Sex in the Seance
Or, How to Lay a Ghost
The traditional term to “lay” a ghost– meaning to put it to rest– in the darkness of the seance room has taken on an altogether different meaning.
Earlier I mentioned astral necrophilia: making love to the dead. Well, it exists. A select clientele demands it. And some mediums provide it.
Of all the weird and sordid aspects of phony mediumship, this is the weirdest and most sordid. That’s the way I felt and I still do. But clearly not all mediums agreed with me.
One medium named Naomi Carman Merkler, who looked like a truck driver in drag and claimed to be the granddaughter of Deborah, Queen of the Gypsies, boasted to me, “I’m a minister in the church . . . a lady in the parlor . . . a cook in the kitchen . . . a fraud in the seance room . . . and a whore in the bedroom. Of course I’m a whore in the seance room too if the occasion arises!”
Mere gross hyperbole from a gross woman?
I thought so at the time. But I soon learned better. There are sitters, real sickies, who actually believe– or delude themselves into thinking they believe– that a spirit can draw ectoplasm from the medium and produce the complete body [and I do mean complete] of a dead spouse or lover. The sitter has carnal intercourse with this spirit body which is as satisfyingly solid and responsive as the physical and goes on his or her way rejoicing in the reality of sex after death.
Too far out to believe? There was a time when I would have said so. Then one day, while filling in for a famous female medium, I gave a sitting to a middleaged woman who was prosperously dressed but had a hungry look around the eyes and mouth.
We were sitting in darkness, of course, and I brought spirit greetings from the woman’s dead husband through the trumpet, but she wasn’t satisfied. There was something wrong, I knew, but what?
She began to tell her husband that she wanted the kind of sitting she got from the other medium, the woman for whom I was pinch-hitting.
My little girl spirit guide interrupted and said innocently, “Oops, your husband has lost the vibration, but we’ll get him back in just a moment. Meanwhile we want to produce whatever you’re used to. What is it you want your husband to do?”
The woman replied, “Well, I want him to make love to me in his materialized body like he does when the other medium is here!”
The trumpet clattered to the floor. I admit I dropped it from shock. That was the end of that seance.
Later, by digging, I found that the other medium kept a special phallic device, or dildo, by which she offered unique spirit consolation to that woman and several other sitters like her who were willing to pay special prices for the special services they demanded.
Some of the mediums I knew were virtually psychic prostitutes. In the seance room Brenda Himmel took on all comers. For a price. One whole family of second-generation mediums, male and female, were invited to leave Camp Chesterfield because their sexual escapades in the seance room were too open and notorious.
Sometimes, if the sitter was particularly attractive, the medium would be the one who initiated the seance sex. In these cases it was the medium’s spirit guide, of course, who had astral relations with the sitter.
One male medium was a sort of verbal voyeur– he loved sexual conversation and pornography. In private sittings he used to masturbate while his spirit guide extracted from women sitters clinical information about their sexual experiences: how often, with whom, the anatomical details, postural procedures, number and mode of orgasms, and so on ad nauseam.
His excuse to the sitter for the erotic inquisition was, believe it or not, the necessity of such information in analyzing her body chemistry and balance for the full development of her psychic and spiritual gifts!
When excitable people, women especially, are psychologically sensitized by the powerful emotions– including the scarcely veiled eroticism– that pervade the seance room, anything can happen– and often does. At the risk of sounding too bizarre to be believed, let me tell you about one incident when, though a part of it, I was innocent of what actually happened.
A male medium was suffering sexual frustration, mainly because he never gave private sittings; it’s during these, as a rule, that the medium does his seducing. His frustration became acute the day he and I were acting as co-mediums in a group seance of about thirty-five sitters, mostly women. Among them was a woman he had had his lustful eye on for quite some time. He decided to strike now or never.
The seance was in darkness, of course. through the trumpet my spirit voices were droning on when the other medium quietly took his intended seducee by the hand and led her to a corner of the room. With whispered instructions to be quiet so as not to disturb the others, she was told that she was going to receive special spirit ministrations to “open your psychic center.”
While the rest of us, including me, continued with our seance the woman had a thrilling spiritual experience all her own. Her psychic center opened very satisfactorily. The medium had sexual intercourse with her.
Later he told me about it with a coarse laugh. And the woman? She remained thrilled by what had happened and, we discovered, had rushed out to tell her equally pleased [well, almost] husband that the spirits had chosen her for a “wonderful” experience.
The woman mediums I knew evidently all had strong libidos. One, now over seventy, was certainly still going strong in her sixties. She had a boyfriend named Roy, much younger than she was, and the two of them used to take off on lost weekends. When they returned, Roy looked exhausted.
The male mediums– well, often they were sexually ambiguous. I think that’s the fairest way to put it: ambiguous.
I once gave a private sitting to a prominent Indianapolis doctor who in greeting me said, “Well, I’ve met many of the queens of spiritualism, but it’s refreshing to meet someone masculine enough to be called the prince!”68
Sex, of course, has traditionally pervaded the occult just as it has religion. There is a close affinity between the mystical impulse and the sex drive, and maybe it’s not surprising that people, and not only mediums, sometimes get the two confused.
Now that we’ve all been vaguely Freudianized, there’s hardly anyone so unsophisticated as to deny the potent erotic element in many mystical experiences. St. Teresa with her vision of the angel thrusting into her a flaming spear, at which she swooned with divine love, was obviously experiencing misplaced sex. At least, that’s my view.69
Everyone knows that traditionally the rites of voodoo and black magic are associated with sexual debauch. And more than one psychical researcher has commented on the high erotic content in mediumship.
Observers said that Eusapia Palladino used to experience obvious orgasmic reactions during her seances and had a marked propensity for handsome male sitters. One psychical researcher called her “frighteningly erotic.”
Sex certainly invaded the seance room with the famous and beautiful Margery the Medium. There were persistent rumors that she won some supporters by using more than her psychic powers. One researcher, Paul Tabori, reports as fact that Hereward Carrington, a noted investigator who brought in a favorable verdict on Margery’s mediumship, had a sexual affair with her.
Margery, a comely lady by all accounts, conducted many of her sittings in the nude [after first being thoroughly examined by a committee of doctors, an ordeal from which apparently she was never known to shrink]. The medium’s state of undress was supposed to rule out fraud. Since during the production of the phenomena Margery became quite active and often threw her feet into the lap of one sitter while her head was lolling in the lap of another [all in the dark, of
course], at times the proceedings must have taken on the characteristics of what today would be called a “group grope.”
Also, numerous accounts testify that Margery’s ectoplasm showed a marked propensity for coming from her vagina and returning thereto.
The late Nandor Fodor told Allen Spraggett in personal conversation his impressions of Margery in her last phase, after the death of her husband, when she was descending deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Fodor said that when he stayed in the Crandon home with other investigators, the medium often knocked on his door at night. Dr. Fodor said he felt pity for her– a once-beautiful woman who was like a faded and forgotten picture.
There was a notorious sex-and-spiritualism case back in the thirties involving a New York medium who ran a sort of spirit massage parlor. Officially, the medium’s clients, most of whom were middle-aged women, visited his ten-room apartment on Riverside Drive to receive healing treatments from a spirit doctor. This doctor, a Frenchman who had been dead for seventy or eighty years, would materialize, ask the woman to undress and lie on the bed, then perform
his healing ministrations which consisted of running his hands over the patient’s entire body.
Many clients apparently found the treatments very effective in relieving headaches, backaches, and all sorts of other things. For some, however, the experience evidently wasn’t what they had expected, and they complained to the authorities.
The upshot was that a policewoman in civilian dress presented herself for a spirit massage. As the robed figure was attending to her infirmities, she suddenly reached out and snapped on a pair of handcuffs. The spirit turned into the medium, whose name was Emerson Gilbert. The next stop was court, where a Magistrate Goldstein handed out a fine and a stern lecture.
The February 10, 1973, issue of Psychic News, Britain’s spiritualist weekly, gave an account of the bizarre sexual mediumship of a London man accused of invoking spirits, the Virgin Mary, and even Christ to lure women into bed with him.
This medium told a woman sitter that she had been “chosen by God to have a spirit child” by him. Later, when he was exposed, the medium pleaded that he wasn’t to blame– the spirits were.
“When the entities enter my body,” he said, “they do dreadful things. Sometimes they make me try to kill myself. Sometimes they want me to have sex.
“I’m in a trance all the time but I never really do anything like that because my own spirit guides always intervene before anything really improper happens. They pull me out of it.”
The woman who went to the medium because she was “troubled by spirits” was told by him that a spirit had entered her womb.
“One day,” said the woman, “`He told me he had a message from his spirit guides. It is willed by God and the spirit world and Jesus Christ that you shall have a child by spirit,’ he told me.
“The medium told me I was to have intercourse by transfiguration. I would appear to be having sex with him but really it would be with a spirit.
“He told me the child was going to be a boy. He would be one of the greatest psychics ever known. He said the world would know of this child.”70
For some time, said the woman, she was completely under the medium’s influence. Often when she was with him she experienced something like a trance. She remembered few details of her times with him and what really happened. The woman’s sister, in a sworn statement, described an incident in which the medium committed an “outrage” on the woman and then turned into a gorilla!
The sister recalled that one night, when the medium was at the woman’s home, the two of them went upstairs. When they didn’t return, the sister investigated and found them in bed.
“I rushed over,” said the sister, “and pulled him off her. I was very angry. I shouted at him to get out.
“Then the medium started acting like a gorilla. He was breathing heavily, snuffling and waving his arms about. His face was twisted. It was like a horror film.”
Two women reporters, checking out the allegations about the medium, used themselves as decoys. They visited him, complaining of being harassed by evil spirits, and were told that the only way to exorcise such spirits was by having sexual intercourse with the medium.
“He made sexual advances,” one of the women reporters said, “and kept trying to persuade me to have intercourse.”
“This is a very terrible condition you have,” medium told her. “I have to make love to you with this entity. . . . that would clear the condition completely.”
Then the medium’s spirit guides came through, one of whom spoke with what was described as a “comic” accent. “God bless you,” said the guide, “I, Atonga, talk with you through my medi [sic]. Let the entity take its course. You will then feel much better. You will feel in harmony and in peace with spirit.
“It means that my medi must link with you. In de linking the condition will be completely cleared. You will be better, one hundred per cent. And if you have child, it will be boy.”
This case, reported by the spiritualists’ own press, dramatizes how kooky and kinky sex mediumship can become.
One woman sitter of mine was, so far as I was concerned, a terminal case of astral necrophilia. She came from Chicago, was married, had a nice husband and a young son, but was hung up on a spirit lover named Stanley.
At Camp Chesterfield, where I met her, she came to me as often as I would allow. [She would have come two or three times a day if I had accepted her bookings.71] She seemed fairly rational in the sittings until she started talking to this Stanley character, oohing and aahing about his prowess as a lover [he was dead, remember] and the wonderful astral children they had!
This woman actually believed that Stanley came to her astrally every night and made love to her and that she had conceived and borne these spirit children.
At first I tried to reason her out of the fantasy. She listened to what I said and seemed to accept it, but she returned next time as crazy as ever over Stanley. Finally I refused to give her any more sittings.
In his book, The Haunted Mind, Nandor Fodor discusses sex and mediumship. He describes how one male medium, Willie Schneider, whose spirit guide was Mina, a girl, used to embrace male sitters during his trances. He quotes one woman medium who told him that when she went into trance it was as though “a hand were massaging my womb.”
A bizarre incident Fodor mentions concerned Madame D’Esperance, the famous medium, whose materialized spirit guide Yolande was raped in the dark by a sitter. The medium, says Fodor, spent two years recovering from the experience.
Interestingly, Fodor reports a case in London in 1922 which parallels the sex-in-the-seance-room I’ve described. It seems that a woman named Gertrude had a dead lover, Charles, for whom she yearned ardently. Gertrude shopped around from medium to medium until she found one who brought through her beloved Charles. He proved to be as warm in his affections as he had been when on earth.
Each seance ended with the medium, on coming out of her trance, finding herself in Gertrude’s arms. Since the medium was also a woman, this was somewhat awkward and unsatisfactory. But Charles found a way.
The medium was prompted [by Charles, of course] to acquire an instrument such as I’ve previously described, by which she was able with perfect satisfaction to fulfill the spirit’s desire for full physical union with his beloved Gertrude.
As Fodor tells it, everything was bliss for three years, until one day Gertrude’s husband, who was impotent or something, found the instrument and stepped on it, smashing beyond repair. The woman’s astral assignations with her dead lover ceased.
Taken with the account of my own experience, Fodor’s story raises the question of just how common such sexual seances really are. More commmon, perhaps, than even I suspect. To me, of course, sex in the seance room is merely a logical, though particularly nasty, extension of the basic premise of fraudulent mediumship: give the customer what he [or she] wants. What it is doesn’t matter; what it pays does. Another reaction, of course, is pity for those who are so lonely and alienated from normal human companionship that they have to cohabit with a ghost. Here, as in other areas of life, the services of the phony medium do not help the sitter– they hinder him or her in developing the inner resources to face life realistically.
As long as a person is dependent on a medium, he’ll never find the strength to become independent. And without that, life is hardly worth living. . .
The Unmaking of a Medium
How it all ended
With all the money flowing in– with the glamour, excitement, and adulation of being a successful medium– was I happy?
For one thing, I was always aware, like all mediums that most people looked down on us, that we weren’t really respectable.
Oh, we had important friends to whom we were more than respectable, but society as a whole disdained us. And nobody enjoys being a freak, an oddity, a suspected fraud, a shady character, no matter how much glamour goes with it.
Then there was the little matter of conscience. Most mediums probably are what psychiatrists call sociopathic. They have a moral block, a defective conscience. Things that other people consider wrong, they consider legitimate. Cheating, lying, stealing, conning– these are sanctified in the ethics of mediumship as I knew it.
Though most mediums apparently manage to anaesthetize their consciences [if they have any], I couldn’t. Not completely. Looking in the mirror, I’d feel a pang of something I recognized as shame (it had been so long since I’d acknowledged the feeling that it was unfamiliar).
Sometimes in my cups I’d think, “What sort of creep am I? Could anybody without a sick mind be proud of what I’m doing?”
It was such spasms of conscience that made me start giving charity sittings for people who couldn’t afford our regular fees. This gesture was a feeble attempt to fan whatever spark of normal, decent human feeling was left in me. I had to do something that wasn’t motivated entirely by self gain.
The conscience spasms were interspersed with periods of relative enthusiasm for what I was doing– even, at times, a manic euphoria [usually induced by a particularly successful seance but increasingly fortified in my case by alcohol and in the case of many mediums by drugs].
There were longer spells of gray flatness when I felt neither guilt nor gladness, but simply went through the motions of living, finding my mediumship an escape from troubling thoughts: a routine that had become comfortable, safe, and– simply because it was so familiar– reassuring.
Then something fresh would prick my conscience, and the cycle– self-recrimination, enthusiasm, flatness– would start all over. On and on I went, round and round, caught on the Devil’s carousel . . .What led me to renounce the lie I was living, to try to build a truthful Me, was chiefly the example of a remarkable woman– remarkable for her simple human goodness– who became my adoptive mother: Florence Hutchison. This chapter in my life is in some ways more amazing than anything I’ve recounted, but unlike the other parts, it is a story of truth, not deceit.
This chapter started a few years ago at Camp Chesterfield. A woman whom I had never seen before sought me out for a sitting. She’d come all the way from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, she said, because of what others had told her about my psychic powers. I must help her!
My first inclination was to tell her to get lost. But Florence Hutchison is a hard person to say that to. If she had been one of the typical bitchy ghostmongers, I would have brushed her off in a moment, but she really was a kindly and appealing lady. So I simply told her I was sorry, I was booked for two weeks ahead, but if she came back then I might be able to see her.
Well, she was with a friend who had sat with me and, as it happened, had another appointment for the next day. She offered Florence her appointment, and I agreed to that.
Going to the files under the Cathedral for the usual pre-seance research, I found myself stymied. Florence Hutchison had never been to Chesterfield before and there was nothing on her in the files. However, since she looked like such an agreeable sort, I decided to take her “cold,” as we mediums said, and “pluck the feathers off her” [a term for picking information from a sitter without letting her realize she is telling it to you].72
The next day at the seance she did prove most cooperative, and soon things were rolling merrily along. I presented her with her spirit guide, whom she had never met before, and she seemed suitably impressed. And when I brought through her mother and father in spirit, she accepted them gladly.
Then she asked a question which I’ll never forget. It changed my life.
“Can you help me find an important legal document I’ve lost?” Florence inquired.
Her deceased husband would know where it was, she said. Could you speak to him about it?
The document in question was a will, but she didn’t reveal that at the time. I was on the spot! There was no way of ducking the question except by pretending to “lose trance” and to suddenly wake up, claiming that something had interrupted the spirit communication. But that seemed so obvious I disdained using it.
“Well, how the hell do I get out of this?” I asked myself.
Then I said the first thing that came into my head, which was: “You have a metal file cabinet at home, the portable one, and it has a false top in it. There is a key to the false top in the bottom under some papers. The document is in that false top.”
It was a stupid-sounding thing, but what the hell, I thought, the woman wasn’t likely to return to Chesterfield, and it got her out of my hair at that moment. That was all I really cared about.
The answer seemed to satisfy Florence. She fairly flew out of the seance room and, I learned later, rushed home to Oklahoma that very day.
My mother [as she later became] has set down her own account of that experience and its astonishing sequel.
“My husband, Alphonso Deville Hutchison, whom I called A.D., was an independent oil producer. He was killed in an accident on February 19, 1962. There was no trace of a will, though he had made one. A trace of the original, I mean. My husband’s attorney had a copy of the will, but this wasn’t legal because it hadn’t been duly witnessed. Anyway, we needed the original. But where was it?
“Almost a year went by and the attorneys were getting ready to file a lost will in probate court. I still held out hope that the original would turn up. I knew A.D. kept it around the house somewhere. But I’d gone through the tin box where he kept his papers and the will wasn’t in there. Nor anywhere else that I looked.
“Then a spiritualist couple told me about Camp Chesterfield and said that I should visit it and get a sitting with Lamar. He’s the world’s best medium, they said; if he can’t help you, nobody can. I flew to Indiana the next day.”
“In the seance, believing I was talking with my husband, I asked, `Did so-and-so take the document,’ mentioning a certain cousin of whom I was suspicious. The spirit voice said, `Oh, no.’
“So I said, `Well darling, where is it? I’ve looked everywhere that I thought you could put a paper.’
“He said, `Well, you know that I’ve got a tin box. . . I said, ‘ve looked in that tin box.’
“`But there’s a false top to that box,’ he said, `And the key to it is in the box under some papers. Look in that false top and you’ll find the document.’
“So I rushed home to Oklahoma, arriving about two o’clock in the morning, and boy I went downstairs as fast as I could go and I took that tin box and turned it upside down and shook it until the key fell out. Then looked under the lid and, lo and behold, there was the false top all right! I opened it with the key– and found the will.”
After this experience my mother was convinced that I was the greatest medium alive. Nothing could have persuaded her I wasn’t genuine. In fact, much later myself had a job convincing her of that!
How did I come up with the false top on the the box?
Well, it was an unusual occurrence, but I simply attribute it to the fact that I had given thousands of readings and by the law of averages had to make a few lucky guesses. This one was incredibly lucky, I’ll admit, but not enough to make me believe that I was a true medium.73
However, that wasn’t the last unusual experience involving the woman who was to become my adoptive mother. Because of her attachment to my mediumship and to me, she moved to Florida and became a regular attender at the church. Once, during an apport seance, the spirits delivered to her an old-fashioned lavalier. It was part of a bunch of junk that I’d bought for apports. Why I selected that particular item for my mother I have no idea.
However, from my mother’s point of view that lavalier turned out to have quite a history. Here is how she tells the story:
“When the apport tumbled into my hands out of the trumpet, I knew it was a brooch of some kind because I could feel the pin and the chain on it. But in the pitch-darkness I couldn’t see exactly what it was.
“When the lights came on I examined it, found it was a lavalier, and said to myself, `Why, do you know, that looks like the very one my brother gave me when I was just turning sixteen.’ I later had lost my brother’s gift at school in the little town of Delaware, Oklahoma. The more I looked at the lavalier, the more certain I was that it was the same one. After fifty years! Was it possible?
“So I thought, `Well, there’s one person who’ll be able to identify it: my brother. I’ll see what he says.’
“I just took the lavalier in to him and said, `Buck, I want you to look at this. It was given to me. Have you ever seen it before?’
“My brother looked at it and said, `Why, that’s the lavalier I gave you when you were sixteen and you lost it! Where in the world did you get it?’
” `Oh, it was given to me,’ I said. And he said, `Well, I’m glad you got it back, even if you did have to wait fifty years.’ ”
This story of my mother’s is one that I cannot explain.
Florence saw in me, she said, an uncanny likeness to her son, Charles, who was killed in the service in World War Two, and as we grew closer she eventually decided that she wanted to adopt me legally as her son, The deep affection I felt for her led me, in spite of obvious reasons for hesitating, to agree, and I became her son.
Yet even after the adoption, and with all the sincere love I had for her, I continued to dupe my mother along with the others in the seance room. How could I do otherwise without removing my mask to her? And I was afraid that what she saw then might appear so ugly she would shrink from me in horror.
My growing closeness to my mother and the honesty and integrity she represented was the biggest single factor in my decision to give up mediumship. But another was my becoming a Mason.
I joined the Masonic fraternity while I was a medium, recommended in all good faith by a member of my church. In spite of myself I began taking the Masonic obligations to heart; they became rather sacred to me. I know this may sound incredible, since I was then a professional desecrator of things most people consider holy, but nevertheless it’s true. The spirit of Masonry worked in me like a leaven.
Every day the contradiction between the lie I lived and the kind of truth my mother embodied, became uglier to me. Seances were approached with increasing revulsion; they were no longer fun and games, but rather a ghastly parody of which I was sick to death.
Beside the mediums with whom I worked, my mother was, quite simply, a saint in hell. For once in my life I had met a real person, and I wanted some of her integrity for myself. I wanted to give whatever good was left in me a chance to grow– otherwise there seemed no point in going on.
Looking ahead, if I stayed in the mediumship I saw only deepening gloom. All the mediums I’ve known or known about have had tragic endings.
The Fox sisters, who started it all, wound up as alcoholic derelicts. William Slade, famed for his slate-writing tricks, died insane in a Michigan sanitarium. Margery the Medium lay on her deathbed a hopeless drunk. The celebrated Arthur Ford fought the battle of the bottle to the very end and lost. And the inimitable Mable Riffle, boss of Camp Chesterfield– well, when she died it was winter and freezing cold, and her body had to be held until a thaw for burial; the service was in the Cathedral at Chesterfield. Very few attended.
Wherever I looked it was the same: mediums, at the end of a tawdry life, dying a tawdry death.
The change going on within me led to increasing friction with Raoul. Finally we had a confrontation in which I told him I was sick and tired of the whole business– the fraud bit, the drug bit, the drinking bit, the entire thing– that I wanted to make the church into a legitimate Christian metaphysical congregation teaching the power of prayer and positive thinking, and cut out the seance-room charades.
Raoul simply said no, it wouldn’t pay well enough. So I said, “Well, if that’s the way you feel, there’s going to have to be a showdown.”
And there was.
That showdown and its sequel may be the most incredible thing of my whole mediumistic career. And the most revealing.
Shortly after our confrontation Raoul, during a development class meeting at the church attended by about a hundred people, suddenly seemed to lose control. His rage and resentment against me just broke loose, and in front of the class, he threw a temper tantrum. Screaming that he wasn’t going to be undermined any longer, he demanded that the board member present gather immediately in another part of the church for a closed meeting.
As Raoul raged, I realized that this wasn’t as impromptu as it seemed– that no doubt he had gone to all the board members in advance and poisoned them against me. His tactic, it turned out, was to head off any charges of mine by accusing me first of being fraudulent in my mediumship!
The meeting was convened, and all the members of the board were there. Raoul began by saying that the dissension and confusion which I had been sowing in the church had to stop.
“I’ve already told these board members that your billet-reading is fraudulent,” he said, pointing to everybody but two women.
I said, “Oh well, that’s true. It is fraudulent. But let’s have the whole truth. Let’s tell these board members you’ve primed that so is my trumpet mediumship fraudulent, my materializations, my apports, my card writing, my precipitation on silk, my spirit photographs, my clairvoyance– the works! It’s all fraudulent!”
(Why had Raoul singled out only my billet-reading? Probably because at a previous church meeting I had refused ever again to do billet-reading, and in order to explain this embarrassing cessation of a popular phenomenon, Raoul told the board members he had discovered that that phase of my mediumship was fake and demanded that I drop it.)
“But let’s not just tell them about me,” I said to Raoul, “let’s tell them about you. That every phase of mediumship that you demonstrate is fraudulent. And that every phase that every medium in the world demonstrates is fraudulent!”
Then I stopped and stared at him in silence.
In a quiet voice, Raoul said, “It’s true.”
And I said, “All right, it’s up to you people. Unless this church can become a legitimate Christian organization, I’ll walk out that door and never return.”
One woman spoke up and said, “Well, I agree with you. If it isn’t right, my spirit people have taught me through you that I shouldn’t be any part of it.”
(This incredible statement– incredible in the light of what I had just revealed about the “spirit people”– threw me for a loop. I thought, are they all quite mad?)
Another woman got up and said that she agreed; things had to change or else.
These two women were the only ones to express support for me. Some of the board members seemed bewildered by the confusing turn of events. Others, in spite of the revelations, were outspokenly behind Raoul. This, in fact, represented the final mood of the meeting. The board expressed confidence in Raoul and voted to leave matters entirely in his hands.
“Whatever Raoul decides,” said one woman, “is what we want to do.”
“In spite of what you’ve heard?” I interjected. “In spite of what he himself has admitted to you here?”
With that one board member, a very polished lady in her seventies who thought she was fifty-five, stood up, fixed me with a withering look, and snapped, “Sit down and shut up!” (Interestingly, this woman’s husband, who all along opposed her obsession with the spirits, has since died, leaving her wealthy, and I understand that she pours money into Raoul’s new church– in spite of what she knows about spiritualism’s inner workings. Who can fathom such a mind?)
“Not here I won’t” was my reply. I got up and took my mother’s arm, and we left the church. One board member, a woman, followed. The rest stayed, staring sullenly after us.
I was crushed. I knew how easy it was to make people believe a lie, but I didn’t expect that the same people, confronted with the lie, would choose it over the truth.
One of the board members, George Mathern, who had moved from Ohio to join the church and had given generously of both cash and property, had said to Raoul, “Do you mean to say that you duped me?” and got the reply, “That’s right, George.” Yet even after that, he stayed in his seat beside Raoul and is still active in spiritualism to this day.
The true-believer syndrome merits study by science. What is it that compels a person, past all reason, to believe the unbelievable? How can an otherwise sane individual become so enamored of a fantasy, an imposture, that even after it’s exposed in the bright light of day he still clings to it– indeed, clings to it all the harder?
The true-believer syndrome is the greatest thing phony mediums have going for them. No amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie.
I think Raoul had those people on the church board virtually hypnotized. Every one of them, with a single exception, had had numerous private sittings with him, and he did have exceptional skill in brainwashing people. He had turned them into unthinking zombies.
In our library was a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which Raoul read avidly. He adopted in his mediumship some of the specific techniques in mass psychology that Hitler described. Looking through that book and noting the many passages Raoul marked, and his comments, was very revealing.
My mother, of course, wasn’t under Raoul’s spell, and the board meeting and its revelations hit her like an earthquake. By the time we got home, she was virtually in a state of shock.
It was then I said to her, “Mother, I’m going to tell you the truth about everything. And if, when I’m through, you don’t want me to be your son any longer, I’ll understand. You just tell me, and I’ll walk out the door with only the suit I’m wearing and never come back.”
And I meant every word, as she knew.
So I told her the whole sordid story– how Raoul and I started out in mediumship; the files on sitters; the phony apports, materializations, and trumpet seances; the cynical financial exploitation of people– all of it. I spared her no sordid detail. It rushed out of me in a murky wave, a catharsis, a release. I felt like a penitent making confession to save his soul.
And my mother’s reaction?
This is how she described it: “After Lamar finished his story I didn’t speak for a few minutes. I couldn’t speak. When I found my voice my first words, as I recall, were, `I can’t believe it!’
” `Well, you’d better,’ said Lamar, `Because it’s true. And now what do you want me to do?’
“I said, `Well, I think I would be a very poor mother if in your trouble I were to forsake you. No, my son, you’re my son. I’ll share it with you.”
Later I returned to the church for one last time. I raided the steel vault where all the seance paraphernalia were stored: ectoplasm, apports, and the rest. Backing my car to the door of the church, I dumped as much of the chiffon and other junk as I could into the trunk, then roared off, no doubt streaming ectoplasm.
The next time Raoul went to the vault to fish out his spirit garb– for him it was business as usual– he found it as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.
To make my renunciation of mediumship complete I knew there were other things I yet had to do. Seeking out a Masonic friend, I poured forth to him the whole story. At my request he went with me to the authorities. I turned myself in to the Internal Revenue Service for evasion of income tax. (I eventually paid all back taxes in full.) I also visited the FBI, the county sheriff’s office, and the state attorney-general. To all these I made full confession of my years of fraud.
No police investigation of any medium was launched, as a result of my action nor, to my knowledge, did the Internal Revenue Service look into the matter of mediumistic bookkeeping. One reason for official reluctance to do anything may be an exaggerated concept of religious liberty. Apparently the last thing a public official in this country wants is for some sect like the spiritualists to scream bloody murder about religious persecution. At any rate, whatever the reason,
the mediums continue unmolested.74
As a matter of fact, my former partner is doing better than ever. He got a new apprentice to train in mediumship and continued the church. As a bribe to a those who stayed with him, he ordained them; from twelve-year-old children to eighty-year-old women: all received ordination certificates as spiritualist ministers.
A recent newspaper advertisement by Raoul’s church is typical. It proclaims:
“South’s largest psychic-metaphysical congregation. . . The fantastically different church where Worship is a pleasure. . . Where outstanding psychic phenomena is [sic] a common occurrence. . . A modern day school of the prophets. . . All nine gifts of the Spirit are in evidence. . . Demonstrated in a setting of classical art and beauty. . . The last word in up-to-date New Age Philosophy and Psychic phenomena. . . A center of Divine revelation, prophetic utterances and Spirit communications. . . An organization destined to success even in the face of fierce opposition.”
Yes, the ghost business is booming. . .
The Psychic Mafia
One summer’s day when I was serving as a staff medium at Camp Chesterfield– “Hub of World Spiritualism”– an incident occurred which for me symbolizes the utter cynicism of the psychic mafia.
A medium’s wife was working in the Sun Flower Hotel on the camp grounds (rooms: four dollars a night) and received an emergency phone call for one of the guests. The call was from a sheriff’s department. The guest, a woman, was unavailable to take the call, since she was at a public seance in the Cathedral.
“Well,” said the policeman at the other end of the line, “we would like to leave a message that Mrs. So-and-so contact us as soon as possible on an urgent family matter.”
“Why, whatever’s happened?” asked the medium’s wife.
“Well,” the policeman hesitated, “you see, her son was killed in a car accident.”
The medium’s wife hurried to the Cathedral, where Willard Warren was just about to go out on the platform to give spirit messages. And the rest you can anticipate. . .
Yes, that’s right– the woman heard the tragic news from Willard Warren in the guise of a communication from her spirit loved ones that her son had “crossed over” just a few minutes earlier, after being killed in a car accident.
The woman went into hysterics, and everybody else who heard the message gasped at this marvelous proof of spirit communication!
The mentality that is capable of such heartless manipulation of people’s most wounded feelings is in my judgment capable of even more. I am not being melodramatic but factual when I report that since renouncing mediumship I have received threatening phone calls. “Lay off the mediums or else,” muted voices warned.
In my days as a medium I had sat in on meetings at which were discussed various means of expediting the demise of certain elderly folk who were sure to leave a bit of money to the spiritualist cause. One woman medium claimed to be an expert in poisons that were virtually untraceable. To my knowledge no actual fatal foul play resulted from these discussions, but believe me, they were held in a spirit of deadly seriousness, not fun.
I was so sure that the mediums would try to liquidate me because I knew too much and might spill it that I bought a black suit to be buried in. (Funny, even thinking about dying, proper dress was important to me.)
One night, a few months after I had made the break with the psychic mafia, I was strolling across the lawn of our Tampa home when a shot rang out. Instinctively I hurled myself to the ground and lay still, feeling my heart racing. When I finally got up and hurried into the house my knees were like jelly and I went into the bathroom and threw up.
A car backfire? No, it was definitely a shot. I confirmed that the next day when I dug a rifle slug out of the wall of the house. Whether the marksman’s intention had been to kill me or to scare me I can’t say, but I was scared all right!
After this incident I moved my mother and myself out of that house. We sold it at a sacrifice and took an apartment for greater security.
Before moving, while we were still in the big house, I bought a pistol and took to sleeping with it under my pillow. One morning I forgot to put it inside the nightstand as I usually did, and when our maid, Annie Laurie, made the bed, she saw the wicked-looking thing peeking out from under the pillow. Screams!
My mother, knowing I liked practical jokes, rushed in, thinking I had left a rubber spider or something where the maid would find it, but she realized very quickly that the gun was no toy. She briskly took it and locked it in a cupboard.
The three years immediately after I left mediumship were my real dark night of the soul. I went into virtual seclusion. With my mediumship, I also had given up all my former friends. Anyway, I was in no mood to meet or see anybody. The festering sore of fraud in me, which I had purged, had been replaced by a profound emptiness. I was disoriented, rootless, rudderless, drifting, looking desperately for an anchor.
Anything to do with the occult was repugnant to me. I took my more than two thousand books on mediumship, psychical research, and related topics and consigned them to the incinerator. Any mention of seances or psychics in the newspapers or on television nauseated me. I was sick to death of the whole business!
The rebuilding of my self-esteem and a sane perspective on life didn’t come easily. I was like someone who, having spent thirteen years living in a crazy house looking at everything in distorting mirrors, now had to get used to seeing things normally. My eyes refused to adjust. My image of myself, of other people, of the world was distorted; I couldn’t help it.
My mother’s unfailing love and support proved my mainstay in that perilous emotional time. She always understood, never judged. Without her I would never have made it.
And there were other people who heartened me and helped me to see me whole again. One was my Masonic brother, William Twiss, whose wise counsel and fatherly kindness was always there when I needed it. There were others who helped me by their example, such as one woman from whom I had taken several thousand dollars as a medium and whom I felt I owed a personal apology. She listened to my story gravely, then said, “Well Lamar, if the good Lord forgives, how can I stand in your way? I forgive you too.”
It was even hard to totally dissociate myself from my past. Occasionally I’d run into former sitters who, knowing only that I had given up my mediumship, would ask, “Are you doing readings again?” Many spiritualists assumed that I had lost my powers, presumably because of unworthiness. No doubt this was the party line promulgated by my former associates.
Did I ever tell my story to the newspapers?
No. I thought about it but rejected the idea.
“What’s the point?” I said to someone who had urged me to blow the whole thing wide open in the press. “Sure, I could make things hot for the church here. But it would be merely a local scandal, forgotten in a few days. It would have no lasting effect. No, if I ever tell my story it will be to do some real good.”
When I contemplated putting this story down on paper, it wasn’t in a spirit of vindictiveness. I want nobody’s scalp. But I did feel with increasing urgency that my story should be told as a warning of those so-called spiritual shepherds who have become sheepshearers, thieves, and robbers– wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Who can measure the human misery that spiritualism and its false claims and broken hopes leaves in its murky wake?
I know of one elderly woman who gave thousands to our church, now shut away friendless and penniless in a nursing home. Another woman– and how many more like her?– suffered a stroke induced at least in part, I’m sure, by the conflicts and upheavals caused by preying mediums.
I know scores of people, professionals such as doctors and teachers, who were so enamored of the fantastics of spiritualism that they tore up roots and relocated halfway across the country to be near a favorite medium. (Many did this because of me.) The personal and family dislocations, the emotional pain, the career setbacks and financial losses, are incalculable.
Those who are sucked into the dark whirlpool of the psychic mafia often pay too high a price. . .
The web of evil in which I was once enmeshed should be exposed. This was my growing conviction. But how and when?
Well, one day I was contacted by Canon William Rauscher of Woodbury, New Jersey. He had heard of me and my experiences from my Masonic brother, Bill Twiss. Canon Rauscher said he too was a Mason. He wrote to hear my personal history from me, so I told it to him.
“This is an enormously important story,” he said later, “and one which must be told. You can do a great service to the cause of truth and psychical research.”
Rauscher invited Allen Spraggett to cooperate in the project as a professional writer and psychic investigator. Spraggett agreed with Rauscher’s assessment: My story was important; it must be told.
And so this book came into being. . .
In 1974, Bill Rauscher arranged for me to speak to the annual conference of Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship in Chicago– as “Mr. X” because we didn’t want to blow my cover before this book was published– about my life as a phony medium. That lecture was an ordeal for me. As I stood on the platform looking out over an audience of some two thousand, I saw familiar faces which didn’t belong to SFF. They were members of my old fraternity, there to spy, no doubt. One of them, a medium whom I had known well, sat slumped in his seat with his head down while I spoke. Not once did he look up to meet my gaze. The lecture was brief, low-key. I simply hit the high spots of my fraudulent career, warning that audience of mainly sincere seekers of the pitfalls and booby traps strewn along the path to truth by those who prefer to keep men believing profitable lies.
After the lecture I did a vanishing act. The last thing I wanted was to see anyone, talk to anyone, answer anyone’s questions. Frankly, I felt that as an individual I wasn’t important; it was my story that mattered. That’s what they should be concerned with. And that feeling is stronger today than ever.
However, I’m no longer a recluse. There is a place, I believe, for my talking about what happened to me. As one comment on my Chicago lecture which reached me later put it, “His former darkness can be our light.”
Like an albatross, I carry my past around my neck. This came back with renewed force when I returned from Chicago and found that my lecture had triggered fresh threats and warnings to “lay off.” In my lecture I had mentioned that this book was being written and the threats intimated that if the book were published the results might be fatal to me.
Exaggerating? No, I’m not. These renewed threats and warnings to suppress this book alarmed my mother and me enough that we moved again. Even now, my precise whereabouts are known to only a few trusted individuals. The psychic mafia plays rough.
To show how active the psychic mafia is currently– right now, as I write these words– I made it a point to get hold of a secret list of likely sitters now circulating among mediums in the Miami area. This list, which runs to more than 400 names, includes such exquisite details as these:
“Do not give this man anything he writes on a billet.
Do not bring any spirit he asks for. He is constantly testing, though a believer. His mother and father were Russian and were Jewish.
Don’t tell him she’s with Jesus, etc. . . In view of all, this is a good guy. . .
“This man received personal letter from Nehru, prime minister of India about a gift of two elephants to Miami Zoo. He is a Rev. and has a group called the Round Table. . .
“She is a psychiatric nurse. . . One psychiatrist once told her she should sell real estate because she could talk his patients into taking elect. shock treatments. Called the doctor, Dr. Andy.”
There really is little I can add to the story I’ve told; it speaks for itself. How could anything be more eloquent? The lessons are there for even the blind to see. But will those with eyes see the truth? I wonder again after reading about a movie called The Filming of a Ghost, (Psychic News, No. 30, 1974).
This forty-minute motion picture, which has been shown to psychic groups around the country and in November, 1974, was telecast by CITY-TV in Toronto, shows streams of ectoplasm and a spirit materialization produced by Camp Silver Belle medium Warren Smith. (The film crew used infrared equipment in the pitch-black seance room. )
The producer of the film and its narrator, Darrell Random, a spiritualist, calls Smith “one of the truly great psychics in the world today.”
The narration makes it plain that several times during the seance the medium insisted that the film crew stop their cameras for fear of injuring in some way the delicate ectoplasm. These no doubt were precisely the times when it would have been most interesting to keep the cameras running.
The materialized figure in the film looks just like the ones I produced. The streams of ectoplasm could have come from my old trunk. The methods of mediumship depicted in The Filming of a Ghost are quite familiar to me and should be to you after reading this book.
What about my present philosophy and outlook on life?
Well, I’m still long on questions and relatively short on answers, but I can offer a sort of personal minicredo. I believe in God. I believe that God is the sustaining power of the universe and that everything expresses this power. Even evil, I believe, is potential good– a learning experience. Though my own experiences, disgusting as they are to me, I see that I have become a better person. Certainly I’ve learned lessons which I doubt could have come any other way.
In spite of all that’s happened to me and the unsavory characters I’ve known, I still believe that basically everyone is good. A cliche, but I believe it. I don’t hate people for their wrongdoing, even the phony mediums. In fact, I have great sympathy for phony mediums for I remember that I was once one of them.
I believe, as one woman remarked, “If they really knew better they’d do better. If a person really knows better, he will do better. All evil is in some sense ignorance of what man really is, and what he was made for, and the kind of life he can live. I’m told that Socrates said something like this: “To know the good is to do it.”
Life after death?
I believe in it. I believe that human beings maintain their individuality after death. I believe that we go on to higher and better expressions of ourselves than those which we are now expressing. I believe that evolution, growth, is the whole thing; mankind evolves, it doesn’t regress. I believe that, in spite of all I’ve seen and experienced.
Extrasensory perception and psychic phenomena?
I believe that the individual can have his or her own private psychic experiences– that there is such a thing as ESP. But when it comes to paying a medium to do it for you– beware!
Communication with the dead is something I would urge you to avoid– I mean even the idea of it, the possibility of it. At least through a professional medium. Trying to communicate with the dead has been the downfall of many individuals, as my story amply and tragically reveals.
There is so much in the real world to enchant you, thrill you, elevate you. Why immure yourself in the darkness of the medium’s cabinet where spirits “peep and mutter” and human folly falls prey to human greed?
I believe in life not death. I believe in light not darkness. I believe in the strength that comes from standing on one’s own two feet rather than hobbling on the clutches of a deluded faith in a fraudulent medium.
Find your own way in the uncertainties of life. With God’s help you can do it.
68. Oh, puh-leeze!
69. A proper discussion of sexuality, physical pleasure, pain, and `Altered states of consciousness’ could fill several volumes, and address even more varied experiences that what Keene describes here. Sexual repression, neo-Victorian morals on the parts of the sitters, and analogues to ritual sex-magick practices all play a part in what Keene describes– even beyond the disgusting exploitation of the emotions of the sitters.
The marriage of religious experience, sexual experience, and extreme physical experience can reach some interesting areas. Flagellants report having ecstatic visions while whipping themselves; as I’m led to believe, histamine is released by the body when the skin is damaged. Torture victims have reported developing erotic reactions to their pain, and inmates at concentration camps even report having romantic crushes on Dr. Joseph Mengele.
The Anonymous Typist recommends reading Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis first, and lots of Michel Foucault, before reading accounts of religious ecstasies.
70. One wonders about the the historical precedents for this scam; just how far back does this one go?
71. Yeah, I’ve heard lots of guys say that.
72. Magicians call the technique `Cold reading,’ and it’s a melange of tactics that elicit things from the sitter. For example, the statement “You were close to your mother” can be vocalized as a question as well as a statement– the sitter then replies with something like, “I guess so.” An instant `Hit’!
`Cold reading’ is much more complex than this, and this footnote cannot go into such details as gauging people by their clothes, speech patterns, what they say, what they don’t say, and dozens of other interpersonal-communication details.
Since we pick up on what other people are like from the tiny cues that are exploited in `Cold reading,’ it’s not surprising that many psychics are genuinely convinced that their knack for `Cold reading’ is a legitimate psychic power.
73. I have to respect Keene for his retelling of the story. This is precisely the sort of story where, even when one is confessing fraud, most people would speculate as to whether something amazing or paranormal happened or not. It takes a pretty uncommon ability to appreciate that even an event as amazing as this can be a lucky guess or coincidence.
74. The situation hasn’t changed much. When James Randi had assembled evidence that faith-healer Peter Popoff was using a radio earpiece to hear information about his followers– an ability he claimed as a Gift of the Holy Spirit– the California state attorney-general refused to press charges of fraud. As Randi tells the story, the official said that he wouldn’t go after a Reverend, especially with November coming up.