Friday, March 1, 2019

John Oliver Versus Psychic Mediums

John Oliver recently posted a great takedown of the psychic industry, particularly television mediums, on Last Week Tonight. The full video of the segment is included above. Oliver goes over cold reading and hot reading, and shows some pretty impressive failures by celebrity mediums. While Oliver scoffs at the entire notion of psychic abilities, whereas I do not, the segment is entertaining and educational. For every real psychic out there, it sounds like there are dozens of scammers hiding in the woodwork and waiting for opportunities to make some quick and easy cash from grieving families. And that's just awful.

One of the reasons I stay out of the magick/psychic business is that everybody I've seen who's been successful in that area has a bit of the huckster in them - not to say that their abilities are fake, or that their techniques don't work, but rather there is a certain feel to them that I just don't like. I don't want to be one of those people, and I would honestly feel bad about taking money from someone for a spell if it doesn't work. Sure, I could try the whole "charging for success only," but I know how that goes because I've run several small businesses. If you give anybody an opening, they'll try to weasel out of paying. So that's not a viable option either.

I would rather just publish my magical techniques either here or in print and let them speak for themselves. Either my methods work, or they don't.

Now here's the question: what would I share something like this? I mean, besides the fact that I find it funny, just like Oliver's takedown of "Prosperity Gospel" televangelists that I posted here awhile back. The deal is this - I don't believe that psychic or magical abilities are all fraudulent, but I do believe that especially when dealing with "media psychics" and the like it's important to exercise critical thinking skills. Cold reading is especially easy to recognize when you know what to look for. Hot reading is harder to spot, but realistically if a psychic comes up with something that could be found with a simple Google search it doesn't necessarily mean they're a fake - but it also doesn't prove anything at all about their abilities.

Furthermore, much of what psychic mediums tell people just isn't how the spirit world works. The Christian idea of the afterlife - live one life, then spend eternity in Heaven or Hell - is hopelessly oversimplified, just like the Christian view of demons and angels (chthonic = demon = evil, celestial = angel = good, and no other kinds of spirits at all). Some spirits reincarnate. Some go on to other celestial realms. Some unit with the dynamic ground of being and achieve union with the divine. And so forth. My point is that most of them are not just waiting around for some medium to talk to them. There is a ceremonial procedure for calling up the spirit of a dead person, but even that won't always work. In many cases the spirit you are seeking will beyond its reach.

And that right there is why psychics who are making a living at this are tempted to cheat, and once they do, keep cheating. It's possible that some of these folks have psychic abilities, but in the real world those abilities aren't don't work reliably enough to provide a steady paycheck without them throwing in some flim-flam whenever they fail. It also is true that someone trying to only use genuine abilities is going to have seemingly lower "success rate" than a fake will, so the fake is the one they're going to put on television. Aleister Crowley wrote in De Thaumaturgia that people tend to accept fake miracles more readily than real ones, and I think this apparent reliability is the reason. A trick will always work regardless of circumstances, a paranormal ability not so much.

This is also one of the reasons I don't come down as hard on the James Randis of the world as a lot of folks who practice magick or work at developing psychic abilities do. Even though I disagree with their central premise, they do a good job exposing fakes who are using tricks to defraud people. Fake psychics make all of us who are really trying to figure out how this stuff works look bad, and get in the way of any of it being taken seriously by the culture at large. There are some advantages to that, since in a lot of places where they do believe in magical powers accused magicians get murdered by angry mobs. However, it also gets in the way of real paranormal research that could produce significant results - not to mention scamming some people out of large sums of money.

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