I will admit an obvious truth: I am a liar.
I lie to people, and people pay me outrageous amounts of money to lie to them—with their full knowledge that I'm, in fact, lying to them. Actually, they'd be sorely disappointed if I ever told them the truth. They would immediately rescind all payments to me and leave in a huff if I ever did.
And because I admit I'm a liar, you should believe me.
This is not a mere Jedi mind trick … or should I say, actually it is. I'm a practitioner of the oldest performing art in the world—I'm a magician. Specifically, I'm a stage mentalist. People of a certain generation will recognize that that means I'm a stage performer who pretends to have psychic abilities. I don't believe such powers actually exist and, in fact, they don't exist. If real psychics, witches and sorcerers actually existed, I'd be out of a job. As I'm still gainfully employed, it follows that people who claim to have extraordinary powers are: (1) lying to themselves and/or (2) lying to everyone else.
I've been a professional magician for thirty years and am familiar with most of the secrets of my art. Among the many weapons in our armamentarium is a technique known as "cold reading." This is a set of tricks designed to simulate the ability to read minds and know the past and future. In actuality, it is a series of about forty techniques meant only to startle and entertain. Unfortunately, the unscrupulous also use cold reading in their "performances" hope to fleece the gullible, the foolish, the bereaved and the unsuspecting rather than entertaining them as I do. As long as performers keep their performances onstage and avoid claiming supposed occult "powers," we remain a humorous and fascinating diversion. However, if these outrageous and dangerous claims continue offstage, a great deal of emotional, spiritual and financial danger can ensue.
I lie in order to entertain people. The reason magicians and mentalists don't reveal secrets is not because of their incredible, earthshaking profundity. Rather, it's because our secrets are small and petty and even ridiculous. The real means by which we make all four Queens appear at the top of the deck is flatly and incongruously anticlimactic. When you see an elephant disappear on stage or a coin come out of someone's ear or when someone tells you your address or the name of the first dog you ever owned or that your grandfather forgave you before he died, believe me: there's a simple, even simplistic, trick to it. If the general population was privy to our secrets, they would be sorely unimpressed with our seemingly inexplicable, otherwise unfathomable feat. Our secrets are so impossibly disappointing that we dare not tell anyone for fear our audiences would think us imbeciles. But, as long as I and my fellow conjurors keep our collective traps shut, we've seemingly accomplished the impossible.
The Nature of Illusion
Talk show host Jay Leno once wryly pointed out: "How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?" It's a valid point. Anyone can guess but guessing doesn't make one a psychic any more than owning a box of adhesive bandages makes one a physician.
We've been waiting for many countless millennia for proof of the outlandish claims of psychics, witches and pagans. Despite their protestations, they apparently can't fly, see the future, read minds, heal people, control the weather, affect luck or increase anyone's fortune other than their own. So far, it's been a bust for them. These people are simply fooling themselves and/or fooling others. Does anyone else find it odd that God, in His great wisdom, has bestowed fantastic gifts of on the average tarotist which He has refused to give to such holy and generous personages as St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross, St. John Chrysostom, St. Don Bosco, Abbé Pierre Grouès, Sœur Emmanuelle Cinquin, Sr. Dorothy Stang, Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, St. Theodore Guérin, Mother, St. Ann Seton, St. Mother Drexel and hundreds of thousands of other saints and mystics? And even if they did actually have such special gifts, why would psychics, witches and the general pagan insist on charging people for performing their "stupid human tricks?"
Why would God share such incredible, earthshaking psychic powers with people who have either refused to or have been incapable of building and operating a single hospital, breadline, orphanage, adoption center, a home for runaway children, school for disadvantaged children, retirement home, homeless shelter or food pantry for the poor? Psychics, witches and pagans are simply stage magicians who have lost their moral compasses. They pretend to have magic powers but don't. They pretend to be compassionate but operate no charitable concerns. They pretend to know something about spirituality and yet all of their talk is about personal power which is the opposite of what a real spirituality is about. And, yet despite this, they rake in a great deal of money because of their lies.
The problem with magicians' insistence upon secrecy is that it becomes nearly impossible to keep one's oaths and silently stand by while unscrupulous mentalists scam the innocent, the disenfranchised, gullible and the ignorant. If these criminals only scammed women, or the elderly or children, there would rightfully be a great hue and cry as such behavior is reprehensible. But their behavior is abhorrent because they scam and steal, not because they target a particular demographic. The truth is, psychic and occult charlatans spread their poisons out evenly wherever they find willing listeners. They cast a wide net and draw in who they can. Voodoo, Santaria, spiritism, reiki, and even the Enneagram all use Catholic elements to lend themselves some level of "legitimacy" with which to fool people into thinking them genuine and efficacious. I believe supernatural phenomena do exist, but they exist only through God's aegis and intercession and can only be manifested through those who have committed themselves to lives of holiness. The moment money rears its ugly, selfish head, you can be sure it's a scam. Tertullian rightfully reminds us that, "Nothing that is God's is obtainable by money." This leads me to my point. Though I'm forbidden by the magicians' societies oaths I've taken, my Baptismal Promise demands I make sure no one is ever cheated by the misuse of those secrets.
The most successful celebrity psychic charlatans currently defrauding people are Sylvia Browne, Teresa Caputo, John Edward and James Van Praag. They all use to be Catholics before they started worshipping Mammon. They also have a very poor understanding of Catholic theology but it's sufficient to bamboozle the less educated. They're quick to lie about their abilities and about Church history to make it seem as if they possess the "true Faith" and "true spirituality" and how the Catholic Church is confused, malfeasant and corrupted.
We might ask ourselves why they prey upon Catholics. It's because we have an innate and intimate understanding, acceptance and recognition of miracles and of the Gifts of the Spirit and of God's omnibenevolence, omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. As soon as a psychic fraud starts using the right "code words," uncritical Catholics, inevitably those who believe themselves to be "open-minded," will succumb to the charlatan's tricks. Those Catholics who feel alienated from the Church because of their own personal liberal theologies are easily targeted by these tartuffes. In addition, those Catholics who've experienced a horrible loss in their families are vulnerable to these sociopaths. However, I don't mean to suggest that the thoroughly orthodox are immune from being bamboozled. Those Catholics who have been misled by the so-called "Our Lady of Bayside" apparitions were thoroughly orthodox until they were given to believe that their perceptions of reality superseded those of the Church. Every crook is trying to jump on the bandwagon. Why wouldn't they? They recognize a good thing when they see it. Catholics offer time-tested structures, ethics, humanitarianism and spirituality, and a morally consistent soteriology and life philosophy.
Psychic and occult charlatans—like Browne, Caputo, Van Praag and Edward—play both sides of the Catholic card. In order to con Catholics and others, psychic and occult charlatans will inevitably misuse popular Church structures and elements. They will equate themselves with anything they think their mark thinks is good about the Church—for example, insisting that dozens of priests and nuns have witnessed, assessed and given their blessing to their supposed "powers." They will also compare themselves with the greatest of saints and mystics in terms of their "special abilities." When they think they've snookered their mark, they will then insist that the Catholic Church is a source of evil which "persecuted their kind" including pagans, Gnostics, Manicheans and Albigensians. They will misquote the Bible or take passages out of contact when it serves their needs. Just as quickly, they'll claim all of the passages that disprove what they say and do are misinterpreted or even purposefully mistranslated by the Catholic Church.
Charlatans prefer to target Catholics for many reasons:
- We have an ancient spiritual tradition from which to draw.
- Our theology is at least as complex as the most rarified physics and therefore very few of the faithful can distinguish orthodoxy from twaddle.
- There will always be dissenting or confused individuals among us who want, or think they want, "alternatives" to augment their faith such as reincarnation, "energetic healing" or spirit mediumship.
- We have a tradition of recognizing miracles, grace, sacraments, sacramentals, Divine mercy and love, saints and mystics which can easily be twisted and mistranslated into supporting the claims of psychic and occult charlatans.
- We instinctively trust and are persuaded by people who claim to speak from authority.
- Frauds rely on the fact that many Catholics are unaware of the Church's prescriptions against the occult.
Though Sts. Joseph Cupertino and Thomas Aquinas levitated in prayer and both Sts. Anthony of Padua and Padre Pio bilocated and St. Teresa of Ávila recognized angels around her, none of these people demanded attention for their gifts and abilities and they never, never, never charged people money for the privilege of speaking to them or watching them perform miracles. We must always keep in mind Christ's admonition against people who claim to speak for Him:
Be on your guard against false prophets; they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are really like wild wolves. You will know them by what they do. Thorn bushes do not bear grapes, and briers do not bear figs. A healthy tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit. And any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. So then, you will know the false prophets by what they do. (Matthew 7:15-20)
Wisdom teaches us not to believe every bit of nonsense anyone spouts. Marcello Truzzi, the skeptic's skeptic, who came from a Catholic family and had a warm place in his heart for legitimate religion, was often quoted as saying, "All claims require proof and extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." I don't have to prove someone is a fake; the burden of proof is upon the one who makes a claim. The fact that a person makes claims that he refuses to prove is sufficient cause for me to point out his inconsistencies and probable lies. No one would suggest that everyone has the right to say anything they wish and, further, the right to demand everyone believe them. That would be preposterous.
Christ specifically explains to us that communication between the afterlife and our earthly plane is impossible as there is "a deep pit lying between us, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot do so, nor can anyone cross over to us from where you are." (Luke 16:26) To accept psychicasters' dubious claims means Christ was wrong. I'm rarely accused of being close-minded, so let us presume that the psychic/pagan claims are correct and those of Christ are incorrect. Where does that leave us? C.S. Lewis explained in his Mere Christianity that if Christ is not God, then He must have been "bad or mad." If He was a madman, why would any of us pay attention to any of His pronouncements? If psychics are correct and not Christ, then we should rapidly divest ourselves of all trappings and notions of Christianity. If psychics are correct, then we should instead flock to them as our new prophets. Unfortunately, most people do not have the money to ask them to divert their munificent attentions towards them since they often charge up to $1000 for a private "counseling" session. But, if television psychics are the new prophets, why do they, like John Edward, rely upon editing crews to make him look good? He needs to ramble for upwards to four hours with fifty people in his television studio for his editors to extract only 22 minutes (including time for commercials breaks) of what seems like contact with spirits.
Astrology, tarot, horoscopes, palm reading, divination, summoning the dead, elemental spirits and other such blather requires referring to and worshiping creatures rather than the Creator of creatures. This is a violation of the First Commandment. All attempts to wrestle information and power from spirits and physical objects such as angels, demons, crystals, constellations, planets, tea leaves or the dead are all, without exception, motivated by a desire for power and control not out of love and compassion. Even a cursory examination of the motives and actions of psychics/pagans/witches will reveal the salient fact that they aren't interested in spiritual enlightenment, a mystical union with God and an interior peace that is reflected in love between the soul and others. Rather, they are possessed by a Faustian desire for things of this world: wealth, health, power over others, desire for esoteric, self-referential knowledge, self-affirmation and self-empowerment. This leads only to selfishness, narcissism, madness, chaos and evil.
Though some might claim it is logically and/or empirically impossible to prove someone is not a psychic, no one is capable of successfully pretending to be a mystic. They're very easy to distinguish from legitimate mystics and no scam artist is capable of fooling an expert. This works to our advantage. If someone were to lie about being a mystic, that is, of being in communion with God, surely no one would trust their claims of being psychics. If any of these frauds were to restrict their lies to merely some psychic parlor tricks, they'd be in the clear, but greed and their egos require them to lie about their spirituality. This gives us the means to identify them as frauds.
A life of authentic, God-centered prayer would strip a believer of his ego and replace it with an all-consuming compassion for humanity and perfect love for God. A life dedicated to prayer, service to others and humility would purify one's soul and ego and greed would no longer be a possibility for the Believer. A psychic/pagan's anger and abject unwillingness to prove their claims and the fear they have at being found out as frauds is sufficient proof they are frauds. It's obviously both unwise and illogical to believe people who make claims who refuse to prove those claims. A theist's claim of God is distinct as our claims are metaphysical and can only be understood through logic and inference. A psychic/pagan's claims are physical as they claim to be able to do physical things.
Even though psychics, pagans and witches can be pleasant whenever anyone signs a check over to them and praises them for their "wisdom" and "power," they inevitably become vicious when questioned. I'm unsure of the exact provenance of their apparently non-existent skills but surely the Christian God had nothing to do with it. These people are psychicasters, not psychics, and have zero to no chance whatsoever of being mistaken for real mystics and prophets.