It's all warm fuzzies till ‘spirits' give dangerous counsel, writes Ian Allen. --------------------
I'm a sceptic. I don't believe in an afterlife, a spirit world or reincarnation. And don't get me started on God.
When you die, you die. Your body rots away in the ground or your burnt corpse gets thrown off a cliff by some relative that thinks "that's what he would have wanted".
So it was with a healthy dose of pessimism that I took myself to see psychic medium Jeanette Wilson in Blenheim a few weeks back.
The former Dare To Believe star was in town during a 49-day whirlwind tour of New Zealand for live shows, private appointments and two-day workshops bringing dead doctor Augusto de Almeida to the masses.
About 40 people attended her first show at the Scenic Hotel Marlborough, clutching the bracelets and necklaces of dead loved ones to help Wilson make contact.
Many of them were middle-aged and older, some looking vulnerable and desperate, and all - me included - intrigued by the hocus pocus.
Most people in the audience also attended the following night's healing session where Wilson attempted to fix sore shoulders, swollen ankles and bad hips.
As we waited for Wilson, I found myself humming along to the soft background music filtering through the room. I realised the song was East 17's Christmas classic Stay Now.
"Baby if you've got to go away, don't think I can take the pain, won't you stay another day? Oh don't leave me alone like this, don't say it's the final kiss, won't you stay another day?"
The stage was set and the audience subconsciously primed for two hours of chit-chat with the spirits.
Wilson, a former bank manager who started seeing dead people when she was 31 (which is apparently quite late for a medium), recalled her first spiritual encounter.
She was attending a neuro-linguistic programming seminar (examining the dynamics between mind - neuro - and language - linguistic - and how we communicate with other people) in her native England when she saw her dead grandfather.
Suddenly, more dead people appeared in the room until about 200 spirits were screaming and shouting around her. Wilson could not block out the noise and thought she had been drugged.
"I didn't believe in such things, I thought I was going mad or someone had drugged the coffee and biscuits."
She has since learned to block out the frenzy to focus on individual spirits.
But tonight was our time to reunite with loved ones and our opportunity to get a message to them, or vice versa.
"I just listen to what they tell me," Wilson said.
She recalled a previous show when a woman's deceased mother "came through" and was lying on the floor, rigid, in her wedding dress. Neither Wilson nor the woman could make any sense of it until the woman realised after the show she had lying in her handbag a figurine from her mum's wedding cake. Those were the moments that gave her goosebumps, Wilson said.
I started to get excited. Perhaps I was about to witness something extraordinary, something that defied logical explanation, which irrefutably proved to me the existence of an afterlife.
"Has your mother passed over?" Wilson asked a woman, who was probably in her 50s.
"Maybe it's your grandmother," Wilson replied.
Just as quickly as I had dared to believe, she had lost me.
"Sometimes the first link of the night can be difficult," she assured the room.
Wilson approached another woman who seemingly had a man trying to apologise to her.
She was invited to the front. Wilson started to inform the audience that this woman's late father was a rather harsh disciplinarian, often raising his hand.
Then the apparition showed Wilson a knife and set it on the table. According to the woman, her father once threatened her mother with a knife.
I was mildly impressed (by Wilson, not the threat).
She moved on to her next mark, whose spirits were trying to take her back three generations.
"Is someone trying to do a family tree?"
"Me," the woman replied with a hint of shock.
Wilson was "getting a Catherine", which was the name of the woman's biological aunt.
She, too, was taken to the front of the room where Wilson asked if she was struggling to fill in the gaps of her family tree.
An obvious question.
The woman was trying to do everything herself and needed to ask others for help, Wilson said. The woman had started to tear up and was fanning herself. Wilson suggested she write about her experiences.
After a warm embrace, the woman returned to her seat looking all the happier for the experience.
The following night, Wilson and her spirit friend Dr Augusto were back, this time in healing action, which she called "psychic surgery".
This involved Dr Augusto taking over Wilson's body and attacking the painful energy by making tiny circles with her hand (like whisking an egg), making a high-pitched humming noise (like a 50cc scooter doing 100kmh) and the occasional stamping of feet.
"This healing does look absolutely, bloody ridiculous," she conceded.
Wilson was careful to point out that for legal reasons she neither touched her patients nor attempted to diagnose their problems.
Her first case of the night had a damaged tendon in her left shoulder and struggled to lift her arm above her head. After barely two minutes of whisking and humming, the woman said she felt a warm sensation in her shoulder.
"It feels like something is coming in . . . a presence," she said before lifting both arms above her head with relative ease.
This drew gasps from the audience, who smiled to one another as if they had witnessed a miracle.
"I just want to cry," the healed woman gushed.
To be fair, whether her clients were actually cured or not, most seemed to feel slightly better about themselves afterwards, either mentally or physically.
Perhaps, I thought, all mediums aren't the charlatans I once took them for. Maybe some of them believe their own sales pitch and genuinely want to help.
But what is scarier?
Because Wilson started to give her views on modern medicine, saying the term "incurable" meant you had to "look within to cure it".
"Isn't that clever," she said.
And to treat cancer, you simply had to "c-the-ancer (see the answer)".
"Accept it is there and the cancer will start to disperse."
Some people needed chemotherapy to give them more time to find the answer, she said.
For me, this was where Wilson strayed from harmless entertainer to someone offering potentially dangerous counsel.
My advice for Wilson is stick to rubbing the bracelets of dead grannies and ditch the health classes, unless she wants more unhappy spirits knocking at her door.
- The Marlborough Express