Supernatural forces at work

SENSING SPIRITS: Recent Massey University research reveals  that growing numbers of New Zealanders are sensing spiritual forces.
SENSING SPIRITS: Recent Massey University research reveals that growing numbers of New Zealanders are sensing spiritual forces.

Spirits are increasingly making their presence felt in New Zealand, spurred on by celebrity ghost whisperers.

Massey University research reveals growing numbers of Kiwis are sensing spirits. In a recent survey, the proportion of respondents who have felt a spiritual force rose from 33 per cent in 1991, to 40 per cent.

Half the respondents said they are interested in spiritual forces, while a quarter believed the dead had supernatural powers.

Massey University senior lecturer Heather Kavan said the entertainment industry has fuelled the spirit market. "Programmes like Sensing Murder and Ghost Whisperer have popularised psychic experiences that in previous times would have been dismissed as symptoms of psychosis.

"The Sensing Murder psychics have almost become spiritual celebrities."

The survey also answers a long-standing mystery for researchers.

"An extraordinarily high proportion of New Zealanders have no religion – almost double the proportion in other Western countries – but we've never known who these people are," Dr Kavan said.

The survey shows many of them are privately spiritual, but don't relate to organised religions.

But it's not just popular programmes encouraging spiritual awareness.

Dr Kavan said respect for Maori practices has made it easier for Pakeha to express spiritual experiences, while the internet has opened up an enormous range of alternative ideas.

The internet also offers a space for believers – and non-believers. The Facebook group Sensing Murder has almost 4000 fans, whereas Sensing Bulls..t has 95 members.

NZ Skeptics chair-entity Vicki Hyde said spiritual crazes come in waves depending on media programmes. Angels and vampires are the latest fad. But she warned of the "morally reprehensible" behaviour of shows such as Sensing Murder. Psychic shows exploit vulnerable families who have lost loved ones in the name of entertainment, she said.

Psychic hotlines and mediums earn thousands through well-practised, manipulative techniques, she said.

A non-scientific poll showed 22 per cent of respondents believed in the "supernatural powers of deceased ancestors".

The spirit market

Channelling deceased loved ones can prove costly. Private sittings will set you back about $180. Seeing a live show with medium Jeanette Wilson costs $40, while Sue Nicholson charges $55 for an Energy of Spirit Evening. For the internet-savvy ghosts, you can receive an email reading for $80 to $100.

Prefer the DIY approach? A spirituality workshop with Sue Nicholson costs $235. Mediums-in-training can see first-hand how she connects to the spirit world and learn to tap into their psychic ability.

For the thrifty spirit-call, the psychic line charges $3.50 a minute – just hope the call connects quickly.

If all else fails, try your local book store, which stocks books like Sensing Spirit and Bridging The Gap – and they're near The Bible.

Manawatu Standard