In Sylvia Jensen’s living room, Geneva Monkress taps in to the other side.
Jensen has questions that weigh on her conscience, and Monkress is one of the few people in the Magic Valley capable of contacting those who can answer.
Some mediums receive visions, others hear voices, and some just feel the emotions the dead are trying to convey. For Monkress, it’s all of the above.
“I’m a person who picks up information on all levels,” she said. “They talk to me through all of my senses.”
Psychic services used to be viewed as soothsayer scams and sideshow stunts, but are now becoming a mainstream staple. Psychics are striving for credibility, and science is seeking to back up their claims.
Colleges such as the University of California, Santa Barbara, for one, now offer lectures in parapsychology — the study of mental phenomena which are inexplicable by accepted scientific psychology. This academic approach to the supernatural blurs the line between faith and fact, with advocates on both sides of the argument.
“When you ground yourself in humility, in appreciating all the things we don’t know, it seems important to keep an open mind to all the scientific findings that could revolutionize our view of the world,” Jonathan Schooler, a professor with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at UCSB, told the Times-News in a telephone interview.
The Parapsychology Problem
The field of parapsychology — the investigation of anomalous cognition, popularly known as psychic abilities — has been around for more than 100 years, according to Schooler. The field encompasses four primary avenues of study: telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance and precognition.
Telepathy involves the ability to read a person’s mind, while telekinesis allows a user to move objects without physically touching them. Clairvoyance lets a psychic see events happening beyond their natural sight, and precognition is the ability to accurately predict the future.
“The mind has access to information which cannot be explained through conventional mechanisms,” Schooler said.
Schooler is also the director and co-investigator at the Theoretical and Applied Neuro-Causality Laboratory in Santa Barbara. It is there that he conducts much of his research in anomalous cognition, specifically precognition.
“I think that it’s important that we continue to investigate these phenomena and find out if it is possible,” he said.
For years, parapsychology has been viewed mainly with skepticism. Recent articles in respected scientific journals have garnered interest, both positive and negative.
“I believe there has been a lot of attention to parapsychology in recent years,” Schooler said, “but not necessarily an increase in acceptance.”
Psychic powers have typically fallen into the realm of fantasy. Abilities are sensationalized in works of fiction. Schooler said they’re commonly associated with the mentally ill, specifically with schizotypy — the tendency to believe in magical thinking.
It is because of these pre-existing mental illnesses that scientists have to tread carefully.
“You have to recognize that parapsychology is sort of playing into these wild ideas that people with schizotypy can have,” Schooler said.
Scientists cannot endorse experimental psychic results without proof. Accepting false data can feed into the illnesses that many people suffer from. Rejecting research without proper cause, however, can shut the door on a field of study that could revolutionize the world.
“The challenge for scientists is to very rigorously and very carefully investigate these claims,” Schooler said.
A major criticism within the field is the inability of scientists to reproduce results when it comes to parapsychology. Schooler’s response, published in “Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice,” is that most fields of scientific study have a problem with reproducibility.
The reasons vary. It could be because scientists don’t follow the proper procedure, because there are different variables or equipment at play, or sometimes it is just bad luck.
That being said, a meta-analysis — combining statistical data from multiple studies — shows interesting results for parapsychological studies.
“There is statistical significance, once you combine across all the studies, that the effects are unlikely due to chance,” Schooler said. That means scientists are consistently producing results in their experiments. This, however, does not mean psychics have been confirmed in the scientific community.
“The meta-analyses are only as good as the research on which they’re based,” he said.
In a back office of Crystals EnLight on a makeshift table, Vicki Brook shuffles her deck of tarot cards. She splays them out, explaining the process of picking nine cards.
“Some are going to feel hot, some are going to feel cold, and some you’re going to feel automatically drawn to,” Brook said.
Tarot cards have been around for hundreds of years. The cards were originally designed as a game for entertainment purposes. It wasn’t until centuries later that tarot became associated with divination.
Widely credited as the oldest surviving set of tarot cards is the Visconti-Sforza deck, which dates back to 15th century Italy, according to the Morgan Library and Museum.
Today, they can be used to look into past lives, predict the future, or help someone understand more about themselves. Brook said the types of readings are limitless. How and what is read is catered to the client.
Some of Brook’s clients want to know about relationships; others are interested in their past lives. One of her clients is a compulsive gambler who likes to check whether or not she should go to Jackpot on the weekend.
Everyone who visits Brook is looking for answers. Their questions run the gamut of every possible query.
Some people are seeking to fill a void.
“We live in a spiritually bankrupt society,” Brook said. “There’s a lot of people searching for themselves.”
Many of Brook’s readings deal with real estate. Clients want to know if they’ll get the house they bid on, or if there are any issues with the dwelling. Brook is happy to do these readings, but she urges clients to remember that a reading is only valid for their current circumstances.
“Every action has a reaction,” she said. If Brook reads that a client will get the house they may bid on, and the client later withdraws the bid, for example, the client will not get the house.
During a reading, clients select a set number of cards. The amount of cards chosen varies depending on the type of reading. From there, it is up to Brook to interpret the message.
And that meaning isn’t always what you’d expect. The death card, for example, is not as ominous as it appears. Death is about choice, Brook explained.
“We’re going to come back and we’re going to learn more, or we’re going to move on to a better dimension,” she said. The card isn’t about dying; it’s about starting anew.
Whatever the cards may say, Brook’s job is to deliver the message. To do that, she has to be in the right mindset and her body has to be clear of toxins. To ensure the most accurate reads, she won’t take clients when she’s feeling off.
As a conduit for the cards, Brook isn’t responsible for what is revealed.
“I have to be objective,” she said. “I have to be able to step back and say what the cards say — it doesn’t matter what I think.”
At $10 to $15 a reading, clients shouldn’t feel too upset if the experience isn’t all that they hoped it would be. Brook said she charges so little for her services because she isn’t reliant on readings to put food on her table.
Before embarking on her spiritual path 20 years ago, Brook struggled with addictions and abusive relationships. When she needed help, the people who were there for her didn’t charge for their services. Low prices are her way of giving back.
“This is because people are lost,” she said. If Brook can help clients find their path, either by gaining insight or coming to terms with their current situation, the experience is worth it.
The Power of Palms
Metaphysical Advisor Zach Lindsay’s gift was not predestined. Lindsay was looking to shift out of working the typical haunted house circuit, where he functioned as someone who scared visitors.
Annoyed by people hitting him when they’re frightened, he began researching palm reading as a way to not be on the “scare floor.” Eventually, he taught himself the trade, but didn’t take it seriously at the time.
One night, a reading he gave changed his entire perspective.
“From that moment on, it wasn’t a party trick any longer,” Lindsay said. “It was a legitimate way to help people in a way I had never thought of.”
That evening, he read a large, “tough looking” man’s palm. During the reading, Lindsay heard the voice of an older man saying he was sorry, and that it wasn’t his fault. Lindsay delivered the message to the client, who immediately broke down in tears.
As it turned out, the man’s father had died three months prior, and their last conversation was an argument. With the information Lindsay offered, the man was finally able to put his guilt to rest. Lindsay had found his calling in life.
“Now that I’ve discovered this, I can’t stop,” he said. “I would be denying destiny itself if I didn’t keep going.”
As a metaphysical advisor, Lindsay instructs people on forces beyond what they can see. This includes palm readings and aura work. For palm readings, it’s not just about the lines on the hand.
“I look at the lines of the hand, the shape of the hand, certain marks and the texture of the skin itself,” he said. Lindsay tests the flexibility of the fingers to see how open-minded a person is. He also looks at the thickness of the skin.
“The terms ‘thin and thick skin’ apply literally in palm reading,” he said. Thick skin portrays toughness, whereas someone with thin skin might be more insecure.
The three main lines of the hand that Lindsay looks at are the life, health and career lines. Each mark can be interpreted differently and each line portrays unique information.
“The physical lines on the hands reflect what the soul is going through, what the soul is planning and what the soul really needs to convey,” he said.
Lines on the hand read like a life sketch. They show a sequence of events, similar to a timeline. In some cases, they can even show how a person will die, although Lindsay refuses to reveal that to clients unless they’re elderly and specifically request it. As he explains, most people need to look forward, but not that far forward.
Similarly, having a longer life line does not mean someone will live longer.
“It could mean that more life events are packed in, or it could mean the guy has big hands,” Lindsay said.
When reading, Lindsay primarily examines the right hand. He’ll always take a glance at the left, but for the most part, he focuses on the right. He compares the difference in hands to trying to read a book forward versus backward.
“The right hand and left hand are the same message, except abridged,” he said. “It’s not a different message; it’s a different interpretation that can be found.”
Many clients come in with questions about love, fame or fortune. As Lindsay explains, the answers are not simple. Marks are open to interpretation, which makes the answers open-ended as well. Having a strong love line doesn’t ensure someone will find love, but it guarantees that the person has the capacity to love fully.
Lindsay welcomes questions from his clients, but warns that he may not be the best person for every inquiry.
A significant portion of Lindsay’s job is differentiating between metaphysical and physical variables.
“If things have metaphysical consequences, ask me,” he said. “If they have full, reality-altering consequences for yourself, whether they be good or bad, please ask someone else.”
An example of this is a former client who asked Lindsay whether or not to stop hiding their homosexuality. As a professional, Lindsay did not feel qualified to answer something of that magnitude. His job is to help people gain a better understanding of themselves.
“I prescribe new perspectives,” he said.
Speaking with the spirits
Not every professional embraces their psychic abilities. For years, Monkress tried to hide from hers; the psychic medium bought into the beliefs that communing with the dead was wicked.
“I was afraid of it for a very long time,” she said. “I didn’t want to be seen as evil.”
At 8 years old, she prayed to God to take her gifts away. When her prayers went unanswered, Monkress decided to use her abilities for good.
“This is about healing,” she said. “This is about understanding that our loved ones do not want us to remain stuck in grief. They want us to move on.”
Monkress meditates for a half hour before each reading. During that time, she asks the spirits to deliver validating information. This includes specifics about clients' lives that can’t be found on the internet, as well as specifics about things that have happened to the client since the loved one has died.
Sometimes this information is extremely specific, even if Monkress doesn’t understand why. On her first group reading for three sisters, the spirit of the father kept revealing a turtle. On the drive over to the reading, the sisters had asked their father to show a turtle if Monkress was legitimately in contact with him.
These moments of validation are as exciting for Monkress as they are for the her clients.
“I call those spirit high-fives,” she said.
Monkress not only has the task of relaying the message, but also must relay it in the exact way spirits recommend. According to her, how you say something is almost as important as what you say.
“It’s not up to me to censor what a spirit has to say,” she said.
Monkress only communes with souls that have completely crossed over. If they are in a transitional phase, they don’t come through to her. Some messages are specific, while others appear vague. Because she is interpreting information through all five senses, the message doesn’t always make sense at first.
“Sometimes it’s like putting together a puzzle,” she said.
As with most paranormal professions, skeptics are everywhere. People will sometimes dismiss her skills as fraudulent, which Monkress accepts. Her job is not to prove people wrong, but rather to assist those in need of healing.
Something that irks Monkress is when strangers ask her to perform a reading on the spot. She finds the request insulting, and when she refuses, skeptics pose arguments against her abilities.
“I don’t believe in doing this just to show that I can do it,” she said.
Monkress said anyone has the capability to be psychic, but the process takes practice. Psychic abilities are gifts that need to be used regularly.
With four readings a week and bookings six to eight weeks out, Monkress utilizes her gift often. From believing she was cursed to embracing her abilities, she has come a long way on a path she never envisioned for herself.
“Our life isn’t always meant to make sense,” she said.
A Psychic Society
Char Bamesberger, owner of Crystals EnLight, believes that everyone has the potential to be psychic.
“We all have the ability to tap in,” Bamesberger said.
She offers intuitive psychic readings, along with many other services at her shop. According to Bamesberger, every psychic works differently. The conduit through which they channel their information — whether it is cards or runes, dice or crystals — is not important. What matters is the information coming through.
“Sometimes I’ll be receiving information and it’s kind of like digging through a bag,” she said. “I know it’s in here somewhere, I just can’t find it yet.”
Psychic abilities aren’t as flashy or obvious as fiction makes them appear. As Lindsay explains, palm reading is a form of psychic work.
“To the amateur, palm reading is a very good opportunity to flex your intuition,” he said. “To the professional, it’s a pairing of the physical and the psychic.”
Others, such as Monkress, utilize more obvious psychic abilities.
“All mediums are psychic, but not all psychics are mediums,” Bamesberger said. This means one must be psychic to be able to communicate with the dead, but not everyone who is psychic can.
Parapsychology and public perception
For psychics, the future is uncertain.
Schooler currently lectures on parapsychology and has several students working under him. Despite his belief in the importance of their work, he openly advises his students not to pursue parapsychology as a field.
“One has to recognize that it still has a major stigma associated with it,” he said. In Schooler’s opinion, anyone whose primary focus is parapsychology is going to have a very difficult time finding a job.
Instead, he recommends that scientists multitask. Until parapsychology is fully recognized by the community, professionals should branch out in their work to fields beyond the unknown. Otherwise, he fears scientists will struggle to stay employed, despite the importance of this research.
“If there is something to any of these claims, they would profoundly influence the way that we understand the human mind,” Schooler said.
Monkress believes it’s only a matter of time before tangible proof is discovered. It’s an interesting viewpoint for a metaphysical professional, but she said psychic ability and science are far more connected than one might imagine.
“I think that science and spirituality go hand in hand,” she said. “I don’t think you can have one without the other.”
Despite skepticism, negativity and ridicule, professionals continue to push forward in the field. Many critics view them as magicians performing parlor tricks, but that sort of mindset won’t sway psychic professionals. In their opinion, their work is too important to quit.
Whether communicating with spirits or conducting experiments, the end goal is the same. The intention is to help people.
“The truest form of magic is not about being able to pull a rabbit out of a hat,” Brook said. “It’s about being able to take a bad situation and turn it into something good.”