I know this card trick that "gets ’em every time." I can shuffle a deck of cards, place it down in front of you, ask you a series of questions, and make the card you name be the top card without me ever touching the deck. But like I said–it’s a "trick"–it’s not magic, and I’m not psychic.
I have watched TV psychics, I have even paid $65 for a session with a psychic, and I have the impression that many of them work much the same way that my card trick does. "I see the letter ‘G’ and an old man standing behind you smiling–he misses you," my psychic said to me. Could it be that someone my age most likely has a deceased grandfather, uncle, friend? If I say, "I don’t know any old people with the letter ‘G,’" the psychic could respond, "I think it’s either your grandfather or great-grandfather." (Ah yes, the "G" in grandfather–and what are the chances of me having all of my great-grandfathers still alive?)
As with everything related to the supernatural, there are charlatans out there, those people that just want attention or publicity, and when you weed through all of that, you sometimes come across the real deal.
Peter James has been a full-time ghost hunter and psychic since 1980 and has been studying ghosts and his own psychic abilities since his first ghost encounter when he was seven years old and living in Rochester, New York. James spent eight years as the resident psychic on the television show Sightings, and he regularly conducts ghost tours of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, where he claims there are more than 600 spirits haunting the ship.
Recently, I spoke with Peter James over the phone. I called him in his California home at our agreed-upon interview time to discuss how his approach to spirit communication is different than most psychics. "Hello, this is Jeff Belanger from Ghostvillage.com. Is Peter there, please?" I said.
"This is he, and I knew it was you," James said with a touch of New York accent. Of course he knew it was me–he’s psychic! I laughed. I always thought that if those psychic phone lines were for real, I could just call them and not say a word and the psychic on the other end of the phone would rattle off my vital statistics, then tell me all about my future.
My biggest question is: How does being psychic work? I asked Peter James to help clarify what it means to be psychic.
"Being psychic, in my opinion, is having a special ability," James said. "I don’t refer to it as a gift. I think we’re all psychic to varying degrees of awareness and accuracy."
Peter James does things differently than other psychics. He explained how he makes contact: "What I stopped doing some time ago was paying attention to the usual path that psychics take. They’re supposed to be tuned in and on the right energy level, and contrary to that, I think being psychic is an individual choice and individual experience."
I have watched John Edward, the psychic host of the television show Crossing Over, and though I’m not even remotely psychic, I think I could do what he does under the right circumstances (just like I can pull off my card trick on those who haven’t studied the trick closely). Peter James had an interesting point about John Edward’s program: "I do respect what he does; however, it is so unlikely that a busload of departed loved ones would go to a TV studio. What John is doing is nothing more than a cold reading."
John Edward sees pieces of names, letters, and colors, and it’s up to the audience to identify with that. And he has dozens of people who he can choose from to "tune in" to. I’m not saying that I think John Edward is a fraud by any means, but I would say the evidence is inconclusive. But Edward is certainly one of the most visible and commercially successful psychics today.
Peter James explained why his approach to spirit communication is different: "I’ve learned how to develop my own technique, my own methodology, and not rely on those that have gone before me," James said. He further explained how he doesn’t look for signs or letters. Instead, he goes to the place where the ghost resides and communicates directly with the spirit.
"When I say that I’m in contact with the other side, it’s because I’m able to see and sense with my physical eyes rather than my mind’s eye. And there’s a difference, because when you use your mind’s eye, you can conjure up all kinds of imaginary things [that are] not necessarily psychic-based.
"I see ghosts as clearly as I see any other living human being. I see them with my physical eyes. If you’ve seen my stuff on Sightings, I start my investigation from the outside in. When I enter [a] home, I sort of hone in to what’s there, and within five minutes, generally, I can almost give a dissertation on the activity that’s there, how long it’s been there, its name, gender, circumstances. And seemingly, they [the spirits] gravitate toward me. I don’t know if you believe in having auras, or if it’s my willingness to communicate, but they show themselves to me. Therefore, I start communicating and they give me all kinds of information like what you witnessed on Sightings.
"By the way, on Sightings, in the eight years that I was with the show, they went to great lengths to keep me in the dark. I never knew where I was going. I would never get any of the circumstances until I got to the site.
"So this is how I do my ghost investigations: I walk in, and if I sense someone there, I’ll ask it to speak to me. You have to be verbal; you have to be aggressive and authoritative in order to take control. If you walk in and start sprinkling sage and incense and holy water, you’re not going to get any response at all.
"A ghost would say, ‘What is this person doing in my house sprinkling all of this stuff?’ For one thing, they no longer have physical bodies; therefore, they can’t tell these things or feel these things. But this is all the hearsay stuff from many years ago, and it’s time that we evolve and make progress. The best way to deal with a haunted house is to learn how to communicate.
"When we die, I believe that when we leave our physical vehicles, we maintain our consciousness and awareness and identity with memory. As in life, so in death. If you encounter someone who is aggressive or violent, it’s because they had the same kind of personality in life."
As in life, so in death–definitely a recurring theme when talking to Peter James. "We have to realize that what we’re dealing with in a house that is presumed to be active are people that died tragically, and untimely, and they were people just like you, and just like me who lost their lives, and we don’t become something in death that we’ve never been in life. In other words, if one is in an actively haunted house, you’re dealing with a person that died there. It’s that simple. It’s not a monster, it’s not a demon, and it’s nothing evil. As in life, so in death."
Like a ghost experience, proof of psychic ability happens on an individual level. When you visit a credible psychic and you have an open but objective mindset, you should get results. I believe Peter James’s psychic approach to ghost investigating forces him to put his reputation and credibility on the line. He can’t hide behind vague letter references and other cold reading parlor tricks–his claim to directly communicate with those who have passed on is definitely profound.
According to Peter James, as well as other psychics I have communicated with over the years, I have heard repeatedly that this is an ability that can be cultivated in all of us. Due to the big unknown aspect of spirit communication, many people are afraid of what they might find if they open the door to the spirit world. I think the more concrete we can make the evidence of the psychic experience, the more credible this field of study becomes. Let’s leave the tricks to the magicians.