Malicious mediums, greedy grifters, predatory parlor tricksters. They've been debunked, defamed, and called out only to watch the coffers fill while they leave their victims empty of truth, emotional wholeness, and the ability to face some of life's more harsh realities. I'm Spider...
And tonight we're going to be talking about a group of people that have figured out how to keep vulnerable people on the hook sometimes for years with messages of false hope predicated on lies, exploitation of grief, and the use of hackneyed old parlor tricks that have been proven fake over and over and over again, and yet, they're still out there, still fleecing the masses, and leaving emotional destruction in their wake.
No, I'm not talking about televangelists, but you're really not that far off. We're talking about so-called psychic mediums and those who prey on the bereaved in particular. The things these people do – and get away with – are disturbing at best, rage-inducing at worst and we're going to give you a few examples of their work and how it holds people's emotional wellness captive in just a few, but first...
“Hot” youth pastor faces the heat, if it feels good, kill 'em, and the spirit of Michael Pearl is upon him to preach the good news of child abuse to the feeble minded. It's Christians behaving badly: the hot, the hideous, and the heinous edition.
You know, there have been a lot of articles in the news about youth pastors getting caught having illicit relationships with underage kids...and then getting arrested for having illicit relationships with underage kids...and then going to jail for having illicit relationships. That's bad enough.
It might be a bad idea for a youth pastor to...suggest that maybe...these kids actually WANT the “hot youth pastor's” attention.
Ugh, I just threw up in my mouth a little at the very idea. But that's what some dumbass youth pastor working at Fairview Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina did. Lest you think the new student pastor Corey Wall is a guy straight out of bible college in his early twenties he's actually 35, so he has no excuse really.
One woman took to Twitter to express her concern and puzzlement: “Any other moms have a teenager who go to [this church] in Greer? The youth pastor gave my younger sister (14 years old) and other students this sticker during Midweek last night. He is 35 years old. This made her very uncomfortable.”
She included a picture of said sticker. The sticker says “I (heart) hot youth pastors”. It sort of looks like the kind of ironic grossness that would be on a t-shirt meant for assholes to wear.
Hemant Mehta on Only Sky has some...questions:
1.Is this supposed to be a joke?
2.What the hell kind of joke is this?
3.Who made these stickers?!
4. Why would anyone order these stickers?!
5.Who thought it’d be hilarious to give these stickers to children?!?!?!?
6.Why are conservatives complaining about gay teachers when THIS IS GOING ON IN THEIR OWN CHURCHES?!
These are all good questions. Let's see if the pastor can offer any explanations that don't seem like every OTHER explanation these guys seem to give. Here is a response given from the pastor to the woman who tweeted.
Last night, I was made aware of your concerns involving the sticker being distributed to your sister at Midweek. Let me assure you that my intentions were pure, and the last thing I wanted to do was make you, your sister, or anyone else in attendance feel uncomfortable.
We’re updating our church-wide database, and I encouraged kids to come see me to get a sticker and update their information. The sticker was meant to poke fun of the “I Love Hot Mom” culture. In hindsight, the joke was of very poor taste and a mistake on my part. I do apologize for their distribution.
One of our top goals with Fairview Students is to create a safe place for students. Last night, we fell short. Please accept my apologies.
Does this reassure you? It certainly wouldn't reassure me! It just created more doubts that this guy is suited to have supervision over kids! And here's a further statement from the leadership of the church:
We see and hear your concerns and affirm the matter has been taken seriously. I cannot comment on our accountability actions with Cory because it is a personnel that cannot be discussed publicly. I will confirm the leadership and Cory understand the severity of the incident and have addressed it with the him. He is meeting with his leaders to discuss the mistake he made and that it was in very poor taste. I will confirm this has been dealt with as a serious matter in our response with Cory privately according to our Personnel Manual Guidelines.
Cory’s mentioning, “having a porn addiction”, was about at a time when he was a high schooler and young adult. We were aware of this in his testimony when we interviewed him. When he mentioned this to the students was during the summer and it was brought to our attention. We met with Cory and he understands this should not have been shared with the students until he made parents aware of the topic beforehand and explain the context of why he would share this from his testimony. This was discussed and our leadership handled this according to our Personnel Manual Guidelines.
Still not reassured. Why, oh why is this guy discussing his porn addiction with kids. And WHY if this guy has a “porn addiction,” WHY IS HE HANDING OUT A STICKER REFERENCING “HOT YOUTH PASTORS” WHEN IT’S BASED ON A SLOGAN INVOLVING “HOT MOMS”?!
The “I ❤️ hot moms” shirts which can be found online aren’t a “culture” so much as pathetic frat boy humor. But as far as I can tell, it’s not like these “youth pastor” stickers are available online.
They aren't. I looked. They do have a “I'm the psychotic youth pastor your parents warned you about” t shirt on amazon which is also disturbing but at least it's not being distributed by the church. These stickers had to be custom ordered. At no part in the process did they consider how they might have come across.
And the fact that this church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, who the department of justice is now investigating for sexual abuse allegations really, REALLY doesn't help.
In further “what the fuck were you thinking” news, Mike Winger, a Christian preacher who runs a giant online ministry, recently said believers should listen to the voices in their heads if they believe God is telling them to kill someone.
On his YouTube show recently, Winger was asked by a viewer (at 1:28:45) what he thought about murderers who say God “made them do it”? Instead of dismissing all those killers as kooks, because God doesn’t actually speak to them, Winger took the opposite approach, saying it was always wise to listen to God… then included a caveat saying God probably wouldn’t ask you to kill anyone, as if that makes everything better.
It certainly made ME feel better...because Christians don't ...kill their kids...or strangers...or anyone else, right? To him “god told me to” is a perfectly adequate reason...if God REALLY told them to do it, right? How, exactly, are you going to tell whether this guy is completely delusional or the Angel of Death, so to speak?
All this guy says that “if god really told them to do it, they're right.” Here's an excerpt:
But if God Himself actually tells you, and He’s like, “Hey, I am the ultimate governor of all of life, and I have judicially said that person is going to die, and I’m telling you to do it,” yeah.
Now, historically, as a Christian, do I expect this to happen? Not really.
...Not that there could never be an exception, but if anybody comes up to me, and says, “God told me to kill so-and-so,” my default is to think they’re probably wrong, because there’s a lot more weirdos out there than there are people that God is telling to do something like that.
So...yeah, go ahead and kill someone if god tells you to, but if you're actively having realistic auditory hallucinations...you probably shouldn't?
Well how, pray tell, are we to do that? Of course this guy never actually tells us. Brilliant.
And lastly, anyone who puts himself forward as a “good Christian parent”? ...is probably not. Matt Kennedy, rector of Church of the Good Shepherd (an Anglican church) in New York and father of six, recently revealed his best child-rearing advice in a Twitter thread.
Ah, yes. Twitter, the fount of all knowledge...Christians get themselves in trouble so often here. This guy manages his success by the fact that “none of them are in jail.” Oh and they're all believing and generally pleasant to be around. Sounds like awesome kids.
He says he has 4 rules that must be obeyed:
1. Immediate obedience. Don't pause. Don't object. (after this rule, he says, you really don't need very many)
2. To speak, answer to and look at their mother with absolute honor, respect, and deference. He makes the point that they did this when he was present but if he isn't, 'if you've said something disrespectful to her, you've said it to me.'
3. No lying. To fail to keep this rule is to condemn your child to a life of misery, he said.
4. At the table, you eat whatever is put in front of you, cheerfully and with no complaining or negative talk. Always be grateful.
In summary, he demands obedience, forces them to show respect to their mother at all times, forbids lying, and requires them to say they love their meals. Failure to do any of these things will result in some kind of physical abuse (corporal punishment), followed by a hug.
The first problem to note here is that even he admits none of this is foolproof: “Your child can still end up taking the wrong path.” That alone should nullify everything he said earlier. But keep in mind that parents who don’t have these rules raise perfectly fine kids too.
Of course, as any kid who's grown up with these sorts of authoritarian rules can tell you, these kids aren't “perfectly fine”. Twitter erupted with a chorus of ex-children who can speak from experience:
@armyofwin_ says: “My childhood wasn't this strict and I still ended up a “manipulative bitch” because I learned early on how to lie, hide things, and provide leading answers. All because I knew my parents weren't interested in the how or why, only my behavior. Your kids hate you.”
@reddvaske adds: “I love it when parents publicly admit to not caring about their kids being their own beings, but little servants in their fucking cult.”
and finally @bworsowicz says: “I love that three of these rules are just psychopathic child abuse, but they made an extra one to make sure their kids get an eating disorder.”
Of course, some conservative christians have defended these rules, saying “I was raised like this and I turned out just fine.” But you know. They didn't turn out just fine. They grew up thinking this was ok.
And also of course, Kennedy has responded to this criticism by blaming “woke Twitter”. So....there's that.
Next week: Storefront Divination – Why Your Future Isn't In the Cards
Two Weeks: The Satan Sellers Hall of Shame: Warnke, Larson, The Peters Brothers, and More!
Halloween Eve: The Amityville Horror
People look to psychics for answers to questions on a broad range of subjects. Some of the more popular ones include
Love – when will I meet my soulmate?
Health – will my cancer go into remission?
Finance – Where should I be investing? What stocks are going to move significantly this week?
I remember back in the 80s things like Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network, and what Gen-Xer could forget about Miss Cleo even if we tried... back then people were blowing entire social security checks calling 1-900-xxxx numbers to “talk to a real psychic now!” for the bargain price of $4.99 the first minute, and 69 cents each additional minute. A 30-minute call averaged about $25. In 1980s and early 1990s dollars. It wasn't cheap.
And just like ghost hunting, psychic mediums are a big draw for cable TV audiences. Here are just a few of the more popular shows out there:
And people not only trust psychics but also swear by their authenticity even if the psychic is wrong more often than they're right. If they're right about that stock, that covers a multitude of sins, right? Crazy how many people would agree. And I look at these three things and I think, “So what these people do is often emotionally, physically, or financially devastating to the client.” Because they are wrong way more often than they're right.
For now, I want to zero in on the ones who specifically target the bereaved and those searching for lost loved ones. These are by far the biggest demographics upon which people like this set their crosshairs. The most prevalent examples include people like Theresa Caputo (aka the Long Island Medium) who, by her own description, “talks to dead people.” Then there's John Edward, famous for his show Crossing Over.
Theresa Caputo isn't often spoken of in the most flattering of terms and even people who believe in ghosts don't think she can talk to the dead. From the Theresa Caputo Wikipedia:
In April 2012, the James Randi Educational Foundation awarded Caputo its Pigasus Award, a tongue-in-cheek award that seeks to expose parapsychological, paranormal or psychic frauds. The James Randi Education Foundation has been critical of Caputo's work.
A newspaper review of Caputo's performances at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury in late 2017 concluded, "For me, this unbelievable experience was simply that: not to be believed. In my humble opinion, Caputo is a damn good performer, and she's got undeniably likable sass and charisma. I just don't think she speaks with the dead. Or she didn't the night that I saw her. But my father probably could have told you that." - Franchi, Jaime (December 7, 2014)
Paranormal investigator Massimo Polidoro calls Caputo a "performer" and reports on an investigation done by Inside Edition and mentalist Mark Edward who attended one of her live shows in 2012. In 2013, illusionist Criss Angel offered Caputo $1 million to prove her claims.
His money remains safe to this day. Oh, and for years, the James Randi Educational Foundation (yes, we're talking about The Amazing Randi for those old enough to remember) had an open offer, also a million dollars, for anyone who could prove beyond a doubt that they hae psychic abilities. That money was never paid out either and donations that were received to fund the challenge have since been channeled into things like grants and other work that promotes the advancement of actual science. James Randi sadly died in 2020 of what his website basically describes as old age.
And as for John Edward... his show ran on the Sci Fi channel. What more do we need to say about this? But he also did the talk show circuit and absolutely preyed on family members of people killed on 9/11. He had another less popular show John Edward Cross Country that aired on WeTV (yeah, IDK either). The show died in 2008 and so far John has not been able to contact it. He also scoffed at Randi's challenge with this witty response: “why would I allow myself to be tested by somebody who's got an adjective as a first name?” He doesn't. And why don't you know that?
There are psychics that are invited to participate in criminal investigations and can give people post-traumatic stress with the awful things they do and say.
Amanda Berry – Amanda Berry had been missing for years. Her mother went to a screening of the Montel Williams Show with the express purpose of talking to a psychic by the name of Sylvia Browne whom she hoped would be able to help her locate her daughter. Amanda was one victim of the Ariel Castro kidnappings between 2002 and 2004.
From the Wikipedia...
Between 2002 and 2004, Ariel Castro kidnapped Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus from the streets of Cleveland, Ohio. All three girls were imprisoned at Castro's home until May of 2013, when Berry successfully escaped with her six-year-old daughter, to whom she had given birth while imprisoned, and contacted the police. Police rescued Knight and DeJesus, and arrested Castro hours later.
Castro was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. He pleaded guilty to 937 criminal counts of rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder as part of a plea bargain. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 1,000 years in prison without the possibility of parole. One month into his life sentence, Castro committed suicide by hanging himself with bed sheets in his prison cell.
These women spent a decade in captivity. Amanda Berry escaped in 2013. The episode of Montel aired in 2004 and this is what Sylvia Browne told her, "She's not alive, honey. Your daughter's not the kind who wouldn't call."
Amanda would not escape her captor for another nine years.
Her mother Louwana Miller died in 2006 believing her daughter was dead.
A year earlier she did this to someone else. According to ABC News:
In 2003, Browne incorrectly told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, and his body could be found somewhere near "two jagged boulders," according to her premonition.
Nearly four years later, Hornbeck was found alive, and Browne was widely criticized in the media for causing the Hornbecks additional grief.
And this idiot was wrong so often and caused so much chaos, a website went up in 2006 with the intent to Stop Sylva Browne. I don't think it's there anymore. The URL is up for sale. But, apparently, for a while there it was nothing but stories of how this woman defrauded people and told them some of the most horrific things about their loved ones that proved later not to be true. I feel like she must have gotten off on inducing grief. Because that's what she does. Probably to this day. I don't think she even thinks she's a psychic. I think she just figured out a way to give this very dark corner of her psyche the attention it craves.
But that's just the thing...
Mediums prey on the vulnerable. They take money and give false hope, particularly when they claim to talk to the dead. As a result, many people cannot let go of their loved ones and move on with their lives. People can become addicted to the process, costing them time and money. - Leon McFaden
And yes, plenty of people become addicted to it. In 2022. When we're all really supposed to know better but we all love our own little mysticisms a little too much actually get around to knowing better...
What's even better is when THEY come to YOU... and this has been a thing for a very long time. Before the days of the Internet, psychics who wanted to prey on people's grief or their need to know the whereabouts of a lost loved one would do things like read obituaries and news stories about missing persons and then CONTACT THE FAMILIES telling them they had information about someone's whereabouts or that a lost loved one had a message for them. They still do this, but they have far more resources to draw from now and they can get in touch with people faster through things like email and social media.
So how do they do it? Well... they use some or all of these methods:
1. They make vague claims that apply to a broad audience – this is the most prevalent openers for psychics who work in large groups. I saw one video about Jonathan Edward (we'll talk about him a little more later) and how he did a show once in a part of Long Island where one out of five people were of Irish descent. He proceeded to tell the crowd that someone was coming through and started just firing off common, almost stereotypical Irish surnames and he traveled quickly between Fitzpatrick and O'Toole... then it was “I think it's one of those O names... O'Brien, O'Malley....” oh MY! I say...
Sometimes he'll go out on a limb and address someone directly and when he fails in his prediction he says things like “OK then the person they want to reach is probably behind you....” then waits for someone to respond. I swear I was watching this and all I could think of was Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, cycling through common names of hispanic women until the client jumped on “Maria! His mama! SHE is Maria!!”
That was a popular movie... lots of people saw it. And sitting in the theater it's clear she's a fraud, but I promise you that there were people sitting in that theater understanding that Whoopi was a fraud and STILL sit there in a studio with Jonathan Edward spewing Irish names and buying it hook, line, and sinker. I really don't get it...
2. They ADMIT that the details might be fuzzy – what this accomplishes is getting the client to fill in the cracks with more significant details. And when someone wants to contact a dead loved one, they will sit there trying to pull personal meaning from what the psychic is saying.
3. Making absolute claims like “Everything I say will be true for someone in this room...” and what this accomplishes is simple... let's say a psychic gives some vague detail that someone latches onto but they're a little reserved in wanting to say anything. Well, if everything they say is true for someone, what if I don't speak up and that message was for me? Eventually someone is going to cave and get the psychic's attention. From there, go back to step two and get to work.
4. They give details they can backtrack on later. The more vague they are, the easier it is to shift the details just a little when they need to. “So it wasn't a blue car dad was in. I'm still seeing blue. Were the seats blue? Did he like to wear a lot of blue? Was he wearing blue the last time you saw him? Because blue is coming through really clearly right now. They want you to think about something blue that's associated with them...” Then the client says something like, “His house was blue when he bought it but he hated the color so he painted it white so it fit better with the rest of the block.” And of course, now the house that was once blue is the center of the conversation. “Did anything unusual happen in that house? No? Because he wants you to think about that house. I don't know why but there's something about it...” You can keep a conversation going all day that way.
5. They're counting on you not having a poker face – mediums are always analyzing people's reactions to the things they say. If something gives the client a start, they're going to descend on it. “I'm still trying to figure out what blue is about. You can't think of anything about dad that might be important that involves blue? Places? Objects? Pets?” Now let's say the word “pets” gives them a start. Ooh! They're remembering something! Let's get them to tell us what...
I'm really starting to think this has to do with a pet now. Not a lot of blue pets out there so... was it a dog with blue collar? A cat?” “Yes! Oh my GOD I completely forgot until jut now but he had a cat named Blue! And she kinda was!”
And one thing these people know is that the broader the generality, the more likely it's going to resonate with someone. So he takes the blue thing as far as he can and then goes back to square one to try and harvest more details.
They are also reading the room constantly. They're looking for people who are doing things like craning their necks, attempting to make eye contact, leaning over or sitting on the edge of their seat... all these body cues communicate that these people believe what they're hearing and want to participate in the conversation.
Now, those are the ones that want to work for it. These kinds of interactions are called “cold readings.” The so-called psychic goes in a blank slate and employs all of the above to get details right as they go. The ones who don't want to work at it take a different route.
Let's talk about hot readings for a minute. Unlike a cold reading, you can't do a hot read in a large group of people unless you've profiled several of your guests ahead of time (and plenty do this, too) or invited plants. In either event, they proceed from information they already have.
Well, how do they get it? Honestly, there are so many ways and these kinds of tricksters have been doing it long before the days of the Internet. It's so much easier now with sites like instant checkmate and a swarm of others like it where, for a nominal fee, you can look up insane amounts of information about people: places they've lived, life events like divorces and bankruptcies, how many kids they have and the kids' ages, names of family members, what they do for a living... it's all out there when you have the right resources.
So they do all of that and when it comes time for your appointment or when the stage lights start dimming, they already have enough information about you to make you think they know way more about you than they actually do. Once they have their hooks in you, now it's time to implement all the other tactics we just went over so YOU will give them even more information.
Why Do People Still Trust Mediums and Psychics?
McFaden says, We have advanced medically and scientifically beyond our wildest dreams, and yet we still flock to see a lunatic (or fraud) stand on stage and pretend to talk to our loved ones. We get articles like this talking about Mediums as pop stars.Why? The problem stems from people not wanting to confront their mortality. They want to hold on to their loved ones and cling to life, burying their head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge that one day they too will die.
And this is reason number ONE why the psychic medium industry continues to thrive. These people purport to offer the bereaved something they can't find on their own, and that one crucial thing is hope. Psychics prey on the bereaved by giving them false hope that their loved one isn't really gone. And whether the client believes it or not (and you'd be surprised how many do not) they're willing to keep throwing money at these charlatans because what they're being told makes them feel good. And when you're in the throes of grief, if you have to attempt to buy happiness, so be it.
McFaden also says that it's a mixture of fear and grief that keeps psychic mediums in business. Until we develop a healthier way to confront our mortality and grieve for our lost loved ones, we will forever be dependent on people manipulating us.
Let's understand something crucial to the message of this show about this particular subject: evangelicals believe in psychic ability and use it to exploit people in the same basic ways that psychic mediums do... [ad-lib: psychic predictions vs. words of knowledge, etc.]
But whether it's a crooked preacher or someone like John Edward, the goal is the same: to trick people into believing things using their emotions, their grief, their insecurities, and their propensity for believing in the supernatural as their weapons. Yes, they use people's grief against them and that ability is big business. Whether it's a TV grifter like John Edward or Theresa Caputo, an idiot like Sylvia Browne who leads people to believe their loved ones are dead when they aren't, or a predatory armchair charlatan trolling obituaries, the emotional damage that these people can do can be devastating. Now, my first thought about that is that if you expose them, if you show people just how untrustworthy they are, the whole thing will just unravel. Well... how's that working out? Ask anyone in Salem lining up at every storefront parlor and booking readings hours or even days out every October. Ask everyone who turned to psychics for hope and reconnection with loved ones who died of COVID at the height of the pandemic. Psychic services saw a thirty percent surge in revenues between 2020 and 2021.
All of this while even the most visible and successful ones get called out time and time again, skirt challenges to prove their authenticity, and respond with juvenile remarks about the stage names of their detractors. So why do they get so many breaks?
Ask any faith healer
Ask any televangelist
Ask any pastor
The bottom line is that belief is a powerful thing and people cling to it in the face of every evidence that it's wrong or even dangerous. Evangelicalism doesn't work because they've discovered some big secret about people, they just understand people – how they think, how they respond to things, and how driven they are by their emotions and not their intellect. That's most people. It was me for decades.
It's the same with psychics. Psychic mediums also understand how people think, how they respond to things, and how predisposed most people are to thinking with their emotions and not their intellect. The emotional need for closure over a missing or lost loved one is powerful and psychics know precisely how to tap into those emotions to build trust. Once they have your trust, they can get you to agree to anything, even to the point of tricking you into giving them the information they need to get further into your head.
If you're an ex evangelical who has developed a fascination with things like divination and mediumship, I'm not surprised. You've been conditioned to think this way for years. That's why I think it's so important that you understand this: psychics are not real. They don't possess abilities or powers that you do not. They've just figured out a few things about how people think and behave and they've figured out how to exploit it. And as long as people keep giving them the opportunity, the grift will continue. It will not lose traction in the wake of exposure. It will not go away no matter how many proofs can be demonstrated to expose their fraud. There will always be those who are willing to put aside logic in the name of comfort and, really, who can blame them?
The problem is that the answers are false, the closure is false, and the very things that provide those comforts are lies. And I'll say it again: facing the truth isn't often easy, but it's necessary if we want to live lives that are rooted in reality.
It takes courage to say goodbye to those we love. It takes courage to admit the finality of their deaths. For some, it's an impossible task. But for those willing to keep their feet grounded in reality, champion uncomfortable truths over comforting lies, and stay the course of seeking those truths wherever they lead, it might mean sacrificing things like closure over the loss of people we love and the false hope of their continued existences, but the reward comes in learning how to deal with loss on practical levels.
A good therapist will get you way further than any psychic will in navigating the emotions related to grief and while it may be hard to let go now, I promise you, with time, with work, and with the will to engage with your own emotions on productive levels and from the standpoint of a few very uncomfortable realities, sooner or later you will figure out that you don't need a psychic to keep you tethered to false hope. You can, and should, let go. It's just one more area of your life where you can take a few more crucial steps toward getting and staying unbound.