. Lamar Keene, through my Masonic brother, William A. Twiss, he had been in virtual seclusion for three years. That time had been spent, as this book tells, trying to disentangle himself emotionally from the sticky web of lies, deceit, and fraud in which he was trapped for so long.
As Lamar unfolded his experiences to me, I sensed how vital it was that this book be written. When I invited Allen Spraggett to collaborate as a professional writer and a psychic investigator, he agreed that Lamar Keene’s story was too important not to be told.
Those who read this book will have, I trust, ears to hear and eyes to see,22 and will not be like the believers in Madame Flora’s phony wonders who, even after being told they were phony, clamored:
Please let us have our seance,
Just let us hear it once more,
This is the only joy we have in our lives,
Our little dead are waiting for us,
You wouldn’t keep us away from them
Would you, Madame Flora?
Please let us have our seance,
Let us just have it once more,
just once more, Madame Flora!
I commend this book to the truth-seeking reader, confident that “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
In William Lindsay Gresham’s novel Nightmare Alley (often seen on the Late, Late Show in its movie version, starring Tyrone Power), the antihero is a cunning opportunist who climbs from carnival mind-reader to nightclub mentalist and then to minister of a fashionable and successful spiritualist church.
As a successful spook merchant, Gresham’s memorable character Stan Carlisle, enjoys money, adulation, and the attentions of desirable women. He becomes suave, sophisticated, and smooth as silk, but inside is the heart of the carny who used to laugh at the geek – the poor wino in every sideshow, at the bottom of the heap, who impersonates the Wild Man of Borneo and bites the heads off chickens.
Stan Carlisle cheats, lies, wheedles, and seduces his way to the top. Then he meets someone– a steely woman psychiatrist, in this case– who outcheats, outlies, outwheedles, and outseduces him and sends him plunging all the way down the ladder again.
Gresham’s bitter and biting story ends with the former medium, once at home in the salons of the rich and famous, back at the carnival begging for a job. And what’s offered him? To be a geek, of course . . .
This book, with some important differences, is Nightmare Alley in real life. It’s about a nonfictional Stan Carlisle who enjoyed unusual success from his phony medium’s bag of tricks. But in this true-life version, the protagonist sickens of the whole mess, turns from it, and makes a new beginning.
As a writer I find this story a marvelously gutsy, colorful, and compelling account. As a psychic investigator I think it’s one that’s important to everybody with a serious interest in parapsychology and the unexplained.
Read the true story of Lamar Keene and the nightmare alley he inhabited as a fake medium. It’s a story I’m sure you won’t soon forget . . .
In this day of rampant psychic wonders, what’s the most mind-boggling you’ve heard about?
Uri Geller, perhaps, bending spoons with his eyes? Or the famed Philippine psychic surgeons who remove everything from ingrown toenails to gallstones with their bare hands?
Or is the most amazing thing the uncanny Power of spirit mediums like Arthur Ford,23 who can pick out of an audience a perfect stranger and astound him with facts from his own genealogy (including the great-aunt nobody liked to talk about who was crazy for cats and had a sex-change operation at age seventy)?
Well, such phenomena are pretty impressive. However, compared to the feats I performed routinely as one of the world’s highest-paid mediums, they shrink to exceedingly modest proportions.
Clairvoyance? I was better than Kreskin.
Mind over matter? In my presence objects not only bent, they defied gravity.
Psychic healing? My spirit guides majored in it.
My mediumship represented the ultimate in seance room razzle-dazzle. In my seances, a mysterious substance called ectoplasm purportedly emanated from my body. Ectoplasm has been variously described by true believers as having the consistency of chewing gum, of appearing as a shimmering white haze, or of feeling as solid as metal.
My particular ectoplasm, which apparently streamed from various orifices of my body in cascading billows, as dazzlingly white and, on the occasions when sitters were allowed to touch it, was reported as having the feel of fabric in some cases and of flesh in others.
I also majored in trumpet mediumship. This involves the use of a tin trumpet, to amplify the spirit voices, through which the departed communicate audibly with the living. Sometimes the sitters say that the spirit voice is identical to what it was when the person was alive in the flesh.
During a trumpet seance the tin megaphone is levitated– that is, it floats through the air under its own power. This can be very impressive and I was the most impressive trumpet levitator around.
I also majored in producing “apports”– gifts from the spirits which sometimes materialized out of thin air and at other times tumbled out of the floating trumpet into the sitter’s lap.
In the area of mental mediumship I was just as adept. In my seances total strangers received spirit messages so evidential, so crammed with personal details, that the sitter’s skepticism collapsed like a punctured balloon.
Mere boasting on my part? You’re forgiven for thinking so (I admit to having a hefty ego), but then judge for yourself. Consider some typical incidents from my medium’s casebook.
On March 13, 1966, Rose Johnson was attending the Sunday evening service of the church where I was the co-pastor, the New Age Assembly in Tampa, Florida. She heard me say, “People are always misplacing things. Who here has lost something?
Most of the people in the church raised their hands, including Rose Johnson, who had lost her library card a couple of weeks before and, being an avid reader (mainly of psychic books), keenly missed it. As a matter of fact, she had already asked her spirit guides to help her find it.
“Mrs. Johnson,” I said, pointing at her, “would you come forward?”
“I was overwhelmed,” she wrote later in a formal statement (which I have before me) “and wondered what on earth or in heaven was going to happen to me.
“Mr. Keene asked me in front of the congregation what I had lost and I told him my library card.
“He requested that the congregation sing a hymn of faith to help raise the power. I stood watching Mr. Keene, who had his eye half-shut in a semitrance.
“Suddenly, as quick as that, something fell at my feet. It just seemed to come right out of thin air. I picked it up. It was my lost library card!”
A loud “Oh!” rose from the congregation, followed by applause. The hand was for me and for the spirits who through my mediumship had rescued that lost library card from wherever it was and returned it to its owner– in the twinkling of an eye.
Rose Johnson was impressed enough to substantially increase her givings to the church.
Another recipient of a psychic miracle, a retired businessman named Robert Black, was impressed by this kind of phenomena to the extent of writing a check to the church for a thousand dollars! That particular supernatural wonder, according to the signed and witnessed statement I have before me, took place in April, 1966.
Bob Black had attended my seances a few times and was very interested, though still skeptical. The spirits decided to demolish his doubts.
During a Sunday evening service I singled him out, asking him to stand. The regulars in the congregation inched forward on their chairs, sensing that another psychic bombshell was about to explode.
At my request, Black stood in the church aisle, where two women members faced him, clutching in their outstretched hands an open Bible provided by someone in the congregation. As I waited quietly for the spirits to move, my eyes closed, and the two women said they could feel tremendous “vibrations” in the Bible. This, I explained, was the psychic energy building up.
Suddenly something seemed to leap out of the pages of the Bible. It fell to the floor. Bob Black picked it up and blanched.
“This. . . this is my. . . my Masonic advisory council membership card,” he stammered. “But how?. . . where?
“I always carry this with me. In my wallet. It never leaves my wallet.”
“Well, check,” I said quietly.
He opened his billfold– and the card was gone.24
The congregation applauded this fresh display of the spirits’ fantastic power, through my mediumship, of “dematerializing” an object in one place and, a split second later, “rematerializing” it elsewhere. But sweeter than the applause was the sound of Bob Black writing his thousand-dollar check.
Such phenomena became so common in my seances that I seemed to be running a sort of astral Lost and Found department.
One woman, in a statement dated September, 1965, and signed by five witnesses, declared that through my mediumship the spirits returned “the same flowered cloisonne pillbox I lost six months ago.” A man named Tom Behmke attested on May 8, 1966, that the gold watch-chain which “precipitated” into his hands during a seance in full light was “the one worn by my father who is now in spirit” and had been missing for years. Thirty-five witnesses signed his statement
that the chain “dropped into my outstretched hands seeming to come from thin air.”
Spirit messages? Mine were so uncanny that they made the hair rise on the back of people’s necks.
Here is a letter, written in longhand by a Chicago woman, a sincere spiritualist, who visited my church for the first time during a Florida vacation in April, 1969.
“Words cannot express our amazement and joy at your wonderful, wonderful demonstrations of spirit power,” she wrote.
“During that Palm Sunday service, though my husband and I had never before been in your church, you gave us spirit messages not only for ourselves but for several of our friends back here in Chicago. Some of the things you said about our friends were unknown to us, and you said to check them out and let you know.
“Well, Sarah Deacon was speechless when she listened to the tape-recording of the service and heard you mention her by name, as well as her parents, loved ones in spirit, her spirit guides– even her social security number!
“She immediately started looking for her social security card to check the number you gave. She said, “How could the spirits find it a thousand miles away when I can’t even find it in my own wallet!”
“Well, Sarah did find it, and you gave the nine-digit number absolutely correctly.
“You must be about the most amazing medium in the world today!”
I must confess that, reading that letter, I was inclined to agree with the writer. . .
My congregations, which were always full houses, didn’t dare skip a single service of seance for fear of missing something new. As a medium, I was Mr. Versatility. Every psychic wonder I unveiled was more dazzling than the last.
“The spirits like to keep us guessing,” I used to tell my congregation, “because they have a sense of humor.”
One night I was demonstrating billet-reading, in which, blindfolded, I “read” and answered written questions from the audience, when a masculine voice said in a loud whisper, “The guy’s a bloody wizard.”
“Well, if that’s so,” I responded, picking up the cue, “let’s see what I can do.”
As though under a sudden spirit inspiration, I took a glass of water from the pulpit, poured the contents over some flowers, and then, wrapping the empty glass in a handkerchief, smashed it against the side of the pulpit. There was the sound of glass shattering.
The congregation gasped. They gasped louder, however, when I opened the handkerchief to show the jagged shards of glass, then calmly took one, popped it into my mouth, crunched on it, and swallowed it.
A sort of groan went through the congregation. One woman fainted. Later, several people confessed that they thought my zeal had carried me too far, that I was tempting the spirits, and they had been on the verge of running forward to prevent my killing myself.
“We were in a state of shock,” said one man, “But what happened then made us feel ashamed of our own lack of faith.”
What happened was that I didn’t fall to the floor clutching my stomach and blood spurting from my mouth, as many of then had feared, but continued the service with no visible discomfort from having eaten the mouthful of glass. Later, incredulous church members crowded around to examine the leftover jagged pieces on the pulpit and went away shaking their heads.
“Spirit protection,” I assured them, “is a wonderful reality to those of us who are called to the sacred work of mediumship.”25
Were these mind-blowing feats produced by the agency of departed spirits, as my followers devoutly believed?
Or were they the result of mysterious psychic powers generated in my own unconscious mind?
Every one of the multiple-witnessed wonders I’ve described, and many more, were fraudulent. Hoaxes. Tricks.
Mind you, not exactly the sort of tricks you’ll find in your corner magic shop– but tricks nonetheless.
How, exactly, did I accomplish them?
Well, that’s a good question, and one I myself sometimes ponder with considerable amazement.
How did I, for example, outwit the self-styled psychic investigator who tried to catch me literally red-handed by coating my trumpet with a telltale dye that would stick to my fingers?26
And how, in the name of Houdini’s ghost, did I confound other mediums, fellow practitioners in the black art of extrasensory deception? Many of them begged me to sell them my secrets, including my favorite, the talking trumpet which the sitter could actually hold on his lap and feel, as well as hear, the vibration of the spirit voices issuing from it.27
The how, what and, most important, the why of my career as a phony medium is what this book is all about. The inner workings of all my wonders are unveiled in these pages.
In addition, and more significant, are the revelations– sure to sound unbelievable to some– about a network of mediumistic espionage in the United States: a psychic mafia that takes in millions of dollars a year.
What is the psychology of phony mediums? How do they see themselves and others, especially their sitters or client?
Are mediumistic frauds genuinely religious in their own screwed-up way? Or atheistic? Nihilistic? Do they believe anything– or nothing?
Since they can hardly run an ad under Help Wanted, how are new mediums recruited? What’s the process of psychological seduction which produces a full-fledged practitioner of the art of impersonating the dead?
What about the money? How good is it? Can a medium become a millionaire from bringing back the dead?
What about sex in the seance room? Are there, as rumored, mediums who specialize in a special form of “grief therapy” (an in-depth form) from which they reap commensurate rewards, monetary and otherwise?
Are there any genuine mediums? Have I ever experienced a real psychic or spirit manifestation?
Finally, and possibly most interesting of all, why do phony mediums flourish bigger and better than ever despite previous exposes? What is it that drives victims of mediumistic chicanery back into that dark room where they suspect, or sometimes even know for a certainty, that they’ve been defrauded in the past?
For the answers to these questions, read on. And fasten your seat belt; it’s going to be a wild ride. . .
1. The trance-channellers of today have it pretty damn easy, too. I remember back when a medium actually had to work at her job, busting her buns at the research needed to convince you that she really was talking to your dead Uncle Carl. These young whippersnappers, with their crystals and their `Gaia consciousness’ and their `New paradigms,’ why, they couldn’t do a spirit apport if Eusapia Palladino held their hands for’em, and they wouldn’t know a piece of ectoplasm if you slapped’em in the face with it! Dag-nabbit, it jes’ ain’t the same…
2. Charles Berlitz’s books are notorious for this. Larry Kusche, in his The Bermuda Triangle Mystery– Solved, details how Berlitz would take a two- or three-line description of a missing ship, and add paragraphs of dramatic details– all out of his own imagination.
3. A similar dodge that paranormalists are fond of is criticizing the debunkers for going after `Easy targets’ while ignoring others that are really important. One person told me that she felt that Randi was a coward for going after `Obvious frauds,’ naming Uri Geller as an example. I pointed out to her that, when Randi investigated Geller, he was considered a serious psychic by many respected parapsychologists; it wasn’t until Randi had exposed Geller’s tricks that Geller was discredited. Only then could she safely call Geller an `Obvious fraud.’
This can be considered a Cardinal Rule of the Paranormal: All paranormal events reported are important and unexplainable, until they are explained; then, they are `Easy targets.’
4. The idea that science actively ignores anomalous data is both partially true, and laughably false. It’s true in the sense that some amazing events and phenomena aren’t as well-investigated as others (for example, rains of frogs); but it’s also true that an extensive body of research on strange occurences exists in William Corliss’s fascinating Sourcebook project. Whether or not the strange occurrences really spell doom for the scientific method, or science as an
institution, is doubtful.
5. How subtle or understanding is it when someone can be described or dismissed as a `Typical Aries’ or with `You know these Pisces– all moody and emotional.’ Substitute the astrological signs with adjectives like `Irish,’ `Black,’ `Hispanic,’ `Jewish,’ or `White,’ and astrology takes on a somewhat sinister dimension.
6. In fact, Randi himself illustrates this principle. His first three books– The Truth about Uri Geller, Flim-Flam! and the Faith Healers– are devastating, powerful expose of everything from psychics to astrology to Pyramid Power, written in a spirited, take- no-prisoners style. His latest book, The Mask of Nostradamus, is a first-class work of scholarship, and is perhaps the only worthwhile book currently in print on the subject. But because Randi is writing
about someone who lived hundreds of years ago, and whose reputation is based on the oddmatches of others, there’s little in the way of `Special effects’ to expose. Because Randi’s not dealing with as dramatic a subject, the book isn’t quite the same bombshell as The Faith Healers was.
7. I know the term `Computer text’ isn’t as precise as it should be; but how many people who are unfamiliar with computers will understand what ASCII, DOS Text, or Word Perfect version 5.1 format are?
8. That’s why I didn’t include an Index. I tried tagging various items for the Index, but after about two chapters’ worth, after trying to decide whether to tag a phrase with “Keene, Lamar M.; Works in Grocery Store” or maybe get really detailed like “Ectoplasm; Technique to create,” or “Chiffon: use as fake ectoplasm,” or. . . after a while I figured fuck it, and erased the whole damn Index.
That’s why God, in His Infinite Wisdom, gave us the Word Search feature.
9. Journalist I.F. Stone, writing his The Trial of Socrates when he was well into his eighties, offered an acknowledgement to his Macintosh– its fat, large Chicago font allowed Stone to get some serious writing done in spite of cataracts.
Stone was one of America’s finest independent journalists, by the way, and any of his books is a treat.
10. Does the phrase, “saturated from eyebrows to toenails in fraud, corruption, and wishful thinking” ever occur to this guy?
11. Name one.
12. Name one.
13. Name ONE.
14. Well, that narrows the field down, doesn’t it?
15. An organization with a long and unimpeachable record of using the scientific method and avoiding paranormal or mystical explanations.
16. The distinction between the two is obvious very subtle. I, for one, missed it entirely.
17. In fact, it’s almost as bad as, say, believing that a thin wafer of bread is transformed into human flesh when ingested.
18. Frequently, the ones prone towards self-flagellation.
19. The ones outside of the Church, that is.
20. Gosh, that’s deep.
21. And he’s done such a good job of it.
22. Especially the latter, as this book isn’t in Braille.
23. See Appendix 1.