James Van Praagh (1958– ) is one of the foremost Mediums in America. James Van Praagh has been aware of his gifts since he was eight years old. He has written several books on communications with the spirits and has appeared on television, radio, and in public theater performances. He has served as the co-executive producer of the hit CBS-TV program The Ghost Whisperer. Born in Bayside, Queens, in New York City on August 23, 1958, Van Praagh enjoyed a normal upbringing.
He attended Sacred Heart Catholic School for eight years, all the while trying to reconcile the rigid rituals of the catechism with what he believed was God’s accepting love. Even at age eight, young James did not accept the church’s laundry list of sins and their consequences; he wanted proof of God’s existence. According to Van Praagh, God gave him proof. One morning as he lay in bed, he felt a cold gust of wind blow over his face even though his window was tightly shut.
He looked up and saw a huge hand, palm down, coming from the ceiling. James was unafraid, instead seeing this vision as evidence of God’s love and joy—a situation often vastly different from the treatment he experienced at Catholic school. In ninth grade, mainly to please his Irish Catholic mother, Van Praagh enrolled at Eymard Preparatory Seminary in Hyde Park, New York, with the intention of joining the priesthood.
He continued questioning God’s purpose for him, and, after prayer and meditation one Easter weekend, he realized that Catholicism was not for him. God was love, not a judge, and that love was inside him and all around him. Van Praagh left the seminary and finished public high school before entering San Francisco State College to pursue broadcasting.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to be a screenwriter but instead found himself in the basement of the William Morris Agency removing staples from files. While accompanying a coworker to a session with a medium, the psychic told Van Praagh that he also possessed the gift and that the spirits would have a use for him soon.
Van Praagh began studying Mediumship and honing his talents until he felt his intuition and sensitivities (he is clairvoyant, clairaudient, and clairsentient) would sustain him in his new career. Determining his spirit guides was Van Praagh’s next step. He says he is led by at least four: Sister Theresa, a nun in the order of the Sisters of Mercy; Master Chang, a Chinese gentleman from the early 1900s; Harry Aldrich, an English physician who passed into spirit in the 1930s; and a Native American named Golden Feather.
Buoyed by his guides, Van Praagh began giving sessions as a medium, teaching that God is in all things and that each of us has the “God spark” within. Van Praagh’s immense popularity has not shielded him from skeptics, however, and they contend he uses cold and hot reading techniques more suited to magical entertainment, criticism leveled at all mediums, especially those in the public light.
Van Praagh has written several books about his healings and spiritual readings. The first, Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death (1997), catapulted him into the public eye and rose to number one on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, remaining there for 13 weeks.
That success was followed by Reaching to Heaven: A Spiritual Journey Through Life and Death (1999); Healing Grief: Reclaiming Life After Any Loss (2000); Heaven and Earth: Making the Psychic Connection (2002); Looking Beyond: A Teen’s Guide to the Spiritual World (2003); and Meditations with James Van Praagh (2003). Van Praagh has also recorded CDs, including Tuning into Intuition/Abundance and Tuning into Healing/Forgiveness as well as an instructional video, Develop Your Psychic Self. Van Praagh is a frequent guest on television shows.
In 2002, he collaborated with CBS to produce Living with the Dead, a miniseries starring Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen based on the book Talking to Heaven. Van Praagh had his own talk show in 2003 entitled Beyond with James Van Praagh and a second miniseries in 2004 called The Dead Will Tell with Anne Heche.
Van Praagh became co-executive producer on the CBS television show The Ghost Whisperer starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad, and Aisha Tyler, about a psychic who receives information about the dead. Many of the plots are based on Van Praagh’s own experiences. Van Praagh also produced a made-for-television movie, The Haunting of Bleaker Place.
- Van Praagh, James. The official Web site. Available online. URL: www.vanpraagh.com. Downloaded January 23, 2006.
- ———. Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death. New York: Dutton Publishers, 1997.
- ———. Heaven and Earth: Making the Psychic Connection. New York: Simon & Schuster Source, 2001.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007
James van Praagh (1960– ) is one of the best-known mediums in the United States today, James Van Praagh calls himself a “survival evidence medium” because he is able to detect evidence of people’s survival after death. Specifically, he brings messages from deceased loved ones to those who hire him to do so. He attributes his ability to communicate with the dead to clairsentience, whereby he feels the emotions and personality traits (such as talkativeness) of the deceased, and to clairvoyance, whereby he sees images of the deceased. He also apparently has clairaudience because he claims to hear voices of the deceased.
Van Praagh has always believed in an afterlife, having been raised in a deeply religious home. In fact, as a boy he once thought he saw God’s light after praying to him. When Van Praagh was twenty-four and working in the legal department of Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, he visited a medium at the urging of a friend, and afterward he decided to explore mediumship. Within a short time he was giving his own psychic readings for a fee. Since then, he has appeared on numerous television talk shows, has hosted his own shortlived television show (2002), and has written several best-selling books on his work, including Talking to Heaven (1997), Reaching to Heaven (1999), and Healing Grief (2001). He also sells meditation tapes, and his life story was the basis of a television miniseries.
Skeptics, however, note that Van Praagh did not discover his talents as a medium until after he received a university degree in communications, suggesting that during this period he learned techniques that could trick listeners into thinking he is in contact with their dead relatives when in fact he is not. To prove this view, one skeptics’ organization, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), analyzed Van Praagh’s appearance on a television talk show (Larry King Live, February 26, 1999), during which he conducted psychic readings for people who telephoned the show.
According to CSICOP investigator Joe Nickell, Van Praagh used several standard techniques in order to manipulate members of his audience into believing he was privy to facts that only they would know, including asking numerous questions in order to gain information and use it to shape the reading and the caller’s perception of the reading, making logical guesses, giving multiple responses that increased the possibility of getting one thing right, shifting focus abruptly to cover up mistaken answers, and using general terms that the caller could easily perceive as specific references. This latter technique relies on a phenomenon known as the Forer effect, whereby people tend to recognize certain statements as being about them, when in fact the statements could apply to anyone. Van Praagh’s supporters firmly deny that this is the case, saying that he often provides very specific information that could not have been discovered through even the most skillful questioning.
- Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal;
- the Forer effect
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning