By Marcia Montenegro

In the past decade or so, interest in spiritism, particularly communication with the dead, has been on the rise in the United States, spawning popular television dramas such as NBC’s sleeper hit Medium and CBS’ Ghost Whisperer. Prior to these shows, medium John Edward’s program, Crossing Over, which quietly started on the Sci-Fi channel, later became popular enough to be syndicated, blanketing most of the country. Edward, a young thirty-something with a hip look and easy laugh, would allegedly pass on messages from the dead to various people in a small studio audience. In 1999, the successful movie Sixth Sense introduced the phrase “I see dead people” into popular culture.

Mediums James Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, Lisa Williams and others regularly appear on television talk shows such as Larry King Live. A 2005 Gallup poll revealed that 37% of people in the United States believe that houses can be haunted, 32% believe in ghosts, and 21% say they believe that someone can communicate mentally with a dead person. There was no significant statistical difference in the overall poll (which included other questions on the paranormal) among those asked “by age, gender, education, race, and region of the country.”1

What is Spiritism?

Spiritism is a general term that means contact with a spirit. But what is meant by “spirit?” Mediums—those who claim communication with the dead—and others use the term “spirit” to describe a dead person, along with phrases such as “the spirit world.” So, in these cases, spiritism means contact with the dead. The term “ghost” usually refers to the appearance of such a “spirit.”2 Sometimes “spirit” is used to describe disembodied beings in what are believed to be other realms, either astral or “higher” planes of existence.3

Some hold that advanced spiritual beings have moved on from the earth plane to other planes from where they guide those on earth. These discarnate beings are not referred to as the dead but are viewed as “spiritual masters,” “ascended masters,” “enlightened beings,” or sometimes “angels,” and they allegedly impart spiritual messages meant for a wide audience.

For mediums, the dead are deceased relatives or spouses who have messages only for surviving family or descendants. Mediums attempt to get communiqués from these departed ones for their clients.

Spiritualism is the practice of contacting the dead. It became popular in the 1800s and early 20th century, especially after World War I. A group of people, led by a medium, would hold a séance for the purposes of receiving communication from the dead. Séances are still held today. Spiritualism developed into a religious denomination, and many mediums and psychics belong to Spiritualist churches. The services include singing and a format superficially similar to a Christian service. The minister-medium then brings messages purportedly from the dead for some in the congregation.4

What Are Mediums?
Mediums, those who communicate with the dead, fall under the umbrella term “psychic.” A psychic is one who uses the so-called psychic powers of supernatural sight (clairvoyance), hearing (clairaudience), or inner sensations or feelings (clairsentience), meaning that they receive information paranormally beyond the five senses. Not all psychics are mediums, but all mediums are psychics. Many mediums are both psychics and mediums, and will do readings for the living as well as communication with the dead. They may call themselves “psychic mediums.” Others who contact the dead may simply describe themselves as “sensitives,” while most will use the term “medium” or “trance medium.”

In the past, mediums typically claimed that they had a guide in the spirit world, whom they called a “control.” This control was someone in the spirit world (the world of the dead where those who have “crossed over” or gone “to the other side” reside) who supposedly enabled the medium to receive communication from the deceased. The control usually took over the body and voice of the medium, speaking through the medium’s voice. While this is practiced by some today, it is more common for mediums to claim they have a guide or guides in the spirit world who simply pass information on to them. Browne, who met her guide at age 8, claims that her guide, Francine, takes control of her voice, but not her body or mind.5 Browne refers frequently to Francine, and reveals that most of her information on “the other side” comes from Francine.6 Both John Edward and Van Praagh, well-known mediums, write about having guides and tell readers in their books that everyone has guides.7

Channeling is the practice of receiving messages from disembodied beings, but these messages are allegedly from advanced spiritual masters” beings or “ascended spiritual (evolved spiritual teachers who have died), sometimes supposed aliens, who claim to have profound esoteric messages or urgent warnings for humanity. Channelers are normally not mediums, and vice-versa. The purposes and sometimes the worldviews differ between channelers and mediums, although some mediums may use the term “channeling” for their work. However, these terms are loose and there are no standard definitions.

Divine Man and Nonjudgmental God: What the Mediums Believe

The mediums are not spiritually neutral. Although their beliefs may differ from each other, most will use Christian or biblical terms when speaking about spiritual matters, and may even sound like they are Christians. This is because many of the top mediums have at least partly Christian or nominally Christian backgrounds, and because spiritualism itself uses Christian vocabulary. This use of Christian terminology misdirects many, leading some to believe these mediums are supportive of Christian theology.

John Edward was raised Roman Catholic by an allegedly devout Catholic mother, and, until the last few years, considered himself a practicing Catholic although he publicly admitted he did not agree with all Catholic teachings. However, when growing up, his Catholic mother had parties that included psychic readings for her friends. It was at one of these parties that Edward had a reading convincing him he had a psychic gift and causing him to later explore occult teachings.8

Van Praagh was raised Roman Catholic but had paranormal experiences when younger. To please his mother, he began studies for the Catholic priesthood. During a meditation at the seminary, he had an insight that God is love and is nonjudgmental, and that He is within all of us. After this, Van Praagh left the seminary and the Catholic Church. A few years later, as a result of a psychic reading, he studied New Age and occult beliefs and became a medium.9

Sylvia Browne allegedly had a colorful religious background that encompassed Roman Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian and Lutheran beliefs, but she rejects any religion with “harsh” and “cruel” concepts such as “sin, guilt, and retribution.”10In 1986, Browne founded her own church, Novus Spiritus, which is based on her “Christian Gnostic theology with shades of many other religions blended in.”11

Most mediums have a combination of New Age beliefs along with particular Spiritualist beliefs about the afterlife. Although they refer to God and Jesus, what they mean by these terms is not found in the Bible, and their concept of man’s nature differs markedly from what God teaches.

God is usually viewed as impersonal or remote, and Jesus is a spiritually advanced man, sometimes possessing occult and mediumistic talents. Van Praagh talks about the “Christ light of love,” which he explains is “a pure, nonjudgmental love of the highest caliber that was embodied by the master known as Jesus.”12 Mediums tend to believe that everyone is divine or has a “spark of God” or the divine within us. Van Praagh bluntly states, “I believe we are all God,” and proclaims, “Each one of us is perfect if we would only seek our divinity,” and “God is your essence.”13

Although Browne denies the pantheistic belief that all is God,14 she does say that we are a “divine spark” that emanated from God, and that everyone has his or her own “God center.”15 Moreover, God does not punish or judge, and there is no hell; man invented hell.16 It does not matter if Jesus is the Son of God, because everyone is.17 Browne asserts that Jesus did not die on the cross, but came to bring wisdom.18

Browne writes that each planet has its own “Other Side;” Earth’s Other Side is superimposed on our reality, with a higher vibrational frequency.19 All spirits on the Other Side are thirty years old, but they choose their own physical attributes.20

Lisa Williams claims she discovered her “gift” of communicating with the dead as a child. She also claims to be a healer who works “alongside the medical profession”21 Specifically, Williams is a certified Reiki healer and “Crystal Healer.”22 Like many New Agers and occultists, Williams refers to “Spirit,”23 a term frequently used but almost never defined. “Spirit” could be one’s “higher Self,” God, a universal intelligence, or any kind of overarching guiding force.

Williams offers e-books and meditations to aid one’s spiritual development. Topics include Meeting Your Spirit Guides and Angels, Understanding Mediumship, Psychic Awareness, and the Human Aura.24

Heaven and hell are usually seen as self-made states. As medium Allison Dubois puts it, “When a person dies who’s innately bad and they have no remorse for crimes against humanity they find themselves separate from those who loved and were ‘good’. They ‘stew’ if you will in their own dark energy and remain for lack of a better term in solitary confinement.”25 According to Van Praagh, the soul’s journey after death involves time in an intermediate astral world, then progresses to a higher level where it is more “enlightened,” finally reaching the “true Heaven world.”26

Most mediums promote reincarnation. Death is usually viewed as “just another natural process of life.”27 Sylvia Browne declares that the dead are the ones who are fully alive, while we on earth are less so.28

Behind the Scenes
Many Christians tend to scoff at mediums, psychics, tales of haunted houses, and the media that promote these scenarios, not understanding their appeal, and the fact that some of the shows are connected to real-life mediums. Few may realize that the sleeper hit Medium is based on a real-life medium. The character in the television show uses the medium’s name, Allison Dubois, who claims to have helped the police in criminal cases.29 CBS’s Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, has as a co-producer medium James Van Praagh.

Many mediums have written books, some of which become bestsellers. Van Praagh has even written a book for teens, Looking Beyond: A Teens’ Guide to the Spiritual World. These books sell well, influencing tens of thousands of people.

Are the Mediums Talking to the Dead?
All mediums go into what is called an altered state in order to contact and “hear” the dead. This state may also be called a trance, trance state, superconscious state, semitrance state, or other terms used by the mediums, and is the same as being lightly hypnotized (though mediums may or may not admit this). Psychics, astrologers, tarot card readers, palm readers, and others who practice the occult also get into this state, either intentionally from what they call a meditation or “centering,” or as a result of their practice, which seems to induce it.30 The kind of meditation suspends critical thinking and opens one’s mind to any influence that may enter.

Mediums or psychics who contact the dead usually admit going into this state. Doreen Virtue, who wrote a book about contact with angels, writes, “I allow myself to go into a semitrance state, which helps me to connect deeply and quickly with the angels.”31 She advises the reader to “meditate” before an angel reading because “Studies show people are more open to inspiration and inner signals when they are in a meditative state.”32

In order to communicate with the dead, Van Praagh says he must raise his vibrational level, since spirits vibrate at a higher level; and he must concentrate, since he does not hear the spirits at a normal conversational level.33 He opens his mind to the thoughts of the spirits and repeats exactly what he perceives.34 Preparation for readings involves meditation, instructions for which Van Praagh gives in his books. John Edward always does a meditation before doing spirit contact.35

Since the medium has opened his or her mind in this manner, it is possible that fallen angels (demons) could disguise themselves as the dead and pass on information, which at times could be accurate. The mediums may also be getting information from their own minds, believing it to be from the dead. Since the information may be accurate, due to coming from demons, to educated guessing, or to coincidence, many accept spiritism as a legitimate or spiritually beneficial practice. It is helpful to keep this in mind; however, accuracy of the information should not be the criteria for deciding that contact with the dead is a good or valid practice.

Christians should not assume mediums are fraudulent (i.e., intentional deceivers) unless there is strong evidence for it. It is more prudent to assume the mediums have a sincere belief in what they are doing, for two reasons: First, it is best to avoid the possibility of false accusations. Secondly, such an approach will make one’s case more persuasive when speaking to those who believe in mediums. Accusations of fraud usually only appeal to skeptics, and actually heighten the desire to defend the mediums from those who find them credible.

Nevertheless, an examination of God’s word leads to a reasonable conclusion that the mediums are not contacting the dead.

What Does God Say About Contacting the Dead?
Spiritism and contact with the dead are condemned in several places in the Bible, including Leviticus 19:31,20:6,27;Deuteronomy18:11;1Chronicles 10:13-14; and Isaiah 8:19-20. Necromancy, a form of divination involving contacting the dead for information and seeking the advice of pagan gods, was repugnant to God.

Many wonder about 1 Samuel 28:3-23, the passage narrating King Saul’s contact with the medium of Endor (some Bible versions use the word “witch”) and the subsequent appearance of the dead prophet Samuel, believing this event permits after-death communication.

However, the passage reports that the medium was surprised at seeing Samuel, indicating that she had nothing to do with it, and was witnessing something unusual. Samuel rebuked Saul for this contact and for disobeying God, and then gave accurate predictions of Saul’s death the next day, and for the Philistine’s victory over Israel, further evidence that this was truly Samuel and that God had orchestrated his appearance. Additionally, in 1 Chronicles 10:13, God informs us, “So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, and because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance.” Samuel’s appearance was not normative and was devised by God; such an event does not sanction Saul’s action, especially when such activities are expressly forbidden elsewhere in Scripture, and when God specifically condemns what Saul did in another passage.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 gives a further reason to avoid spiritism and mediums. This passage advises us not to listen to what a prophet or “dreamer of dreams” may say, even if the  prediction comes true, if such a prophet or dreamer asks that you follow other gods. If the medium gives correct information but has theological beliefs contrary to God’s word, then what they are saying cannot be from God. Although mediums may pay lip service to Christianity or the Bible, their beliefs reveal convictions opposed to God’s word as well as a rejection of it.

Mediums may say what they do is a gift from God, but James 1:17 states that only “good and perfect” gifts come from God. God would not give someone a skill that He Himself condemns.

The Christian Response

Christians should first and foremost demonstrate compassion to those who are grieving for loved ones; this grief is usually the motive for seeking out a medium. If the person who wants to confer with a medium or read books by mediums claims to be a Christian, then one could gently point out Biblical passages that forbid consulting mediums and contact with the dead, as well as warning that this could pose a danger by opening the door to the world of fallen angels. Acknowledge that while mediumistic contact may elicit responses with correct content, this does not mean it is the dead who are being contacted.

If the person is not a Christian, attempt to point him or her toward the work and person of Jesus Christ, the only one who truly came back from the dead, and who offers redemption from sin and eternal life with God. Christ is the healer and comforter for those who trust in Him.

Marcia Montenegro is a former professional astrologer who was President of the Metropolitan Atlanta Astrological Society, and who was involved in New Age beliefs before faith in Christ in late 1990. She educates Christians on the New Age and reaches out to those in the New Age via her ministry, CANA/Christian Answers for the New Age. She is the mother of an adult son and has authored the book, SpellBound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today’s Kids.

Notes
1“Three in Four Americans Believe in the Paranormal,” June 16, 2005, http://home.sandiego.edu/~baber/ logic/gallup.html.
2Some mediums, such as Sylvia Browne, make a distinction between a ghost and a spirit.
3The astral plane is a dimension where humans may linger after death because they are not ready to move on. It is also believed that living people can go to the astral plane in their astral body, an etheric body that resembles the body of flesh and blood but has no material substance.

4 The writer of this article, before salvation in Christ, attended Spiritualist services in college in order to accompany a friend doing research on Spiritualism. Additionally, the writer attended séances and was taught psychic development by several psychic mediums at the now defunct Foundation for Truth in Atlanta, GA, where she first studied astrology (the astrology and psychic development classes were separately taught).
5 Sylvia Browne, with Lindsey Harrison, The Other Side and Back, (NY: Signet, July, 2000), 191. 6 Browne acknowledged this in several of her books, and has spoken openly of Francine on television appearances.
7 John Edward, One Last Time (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, paperback ed., October, 1999), 25-26; James Van Praagh, Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death (New York: Signet, 1997), 70-76, 247. The writer of this article was introduced to her spirit guide via a guided visualization. This is a technique whereby someone verbally guides a person into an hypnotic state through a series of images and suggestions.

8 Edward, 10-13.
9 Van Praagh, 29-30, 33-37, 243. For more on Van Praagh’s background, see James Van Praagh, Reaching to Heaven: A Spiritual Journey Through Life and Death (NY, NY: Signet/New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999). 10 Browne, The Other Side and Back, xxiii, xxv. 11 Ibid., xxv.
12 Van Praagh,
Talking to Heaven, 173.
13 Ibid., 42, 43.
14 Browne, Journey of the Soul Series, Book I: God, Creation, and Tools for Life, (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc., 2000), 185.
15 Browne, The Other Side and Back, 7, 13, 203; Browne, God, Creation, and Tools for Life, 7, 81. 16 Browne, The Other Side and Back, 181; Browne, God, Creation, and Tools for Life, 21, 150. 17 Browne, God, Creation, and Tools for Life, 4. 18 Ibid., 50, 74.
19 Ibid., 3; Browne, God, Creation, and Tools for Life, 119.

20 Browne, The Other Side and Back., 4-5.
21 http://lisawilliamsmedium.squarespace.com.
22http://lisawilliamsmedium.squarespace.com/ healing.
23http://lisawilliamsmedium.squarespace.com/ welcometomyworld.
24http://lisawilliamsmedium.squarespace.com/ spiritual-development.
25http://www.allisondubois.com/index.php/ Frequent-Questions.
26 Van Praagh, Reaching to Heaven, 51-52; 92-93.
27 Ibid., 49.
28 Browne, The Other Side and Back, 3; Browne, God, Creation, and Tools for Life, 119.

29 Allison Dubois’ official website is at http://www. allisondubois.com/index.php/Home.html
30 When she was a practicing astrologer, the writer experienced this state, which arose naturally during the reading. The writer had also been engaged in Eastern meditation for some time.
31nDoreen Virtue, Divine Prescriptions (Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 2000), 23.
32Ibid., 225. Virtue recommends a book on meditation by New Ager Salle Merrill Redfield, wife of bestselling New Age author James Redfield, who wrote The Celestine Prophecy.
33 Van Praagh, Talking to Heaven, 40, 54-55.
34 Ibid., 55-56.