Light pouring into dark room through square window

When medium is larger than life

In Community and Relationship by cherie.moselenLeave a Comment

Scott Podmore author of Conversations with Mediums talks to Cherie Moselen about his fondness for the psychic community, his penchant for ghosts, and the time he sat singing Abba in the dark with five strangers.

 

Spend an hour in the company of journalist Scott Podmore and you will come away with the impression of having met media’s Mr nice guy. Blue eyes sit unguarded above a grin that readily turns to laughter as we discuss his new book Conversations with Mediums.

Podmore spent two years orbiting the world of the paranormal researching his latest effort so I expected a funny tale or two, and he didn’t disappoint. However, it would have been a mistake to assume humour over substance.

After 15 years at Australia’s highest-circulating daily, the affable writer has used his passion for investigation to produce a book that is deadly serious.

But how he ended up talking trance mediumship with a woman who claimed to channel herself through a 14th century nun, after writing a bestseller about Australian music icon Jimmy Barnes? There’s a mystery right there.

“I tell people it’s not that big a stretch because they’ve both seen their fair share of spirits,” jokes Podmore.

“But the truth is,” he adds soberly, “I’ve always been intrigued by this stuff. Anything otherworldly – UFOs, ghosts – it’s always fascinated me. As a teenager I was glued to the TV watching The Ghost and Mrs Muir.”

He explains the success of his last book, a part-time project while still at the Herald Sun, made him keen to do another. And says it was “pure chance” that he covered a story on well known medium Lisa Williams.

“Lisa was in Melbourne to do a show and I lucked in with the interview, we had a brilliant conversation. After the article was published the phone blew off the hook and the inbox exploded. It told me I wasn’t the only one interested in mediums.

“When it comes to the psychic world I’m relatively inexperienced, having only once visited a clairvoyant. But if ordinary had an aunty it would be her, a primary school teacher in hair rollers who simply held my hand while she ‘told my fortune’. It was only 20 years ago but even then, in my naivety, I was expecting a turban and tealeaves.”

Podmore tells me recognising psychic mediums as everyday people – sisters, fathers, addicts, churchgoers – proved his biggest inspiration. “After the story in the Herald Sun, business women, brick layers, all sorts of people, were contacting me to say mediumship was part of their life. I thought ‘these are normal folk who are passionate about what they do, whether others believe them or not’, and so the book was born.”

Conversations’ consists of interviews with distinctly contrasting mediums, and it’s the diverse spread Podmore brings to the table that gives it an interesting flavour. There is a variety of practices covered – trance, physical, mental – to give people a taste of different elements, with mediums selected from various socio-economic backgrounds to ensure a broad appeal.

The book is divided into 12 chapters – I hint that it conforms to a celestial structure along the lines oflast year’s Man Booker winner, “The Luminaries”.

“A coincidence,” he laughs. “I did more than 30 interviews and these 12 best fit my criteria. Also, I felt an authentic connection when I spoke with these mediums and figured that would help us to have decent conversations.”

Mediums such as Joseph Tittel, Tony Stockwell, Kerry Alexander and The Psychic Twins of New York Terry & Linda Jamison, sit between impressive bookends: highly profiled psychic medium John Edwards of Crossing Over fame, and world-renowned psychic medium Lisa Williams.

Those that know Podmore will say his hallmark as an interviewer is his sensitivity, and it’s clear he gained the mediums’ trust, because these are solid conversations around some frank questions. Answers varied about views on reincarnation, spirit guides, and how babies represent as souls, but several questions drew common spiritual threads: one was the precept that all mediums are psychic but not all psychics can be mediums.

In his interview, John Edwards was unequivocal.

You’ll see in your research that there are people who are gifted psychics who can somewhat sense the connection, but they’re not mediums. Mediums make that connection and there’s a very, very big difference.

Underdeveloped skill (likewise, those believing they have a ‘calling’ to mediumship based on a few psychic twitches) may explain, according to Podmore, why some psychics are mistakenly called out as fakes in a world justifiably littered with them.

The other opinion generally agreed upon was a mood of change worldwide: a ‘shift of consciousness’ that heralds an increased spiritual awareness. Charmaine Painter, best known in Australia for winning the hit TV show The One in 2008 (the country’s national search to find its most gifted psychic), described it as a ‘universal awakening’.

I feel like there is an awakening… in the sense of taking more responsibility for their (people) choices and actions… But I don’t think all of us can become mediums… I think everyone can work with their own intuition, work with the universe and work with the signs being shown to us by spirit.

Podmore believes the stigma that invites criticism of books like his, lumping them in with lightweight ‘new age fluff’, is breaking down. “You only have to look at the list of bestselling books from authors like Eckart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and Gary Zukav,” he explains, “to see how much more seriously people are thinking about spirit. Years ago people who ran meditation classes were just dismissed as mad. Nowadays professional sports clubs employ them.”

He is equally philosophical about science today. “Scientists are increasingly interested in spirituality. It’s not just about being in the know, it’s about being in the mystery a bit more.” Although, minds have yet to meet in the middle when it comes to a concrete bridge between scientific and spiritual communities.

Last year, an article from Discovery News: ‘Do Scientists Fear the Paranormal?’ referenced a paper published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which made headlines around the world for its “implication that psychic powers had been scientifically proven.” The key word here is ‘implication’: when researchers collaborated to replicate final experiments, they found no evidence of psychic capability.

Podmore is comfortable with the notion that people will make up their own minds and upholds his book simply as “a forum for mediums to answer a bunch of interesting questions”, encouraging readers to consider they might be telling the truth.

But the obvious question here is: does Podmore believe them? “I do, although some experiences still leave me scratching my head.”

Maintaining respect for their process (and the author is unfailingly gracious about all his subjects), he steps me through an old-world séance performed by Christine Morgan and physical medium, David Thompson. “Bottom line, I’ve gagged Thompson and gaffer-taped him, searched the room, put a metal detector on him. We’re five strangers. We’re holding hands. We’re singing Abba…we’re in the dark.”

It is hard not to laugh, but Podmore is earnest.

“It sounds hilarious, but I can’t dispute the fact that I felt a distinct temperature difference in the room. I saw orb lights. I heard a loud gurgling sound – there wasn’t any speaker system – and I felt someone, or something, brush past me.”

Says Podmore: “I still question it – that’s the investigator in me – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t Spirit coming through.”

So, do these ‘new’ experiences reaffirm or challenge his beliefs?

“Doing this book restructured my belief system. It didn’t totally transform it because I have always been open-minded.

“I didn’t ask, but several of the mediums offered a reading and were very accurate. I’m comfortable in saying I believe them.”

There is no tub-thumping going on here, no serious attempt to legitimise or debunk claims. But as John Edwards put it to Podmore, during the long conversation it took to convince the cautious medium to be part of the book project: “You’re vouching for us, no matter which way you look at it.”

The needs to connect and to realise our curious natures are cornerstones of human experience, and the journalist touches on them in his prospect for ‘Conversations’.

“You know, I started out writing about death and ended up writing about love. If the book helps ease somebody’s grief or answers an important question, then it’s speaking to the heart.”

He continues: “The worst that can happen is a reader puts it down and says ‘that’s not for me’. Otherwise reading it is a positive experience – and it’s why I’m proud of it.”

In 1870, spiritualistic magazine The Harbinger of Light was first published in Melbourne under the subtitle “a new monthly journal devoted to zoistic science, free thought, spiritualism and the harmonial philosophy.” It was later changed to “a monthly journal devoted to psychology, occultism, and spiritual philosophy.”

Whatever banner mediumship sits under, its champions have been frequently dismissed or ridiculed, historically even burned at the stake.

Conversations with Mediums resonates at a frequency that aims to positively amplify the discussion around spiritualism. And in the same way a writer offers a cosmological argument without claiming first-hand knowledge of heaven, we don’t have to believe its author ‘knows’ something we don’t in order to read it. Only that the subject, which polarises people more than almost any other, is worthy of conversation.

English philosopher Michael Oakeshott once described conversation as “an endless un-rehearsed intellectual adventure, in which we explore our own world and the world of others, and we are not disconcerted by differences or dismayed by the inconclusiveness of it all.”

Whether readers are confounded, validated or simply intrigued, Conversations with Mediums is one ‘intellectual adventure’ many will be glad they went on.

 

Cherie Moselen is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to her local newspaper.

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