Connecting to the spiritual world
"You're a Virgo?" James Van Praagh asks. Told the reporter he's talking to is a Gemini, Van Praagh says that's a writer's sign.
A Catholic by birth and a medium by profession, Van Praagh says even psychics can't always get this stuff right. But, he says, you have to weigh the misses against the many things he's able to see about people with no apparent way of knowing them — except for his gift.
Van Praagh is doing a telephone interview before visiting Southern Oregon to present a show called "An Evening of Connecting to the Spiritual World" Friday and Saturday at the Rogue Theatre in Grants Pass.
Van Praagh is a best-selling author of books on communicating with spirits. He was a favorite on the NBC television series "The Other Side," was the first medium to appear on Larry King's show, had the syndicated talk show "Beyond With James Van Praagh" and was the co-executive producer of the TV series "Ghost Whisperer" on CBS.
Van Praagh, who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., says he has a dedicated following, but that at a recent show 95 percent of the audience was newbies, indicating a resurgence of interest in the spirit world. In his show, he talks about his experiences as a child seeing spirits and knowing things about people. He talks about reincarnation and leads the audience on a guided meditation.
"During that I become receptive, like a radio tuned to the higher frequencies," he says. "Opening myself to impressions, I'll see people standing next to people, or scenes, like a video. ... Every spirit communicates differently."
He takes questions, receives communications from the other side ("whoever comes through, I don't pick people") and ends with a prayer.
Van Praagh, 50, says he was an average child but was fascinated with death. He says when he was 8 he was praying, and an open hand appeared in the ceiling emitting radiant beams of light. He says it felt "very peaceful."
He entered a seminary at 14 but lost interest. There were no schools for psychics.
He earned a degree in communications from San Francisco State University, moved to Los Angeles and got involved in psychic phenomena, writing books and touring. He says friends have told him his stage show has become more spiritual since a near-death experience he had three years ago after eating tainted lettuce at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Angeles. He says he left his body, saw a dead cousin, saw his dead father, then went back into his body.
"Dying is easy," his cousin told him. "Living is hard."
Van Praagh says everybody is born with extra-physical abilities to varying degrees.
"Everybody can play piano," he says, "but not everybody is a concert pianist."
Van Praagh numbers among his followers Cher and Shirley MacLaine. He also has his critics, including magician Penn Gillette, who has called psychic readings "cheesy," and James Randi, who has called Van Praagh a "scam artist."
He has feuded with Barbara Walters, who called him "dangerous" after he told her there was something wrong with her white blood cells but her blood work came back normal.
"I'm sitting there getting weird vibes," he says. "I said, 'Turn your mike off.' I told her I saw sluggish white cells, I'm not a doctor, but I can scan the body and see certain things."
Walters later put down Van Praagh on the show "The View" in a segment that can be seen on YouTube.
"That's very hurtful," Van Praagh says.
Psychologist Michael Shermer, says Van Praagh's ability to tell people things about themselves depends on asking lots of questions and taking lots of savvy guesses, most of which will be misses, but some of which will inevitably be hits, and on dealing in generalities. He says people who go to a psychic willingly suspend their disbelief.
"Those are just ignorant people," Van Praagh says of those he calls cynics. "If you're going to come from fear and ignorance, you'll say anything."
He says he's been ostracized in certain communities for calling out false psychics.
He says his message is that there's no death, and that we can all live life fully.
"When you go to the next step, there's a review," he says. "You see everything you've done and have to relive it. If you were bad to people, that's your hell."