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iconGet your lingo down with our list of terms from parapsychological study.
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Occupational occult

Voices and vocation

October 31, 2000
Web posted at: 11:40 a.m. EST (1640 GMT)


In this story:

Science on 'psi-ence'

Hollywood hauntings

The $1 million challenge

Working the "gift"

Students of the mysteries

Readings and remorse

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- "It's so simple. All I do is take a breath. Think of that person's name you gave me, their relationship to you and their location. And the next feeling I get is that a voice is talking to me. And it's such a blessing.

"I do see visions, but that's not my strongest point. When I was 5 or 6, I always said, 'I want to talk to God.' I never said, 'I want to see him.' So when things started coming to me, they came to me as voices. It's the voice of God talking."

"My mother would talk about burning in hell. I'd argue and tell her, 'I want to talk to God about this. He's not going to burn me, Mommy, he loves me.' I think that's where the gift began. I wanted God to talk to me."
— Jill Cook Richards

As Jill Cook Richards sees it, this is a process of psychic triangulation. Name, relationship, location.

"I'll have enough from those three points to hear an expression of the person's soul. I don't read minds. I try to read what's in their hearts."

No time frame. "In the spiritual universe, on the ether, there is no time."

Richards also does no trancing. Wears no funny clothes -- at least not until she goes to a Halloween bash tonight in New York. She keeps a lot of angel images around. But no eye of newt. No toe of frog. No wool of bat, no tongue of dog.

And no hesitation, either. "Friend?" she asks quickly. "Are you sure that's the relationship? I think this is a former friend, sweetheart. This isn't your friend now."

Richards turns 52 today. "It really, really is my birthday. I was born on Halloween night."

She's 28 years into a career as a self-described psychic -- a career that depends on what she calls her "gift."

graphic

Science on 'psi-ence'

"From the perspective of accepted mainstream science today, there's really no hard data to support that someone like this has a legitimate ability."

"There's always been the argument that maybe this is something we just haven't discovered yet. But just because we haven't discovered something yet doesn't mean we ever will discover it."
— Louis Manza, Ph.D., Lebanon Valley College

Louis Manza is a tenured faculty member with Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. His Ph.D. from City University of New York (CUNY) and his master's degree from CUNY's Brooklyn College are in experimental psychology.

Manza doesn't know Richards or her work. He studies the research on such alleged phenomena as her "gift" and teaches a course called "Paranormal Phenomena -- A Critical Examination."

"Some of these people are blatant hoaxes and frauds and they know they are. They're really good at doing it and they have a skill."

Manza doesn't say Richards is a fraud. He does describe the sort of intellectual skill that many scientists believe may be interpreted -- or in some cases promoted -- as something based in the supernatural.

"I was sitting on the steps of the lake house reading my step-daughter. And Amber's new dog was there. I said to my step-daughter, 'You got this dog because you want to have another baby but you can't afford it. So the dog will be your baby.' My step-daughter asked me how long the dog would live. I said 11-and-a-half years."
— Jill Cook Richards

"They have a skill for reading people. They're mentalists. If you go see Kreskin, you'll find he makes no bones about what he does. He's a mentalist. He knows how to read people. He can see things, predict things, but he does it by gauging their reactions. I wouldn't call this a psychic skill. This is a practiced ability.

"Some people have extraordinary memory capabilities, this has been documented. A good mentalist knows what to look for -- and how to play the percentages."

To illustrate his point, Manza talks about a self-styled psychic who gave a reading to a couple on a television show. The woman wore a necklace with the letter "K." Neither she nor her husband had a name starting with "K." The psychic said he was getting an impression that someone who had died, a boy, might be named Kevin. The woman and her husband were floored at what appeared to be a psychic insight into the loss of their son. But a skeptic later interviewed on the same show pointed out, Manza says, "that there are two common boys' names that start with K -- one is Ken and one is Kevin. He picked the right one in this case. If he'd picked Ken, he'd then have said, 'Oh, right, I meant Kevin'" -- and the act would still have been impressive.

"The people having the reading done," Manza says, "are wanting to see something, wanting to learn something from the psychic. They're already believing. They don't need convincing. So if the psychic says something general, they'll read into it.

"The people having the reading done are wanting to see something, wanting to learn something from the psychic. They're already believing. They don't need convincing. So if the psychic says something general, they'll read into it."
— Louis Manza, Ph.D., Lebanon Valley College

"And what the psychic may be doing is using a really good ability to make logical conclusions on things."

What motivates Manza in his study of alleged paranormal phenomena? Interestingly, it's not unlike what Jill Cook Richards says motivates her -- a desire to help people.

"I think you can 'fit in' what someone like this says to you," as in fitting it into your life. "These are really good interpretations," he says, "but people can be exploited. There's a danger in that.

"Other than psychological damage -- that runs from fairly innocuous to fairly severe -- people might also spend lots of money on these things, money they could be spending on other things. You have potential medical problems, people going to alternative medicine or not taking their medicine or going to faith healers.

  HOW'S YOUR PSI VOCAB?
Check yourself on terms from parapsychological study -- these are from the Rhine Research Center, the successor organization to Duke University's Parapsychology Laboratory. No fair using ESP.
 

"The danger is the public doesn't understand the science behind this. That's one of the reasons I decided to teach this class. I was so frustrated with the way people are.

"I'm not going to change the world," Manza says, "but I might change one little corner. I don't want to convert every single person to skepticism, but if I can get 20 people per class to leave with a better appreciation for the science behind this, they might not be as likely to do what I consider to be dumb things later in life."

graphic

Hollywood hauntings

Richards offers "expressions of souls" to people in 20 to 30 sessions per week in Jacksonville, Florida. Fans of "The Monk and Kelly Show" on WMXQ "Mix 103" radio hear her in regular sessions on the air. She has readers who follow her in a column, "Ask Jill About Life," in the locally published magazine Women's Digest. And she says she hopes even more readers will one day pick up the two books she plans to publish, "Diary of a Psychic" and "I Wasn't Married Three Times for Nothing."

Richards' work may be as simple as listening to those three clues -- name, location, relationship -- and responding: "You should know that you've been very, very, very important to this person. But he's not where you need him to be, he's just not mentally there."

  QUICK VOTE
graphic Are you a believer or a skeptic when it comes to careerists in alleged paranormal phenomena?

I'm a believer. Careerists in the field are for real.
Put me down as an agnostic. I can't say it's all a hoax, but I can't show you any proof it's there, either.
Skeptic here. I like a career about stuff I can see and touch.
View Results

Or it may be as complex as advising filmmaker Brian Gibson on the making of the 1986 film "Poltergeist II: The Other Side." "It was a lot of phone work at 2 in the morning because the film was being made in California and I was here on the East Coast -- talking over the script, advising them on how a scene needed to go, even predicting the casting."

To do more film work, she says, she'd have to move to California. And that's not coming across in what she perceives as her future. "They're not fun, the film people. They over-try. They work so hard. And he (Gibson) got mad because I predicted how much money he'd make -- I predicted $80 million. He made it, but not in the first six weeks on the screen. And they're all about the first six weeks."

So Richards says she's content to stay put in northern Florida.

" I once said, 'God, why did you put me in "Baptist Fried Chicken City?"' That's what I called Jacksonville. There was a Baptist church and a fried chicken place on every corner. Now, the fried chicken is gone because everybody's more aware of their health. And I'm going to tell you honestly, I believe this city is protected because of all the Baptists praying for everybody here. Those prayers work."

The triangulation complete, she "hears" something else. "That friend of yours has a lot of fear. He may want to display it as anger -- it comes across as anger -- but it's fear."

graphic

The $1 million challenge

"There's always been the argument," Manza at Lebanon Valley College says, "that maybe this is something we just haven't discovered yet. But just because we haven't discovered something yet doesn't mean we will discover it.

  MESSAGE BOARDS
graphic What career(s) do you see in your future? And are you making some educated guesses? Or are you getting funny feelings about where things are going for you?
 

"Psychics are the easiest to test. If you look at ghosts and near-death experiences, it's real hard to test that in a controlled setting. You can't go into a lab and say, 'OK, ghost, come here now.' That's allegedly not the nature of ghosts. But psychics, you can sit them down and say, 'Make some predictions for me.'

"What you find is that they're right once in a while. The one or two right ones make it onto the news. The public gets the biased perception that they made an accurate prediction. But you rarely hear a psychic predict, 'A plane is going to crash at JFK tomorrow,' or, 'Princess Diana is going to get into a car on this day and be killed.'"

Science, Manza says, looks for a 95-percent accuracy rate. "Five percent of the time, something's not going to work in any experiment. So established science says to paranormal people, 'This is the standard. Get it right 95 percent of the time.'"

And Manza points to one famous challenge to those "paranormal people" to pick up some serious money while proving the validity of their talents.

James Randi is a magician and paranormal investigator who was among the 1986 recipients of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Fellows Program grant "for extraordinary originality and dedication." He's listed in the MacArthur's records, charmingly enough, as a "conjuror, writer and lecturer."

Randi, once profiled in an installment of PBS' "Nova," has established through his own foundation a $1 million challenge to psychics.

"Psychics are the easiest to test. If you look at ghosts and near-death experiences, it's real hard to test that in a controlled setting. You can't go into a lab and say, 'OK, ghost, come here now.' That's allegedly not the nature of ghosts."
— Louis Manza, Ph.D., Lebanon Valley College

"I, James Randi, through the James Randi Educational Foundation, will pay the sum of US$1,000,000 (One Million Dollars) to any person or persons who can demonstrate any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability of any kind under satisfactory observing conditions," reads the application for the challenge. It then goes on to specify that travel and other expenses must be borne by the applicant; that data gathered from the testing involved will be the foundation's to use as it likes; and that a claimant must agree before formal testing to precisely what will be considered proof of demonstrated ability.

Manza says many people who say they're psychic quickly dodge dares to go for the $1million. They complain, he says, that the Randi criteria are too stringent or that the foundation owns the data. "I tell them, 'If you have these skills, go to Randi and take his money.'"

graphic

Working the "gift"

graphic
Jill Cook Richards  

Richards' career income depends on appearances and readings, not on challenge money. And she sometimes presents her work to the world in a way that might make sense to Manza's assertion that alleged paranormal events are really a matter of observational powers.

As a businesswoman, she's learned to talk about her "gift" in terms more easily handled in the marketplace. She gives motivational seminars to corporate groups -- Blue Cross, Blue Shield; UPS; Mayo Clinic Jacksonville; and others -- on the subject of what she terms "intuitive power." She is, her business card announces, Jill Cook Richards, Intuitive Expert.

"For some people," she says, "'intuition' is a safer word. It's about language, communication skills. Sometimes during one of these talks, I might point to someone and say, 'Some of you here might be thinking of going back to college. At UPS once, I did that, and a man I'd pointed at yelled out, 'Are you psychic?' I just kept going because I hadn't been hired to work as a psychic" in that setting.

"Amber died that afternoon. Why didn't I see it? ... My step-daughter says that's because I wasn't meant to know. But it's broken my heart. I've cried about it."
— Jill Cook Richards

"What I've done is take the psychic realm and taken the word 'psychic' out of it, changed the taboo. I can say to a Christian person, 'The Lord spoke to my heart and I'm being guided to tell you this.' If I say, 'I'm a psychic,' they'll never hear me."

Richards says her "gift" is rooted in her faith. Her mother was a minister in a Pentecostal church in which congregants spoke in tongues and practiced the "discernment of spirit" -- telling the difference between good and negative souls.

"My mother would talk about burning in hell. I'd argue and tell her, 'I want to talk to God about this. He's not going to burn me, Mommy, he loves me.' I think that's where the gift began. I wanted God to talk to me."

graphic

Students of the mysteries

  PSI-STUDIES

Here are three programs that offer concentrated study in parapsychological research.

  • University of Edinburgh
  • Saybrook Institute
  • The Union Institute

  • SOURCE: Institute for Parapsychology, Rhine Research Center, Durham, North Carolina

     

    Manza says he's collecting original research on the role the media may play in people's belief level in supposedly paranormal activity. "They read it on the Net or in the newspaper or see it on TV and that sticks with them."

    And he's watching his students to see if those registering for his course each semester are coming in with a greater or lesser predisposition to be skeptics or believers.

    "To be totally skeptical is over the top," he says. "For a true scientist, there's always the possibility of stuff. But take full moons -- there's no cause-and-effect between full moons and stock-market plunges. The data on that kind of thing is consistent."

    The more he looks, Manza says, the more he believes in skepticism as the right posture. "Nothing's ever convinced me."

    graphic

    Readings and remorse

    Richards says that in a painful instance, her "gift" has let her down this year. "I blame myself," she says, for not correctly interpreting what she thinks was a premonition of her step-granddaughter Amber's death in a boating accident.

    "Nothing's ever convinced me."
    — Louis Manza, Ph.D., Lebanon Valley College

    "I was sitting on the steps of the lake house reading my step-daughter. And Amber's new dog was there. I said to my step-daughter, 'You got this dog because you want to have another baby but you can't afford it. So the dog will be your baby.' My step-daughter asked me how long the dog would live. I said 11-and-a-half years."

    As it turns out, that was the child's age. "And Amber died that afternoon. Why didn't I see it? My step-daughter tells me I looked at Amber in the water as I said it. But I didn't get it. My step-daughter says that's because I wasn't meant to know. But it's broken my heart. I've cried about it."

    Richards says that Amber came to her the night of her death in an auditory message: "Grandma, Grandma, heaven is so cool. And you'll never guess what Jesus is wearing."

    "You know, Amber didn't tell me. I still don't know what Jesus was wearing."
    — Jill Cook Richards

    Amber's spirit, Richards says -- accompanied by an angel who said she's a descendent of Jesus' mother, Mary -- went on to tell her that she, Amber, will come back as another child: "And please tell Mommy don't be mad because I won't look the same."

    Richards today is in New York for a birthday celebration that's to include a look at Greenwich Village's annual Halloween festival. She and her husband will be somewhere around, say, Bleeker Street or Minetta Lane -- looking a lot like characters out of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me."

    "My hair will be pink," she says. "My favorite color. That's what I'll have on.

    "But you know, Amber didn't tell me," she says, thinking about the communication she felt herself to have with her step-granddaughter on the night of the boating accident. "I still don't know what Jesus was wearing."

    graphic

     

    RELATED SITES:
    Lebanon Valley College
    John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
    James Randi Educational Foundation
    Rhine Research Center, successor to the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory



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