Don't you just love the way woo-woo people glorify psychics and other charlatans? Oh, besides having access to the wisdom of spirits, psychics are so kind-hearted, altruistic and understanding! They give so much that whatever they gain is nowhere near enough to compensate for the emotional and spiritual distress they suffer from their "work". Bordering to outright worship, this idolatry is of course aimed at rendering the psychic untouchable - any allegations of fraud or moral misconduct will bounce off someone that is closer to divinity than to fellow humans. And for every benevolent trait the woo-woo worshipers ascribe to a psychic, they add a little bit of confirmation that their trust and faith haven't been badly invested.
Although serious investigative journalism seems to make exception for psychics, we sometimes come to know that there is something ugly behind the varnish. If you scratch the surface of Sylvia Browne, you find grand theft and investment fraud (Lancaster, 2006). If you scratch the surface of Mervyn Johnson, former president of the International Spiritualist Foundation, you find a rapist and child molester (Garvarn, 2007). Of course, psychics are swindlers as such. But if you go beyond the explicit deceit of their "trade", you may very well find that the immorality is not restricted to messing with people's memories of deceased loved ones and charging for services they cannot provide -- the apple tends to be bad all the way through.
In December 2004, I visited the website of one of our more "prominent" Swedish psychics, frequently featured on psychic shows televised nationwide. As I browsed through the posts in the guestbook, I noticed one poster who was criticizing the psychic for the way the "training courses" was being managed. The psychic's answers were of course evasive empty phrases and since the upset poster didn't settle for that and continued with detailed accusations, the guestbook was soon shut down by the psychic. In addition to the critique, one post had stated the e-mail address of the poster, so I decided to make some further inquiries. I found out the following.
An associate of the psychic had started to question some of the psychic's doings, suggesting they were dubious and wrong. In response, the psychic promptly ended the collaboration, claiming that the associate had broken a vow of silence. When asked for specific reasons, the psychic told the associate that the spirit world had strictly forbidden any disclosure in the matter.
I was able to get in touch with some more of the psychic's former associates and regular sitters. Some of them were reluctant to tell anything about their time with the psychic and those who were willing to talk explained why. Threats is one of the common tools of this charlatan. The psychic is in the habit of threatening people, in dislike for major or minor reasons, with the spirit world. In the comfort of the inner circle of people around the psychic, the "happy messages" conveyed during public seances and TV shows are substituted with warnings of forthcoming suicides or fatal diseases. Scare tactics is the glue that holds this particular little psychic group together. And the psychic expects everyone to submit to any little whim, at any time -- be it administrative work or household duties. There is really no limit to what this voice of the dead may require from the sheep in service.
Another tool is lying. The image this psychic paints of the business conducted has no resemblance with the actual state of affairs. Claimed successes turn into disasters when scrutinized. Reasons for relocation turn out to be more evasive than strategic when checked. In essence, this character is a genuine conjurer.
The funny thing is that the truth about this scumbag is only a couple of phone calls and e-mails away. So when I see this psychic on television, being lead through a haunted house by the major Swedish promotor of these fraudsters, Mrs Caroline Giertz (who claims to be a journalist!), smiling and acting all "sensitive", I rest assured that some day the bubble will burst. Some day one of these women, scared to silence, will realize that "the spirit world" really doesn't pose any actual danger and she will be the one who teaches this sociopath psychic that people are not be juggled with. Hopefully she will display the lesson in public but if not, a court of justice will do.
Make no mistake, this and other psychics are sociopaths. James Randi expresses their line of thinking eloquently: "If it's good for me, it's good" (Skepticality, 2006). They just don't care about other people at all. People are just means to their ends. And they know exactly what they are doing, they know that they are fooling people. Randi again:
"It's lika a violinist. He didn't just pick up that violin and started playing. He took lessons. And he has to concentrate on what he is doing." (Skepticality, 2006)
And don't make allowance for the psychics who doesn't charge for the "services". We have at least one of those in Sweden too, Elisabeth Lannge. She doesn't need to charge money because she is married to it! Her currency is social acceptance and "being someone". Those who don't understand the value of that has little understanding of human nature. Her fraud is just as severe, or perhaps more so.
Are the psychics to blame for the gullibility of their worshipers? No, they are not. But it isn't immoral to be gullible. To exploit the gullibility is. Is it silly to feel threatened by the wrath of made up spirits? Of course it is. But being silly is not immoral. Exploiting the silliness in order to rule a semi-cult is. And for some people, the spirit world is far from imaginary. Psychics know this, and they feed on it.
All psychics suffer, to some extent, from personality disorder. The psychological faculty that restrains sane people from messing with people's most sacred thoughts and emotions are non-existent in psychics. They just don't give a damn.
So, for your own enjoyment and other's benefit, open a can of worms -- pick a psychic of your choice and do some background checking. I'll bet something nasty will crawl out...
Garvarn, (2007). Psychic rapist sentenced to five years. Garvarn's blog. Web document: http://garvarn.blogspot.com/2007/01/psychic-rapist-senteced-to-five-years.html
Lancaster, R. S., (2006). The People vs. Sylvia Brown(e). www.stopsylviabrowne.com. Web document: http://www.stopsylviabrowne.com/articles/peoplevsbrown.shtml
Skepticality, (2006). Podcast, September 24.